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Transitioning Into Week 10
A new set of rankings rules college football in Week 10 with the release of the first set of rankings from the College Football Playoff committee on Tuesday night. One of the biggest surprises in the rankings came in the Big Ten, when Michigan was put outside the top four at No. 5, behind ACC leader Clemson.
Ultimately, the rankings in Week 10 won’t matter, and Michigan will have its chance to move into the top four when it faces No. 2 Ohio State in Week 13. But it’s likely the words “no respect” have been said in the Michigan locker room this week – and that could make a tough Saturday much tougher for Rutgers.
Michigan is coming off a convincing 29-7 win over in-state rival Michigan State that ended with a physical altercation between players in the Big House tunnel; videos appeared to show groups of Michigan State players kicking and shoving two Michigan players, even wielding their helmets as weapons at one point.
Michigan State quickly suspended eight players after reviewing the video evidence; MSU head coach Mel Tucker gave a public apology earlier this week, calling the behavior “unacceptable” and assuring the team’s cooperation with ongoing investigations by law enforcement and the Big Ten.
On Monday, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh called the videos “sickening” and said the experience has been “traumatic” for their entire program. He added that he “can’t imagine that this will not result in criminal charges.”
Ohio State’s No. 2 ranking came as no surprise after an impressive win at Penn State last week. The Nittany Lions gave the Buckeyes some trouble, leading at halftime and staying within one score until the fourth quarter. But the Ohio State defense eventually overwhelmed Penn State with two takeaways by sophomore defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau, who forced a fumble by Lions QB Sean Clifford and two drives later intercepted Clifford for a pick six.
Like Michigan, Ohio State has what should be an easy road tilt this week when they go to Chicago to play Northwestern.
Below is a look at the best matchups of the week in the Big Ten conference.
Maryland and Wisconsin face off at Crucial Juncture for Badgers (WISC -5, o/u 49.5)
Best Bets: Wisconsin -5, Over 49.5
While the playoff is not a consideration for Maryland (6-2) or Wisconsin (4-4), Saturday’s game in Madison is a critical one for the home team teetering on getting back above .500.
Maryland is having a season of inches: six of its eight games have been decided by a touchdown or less, including its two losses to Michigan and Purdue. Wisconsin is having the opposite experience, with only one game this season decided by 7 points or fewer (although the 8-point loss to Michigan State in double overtime certainly counts as a close one).
Both teams are coming off a bye week. Notably, Wisconsin’s last game in Week 8 was a convincing win over Purdue, who snuck away with a 2-point win at Maryland in Week 6. Badgers interim head coach Jim Leonhard expressed a lot of pride in the 35-24 win over the Boilermakers, especially a week after the tough loss at Michigan State, and said simply: “We’re getting better.”
This will be Leonhard’s fourth game at the helm since Paul Chryst’s midseason firing after Week 5. Leonhard spoke to the media on Monday and commented on the the possibility of stepping into the head coaching job long term. “I know I’m capable of it,” he said. “Hopefully we finish this season out the right way and things take care of [themselves].”
Leonhard and Maryland head coach Mike Locksley both felt their teams had productive and restful bye weeks that will serve them in the coming game.
Locksley complimented Leonhard’s work with the team so far, saying Wisconsin “has been playing really good football the last few weeks. Since Coach Leonhard has taken over, there seems to be an energy about it.”
The Terps will need to take good care of the ball in Madison, where senior safety John Torchio leads the Big Ten conference with five interceptions. The Badgers also present a challenging front on defense, with junior linebacker Nick Herbig leading the Big Ten in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (9.5).
Locksley knows winning up front will be key for Maryland on Saturday. “We feel pretty good about how we’ve been able to develop our offensive line and defensive line,” Locksley said. “Wisconsin has kind of set the standard in that.”
Prediction: Wisconsin looked like a renewed team against Purdue and will be helped by being at home in this matchup. Wisconsin covers the 5-point spread to win, and the Over is in play as neither team has had many low-scoring affairs thus far.
No. 16 Illinois Looks for Seventh Straight Win vs. Michigan State (ILL -17, o/u 40.5)
Best Bets: Illinois -17, Over 40.5
After the release of the CFP rankings this week, Illinois (7-1) is in position to play big spoiler in the playoff picture, with a regular-season game against Michigan coming up in Week 12 and then – assuming Illinois stays atop the West – a conference championship game against Michigan or Ohio State.
But this week, the Fighting Illini host the Michigan State Spartans (3-5), who are coming off a rivalry loss to Michigan that ended in a violent incident, leading to the suspension of eight MSU players (see above or here for more detail).
Spartans head coach Mel Tucker said there is “no choice” but to move forward and try to stay focused on preparation. “We just need to continue to get better as a unit,” Tucker said Monday.
“Obviously, the season hasn’t gone how we had hoped and how we had planned, but we’re all we got in the room,” Spartans QB Payton Thorne said to media on Tuesday. “No one’s coming in to help us, no one’s coming in to save us. It’s all of us moving forward together.”
The Spartans have lost five of their last six games, the lone win in that stretch coming in double overtime at Wisconsin.
Illinois’s defense should challenge an already-struggling Michigan State offense. Illinois leads the Big Ten in interceptions (15) and is second in the conference in sacks (25).
Head coach Bret Bielema continues to be pleased with his team’s performance this season and said the players are excited to meet Michigan State on the field. But he’s also aware of how last weekend’s events could be a distraction.
“I think we do try as coaches to minimize what our outside voices are saying to our players, but the bottom line in today’s world, you can’t,” he said Monday.
Prediction: Hard to imagine Michigan State keeps this one close. Illinois is a low-scoring offensive unit, but should be able to capitalize on a weak MSU defense for a big win. The over should be in play as the Illini cover.
More Week 10 Predictions
The team at NBC Sports EDGE have 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:
Minnesota @ Nebraska: 1st Half Minnesota -7.5 (-110)
Zachary Kruger (@ZK_FFB)
Minnesota is 5-3 on the season and 5-3 ATS including a couple of tough losses against Purdue and Illinois. Yes, that 45-17 loss to Penn State screams at you as well but remember that quarterback Tanner Morgan was out for the game against the Nittany Lions.
Golden Gophers’ fans would rather the focus be on the four-straight wins at the start of the season (albeit including a couple against the likes of Colorado and New Mexico State). The most convincing of those four was a 49-7 thrashing of Michigan State on the road. A 3-game slide followed the four straight wins. A 31-0 home win over Rutgers with Morgan back under center snapped the losing skid for the Gophers.
For more Big Ten analysis and Week 10 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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