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-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Nate Stanley. (Image Source: Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports)
Here are my picks against the spread for Week 7 (Last Week: 3-3; Overall: 6-10):
IOWA +3.5 Penn State
Yes, Iowa is coming off a game in which they scored three points, while Penn State cracked the top 10. But I believe these teams are closer than you might think. PSU has been impressive but who have they really beaten? Pitt is considered their toughest opponent to this point and against the Panthers, the Nittany Lions managed just 17 points and Iowa’s defense is better than Pitt’s. I expect the Hawkeyes to win the battle at the line of scrimmage against a Penn State offensive line that remains inconsistent. I also expect quarterback Nate Stanley to bounce back after an abysmal game at Michigan. We told you last week about Stanley’s struggles against ranked teams on the road. How does he do against ranked teams at home? Much better. Two years ago, against No. 4 Penn State and No. 6 Ohio State he threw seven TD passes to no INTs in an upset of OSU and a near upset of PSU (21-19, TD on game’s final play). The senior will play much better this week. Kinnick at night is one of the toughest places to play in the Big Ten and the Hawkeyes have covered 70 percent of their games as a home dog since 2000. Take the points and maybe throw a little on the money line.
Michigan -22 ILLINOIS
After getting embarrassed by Wisconsin, the Michigan defense has responded. They have not allowed a touchdown in nine quarters and just three points in the past two games. Some of their more highly-touted recruits in the past two classes are emerging as key players, one on each level in defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, linebacker Cameron McGrone, and defensive back Daxton Hill. The same can’t be said about the offense, but here’s the thing. They can put up points against a bad defense (see 52 points vs. Rutgers) and the Illini D is bad. Moreover, after getting shutout in the final three quarters against Iowa, you can bet they will look to bounce back and build up their confidence before taking on Penn State next week. Without a running quarterback, Illinois isn’t as effective running the ball. An OK run defense (Minnesota) held them to 91 yards on the ground last week and now they face an even tougher defense to run on. Look for the Maize & Blue to score at least 40 against a poor-tackling defense, which means if the Wolverines hold Illinois to 17, this will be a cover.
Nebraska +7.5 MINNESOTA
After backing Nebraska and losing each of the past two weeks, as well as getting beat by Minnesota in each of the past two weeks, believe me…I’m holding my nose making this selection. The Gophers are undefeated but both of their Big Ten opponents (Illinois, Purdue) are in the bottom four in the conference in yards per play offensively and bottom three in the conference in yards per play defensively. Now, they step up in competition and are laying over a touchdown. These teams are evenly matched and the Gophers may be overvalued as they’re ranked for the first time this season. In the game after a team enters the top 25, they are 7-8 straight up and 2-12-1 against the spread with six outright upsets this season. It could be players getting a little high on themselves or the public overvaluing a team because they now have a number next to their name. I believe that’s the case this week.
Maryland -3.5 PURDUE
Right now, Maryland is a much better team. The Terps are fourth in the B1G at 6.1 yards per play, nearly a full yard better than the Boilermakers (5.2). For comparison’s sake, Wisconsin is third at 6.4, a gap of just 0.3 yards. Defensively, Maryland isn’t great (5.1 YPP) but much better than Purdue (6.2 YPP), who is last in the Big Ten. Again, for comparison’s sake, that gap is bigger than Maryland compared to Michigan (4.3) or Michigan State (4.5). Dig deeper and it’s a bad matchup stylistically. The Terps are 13th nationally in scrimmage plays of 40-plus yards, 11th in plays 50-plus yards, 10th in plays 60-plus yards, and one of four teams to have 80-yard plays rushing, as well as passing. Meanwhile, Purdue is 114th in scrimmage plays allowed of 40-plus yards, while Texas Tech is the only team that has allowed more plays of 70-plus yards this season. The Boilermakers simply lack the speed to keep up with the Terps, especially with several key front-seven defenders out, while Maryland has proven it can bully inferior defenses.
Michigan State +10.5 WISCONSIN
Right off the bat, let me state I am a little concerned about Michigan State going up against big powerful offensive lines like Ohio State’s and Wisconsin’s in back-to-back weeks. College teams simply aren’t used to that. Having said that, this is a proud, veteran group with five seniors and two juniors in their front seven. They’re not just experienced, they’re a talented bunch as well. They will be highly motivated to prove they’re much better than they showed at the Horseshoe. The Badgers are also a better matchup for the Spartans D. Why? The opposing quarterback. Jack Coan is no Justin Fields. He’s not as dangerous as a passer and not even close to being the same threat running, which impacted MSU’s ability to key in on the running back. It’s no surprise that in the one game Wisconsin had trouble running the ball (vs. Northwestern), Coan had his worst performance. Then there are the numbers. The Badgers are a 10.5-point favorite and the total is just 40. That’s bad math. According to Brad Powers of PreGame.com, favorites of seven or more with totals of 43 or less, cover just 43 percent of the time. Throw in the fact high winds are expected and this should be a close, low-scoring game, which favors the underdog.
Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Award, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards.
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