As Week 7 of college football wrapped up this past Sunday, the Big Ten wrapped up four weeks of conference play. There were several things we already knew and expected in the Big Ten, and then there are some things that most of us just found out this past weekend. For example, we knew which teams were going to be bad -- Rutgers, Purdue and Illinois. We knew which teams were going to be good - Michigan and Ohio State.
This past weekend showed us three things that we may not have already known. It showed us that Maryland is a fraud. They started the season 4-0 before losing to Penn State and Minnesota by a combined 67-24. It showed us that Michigan State is far worse than just an "off" game against Wisconsin or unlucky loss against Indiana. I wrote that they hit rock bottom after the loss to the Hoosiers, which I now know was a bit premature. Rock bottom happened this past weekend when they gave up 54 points to Northwestern. That alone should be cause for major change internally. And lastly, this past weekend told us to start taking Nebraska seriously. The Cornhuskers are 3-0 in conference play (6-0 overall) and have a clear path to the Big Ten Title Game. The only game they might have a hard time winning is vs. Ohio State on November 5. They should be 8-0 by kickoff. And even with a loss, I still like their chances to hold off Iowa for top spot in the West.
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Week 8 in the Big Ten has all four ranked teams in action. No.2 Ohio State (-20) travels to Penn State to take on the Nittany Lions. No.3 Michigan (-36.5) hosts Illinois, No.8 Nebraska (-24) hosts Purdue and No.10 Wisconsin (-4) travels to Iowa for a date with the Hawkeyes. Barring an upset in the Buckeyes or Wolverines games, which I don't believe will occur, the game with the most importance is Wisconsin vs. Iowa. Iowa needs to win this game in order to keep pace with Nebraska in the West Division. The rest of the Big Ten schedule looks like this: Indiana vs. Northwestern (-1.5), Rutgers vs. Minnesota (-17.5) and Michigan State (-2.5) vs. Maryland.
Moving forward on a weekly basis I will be breaking down the weekly Big Ten slate with expert analysis.
*All lines courtesy of Bovada*
Underdog of the Week
No.10 Wisconsin Badgers (-3) @ Iowa Hawkeyes
There are two very prominent angles to consider when handicapping this game.
On one side of the coin is Wisconsin. They are in prime position for a major letdown coming into this game. Last week they had the No.2-ranked team in the country on the ropes and couldn't finish the job, losing 30-23 in overtime. That second loss really hurts them. And lost with their CFP hopes will be any motivation to show up and play a full 60 minutes against Iowa.
On the other hand, this is a must-win game for Iowa. The Hawkeyes currently sit in second place in the West Division, 1.5 games back of Nebraska. If the Hawkeyes have hopes of getting into the Big Ten Title Game, they will most likely have to win out, and that will include a win in the regular-season finale at home against Nebraska.
Now that we've covered the angles, how are these teams entering this game?
Wisconsin is banged up at every position, and the injury report for this week includes key names such as linebacker Vince Biegel, nose tackle Olive Sagapolu, wide receiver Robert Wheelwright, linebacker Zack Baun, offensive lineman Jon Dietzen, running back Taiwan Deal and safety Keelon Brookins. That's a lot of starting pieces they will have to replace should they not be able to go or not play at 100 percent on Saturday.
Iowa comes into this game healthy and on the heels of back-to-back road wins against Minnesota and Purdue. They are a very different team today than the one they were when they lost at home to FCS North Dakota State and Northwestern. They finally seemed to address the areas that needed the most improvement, which were the rushing offense and run defense. They held Purdue to just 47 yards on the ground while running for 365 yards themselves. That is the highest rushing total for an Iowa team since 2002.
The key to this game will be Wisconsin's ability to stop the dynamic duo of running backs Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels. Last week the pair combined for 326 yards and three touchdowns. I expect Iowa to keep feeding this dynamic duo and win the time of possession battle. Should they do that, they will be able to pull off the minor upset.
Big Ten Conference Ranking
2. Big Ten
4. Pac 12
5. Big 12
The Big Ten was only supposed to be a two-horse race this season. Ohio State and Michigan were the only Big Ten teams expected to make any noise in the CFP and rank in the Top 5. Nobody expected the Big Ten to have four Top-10 teams, and that is exactly what they have. Nebraska and Wisconsin are the additional two teams currently ranked. However, depending on the results of this coming weekend that could change.
I have no doubt in my mind that the Big Ten has the strongest top four teams that any conference can offer. The Big Ten also has the best shot of any conference to get two teams into the CFP in Ohio State and Michigan, even though they meet each other in the regular-season finale.
Despite that, the Big Ten falls short of the top spot because the depth of the conference leaves a lot to be desired. Michigan State is having an absolutely terrible season, and it might just be the worst team of Mark Dantonio's career. Northwestern, who won 11 games last year, has just three wins through six games this year and has looked terrible in most of those games. Then there is Purdue, Rutgers and Illinois. These teams are probably among the worst teams in any Power Five conference.
The only reason the SEC is ranked in the top spot is because they have more depth in the conference and currently have six teams ranked inside the AP Top 25. This doesn't exactly mean the SEC is as powerful as year's past, it just means that other conference like the ACC or Pac 12 haven't been as good as in previous years. Give it a week or two and the Big Ten will be the "best" conference in the country once again.
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