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Chaos Reigns in the Big Ten West
Heading into Week 12, college football’s most chaotic division is the Big Ten West, as four teams are tied at the top of the standings with two games to go, and none of them control their own destiny. Here’s a look at where things stand:
To win the division, every team needs wins in both remaining games and a loss from another team (or two) on the list.
Iowa has the clearest path to winning the division, because the loss they need – Illinois at Michigan – is the most likely. If the Hawkeyes win out and finish in a tie with Purdue for the top spot, they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Boilermakers (Iowa 24, Purdue 3 in Week 10).
This list will likely shorten to two teams after this Saturday, as Illinois is expected to lose at No. 3 Michigan and either Iowa or Minnesota will lose their head-to-head.
The Golden Gophers and Fighting Illini have tougher paths to win the division – Both need an upset Purdue loss. Illinois would also have to pull one of the biggest upsets of the year in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
Iowa looks to keep division title hopes alive in at Minnesota (MINN -2.5, o/u 32.5)
Best Bets: Iowa +2.5, Under 32.5
The Floyd of Rosedale Trophy is on the line in Minnesota this weekend – a bronze trophy in the shape of a pig in honor of the prize pig that Minnesota Governor Floyd Olson won in a bet with Iowa Governor Clyde Herring over the Minnesota-Iowa game in 1935. The 1935 bet was seen as an effort by the two governors to ease tension between their states after the 1934 edition of the rivalry game was particularly violent, including . The trophy is now seen as a symbol of a friendly rivalry between the two schools.
But both teams have more to play for this season as they sit in that aforementioned four-way tie atop the Big Ten West standings.
Minnesota (7-3) and Iowa (6-4) are both on three-game winning streaks coming into this game, though the caliber of Iowa’s last three opponents has been higher than Minnesota’s.
“Optimistic” is the first word Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck used to describe his feelings about the team in his presser on Tuesday. The Golden Gophers are coming off a 31-3 victory over downtrodden Northwestern in which freshman quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis got his first career start in the absence of injured vet Tanner Morgan. Fleck said Morgan is progressing well (he suffered an unspecified upper body injury) and his availability continues to be assessed by medical staff.
In the Week 11 win, Minnesota ran the ball 58 times to lighten the burden on Kaliakmanis. “If we have to do that, we have to do that,” Fleck said. “Would I like to be more balanced? Absolutely. But we’ve got to make the routine plays, and we’ve got to make the routine throws.
“When you’re having a freshman quarterback play, it’s just like a rookie in the NFL. He’s just gotta be able to get in his own routine.”
A majority of the carries go to senior running back Mohamed Ibrahim, whose current streak of consecutive 100-yard rushing games is at 18, the longest in FBS since 2000. Ibrahim is fifth in college football with 1,261 rush yards on the season.
“Our style of football is to run the ball. Time management is what we pride ourselves on,” Ibrahim said after the win over Northwestern, in which he scored three rush TDs to bring his career total to 51.
Fleck commented on the challenge presented by Iowa’s defense, which is third in the nation in yards allowed. “I don’t know if I’ve seen that in college football, where the defense creates the majority of the points throughout the year… They seem to do it every year.”
Iowa’s defense has not, in fact, scored a majority of the team’s points (32 of the team’s 179 this season, if you count PATs for defensive TDs), but Fleck’s comment goes to the style of play – when the Hawkeyes score, the defense is usually responsible for putting the offense in prime position.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz knows that’s the case, and commended his defense and special teams units on their roles in the team’s big win over Wisconsin last weekend.
Ferentz pointed out Ibrahim as a priority for the Hawkeyes on Saturday, calling him “the most proven veteran back” in the Big Ten. He compared him to Michigan’s Blake Corum, who’s fourth on the rush yards list this season to Ibrahim’s fifth.
“It looks like maybe there’s nothing there,” Ferentz said, referring to what could be a first impression of Ibrahim’s relative size and speed, “and then next thing you know he’s got a 5-, 8-yard gain.”
