The regular season in college football ended in spectacular fashion last week, featuring high-stakes rivalry contests and upsets in every major conference. The Big Ten had it all.
In the Big Ten West, where Iowa simply needed to beat a downtrodden Nebraska for the division title, the Cornhuskers upset the Hawkeyes with a remarkable performance on offense. Once Iowa was knocked out, Purdue was in the driver’s seat and took care of business on the road at Indiana to top the West with a 30-16 win over the Hoosiers.
In the Big Ten East, Michigan and Ohio State faced off in Columbus for the division in what was anticipated as the game of the season, with both teams ranked in the top four. The marquee matchup lived up to its billing through three quarters, as Michigan led 24-20 before the final 15 minutes. But the close contest turned into something else entirely in the fourth quarter, as the Wolverines outscored the Buckeyes 21-3 in the final 10 minutes and intercepted Heisman candidate C.J. Stroud twice in the final five. Michigan won the game 45-23 after the runaway ending, keeping its No. 2 CFP ranking and earning its second straight trip to the Big Ten Championship; Ohio State sits No. 5 in the CFP rankings hoping a playoff path emerges for them this weekend.
Purdue vs. Michigan Preview: Wolverines seek second straight conference title (MICH -16.5, o/u 51.5)
Best Bets: Michigan -16.5, Over 51.5
No. 2 Michigan (12-0) and Purdue (8-4) will meet at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Saturday night, with Michigan heavily favored to win its second consecutive Big Ten title. The Wolverines made easy work of the Big Ten Championship game in this building last season, defeating Iowa 42-3. Michigan last won back-to-back conference titles in 2003 and 2004.
Michigan will again be without star running back Blake Corum (at one point considered a Heisman contender), who sat out most of the Ohio State game due to a knee injury and is set to undergo season-ending surgery, according to multiple reports.
The team’s rushing core didn’t slow down in Corum’s absence, though, as sophomore Donovan Edwards earned a career-high 22 carries and 216 rush yards, most of which came on 75- and 85-yard touchdown runs in the final minutes against Ohio State. “If somebody’s down, the whole running back room has to be accountable to get the offense going,” Edwards said after the win.
The Wolverines are exuding confidence and pride ahead of this game following their performance in Columbus last weekend.
“We’re excited to get back there, enjoy it, and dominate,” sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy said Wednesday. McCarthy was a star last weekend, creating explosive plays that have sometimes been missing from the Michigan passing game this season. He threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns (of 45, 69, and 75 yards) with no interceptions.
McCarthy said that the team is not taking Purdue lightly, but they of course have bigger goals in mind. “It’s another game in the way of our ultimate goal, which is the national championship,” he told reporters. “We’re still focused on going 15-0.” Michigan’s last national title came in 1997, when the team was voted national champions in the AP Poll, but the win was considered contested because Nebraska won the Coach’s Poll.
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Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh isn’t taking this weekend lightly either. “First rule of champions – do not let up,” he told Michigan Football Radio on Tuesday.
Despite being the better team, the Wolverines are smart not to underestimate the upset-capable Boilermakers from Purdue. Purdue has nine wins against AP No. 1 and No. 2 sides as an unranked team, more than any other school in the poll era. (Michigan is ranked No. 2 in the CFP and AP rankings.) The Boilermakers have upset No. 2 teams in the Big Ten twice in the last four years, first Ohio State in 2018 and then Iowa in 2021.
Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm engineered both of those upsets, and says his team is hungry heading into this weekend. “They’ve got a chip on their shoulder,” he said Thursday. “They’re out to prove to people what they can do.”
Senior quarterback Aidan O’Connell has been practicing since Wednesday and is expected to play. O’Connell led Purdue to its division-sealing win at Indiana last weekend just days after the sudden death of his older brother, Sean. He went home to be with family following that game and returned in time to practice on Wednesday.
In a statement Sunday, O’Connell said, “Sean was not only one of Purdue Football’s biggest fans, but he was a better son, brother and friend.”
O’Connell leads the Big Ten in passing yards per game with an average of 284, while his favorite target – senior wide receiver Charlie Jones – leads the conference in receiving yards and touchdowns (he’s in the top five nationally for both stats as well).
O’Connell and Jones will have their work cut out for them against one of the top defenses in the country, and Purdue will likely use the full playbook as they go to Indiana with nothing to lose.
Prediction: Jeff Brohm and Purdue have proven their ability to play up to great teams like Michigan, and Michigan could be on a comedown after the huge game at Ohio State last weekend. But the Wolverines showed no sign of comedown after Ohio State last year and they should be able to stay in control of this game to cover, even if Purdue creates a little chaos and scores some points to put the Over in play.
More Championship Week Predictions
The team at NBC Sports EDGE has taken a deep dive on this week’s Big Ten Championship game and are serving up their favorite plays for the week. Here’s a preview:
Purdue Team Total Over 17.5 (+110)
Vaughn Dalzell (@VmoneySports)
Aidan O’Connell is expected to play but miss some practice after the unexpected death of his brother prior to the Indiana game.
O’Connell could have another emotional showing as a he went 18-of-29 for 290 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Indiana to clinch the Big Ten Championship berth (30-16 win).
With O’Connell as the starting quarterback, the Boilermakers scored 18 or more points in nine out of 11 games this season and six-straight to end last year (15 of the last 17). The only defenses to keep Purdue Under 18 points was Iowa (3 points) and Norhtwestern (17 points) during that 17-game span.
While it will be an unpopular bet, Purdue could score two-plus touchdowns on Michigan — Rutgers (17), Penn State (17), Illinois (17), Ohio State (23) and Maryland (27) all scored at least 17 points versus Michigan this season.
Read more of the EDGE team’s Big Ten plays here. If you’re looking for a deeper dive into every game this Championship Saturday, join NBC Sports analysts Vaughn Dalzell, Eric Froton, and Brad Thomas Saturday from 11A-12P Eastern for the NBC Sports YouTube Championship Saturday Q&A as they dive into the weekend’s slate of games, answer your questions, and offer value plays including sides, totals, and props.
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