Big Ten Mania
All odds courtesy of DraftKings, as of Wednesday, Oct. 13th.
Your crack team of total losers is back with steamy more to warm you up in this chilly weekend of college football. Week 7 promises to be a doozy, with massive games in all conferences. While we shy away from some of the biggest games, we embraced the Big Ten here (we don’t know why, but we love the bruisers in the midwest this year), giving you some great takes on Minnesota at Illinois, Penn State at Michigan, and Wisconsin at Michigan State.
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You can read Paul’s Week 7 picks here.
Minnesota at #24 Illinois (+6.5, o/u 39.5)
Kickoff: Saturday 10/15 12:00 PM EST, Big Ten Network
Nate: We are going back to the well on point totals after last week finally yielded winners. Illinois is coming off an absolutely disgusting 9-6 victory against Iowa, and is facing another Big Ten foe that profiles fairly similarly.
Neither of these teams boast the same level of defense, but that’s because Iowa has the best defense in the country, per PFF. However, Illinois ranks 7th and Minnesota is 18th in defensive efficiency, so these teams aren’t slouches on that side of the ball.
Additionally, both of these teams tend to play very slowly, and the game clock should be running continously.
Illinois figures to be playing their backup quarterback Artur Sitkowsky, and to be kind, he has been uninspiring. To be frank, he is terrible. Illinois probably keeps things simple for him and tries to attack the Golden Gophers by running the ball. The problem is that Illinois doesn’t run the ball particularly well. This is a low total, and for good reason, but it’s still too high. Pick: Under 39.5 total points.
Go for the Gophers
Jack: I’m not getting mired in the mud with statistics for this game. It’s no secret that I’ve been on this Minnesota team from the very beginning of the year. They have a dangerous offense, play hard hard P.J. Fleck, and have shown flashes of a strong defense.
The Illini’s entire identity is defense. They can score, but they would rather not. They grind games out and rely on their defense, which has been very stingy. Normally, I would caution anyone from laying -6.5 points on the road against a ranked team that wants to use their defense to keep things close. However, the spread feels like a trap, which is why Nate stayed away from it and went with the over/under..
I think the public sees this spread and jumps at the opportunity to take the points against what many see as a fraudulent Minnesota team. They’re favored for a reason. This is the week the Illini bubble bursts. Pick: Minnesota -6.5.
#10 Penn State at #5 Michigan (-7, o/u 51.5)
Kickoff: Saturday 10/15 12:00 PM EST, FOX
Nate: Look at us taking a stand on some of the more high-profile games of the weekend. We love Penn State at Michigan this week.
The sneaky smaller college games you’ve come to expect out of us are still here, but we’re starting with a bang before giving out those ESPN+ stinkers.
This is a huge matchup as both teams come in with CFP aspirations. Michigan quarterback, J.J. McCarthy has been nothing short of absolutely elite this year. He is joined in the backfield by Blake Corum who has been able to run with the football seemingly anywhere he wants.
This offense is a lot to handle, and even though they played a close game with Indiana last week, I think they are for real.
Penn State has a great defense, but they haven’t been tested by the elite weapons that Michigan has at their disposal. Michigan should be focused this week and last week’s game was a clear flat spot on their schedule as they’ve had this game circled since the season started. Pick: Michigan -7.
Defensive Takes in Ann Arbor
Jack: Nate talks a lot about Michigan’s offense, but what about their defense? According to PFF, Michigan has the fifth ranked defense in the country. They are in the top ten in almost all categories: run defense, pass rush, turnovers. They are ranked first in tackling, which usually means that they have a bunch of linebackers and defensive backs that rank high in the pass rush. And they do. They also have some nasty defensive linemen in Kris Jenkins and Mazi Smith.
The Nittany Lions would prefer to run the ball. They call for a run 53% of the time their offense is on the field. They use the run to control the pace of the game and provide their QB, Sean Clifford, with enough opportunities to make some plays.
Clifford has had a good year to this point. He has a QBR of 144 (QBR can be a misleading stat). He’s only thrown 2 interceptions. He’s completed 62% of his passes.
Here’s our big question: can the Nittany Lions protect Clifford on Saturday? Penn State ranks 56th in pass blocking this year. Michigan ranks 11th in pass rush. Combine that with a nasty run defense and this game could get ugly. Penn State is overvalued. Take the seven and be glad you didn’t have to lay 14. Pick: Michigan -7.
#3 Alabama at #6 Tennessee (+7, o/u 65.5)
Kickoff: Saturday 10/15 3:30 PM EST, CBS
Nate: Another top-ten matchup when the Crimson Tide head to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers. It’s sounding like Bryce Young will be back for Alabama as he pursues his second Heisman Trophy.