Iowa is hard to bet against this time of year – the team hasn’t lost a November game since 2019.
“Really good teams should be peaking in November,” Iowa QB Spencer Petras said Saturday.
Petras will have his work cut out for him: Minnesota is one of four teams ahead of Iowa in points allowed this season at just 13.1 per game. The Hawkeyes are allowing 13.9 on average, so this one should be a solid defensive match with a lot on the line.
Prediction: Iowa seems to be hitting a stride, and with a division title on the line, they’ll do enough to get it done in a close one on the road. The under should be in play given the defensive strengths of these teams. (Hopefully, though, the total score will be higher than the temperature, which is forecast at 17 degrees Saturday afternoon.)
Illinois hopes for an upset of No. 3 Michigan in Ann Arbor (MICH -17.5, o/u 40.5)
Best Bets: Michigan -17.5, Over 40.5
It’s likely that the Fighting Illini’s hopes of reaching the Big Ten title game end in Ann Arbor this weekend, where they’re outmatched in nearly every way. The most meaningful team stat that Illinois (7-3) has over Michigan (10-0) is pass yards per game, in which the Illini are averaging about 10 more than the Wolverines.
Given Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito’s inability to find a rhythm last week at home against Purdue (18/32, 1 TD, 1 INT), that pass yards stat may not help them much on the road at Michigan. And in other areas of strength for the Illini, the Wolverines should have an answer:
- Illinois has the nation’s leading rusher in Chase Brown (1,442 yards). Michigan has the nation’s leading rush defense (72.7 yards/game).
- Illinois is 7th in the nation in rush defense (85.9 yards/game). Michigan’s Blake Corum is the fourth-most productive rusher in the nation (1,379 yards).
The only danger for Michigan in this game is that the team could be caught looking ahead to Week 13, when they’ll face Ohio State in a showdown that will likely determine the winner of the conference, and by extension determine a spot in the Playoff.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is focused on stopping Brown from having an impact on the ground. “Our run wall has been very good,” Harbaugh said Tuesday. “It’s going to be tested this week probably like none other up to this point.”
For its part, Illinois needs to win this game and its Week 13 game at Northwestern, and needs Purdue to suffer an upset loss to Northwestern or Nebraska in the final two weeks, in order to win the Big Ten West. It’s a tall order.
Like Harbaugh, Illinois coach Bret Bielema is wary of the rush attack this week, calling Corum “as good as anybody in the country.”
Prediction: Michigan’s rush defense should shut down Illinois’ ground game, making it difficult for the Illini to keep pace in Ann Arbor. Michigan wins easy with the Over in play.
More Week 12 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:
Northwestern @ Purdue: 2nd Half Purdue -8.5 (-110)
Zachary Kruger (@ZK_FFB)
One of the worst offenses in the nation, Northwestern has gone for 20 or more points just once in their last seven games. The Wildcats rank 128th in the nation in points per game (15.3) and 83rd in points allowed per game (28.2).
This weekend, Northwestern travels to Purdue to take on a Boilermakers’ offense that is hanging 29.6 points per game on opposing defenses while ranking 50th in yards per game (407.8) and 17th in passing yards per game. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell (2674-18-11) continuously torches bad defenses through the air. To Northwestern’s credit, they are allowing the 12th-fewest passing yards per game in the nation (182.8), but to cover this 8.5-point second half spread, they are going to need to find a way to get on the board a few times themselves.
Northwestern managed just 14 points in this matchup last season and was outscored 19-7 in the second half. In two of their last three meetings, Purdue has outscored the Wildcats by double-digits in the second half.
The first half number of 10.5 felt somewhat of a steep hill to climb when you consider the two-point differential between the first and second half lines. While I am confident Purdue can get the requisite points to cover this one, I am equally confident in Purdue’s ability to limit an offense that has been less than productive against the majority of opponents they have faced this season.
For more Big Ten analysis and Week 12 advice from the EDGE team, click here. And if you’re looking for a deeper dive into Week 12 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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