Week 9 of the College Football season is in the books, and the Big Ten game everyone is talking about happened in Madison, Wisconsin. The No.11 Badgers knocked off No.8 Nebraska in overtime by a score of 23-17. With that loss, Nebraska's spot in the Big Ten title game is now up in the air as there are four teams currently one game back of the division lead. The Cornhuskers also dropped two spots to No.9 in the AP Poll, one spot behind No.8 Wisconsin, who jumped up from No.11.
The rest of the Big Ten games went as expected. No.24 Penn State crushed an overmatched Purdue team by 38 points. Minnesota ran wild over Illinois by a score of 40-17, and Indiana covered the short 3.5-point spread against Maryland. No.6 Ohio State needed a Curtis Samuel three-yard touchdown run with nine minutes left to overcome a pesky Northwestern team by a score of 24-20. It was another underwhelming performance by the Buckeyes, which can only hurt their chance at getting into the College Football Playoff. And lastly, No.2 Michigan completely dominated Michigan State. The final score (32-23) doesn't tell the whole story as 13 of the Spartans' 23 points came with just under seven minutes left in the game.
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Week 10 in the Big Ten features all 14 teams in action with the theme being big mismatches. The smallest spread of the week is Wisconsin (-6.5) at Northwestern, with the largest spread going to Michigan (-31) at home against Maryland. When some people look at big point spreads they see one of two things. They see major mismatches and are willing to lay the big number, or they see over-inflated lines, which means there is value with backing the underdog. The game with the most implications happens in Columbus, where No.6 Ohio State (-17) takes on No.9 Nebraska. The loser of this game can kiss their CFP and conference title hopes goodbye. The rest of the schedule sees Indiana (-14) travel to Rutgers to take on the Scarlet Knights, Michigan State (-7.5) travel to Champaign to play Illinois, Minnesota (-17) hosting Purdue, and the Penn State Nittany Lions (-8) hosting the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Moving forward on a weekly basis I will be breaking down the weekly Big Ten slate. I will share with you my Game of the Week, teams trending up and down, key player matchups, best value line and the top underdog, to watch just to name a few. Let's get to it.
*All lines courtesy of Bovada*
Key Game of the Week
No. 9 Nebraska @ No.6 Ohio State
Forgive me if you feel like I write about Nebraska every single week, but they are a team that has constantly threatened to turn the Big Ten landscape upside down this year. After they lose this week to Ohio State, they will officially be out of CFP contention, and their Big Ten Title hopes will be on life support.
I hope as a bettor and as a reader it's easy to see why this is my Key Game of the Week. Ohio State needs to win this game in order to stay alive in the CFP discussion and potentially catch Michigan in the East Division race. Ohio State is currently one game back. And should they win their next three games, they will set up a "Win and You're In" scenario against Michigan in the regular-season finale.
However, in order to win out the Buckeyes need to play much better than they have been playing lately. The offense looks out of sync, and quarterback J.T. Barrett has looked average at best. Part of the reason Barrett has struggled is because the offensive line is struggling to protect him and his receivers are doing a very poor job of getting open downfield. Defensively, the unit, which was so solid through the first month of the season, is allowing teams to gain big chunks of yardage on plays they would have normally sniffed out. Many people within the team are citing a lack of experience for these growing pains.
Nebraska, on the other hand, is in a much better position than Ohio State currently, despite losing their first game of the season last week at Wisconsin. The Cornhuskers are in control of their own destiny as they own a one-game lead over a pack of teams in the West Division. Should the Cornhuskers win out, they will find themselves in the Big Ten title game and will be very deserving of that spot.
If they want to prove they are for real this year, a win against the Buckeyes will go a long way in doing just that. As a team, though, they will need to play their very best football and capitalize on any opportunities the Buckeyes give them. They will need Tommy Armstrong Jr. to turn in a solid performance at the QB position and they will need WR Jordan Westerkamp to fully recover from an ankle injury and be their top receiver.
This game has plenty of implications for both teams, and the winner of this game will be in control of their own destiny heading into the last three weeks of the regular season.
Trending Up & Down
Since the college football season is only 12 games long, teams need to play to their potential right from the opening kick off in September. No team can afford an early-season loss and expect to be in the upper part of the rankings once the calendar turns to November. With that said, there are teams in the Big Ten conference that have definitely been trending in the right or wrong direction this late in the season. They have either played themselves into a bowl game or played themselves out of one.
Penn State. The Nittany Lions are on a four-game winning streak and have beaten some good teams along the way. They have beaten Minnesota, Maryland, Ohio State and Purdue over the last month and have done so by putting up no less than 24 points in each game. They have found their running game lately, led by Saquon Barkley. He has rushed for 571 yards and four touchdowns during this four-game win streak, which has taken the pressure off of quarterback Trace McSorley. The Nittany Lions find themselves in second place currently in the Big Ten East Division, only one game behind undefeated Michigan. Their remaining schedule sees them play in very winnable games. Iowa, Indiana, Rutgers and Michigan State don't exactly strike fear in the eyes of solid football teams. A spot in the Big Ten Title Game might be a stretch, but I can see them finishing 9-3 and enjoying a spot in a solid Bowl Game.
Purdue. The Boilermakers owned a 3-2 record after five games this season. They then proceeded to get blown out at home by Iowa, a result which got head coach Darrell Hazell fired. Since then, they've run their losing streak to three games. A 27-14 loss to Nebraska saw the Boilermakers shut out for the entire second half, and last week's blowout loss to Penn State just magnified how many problems this squad really has. They have a very inconsistent offense and a defense that forgets to cover people. They surrendered 45 points in the second half, which tells me two things. One, they are mentally checked out. Two, they just don't have the talent to compete. Either way, Purdue fans and alumni will be looking forward to the start of basketball season, which is just around the corner.
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