Big Ten Bets Week 6! Thunder Road!

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October 7

We went 3-2 last week to improve to 16-12 on the season. More importantly, now that each team has two conference games under their belts, we’re getting a better grasp of the Big Ten approaching the midway point of the season.

Overall Record: 16-12 overall (+2 units) | ATS: 8-6 | Team Totals: 8-6

Onto this week’s picks. Let’s eat!

B1GGEST Bets (2 Units):

Last Week: 0-1; Season: 1-3 (-4 Units)

Michigan -22 INDIANA

Money Line: Michigan -1600 | Indiana +900 | Total: 59.5
Time: noon ET; TV: FOX | Location: Memorial Stadium | Bloomington, MI
Michigan: AP Top 25: 4 | Coaches Poll: 4 | SP+: 4 | PFF: 4
Indiana: AP Top 25: NR | Coaches Poll:  NR | SP+: 83 | PFF: 93

It might not be the most significant point spread of the week in Big Ten play, but it’s the most significant mismatch.
 
Michigan is the only B1G team in the top three in the conference in both yards per play and yards per play allowed, while Indiana joins Northwestern as the only two schools in the bottom four.
 
Sophomore J.J. McCarthy seemed to have some jitters in his first B1G game against Maryland, and while he was as cool as a cucumber in Kinnick, the game plan was understandably conservative. Look for a breakout game on Saturday.

We know he can open things up, which the Wolverines must do to get where they want to go. With Penn State on deck, now’s the time to take the training wheels off.
 
McCarthy has missed some deep shots down the field when overthrowing his target. But the opportunities have been there and will be again on Saturday against an Indiana defense that gave up three pass plays of 34-plus yards in Lincoln last week, including a 71-yard scoring strike.

This Michigan offense has even more weapons than Nebraska, with Roman Wilson (18.7 YPC) and Ronnie Bell the two likeliest big-play targets.

Even with some growing pains, Michigan is sixth nationally in success rate and 12th in EPA on offense. With Trevor Keegan back in the lineup at guard, the offensive line is whole and getting better by the week. Blake Corum (611-6.6-10 TDs) is having a memorable season, and a healthy Donovan Edwards gives them an elite one-two punch.

B1GGER Bets (1 Unit):

Last Week: 2-1; Season: 14-8 (+6 Units)

UNDER INDIANA 18.5

Barring turnovers, I don’t see how the Hoosiers reach 20 points. IU is 113th in success rate and 90th in EPA on offense.

They throw 65.7% of the time, and Connor Bazelak is averaging just 5.7 YPP while completing 52.8% of his passes. He’s also regressing as those numbers dropped to 4.6 YPP and 48.2% over the past two weeks with three interceptions and eight sacks, as IU still hasn’t adjusted to losing their left tackle. Now they’re going from trying to block Nebraska (seven sacks, 14th in the B1G) to Michigan (15 sacks, second in the B1G).

And the Hoosiers could be without their top two pass catchers, who missed last week’s game.

Michigan’s defense is ranked fourth in the county in success rate and EPA. They’ve been extremely stout, if not outright dominant.

The only concern is a potential backdoor cover, as the Wolverines allowed a Maryland touchdown with 45 seconds left and Iowa to score with just eight ticks on the clock last week. Hopefully, that will be an impetus to finish this one strong on defense.

NEBRASKA -3 Rutgers (Friday)

Money Line: Nebraska -144 | Rutgers +118 | Total: 50.5
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET; TV: FS1 | Location: SHI Stadium | Piscataway, NJ
Nebraska: AP Top 25: NR | Coaches Poll: NR | SP+: 63 | PFF: 67

Rutgers: AP Top 25: NR | Coaches Poll: NR | SP+: 77 | PFF: 77

Money Line: Nebraska -150 | Rutgers +25 | Total: 50
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET; TV: FS1 | Location: SHI Stadium | Piscataway, NJ
Nebraska: AP Top 25: NR | Coaches Poll: NR | SP+: 63 | PFF: 67
Rutgers: AP Top 25: NR | Coaches Poll: NR | SP+: 77 | PFF: 77

I don’t love giving Greg Schiano points, especially at home. But it’s a small line, Nebraska is the more talented team, and they have a new look at life. Heck, they’re in first place in the B1G West! Sure, it’s a six-way tie, but the Huskers have something to play for.
 
The best unit in this game is Nebraska’s offense, led by Casey Thompson, completing 65.3% of his passes for 8.8 yards per attempt. The best two offensive skill players are Huskers in former LSU wideout Trey Palmer (36-480-2 TDs) and junior college running back Anthony Grant (600 yards, 5.3 YPC, 5 TDs). They are explosive.
 
Nebraska has a 50 percent success rate on offense (13th overall) and is 37th in EPA.
 
I still don’t love the Blackshirts’ defense, but they did hold Indiana to 14 points (IU scored a TD when backup QB Chubba Purdy fumbled in the end zone) and shut them out in the second half. I said it would be their best defensive performance of the season last week, and it was. Yes, the opponent played a significant role, but the RU offense (104th in success rate) isn’t much better and is even more one-dimensional (111th in passing EPA)
 
Nebraska probably isn’t going to make a run at the B1G West crown (backloaded schedule), but they will win their second in a row.

