Week 7 Big Ten Football Preview

(Photo courtesy of Indiana Athletics.)

We are now entering the home stretch of the Big Ten regular season. The league has struggled to handle the pandemic in the past few weeks as almost every team in the league has had a game cancelled due to the coronavirus. However, the league is pushing through and we are only two weeks away from crowning a champion. 

Let’s take a look at the Week 7 matchups:

No. 4 Ohio State (4-0) @ Michigan State (2-3)

When/Where: Saturday, December 5th, 12:00 PM @ Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI

Lines*: Ohio State -23.5, O/U 59.5

(Photo courtesy of Ohio State Athletics.)

Ohio State’s game against Illinois last week was cancelled and the Buckeyes are expected to be without at least a few starters. Michigan State is coming off of a huge upset against previously undefeated No.16 Northwestern.

Ohio State’s last game against Indiana was not a cakewalk. Quarterback Justin Fields had his worst game of the year, throwing three interceptions. However, the Buckeyes were able to run the ball for 307 yards and three touchdowns. They put up 42 points against Indiana, but struggled to put the game away late. There shouldn’t be too much concern among Buckeye fans though, as this is still the most impressive offense in the Big Ten. Michigan State’s defense has had a few solid performances, but gives up an average of 31 points a game. Expect Fields to have a bounce back game and the rest of the Buckeye offense to have no problems. 

Michigan State’s shocking upset against Northwestern was not due to impressive quarterback play. Rocky Lombardi was just 11-27 for 167 yards, but the Spartans pieced together enough scoring drives to compliment a solid defensive effort and come away with a win. Teams have been able to score against Ohio State this year, which could be attributed to the fact that they’ve established big leads due to their offensive explosiveness. 

Prediction: We’ll see how many key players Ohio State is actually missing, but regardless, they have enough depth across the board to take care of business. 38-10 Ohio State. 

Nebraska (1-4) @ Purdue (2-3)

When/Where: Saturday, December 5th, 12:00 PM @ Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, IN

Lines: Purdue -1, O/U 62.5

(Photo courtesy of Purdue Athletics.)

Both of these teams are coming off of tough, one score losses. Nebraska was bested by Iowa while Purdue suffered their third straight loss, to Rutgers. 

Nebraska head coach Scott Frost’s seat must be feeling very warm after his team fell to 1-4 this past week. The Huskers went back to quarterback Adrian Martinez last week after Luke McCaffrey’s three-interception performance against Illinois. Nebraska’s lack of continuity on offense has really hurt their ability to compete in the Big Ten this season. Purdue’s defense has actually been one of the better units in the league this year, but has struggled mightily in its last two games against two poor offenses in Minnesota and Rutgers. 

Purdue’s starting quarterback Aidan O’Connell is out for the season with a foot injury, so the team has had to rely on Jack Plummer to fill the position. The Plummer-led offense has put up 30 points in back-to-back weeks, but Purdue has also dropped two games in a row. However, the Boilermakers have battled some questionable officiating the last couple of weeks. . Nebraska’s defense will have the chance to redeem itself against an inexperienced quarterback and an offense that has had a few players opt out recently. 

Prediction: Both of these teams are reeling, but I fear that Scott Frost has lost control of this Nebraska team while every game Purdue has played has been close. 35-31 Purdue. 

Penn State (1-5) @ Rutgers (2-4)

When/Where: Saturday, December 5th, 12:00 PM @ SHI Stadium, Piscataway, NJ

Lines: Penn State -11.5, O/U 52.5

(Photo courtesy of Rutgers Athletics.)

Going into this season, no one could’ve predicted that through six weeks, Rutgers would have a better conference record than Penn State, but here we are. Penn State finally got its first win last week against Michigan while Rutgers defeated Purdue by a touchdown.

Penn State had been going back and forth between quarterbacks Sean Clifford and Will Levis, but coach James Franklin stuck with Clifford for the whole game against Michigan. Clifford did not have to do much through the air as Penn State’s ground game finally got rolling to the tune of 254 yards. The Nittany Lions also did not turn the ball over once, something that had been plaguing them in games past. They will face a Rutgers defense that has given up the most points in the Big Ten this year. 

