Week 10 saw some surprises as No. 2 Ohio State struggled to get off the ground in a rainy road game at Northwestern, ultimately sputtering its way to a 21-7 win, and Michigan State showed signs of life in an upset of then-No. 14 Illinois.
That result dropped Illinois to 21st in the latest CFP rankings and loosened the Fighting Illini’s hold on the Big Ten West. Illinois is 4-2 in conference play followed by four teams with 3-3 conference records, including their opponents this week, Purdue.
Purdue visits No. 21 Illinois in what could be decisive game for Big Ten West (ILL -6.5, o/u 44.5)
Best Bets: Illinois -6.5; Under 44.5
The division title is all but on the line in Champaign this week as Illinois and Purdue both look to take control of the Big Ten West with a win. As Illinois sits 4-2 in conference play, it has the tiebreaker over 3-3 Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. Purdue also sits 3-3 and with a win this weekend, would take the lead of the division with two should-be-easy games left to play against Northwestern and at Indiana.
Illinois, meanwhile, needs to stay focused after being upset at home last week by Michigan State. Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito said he couldn’t sleep after the loss. “Every time I close my eyes, I just see these plays over and over. And it’s like, what if I were to do this? What if I would’ve done that? It haunts you at night, but at the same time, makes you better and hungry for the next week.”
Purdue is also coming off a tough loss after getting knocked around by Iowa to the tune of 24-3 in Week 10. “I’m hopeful that our guys understand that we’re all going to have to do our part, and fight and scrap in order to figure out a way to win the next one,” head coach Jeff Brohm said after the loss.
Purdue has relied on their pass game all season but saw it falter in the last two weeks, as quarterback Aidan O’Connell threw for a combined five interceptions across the losses to Wisconsin and then Iowa, with no TDs in the latter game. Senior wide receiver Charlie Jones is sixth in the nation in receiving yards – he could be a difference-maker if O’Connell has a better day, but Illinois remains college football’s leader in points (10.4/game) and yards (232.2/game) allowed, so he’ll likely meet a challenge in the Illinois secondary.
On Thursday, Illini head coach Bret Bielema pointed out that Purdue has been able to win using their passing and running game, forcing his team to adjust their preparation for Saturday: “They’ve done it both ways… We have to get to Saturday and see how the game plays out.”
Illinois has a weapon of their own on the ground as junior running back Chase Brown leads the nation with 1,344 rush yards this season.
Prediction: Illinois turns it around this week and keeps control of their own destiny in the Big Ten West with a combination of defense and ground game. They cover with a touchdown-or-more margin of victory; solid defense by both teams keeps this game under the 44.5-point line.
Wisconsin and Iowa both look to stay alive in Iowa City on Saturday (Iowa +1.5, o/u 35)
Best Bets: Wisconsin -1.5, Under 35
A win for Purdue over Illinois would give some (albeit small) hope to the Wisconsin and Iowa faithful for their teams’ chances to advance to the conference championship: if Purdue wins out and Illinois loses to both Purdue and Michigan (with that Illinois loss to Michigan seeming likely), Wisconsin and Iowa both have a path to win the division. If either team wins its final three games, they would hold the tiebreaker over Purdue for the West. Neither Wisconsin nor Iowa can afford a loss, making their head-to-head matchup this weekend very high stakes.
The Wisconsin-Iowa rivalry is nearly 130 years old with the first meeting dating back to 1894. Since 2004, the Heartland Trophy has been presented to the winner each year.
This week, both teams are coming off momentum-building wins after Wisconsin’s 13-point victory over Maryland at home and Iowa’s impressive 21-point rout of Purdue last weekend.
Wisconsin interim coach Jim Leonhard complimented Iowa’s recent improvements on offense this week. “I think the last two games have by far been the best that they’ve played,” he said Monday. “They’re getting confident at the right time in the season.”
Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz echoed that sentiment during his presser on Tuesday, calling Iowa’s win over Purdue “our most complete football game as a team.”
“It’s going to be a challenge for our guys defensively,” Ferentz said. His squad is, of course, known for its defense: the Hawkeyes are third in college football in yards allowed (264.4/game) and fifth in points allowed (14.3/game).
The Badgers have shown big defensive improvements under Leonhard, the team’s former defensive coordinator. They held Maryland scoreless in the first half and to just three points in the first three quarters, with the Terps only earning a touchdown in garbage time with 57 seconds to play.
“We have to win the line of scrimmage with these guys,” Leonhard said.
Prediction: The spread is razor-thin at a point and a half, and this one does feel like it’ll be close. Iowa’s defense should limit the Badgers a bit, but the Badgers’ momentum carries them to a close, low-scoring victory on the road.
More Week 11 Predictions
The team at NBC Sports EDGE has taken a deep dive on this week’s Big Ten slate and are serving up their favorite plays for the week. Here’s a preview:
Maryland @ Penn State:
Penn State Team Total OVER 33.5 (-110)
Brad Thomas (@MrBradThomas)
Maryland has taken a few steps to improve over the past couple of seasons, but they are still in the bottom half of the Big Ten overall. That will be evident this weekend. I am backing Penn State to score over 33.5 points.
Maryland is 42nd in total scoring defense, allowing 24 points per game. They also rank 46th in DTD (defensive touchdown rate). The Terrapins allow touchdowns on nearly 25% of their defensive possessions.
Penn State has been an offensive juggernaut. They are scoring 34.4 points per game and 40.3 per game in their last three. The Nittany Lions should exploit a weak Maryland secondary, and their two beasts of running backs should gash the struggling Terrapin run defense.
The weather is expected to supply near perfect playing conditions. Penn State rolls. Back Penn State to score over 33.5 points.
For more Big Ten analysis and Week 11 advice from the EDGE team, click here. And if you’re looking for a deeper dive into Week 10 in College Football from a Bettor’s Perspective, join NBC’s team of college analysts at 11am Eastern for an NCAA College Football Betting Preview Q&A on the NBC Sports YouTube page.
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