Finally, the showdown between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan is here, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Bragging rights, the Big Ten East and, potentially, a college football playoff berth are all on the line. For Ohio State, revenge is also a factor as the Buckeyes prepare to host the Wolverines on Saturday after the embarrassing defeat of last season against their great rival.
But for their similarities to the 11-0 Big Ten East teams, there is one major difference in their resumes. That difference is the non-conference victory over Notre Dame that Ohio State earned in Week 1. While Michigan went through a laughable non-conference slate from Colorado, Hawaii State and UConn, the Buckeyes tested themselves against a quality opponent who has quietly put together a solid season.
The Fighting Irish are 15th in this week’s college football playoff standings and have a chance to go even higher if they take down No. 6 USC on Saturday night. If Ohio State doesn’t beat Michigan, Buckeyes fans should turn into serious Notre Dame fans on Saturday night. If Notre Dame defeated USC, it would eliminate the Trojans from the CFP conflict and make Ohio State’s Week 1 victory over the Fighting Irish all the more impressive.
In this scenario, the Buckeyes would have a real shot at making the CFP a one-loss team. But if Michigan loses? Bad luck. The Wolverines’ best win — and only win against a ranked team — would be an Oct. 15 home win over Penn State.
Michigan has no one to blame but itself for why the stakes are so high here. The Wolverines were supposed to play at UCLA this season but canceled their streak with the Bruins in 2019 and
$1.5 million to do it. Instead, they added a game with Hawaii.
Michigan will pay UCLA $1.5 million buyout to cancel series https://t.co/7zT7boPU04— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) October 25, 2019
UCLA is ranked No. 18 this week while Hawaii is No. 127 on the CBS Sports 131. Even if Michigan had played UCLA and lost in Week 2, that wouldn’t have been a barrier to the Wolverines CFP prospects. A road win over Ohio State and a win in next week’s Big Ten Championship Game would absolutely have put the Wolverines in the College Football Playoffs as a one-team losing team.
On the other hand, a win over the Bruins in Week 2 would have given Michigan the same cushion that Ohio State now enjoys.
Instead, the Wolverines backed into a corner with a bad schedule and unnecessarily raised the stakes even further in the biggest game of their season. If Michigan loses to Ohio State, their national title hopes are likely over. If the Buckeyes lose, they can at least activate the USC-Notre Dame game and hang on to hope a little longer.
Now that the stakes are clear, let’s dive into this week’s Big Ten slate for our final round of picks this season.
Record 2022: 37-31-2
No. 3 Michigan at No. 2 Ohio State
Featured Game | Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines
Ohio State is significantly better defensively than it was last season when Michigan snapped an eight-game series losing streak by physically dominating the Buckeyes in a 42-27 victory. With Michigan star running back Blake Corum’s status in question after suffering an injury last week, reaching 30 points may be a struggle for the Wolverines this time around. The Buckeyes can use their defense, home-court advantage and thirst for revenge to back Michigan in this game. The Wolverines rank No. 1 nationally in total defense, but what big offenses have they played? Ohio State is No. 2 nationally in offense and elite in the red zone. The Buckeyes have the firepower to retire late and cover the spread. Pick: Ohio State -7.5
Featured Game | Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Michigan State Spartans
Bowl eligibility is on the line for the Spartans, although it’s unclear if that will be enough motivation for a team that just lost at home to Indiana. Beating the Hoosiers would have been the easiest way to earn six wins. Now Michigan State faces the unenviable task of heading out on the road to face a Penn State team that has quietly reached the threshold of a 10-win regular season. While it’s easy to imagine the Nittany Lions leading this game by 21 or 24 points, it’s also easy to imagine Sean Clifford throwing one or two unnecessary interceptions for the good old days that keep this game tight as the senior in redshirt plays its last game at home in Beaver. Stadium. Prior to Indiana’s loss, Michigan State had won three of four games with victories over Wisconsin and Illinois during that span. The Spartans can cover that huge number. Choose: Michigan State +18
Featured Game | Wisconsin Badgers vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers
With Wisconsin’s coaching search winding down and interim coach Jim Leonhard likely still in a good position to land the full-time gig, look for the Badgers to play some inspired football here. A win would make Wisconsin 5-2 under Leonhard after Paul Chryst was fired midseason and dropping the interim tag would be an easy move. Although Wisconsin has looked bad over the past two weeks, it has won its two home games under Leonhard by double figures against bowl-bound opponents Maryland and Purdue. Another strong performance at home here looks likely against a Minnesota team that is 2-2 on the road. Pick: Wisconsin -3.5
Featured Game | Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers
It wouldn’t be fair to let the regular season end without going under again in an Iowa game. The Hawkeyes boast the fifth-highest defense in the nation, allowing just 13.5 points per game. Nebraska enters with the nation’s No. 103 scoring offense. You get the picture. Even with quarterback Casey Thompson returning from injury last week, the Cornhuskers only had 171 total yards in a home loss to Wisconsin that featured 29 total points. Iowa will clinch the Big Ten West with a win and play in the Big Ten title game next week. That means the Hawkeyes will likely want to conserve their energy and health in the second half if they get ahead by two possessions. This is guaranteed to be a low score game. Choose: Under 38.5
Purdue at Indiana
Featured Game | Indiana Hoosiers vs. Purdue Boilermakers
Did you think Indiana was just going to fold and give up after a seven-game losing streak went from 3-0 to 3-7? Think again. The Hoosiers won a 39-31 double-overtime game at Michigan State last week and should be excited for the rivalry a week after that performance. Assuming Iowa defeats Nebraska on Friday, the Boilermakers will be out of contention for the Big Ten West title by the time this game kicks off. Purdue’s seven wins over FBS opponents this season have been by 10 points or less, so it seems unlikely the Boilermakers will suddenly crush a Big Ten opponent on the road. Pick: Indiana +10.5
Maryland played a great game and narrowly ended up against No. 2 Ohio State last week. The Terrapins looked like each other again offensively while controlling the Buckeyes’ prolific offense. Rutgers were completely crushed by Penn State as they suffered a seventh loss. Five of them came with margins wider than this spread. The Scarlet Knights are bad, knocked out of the bowl bid and face a Maryland team that should be motivated to enter the bowl season on a high after last week’s heartbreaking loss. And, yes, Terps quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa is expected to play after suffering an injury in the final play of the game last week. Pick: Maryland -14
Featured Game | Northwestern Wildcats vs. Illinois Fighting Illini
Why is this point total so high? Illinois is 92nd in offense and Northwestern 128th. It’s true that the Illini should be able to rack up yards on the Wildcats’ run defense, but they’ll also bleed the clock in the process. With the Illini on a three-game losing streak after their 7-1 start, look for coach Bret Bielema to grind one here for the sake of getting back into the win column. Illinois’ defense may be struggling with depth and attrition, but Northwestern hasn’t hit double digits in its last three games, and the Wildcats aren’t suddenly going to find an offensive rhythm in their last game of the season. Choose: under 38
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