Perfection two ways and all of the Week 4 Big Ten picks.
The Big Ten has three teams that are perfect against the spread and three teams that are perfectly winless against the number. I won’t make you guess them though if you want to, close your eyes for a minute or two before the next paragraph.
Indiana, Penn State and Rutgers are all 3-0 ATS. For the Hoosiers, that’s resulted in a 1-2 record, which is all that matters if you’re an Indiana die-hard. But the number against the spread can indicate maybe things are better than expected. For Penn State and Rutgers, the number is actually lining up with real-world results.
The three winless teams are Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota. There was reason to think the Illini and Gophers would be down a bit from last year based on how much each had to replace, and not getting a cover in the first three games might say these teams are still a work in progress. You can possibly chalk the Wolverines’ winless record up to indifference. They were never in trouble in the first three games and didn’t give up more than seven points in any of them, but the lines were huge.
As for Nebraska, it’s kicking along at 2-1 ATS, which is, remarkably, pretty close to Matt Rhule’s career ATS record as a college coach. This week brings the biggest line (-21) that will be in the Huskers’ favor all season. It’s a good deal more than most of the major power rankings would have it. FPI and SP+ would put the line at close to -15, while the Prediction Tracker Average is just under -17.
Under perfect conditions, I’d have a hard time taking Nebraska to cover three touchdowns, but we aren’t looking at perfect conditions. If the projected stormy weather is what we get, it might increase the Huskers’ chances of an outright win while decreasing its chances ATS. The under on 47 points, however, starts to look pretty good.
My full Louisiana Tech preview is below. After that, on to the rest of the Big Ten picks.
The Conference of Broad Shoulders
Season Record: 20-13 (.606)
Another winning week (8-5) in the books. Turns out, all you need to do to have a couple of decent weeks is to constantly note that if you’re actually good at this over a long span you’re going to, at best, end up around 53%. I can only assume the gods of chance look favorably upon this humble offering of humility in a world where the number of proud and professional pick-makers grows as rapidly as legalized sports betting itself.
They’re all topping out at 53%, too, if they’re good. If they could do better than 53%, there’d be much more money in it for them guarding those picks rather than sharing them.
Anyway, here you can always know you’re getting picks because it’s fun to make them and not for profit.
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Wisconsin -6 at Purdue (Prediction Tracker Average: Wisconsin -4)
When the Badgers decide to the run the ball, they look pretty good. Through three games, however, Wisconsin is only running it 49% of the time (84th), proving that at least some of the voluminous offseason talk around offensive coordinator Phil Longo was merited. Defensively, Purdue offers less resistance through the air, perhaps a tempting trap for a Wisconsin offense still figuring things out. Eventually, however, the Badgers will realize they’re badgers and get back to the ground game. Pick: Wisconsin -6
Rutgers at Michigan -24 (PTA: Michigan -19.5)
For the third time in as many years Rutgers is 3-0. It went 3-16 following undefeated starts in 2021 and 2022 combined, will this year be different? The Scarlet Knights’ numbers look pretty good, and this year’s 3-0 includes wins over two Power 5 teams. Michigan wasn’t really pushed in its first three games, nor did it destroy three overmatched opponents the way it did the previous two seasons. Jim Harbaugh gets to coach this weekend rather than do yard work, and my gut says the Wolverines might step on the gas to start conference play. Pick: Michigan -24
Florida Atlantic at Illinois -15.5 (PTA: Illinois -16)
Minus the five turnovers—I know, I know—Illinois played Penn State pretty well, holding the Nittany Lions below 5 yards per play. Nobody would blame Florida Atlantic if it was reeling a bit. The Owls lost a one-score game at home in week two, then lost quarterback Casey Thompson for the season (knee) during a 48-14 drubbing at Clemson. Backup quarterback Daniel Richardson is experienced, starting the past two seasons at Central Michigan, but this is a tough spot on the road against an Illini squad with something to prove coming off back-to-back losses. Pick: Illinois -15.5
Maryland -7.5 at Michigan State (PTA: Maryland -1.5)
There’s not going to be a ton of value in picking against Michigan State in the near future as the public blindly backs whoever the Spartans are playing because of the current Mel Tucker mess. Can’t say I disagree with that here. The Prediction Tracker average sees this as closer to a coin flip, but we know most power ratings are still using a good chunk of preseason perception this early in the season. Michigan State isn’t the same team it was even two weeks ago, much less two months ago. Maryland, meanwhile, has looked as good as advertised so far. Unlike some previous Maryland teams, this offense isn’t all about the big play. The Terrapins led the Big Ten in success rate (49.8%) while the Spartans rank 10th in the conference in the same category defensively. Pick: Maryland -7.5
Ohio State -3 at Notre Dame (PTA: OSU -3.5)
I know one thing about this game for certain—it’s going to look great. Notre Dame Stadium, at night, sparkly gold helmets against sparkly silver, the Irish in green.* It will be must-see TV (on NBC, incidentally). As for how the game will go, Ohio State finally kicked things into gear offensively last week against Western Kentucky, and the Buckeye defense ranks in the top-20 nationally in success rate and explosiveness. Notre Dame’s defense isn’t far off that pace, ranking in the top-30 in both, and the Irish are better than Ohio State in those two key categories on offense. It’s tough to pick against the Buckeyes when they have Transformers at wide receiver, but somebody still has to get the robots in disguise the ball. The Irish have the edge at quarterback, and I’m betting that’s the difference. Pick: Notre Dame +3
Iowa at Penn State -15 (PTA: PSU -14)
If Silver v. Gold on NBC isn’t your thing, can I interest you in a primetime white-out on CBS? This should be a helluva game, too. After watching a still-reloading Illinois defense make things difficult for Penn State last week, I’m optimistic on what Iowa’s defense will be able to do. Nittany Lion quarterback Drew Allar has yet to throw an interception on the season, but I’m guessing that changes on Saturday. Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker will have this defense at its Hawkeyeiest. Will it be enough to win outright? Doubtful. Cover? Sure. Pick: Iowa +15
Minnesota -11.5 at Northwestern (PTA: Minnesota -8.5)
Not interested in Ohio State-Notre Dame or Iowa-Penn State? Weird, but OK. How about Minnesota’s trip to Evanston? It kicks off at the same time. It won’t be fun. When the Gophers and Wildcats are at their best, you can find some beauty in the slugfest they are fated to play against each other. Neither program looks like the best version of itself through three games, which isn’t a surprise, so all we’re left with is a slightly uglier slugfest. Minnesota should be able to run the ball here, which might save us from two passing attacks that rank last and second-to-last in the Big Ten in yards per attempt.
Akron at Indiana -17 (PTA: Indiana -18.5)
Removing alumni from the equation, I’d like to meet the person who is watching this game, which kicks off at the same time as the three previous games on this list. FPI ranks Akron as the worst team in college football this week, while SP+ has it fourth from bottom. Indiana has a defense capable of keeping the Zips out of the end zone entirely, and might need to cover the number. Pick: Indiana -17