Rutgers starting quarterback Noah Vedral was injured for their matchup with Purdue, but the Scarlet Knights offense did not miss a beat. Backup Art Sitkowski threw the majority of passes and finished with 152 yards and two touchdowns. Johnny Langan also picked up some work with 84 yards on only three passes while adding 95 yards on the ground. If Vedral is healthy, he will start, according to coach Greg Schiano, but no matter who is taking the snaps, Rutgers is in capable hands. Rutgers’ fifth-ranked offense will match up with a Penn State defense that has given up over 30 points in every game except for one: last week’s win at Michigan. 

Prediction: Rutgers is going to give Penn State quite the fight, but I think the Nittany Lions will build off of their momentum from last week’s win. 38-34 Penn State. 

No. 12 Indiana (5-1) @ No. 16 Wisconsin (2-1)

When/Where: Saturday, December 5th, 3:30 PM @ Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI

Lines: Wisconsin -14, O/U 45 

(Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Athletics.)

Indiana beat Maryland handily last week but took a huge blow, losing star quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to injury for the rest of the season. Wisconsin had yet another game cancelled against rival Minnesota.

Indiana’s offense got off to a very slow start last week and really had to lean on the running game to move the ball. Penix’s replacement, Jack Tuttle, was able to move the ball but only threw five passes in limited action. It will be interesting to see how Tuttle performs as the starter against a tough Wisconsin defense. Indiana receivers Ty Fryfogle and Whop Philyor both had their worst games of the season against the Terrapins, combining for just four catches and 34 yards. Tuttle will desperately need those two to be playmakers for him because Wisconsin has one of the best run defenses in the Big Ten. 

Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz had his first bad game of the season two weeks ago against Northwestern. Mertz threw three interceptions, leading the Badgers to only seven points the whole game. Wisconsin struggled to convert on third downs, going just 3/16, and shot themselves in the foot with eight penalties against the Wildcats. They’ll face an Indiana defense coming off of their best performance of the season. Despite that strong defensive performance, Indiana was against a Maryland team coming off a two-week hiatus in addition to missing several offensive starters. 

Prediction: We will learn a lot about Indiana as they go into battle without their star quarterback, but this is still a very good football team that is well-coached. I was surprised at the 14-point line, but I still like Wisconsin to win at home. 27-16 Wisconsin.  

No. 19 Iowa (4-2) @ Illinois (2-3)

When/Where: Saturday, December 5th, 3:30 PM @ Memorial Stadium, Champaign, IL

Lines: Iowa -13.5, O/U 51 

(Photo courtesy of Iowa Athletics.)

Iowa is coming off of a six-point victory against Nebraska while Illinois’ game against Ohio State was cancelled, but the Illini have won two games in a row. 

Iowa has been one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten, winning their last four games by an average margin of 24 points. Their offense is not overwhelming, but competent quarterback play from Spencer Petras and a solid rushing attack led by Tyler Goodson has allowed the Hawkeyes to control the game flow each week. The Illinois defense has shown massive improvement over the past two weeks after a rough start to the season. However, Iowa will be one of the toughest matchups they’ve had this year as the Illini have been one of the worst defenses against the run in the conference. 

Starting quarterback Brandon Peters returned from the COVID list in Illinois’ last game against Nebraska and completely changed the way the offense looked. They did not turn the ball over, dominated time of possession, and were very efficient on third down. The Illini will still rely on the run to move the ball, but Peters brings a sense of stability that was not there in his absence. Unfortunately for them, Iowa is a top-3 defense in the Big Ten by any metric this season.

Prediction: Illinois has shown much improvement after their first three losses, but might be in for a rough day against a very confident Iowa team. 31-14 Iowa. 

Note: Maryland-Michigan & Minnesota-Northwestern have been cancelled due to COVID-19

*All lines from William Hill Sportsbook