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Big Ten Week 5 Preview: Picks & The Points

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Conference play begins.....

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Finally we have arrived at the true start of conference play, with six Big Ten match-ups on tap for this weekend.  Penn State and Rutgers already squared off and both have Army left on their non-conference schedule.  Penn State plays the Cadets this weekend, while Rutgers is on bye and travels to West Point in November.  The Big Ten West takes center stage with two big games that will help decide the winner of the division.  Let's dive in and remember to use the spreads for legal means only.

Army at Penn State 12:00PM ESPNU

Line: Penn State -26.5

Penn State is 3-1 and plays Army to end their non-conference schedule.  This should be the easiest game so far (gulp, forgot about the Rutgers game).  Army did get their first victory over Eastern Michigan, but remember this team opened the season with a loss to Fordham.  Have fun in Happy Valley and see you in November.  By the way, there was a Christian Hackenberg sighting last week, he threw for over 300 yards for the first time all season.  Penn State did not walk away unscathed though, as their top two running backs, Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch both left the San Diego State game due to injury. No word on how long either will be out, if at all.

Prediction: Penn State wins big 38-3

Purdue at Michigan State 12:00PM ESPN2

Line: Michigan State -21.5

Sparty beat up on Central Michigan last week and won by three touchdowns.  However, they did not look terribly impressive.  Hopefully, they get their "A" game out of their system this week against Purdue, before coming to the banks for a prime time game against Rutgers.  Injuries are starting to pile up for MSU also, something to track heading into next week.  Regardless, it won't matter this week as Purdue might not win another game all season. They lost in the last minute against Bowling Green a week ago, which is more than Maryland can say.

Prediction:  Michigan State romps the Boilermakers 48-7

Minnesota at Northwestern 12:00 PM BTN

Line: Northwestern -4

Northwestern comes into conference play at 4-0 with two power 5 wins, Stanford and Duke.  Minnesota is 3-1 with a hard fought loss to TCU and a couple of nail biting wins against sub-par competition.  Northwestern had their own scare last week against Ball State, only winning 24-19.  This is a huge game for the Big Ten West and a statement game for both programs.  Minnesota has high expectations this season after back to back 8-5 campaigns. Northwestern is out to prove the past two losing seasons were not indicative of what type of program they are.  They are the two lowest scoring offenses in the conference along with two of the better defenses.  It should be a slug fest and come down to execution in the red zone, since points will be so hard to come by. Northwestern's red zone defense has only given up one touchdown in ten opportunities and forced three turnovers.  Minnesota's offense doesn't seem strong enough to change that trend.

Prediction: Northwestern wins 20-10

Iowa at Wisconsin 12:00PM ESPN

Line: Wisconsin -6

This is another huge contest in the Big Ten West as undefeated Iowa heads to Wisconsin. Iowa hasn't beaten any world beaters, but has a solid win over PITT and finally beat rival Iowa State.  It is their first 4-0 start since 2009 and quarterback CJ Beathard is off to a great start.  Running back Jordan Canzeri leads the Big Ten with eight touchdowns. Since Wisconsin's loss to Alabama, they have given up just three points total in convincing wins Miami (OH), Troy and Hawaii.  However, top running back Corey Clement is out for 4-6 weeks after sports hernia surgery, so their offense is less than full force.  Backup Taiwan Deal has performed well and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week after rushing for 146 yards and 2 touchdowns against Hawaii.  Doing that in a conference battle against Iowa is a different story.  I think this will be a great, back and forth, classic Big Ten battle.  I think the loss of Clement catches up with Wisconsin and the Kirk Ferentz comeback tour continues.

Prediction: Iowa pulls the upset 31-27

Michigan at Maryland 12:00PM BTN

Line: Michigan -16

Thank god for Maryland.  They can't score and they can't play defense.  They do have a good return game with Will Likely, but it's unlikely he will have too many opportunities the rest of the season, since opponents can neutralize him with not kicking to him. Michigan is trending up with coach Jim Harbaugh showing progress already in year one. It will be interesting to see the home crowd's turnout for this one, especially after it was moved from a night game to noon because of Hurrican Joaquin.  This game will get ugly quick.

Prediction: Michigan in a rout 42-10

Ohio State at Indiana 3:30PM ABC/ESPN2

Line: Ohio State -21

Indiana led a solid social media campaign, spearheaded by our friends at Crimson Quarry, to host ESPN College Gameday for this Saturday.  It didn't work out as ESPN is headed to Death Valley for Notre Dame at Clemson. Regardless, this is probably the biggest football game in Bloomington in at least a decade.  Indiana has the leading rusher in college football, Jordan Howard, and Nate "the great" Sudfeld at quarterback. Ohio State still hasn't hit peak form yet. This week Cardale Jones was named the starter the earliest he has been of any week this season.  I think the Buckeyes love the limelight and play best when in marquee games.  NOT that the Indiana game is marquee per say, but essentially the biggest game of the season so far for Urban's army.  The Hoosier dream dies hard this weekend.

Prediction: Ohio State rolls 56-28

Nebraska at Illinois 4:00PM BTN

Line: Nebraska -6.5

Nebraska is still adjusting to new coach Mike Riley's offensive system and the new coaching staff.  The loss to BYU at home was tough, but looks worse now after how Michigan steamrolled them last weekend 31-0.  Nebraska still has Tommy Armstrong at quarterback and that will pay dividends in conference play.  Illinois just enjoyed a 3-1 non-conference slate, but reality will set in now.  I think this game is close in the first half, only to see Nebraska take out some frustration on a division foe and win going away.

Prediction: Nebraska wins 35-14

Head to Head Results: Last week 12-2; Season 47-8

Season Against The Spread: Last week 8-6; Season 24-23-1