Week 8 Big Ten Football Preview

(Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

We’ve made it to the final week of the Big Ten regular season. The championship game for next weekend is already set, with No. 14 Northwestern facing off against No. 3 Ohio State, but there are still many teams with a lot to play for. 

Let’s take a look at the Week 8 matchups:

Illinois (2-4) @ No. 14 Northwestern (5-1)

When/Where: Saturday, December 12th, 12:00 PM @ Ryan Field, Evanston, IL

Lines*: Northwestern -14, O/U 40.5

(Photo courtesy of Illinois Athletics.)

Illinois is coming off of a solid performance in a loss against a very good Iowa team. No. 14 Northwestern enters this week as the Big Ten West champion, but suffered their first loss two weeks ago against Michigan State. 

Illinois was outmatched against Iowa, but they were fairly impressive in a game that could’ve easily been a blowout. Starting quarterback Brandon Peters led the Illini to a 14-0 lead against Iowa, but was benched in the fourth quarter for Isaiah Williams who is more dynamic as a rushing threat than Peters. Coach Lovie Smith defended the decision by saying his team needed a spark on offense. It will be interesting to see how Smith uses both of his quarterbacks this week against the toughest defense they have faced so far in Northwestern. The Wildcats’ defense is ranked second in terms of yards allowed and points this year in the Big Ten.

Northwestern’s offense has been their weak spot this whole season, but up until the Michigan State game, they had scored just enough to win games. Against the Spartans, however, it was a different story. Their usually reliable running game was only able to muster 63 yards and fumbled twice while quarterback Peyton Ramsey threw two interceptions. Northwestern will be looking for a bounceback game offensively to build some momentum going into the Ohio State game. Illinois is one of the Big Ten’s weaker defenses, but so is Michigan State, and Northwestern struggled against them.

Prediction: Northwestern is due for a bounceback effort after a disappointing loss, but most of their games this year have been close. Expect Illinois to give them a good fight, but come up short in the end. 27-17 Northwestern. 

Minnesota (2-3) @ Nebraska (2-4)

When/Where: Saturday, December 12th, 12:00 PM @ Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE

Lines: Nebraska -10.5, O/U 60

(Photo courtesy of Nebraska Football.)

Minnesota has not played in two weeks due to COVID-19, but their last game was a three-point victory against Purdue. Nebraska is coming off of a big road win at Purdue. 

Minnesota has had an up and down season in which its offense has been very inconsistent. Quarterback Tanner Morgan has been disappointing in his second year as the starter and star wide receiver Rashod Bateman recently opted out of the season. Minnesota’s strength on offense is in the running game, led by Mohamed Ibrahim who was named a finalist for the Doak Walker Award given to the nation’s top running back. Nebraska’s defense has been a middle-of-the-pack unit in the Big Ten this year, struggling to contain teams that move the ball well. 

Similar to Minnesota, it has been a roller coaster ride for the Cornhuskers offensively. Quarterback Adrian Martinez began the season as the starter but was then benched for Luke McCaffrey in Week 4. Martinez has since returned to the starting role and led the Huskers to a big win against Purdue. It will be interesting to see if Martinez can build on last week’s successes and bring some stability to the offense. They will have a good opportunity this week against Minnesota’s defense, who has given up the most points per game in the Big Ten.

Prediction: I was surprised when I saw the line in this game because these teams appear very similar on paper. I’ll take the home team but I think Minnesota covers. 35-31 Nebraska. 

Michigan State (2-4) @ Penn State (2-5)

When/Where: Saturday, December 12th, 12:00 PM @ Beaver Stadium, University Park, PA

Lines: Penn State -14.5, O/U 47

(Photo courtesy of Penn State Athletics.)

Michigan State is coming off of a blowout loss against Ohio State, but notched a huge upset win the week before against Northwestern. After an 0-5 start, Penn State has won back-to-back games against Michigan and Rutgers.