Iowa +3.5 ILLINOIS

Money Line: Iowa +145 | Illinois -175 | Total: 36.5
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET; TV: BTN | Location: Memorial Stadium | Champaign, IL
Iowa: AP Top 25: NR | Coaches Poll: NR | SP+: 29 | PFF: 24

Illinois: AP Top 25: NR (36) | Coaches Poll: NR (43) | SP+: 44 | PFF: 14

Maybe I just don’t see it. Maybe I’m being stubborn. Or maybe, I’m not a prisoner of the moment. Maybe by zigging when most are zagging, I’m finding value with an Iowa team that is understandably difficult to back.

The matchup of Iowa OC Brian Ferentz versus up-and-comer Illinois DC Ryan Walters scares me. There’s no defending this Iowa offense other than to say there are reasons to believe they will get better.

Wideout Nico Ragaini finally looks healthy, and they have one of the B1 G’s best tight-end duos in Sam LaPorta and Luke Lachey, whom they are starting to use more. The same goes for freshman running back Kaleb Johnson, who brings burst to the backfield. There is some talent on offense.

But primarily, this pick is based on one thing. I believe Iowa is the better team, and that’s not what this line indicates. The Illini was favored in only one of their past 20 B1G games against an all-time bad Northwestern team last year. Iowa is not that.

Even though the polls don’t say so, the metrics will tell you the Hawkeyes are probably a top 30-ish team.

The super low total (36.5) indicates a low-scoring close game. So, give me the points, especially that ever-so-critical hook. And give me the moneyline for a sprinkle on the Hawkeyes, who leave Champaign with a W.

ILLINOIS UNDER 19.5

While there’s no defending Iowa offense, the other side of the ball needs no defense. 

Phil Parker’s unit is arguably the best in the country and is ranked as such by SP+. The Hawkeyes are strong at every level, with one of the deepest defensive lines and high-end talent in the back seven.

They win the line scrimmage, with Jack Campbell and Seth Benson as two of the best tackling linebackers in the country. Illinois likes to run the ball behind Chase Brown, but they will find the sledding tough this week. Only Alabama allowed fewer yards per play than Iowa’s 3.74. That number is even more impressive because one of their five opponents was Michigan, which owns one of the nation’s most explosive offenses.

The Hawkeyes are physical up front, opportunistic on the back end, and disciplined at every level. Before giving up 27 points to a dynamic Michigan offense, Iowa allowed 23 points through four games, and the Wolverines are the only opponent to score more than 10 points. I don’t see the Illini cracking 20.

NORTHWESTERN UNDER 16.5

Money Line: Wisconsin -375 | Northwestern +300 | Total: 44.5
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET; TV: BTN | Location: Ryan Field | Evanston, IL
Wisconsin: AP Top 25: NR | Coaches Poll: NR | SP+: 33 | PFF: 54

Northwestern: AP Top 25: NR | Coaches Poll: NR | SP+: 88 | PFF: 105

Despite last week’s effort or lack thereof, this is a Wisconsin defense with enough good players to turn it around, with Northwestern as the ideal opponent.

The ‘Cats are 13th in scoring in the B1G and 11th in yards per play, as they struggle rushing (104th in EPA per rush) and passing. Unable to rush, Ryan Hilinski forced to throw when Wisconsin knows that’s all Northwestern can do, is a scary outcome for the home team.

Hilinski and the offense as a whole are regressing. The Wildcats managed 14 points in their loss to Miami (OH) two weeks again and seven points at Penn State last week, despite five Nittany Lions turnovers. After throwing for 749 yards, 7.64 YPP, and four TDs (one INT) in the first two games, Hilinski is averaging 227 yards (5.48 YPP) with two TDs (three INTs) in the past three games.

A shutout wouldn’t surprise me.

B1G Bets (1/2 Unit):

Last Week: 1-1; Season: 1-1 (Even)

Wisconsin -10 NORTHWESTERN

It’s not just Northwestern’s offense that stinks; it’s their defense too. They allow the second-highest yards per rush in the B1G (4.3) and the third-highest yards per pass (7.5), with a success rate ranked 91st in FBS.

After managing just two yards rushing last week against Illinois, Wisconsin will look to re-establish themselves as a running team behind Braelon Allen. He had season lows of 86 yards (vs. New Mexico State) and 4.7 YPC (vs. Washington State) in the first four games. Considering, Northwestern’s run defense (93rd in EPA per rush), 200 yards is in play.

The Badgers’ rushing attack, even with last week’s numbers included, is 16th in EPA per rush, a big reason they’re seventh in offensive success rate (52%). That’s nationally, not just in the Big Ten. They need to avoid making catastrophic mistakes.

Many believe that the powers in Madison are rooting for interim coach Jim Leonhard to win his way to the full-time job, and by firing Paul Chryst ahead of their game against the Wildcats, they’re giving him the best opportunity for a quick start.

Thumbnail photo via Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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