Tennessee finally has all the pieces they need to make a deep run and the offense is fantastic. Alabama hasn’t looked like the usual Alabama team that blows away every team on the schedule, and they’ve looked vulnerable several times this year when they’ve faced good teams. I think this will be a shootout and another close game for Alabama, where the last team with the ball likely wins. Take the points here with the Vols to hang tight and maybe snag a huge upset. Pick: Tennessee +7.
Jack: Hi, readers. Jack is here to set you straight for this one. Don’t buy the Vols hype. Stick with the juggernaut. Always.
Let’s stay with PFF here. I’m going to give you about three stats and leave it at that. Alabama is ranked third in PFF’s rating for total defense. Alabama is physical. They tackle, cover the pass well, and swarm the ball.
Tennessee is ranked 86th in defense. They love their offense in Knoxville. You’d think Hendon Hooker can teach the defense something about coverage, because they are 119th in PFF’s rating for coverage. I don’t care who is playing QB for Alabama, Nick Saban is going to coach them to recognize the coverage weaknesses and absolutely exploit them.
Alabama’s defense rolls.
Remember when Oregon played UGA? Yeah. Pick: Alabama -7.
Western Kentucky at Middle Tennessee State (+8, o/u 67)
Kickoff: Saturday 10/15 3:30 PM EST, ESPN+
Nate: Now we’re back to the ugly games you’ve come to expect from us, but here me out: Western Kentucky is pretty fun to watch. They have a high-flying offense led by a stud transfer in Austin Reed. This is the same program that is responsible for Bailey Zappe playing on Sundays for the Patriots.
Neither of these teams play much defense so expect a high-scoring shootout. Fast-paced offenses and crap defenses are why we like the over here. And Western Kentucky being slightly stronger than MTSU on the defensive end is why we like the Hilltoppers. Pick: Western Kentucky -8 and over 67 total points.
Jack: Nate really outdid himself with a venerable slate of random games featuring teams that I do not get to watch as often as I’d like. Here’s what I know about Western Kentucky: Nate picked them in his Pick Six once before and they scored a zillion points. They have an incredibly efficient offense. #TrustNate. Go with the over. Pick: Over Total Points +/- 67.
Kent State at Toledo (-8, o/u 61.5)
Kickoff: Saturday 10/15 3:30 PM EST, ESPN+
Nate: Toledo had a rough stretch in their non conference schedule, but make no mistake about them: they are the best team in the MAC. Kent State has the 6th worst secondary in all of college football. They’ve struggled to stop anyone who is even remotely capable of throwing the ball downfield.
Toledo is discounted because they’ve played some big games – like against Ohio State – and gotten their doors blown off. But now that they are back to playing more comfortable opponents, they seem to have settled in. It’s tough to justify backing a team that struggles so much on defense, which is why we aren’t doing it. Pick: Toledo -8
Jack: I just wrote four paragraphs about an incredible Toledo unti: their offense (wow), their defense (yes, please), their competent coach (absolutely). Then I remembered that I was writing about Tulsa, who played Ole Miss a few weeks ago. Toledo is not Tulsa (whoops). Remember when Kent State kept it close with UGA? Me too. Go Kent State. Pick: Kent State +8.
Wisconsin at Michigan State (+7.5, o/u 49.5)
Kickoff: Saturday 10/15 4:00 PM EST, FOX
Nate: Now for an uglier BIg Ten matchup. I’ve watched far too much Badger football this season and it’s beginning to affect my mental health in profound ways. They are incredibly frustrating and it’s hard to predict which team will show up: the one who blows out Northwestern or the one who isn’t competitive with Illinois.
Some of Wisconsin’s success could stem from the firing of their coach. They seem to have scrapped the conservative script and have taken to a more balanced approach, which is what they should’ve been doing all along. Mertz continues to perform well and the Badgers should be turning him loose to pass the ball more, especially against the terrible secondary they’re up against. Michigan State is bottom-15 in coverage, so I see very little reason why Mertz should struggle.
This feels like a total aimed at public perception of two grid-it-out teams. But these are different times we’re living in. Give me the over for the second week in a row with Wisconsin. Pick: Over 49.5 total points.
The Trouble with Sparty
Jack: I would be inclined to agree with Nate on the over here if I could trust Michigan State’s offense. The Spartans are playing uninspired football as their season quickly imploded into a convoluted, turnover-prone, identity crisis. Sparty can score the ball and they like to play fast, but I don’t trust them enough to help Wisconsin get over 49.5 points.
Wisconsin is playing better football since firing their coach. They seem to have found their identity and their rhythm and they are relying on Mertz more than they were at the beginning of the season.
I think the Badgers come into East Lansing and get right with God. I don’t love this pick, because both of these teams are unreliable, but Sparty is more reliably bad, so let’s lay the points and see what happens. Pick: Wisconsin +7.5.
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