Michigan State has been the worst team in the Big Ten on offense this season. Quarterback Rocky Lombardi has had his moments this year against Michigan and Northwestern, but it’s been a rough season for him altogether. Lombardi was also injured in last week’s game against Ohio State, so it’s possible that backup Payton Thorne gets the start this week. Penn State’s defense has wildly underperformed this year, but has looked much better the past two weeks. If they look like they did last week against Rutgers, they should have no issues with the Spartans’ offense. 

Penn State has not been able to figure things out on offense this whole season. Quarterback Sean Clifford has clearly regressed from last season and has been very turnover prone this year. However, in the past two weeks, the Nittany Lions have been able to get the running game going. Running back Keyvone Lee and backup quarterback Will Levis combined for 34 carries and 160 yards against Rutgers and the team rushed for 248 yards total. Michigan State has given up the third most points in the Big Ten even though they are seventh in yardage. Expect Penn State to stick to the running game this week. 

Prediction: This will probably be one of the more ugly games we’ve seen this year. Penn State should take care of business, but they won’t look dominant. 24-10 Penn State.  

Rutgers (2-5) @ Maryland (2-2)

When/Where: Saturday, December 12th, 12:00 PM @ Maryland Stadium, College Park, MD

Lines: Maryland -7, O/U 58 

(Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Rutgers is coming off of a disappointing performance against Penn State while Maryland did not play last week due to COVID-19 issues within the Michigan program.

Rutgers had some momentum going into the Penn State game, scoring over 30 points in back-to-back games, including a win at Purdue. However, the offense fell apart last week as the Scarlet Knights managed just 205 total yards. Quarterback Noah Vedral was the team’s leading rusher, which is not a good sign. Maryland’s defense had a rough start to the season, but dominated Penn State and looked solid against Indiana for the first half. Their weakness this year has been defending the run, so luckily for them, Rutgers does not run the ball too well.

Maryland’s offense was very sloppy in their last game against Indiana, but they were coming off a two-week hiatus and were missing multiple key starters. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa had a shaky performance, throwing three interceptions and missing several throws throughout the game. However, Tagovailoa has shown this year that he can play at a very high level and the return of receivers Rakim Jarrett and Jeshaun Jones in addition to three other offensive starters should help Taulia get back to that level against a susceptible Rutgers defense.

Prediction: Both of these teams have been tough to get a read on this year, but Maryland has more talent across the board with many starters returning. 31-26 Maryland. 

Wisconsin (2-2) @ No. 16 Iowa (5-2)

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

Lines: Wisconsin -2, O/U 41.5 

(Photo courtesy of Iowa Athletics.)

Wisconsin is coming off of an ugly home loss versus Indiana while No. 16 Iowa took care of business against an inferior Illinois team.

Wisconsin’s offense looked like an unstoppable force through two games, but they have regressed mightily since scoring 49 against Michigan. The Badgers have scored just 13 points combined in their last two games while quarterback Graham Mertz has a touchdown-interception ratio of 1-4. The Badgers have dominated time of possession each of the past two weeks but it hasn’t mattered as they’ve struggled to put points on the board. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, it will face another top defense in Iowa this week.

Iowa has been on a roll lately, winning five in a row, but most of these wins have come against the bottom feeders of the conference. Quarterback Spencer Petras has not lit up the stat sheet, but he has led a very consistent Iowa offense. The Hawkeyes have been able to get an early lead and then rely on the running game to take control of game flow. However, Wisconsin is the toughest team they’ve seen since their loss to Northwestern in Week 2, so it will be key for Iowa to get out to a fast start again. For all of their offensive woes, the Badgers defense is still ranked number one in the conference in both points and yardage allowed. 

Prediction: This is going to be a classic Big Ten East game, full of good defense and a lot of punts. I’m surprised that Wisconsin is laying two points, so I’ll take the red-hot Hawkeyes at home. 17-13 Iowa. 

Note: Ohio State-Michigan & Purdue-Indiana have been cancelled due to COVID-19

*All lines from William Hill Sportsbook

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