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Week 11 Picks: Nerds for Nebraska and the rest of the week in the Big Ten
On the betting line, Nebraska may not be favored in any of its remaining games, but one statistical model has it just the opposite.
Based on what we know now—and what the many power ratings are saying—Nebraska probably won’t be favored in any of its remaining three games. The Huskers won’t be big underdogs in any of them, they were +2 this week late on Thursday, but unless this Maryland line flips late or Iowa collapses over the next two weeks, it’s the life of a dog for Nebraska as it tries to reach six wins and a bowl for the first time since 2016.
That’s what most of the power ratings would say, anyway and most of them share a common blueprint—it’s recruiting plus the past three or four years of performance plus whatever stats from this season the model values most. But there’s one model, from College Football Nerds, that’s somewhat interesting and not just because of what it says.
The Nerds model stands out because it doesn’t do the three- or four-season look back at recruiting and results. Instead, it waits for four weeks of games to be played and then starts evaluating teams based on the yards per play numbers they put up compared to what the teams on their schedule are allowing this season. It’s pretty simple on its face—though I’m sure its complicated behind the scenes—and I’m not saying that makes it better, just different.
In Nebraska’s case, this model offers a different outlook on the next three games. For example, ESPN’s FPI would have Maryland as about a 3-point favorite tomorrow, the CFN model projects a 23-20 Nebraska win. Wisconsin would be about a 9.5-point favorite based on this week’s FPI, but Nerds has a 20-11 Husker win. Black Friday? FPI would make it close to Iowa -2.5, while CFN says 17-8, Nebraska.
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Do with all of that what you will.1 I view the Huskers’ remaining games as virtual coin flips, and there aren’t many results that would surprise me from here on out.
You can read my full breakdown of the Maryland-Nebraska game at the link below for more on how I think it could go, but as for a pick, I don’t have a strong lean either way. The Huskers are going to need a handful of big plays—run, pass, defense, special teams, any of them will work—and those are hard to project, but Maryland will need some, too. I don’t see the Terps grinding one out on the road in an ugly one. If it’s that sort of game, advantage Nebraska.
But if it’s more of a straight up affair, I think the Huskers will find the big plays they need playing at home. That’s a very slight lean, but it’s enough to push me to the red side. Pick: Nebraska +2
The Conference of Broad Shoulders
Season Record: 40-34-3 (.538)
The dream of hitting 54% of these picks for the season lives for another week. Went 5-2 last week, missing on Nebraska -3 (mildly surprised) and Michigan -32.5 (not all that surprised). If I can just go 4-3 each week for the next three weeks, we’ll get there, but this week looks more difficult.
Michigan -4 at Penn State (Prediction Tracker Average: Michigan -2)
Penn State’s Drew Allar is already a good quarterback. With more time, he’ll be a very good quarterback, but that might be the difference on Saturday—Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy is already there. Both defenses here are ferocious, and the last time we saw that unfold with PSU, Ohio State made things miserable for Allar. Saturday could be similar for Allar, but I don’t have that concern with Michigan. McCarthy probably finds a way, and the Wolverines pull away late. Pick: Michigan -4
Indiana at Illinois -6.5 (PTA: Illinois -6)
So, wild fact about 2023 Illinois—all four of its wins have come by six points or less while just one of its losses has. That alone might be reason to take Indiana at +6.5, but I feel like the Hoosiers may have already had their last hurrah for the season, beating Wisconsin last week despite having just a 30% postgame win probability. Illini QB Luke Altmyer is questionable after leaving last week’s win over Minnesota with 2 minutes remaining, which set up one of my favorite stories of the season in the Big Ten. Backup John Paddock was Ball State’s starter last year but transferred as a walk-on to Illinois, where his great grandfather, grandfather and uncle played. Paddock had only appeared in two games prior to Saturday, but he took the field with 1:26 left and the Illini needing 85 yards for a game-winning touchdown. Paddock was perfect, 3-for-3, including a fourth-and-11 conversion and the 46-yard touchdown pass that gave the Illini a 27-26 win. Great stuff. This is a good vibes pick as Illinois has a decent shot of getting to six wins…if it takes care of Indiana. Pick: Illinois -6.5
Rutgers at Iowa -1.5 (PTA: Iowa -5)
That Iowa is only a 1.5-point favorite at home tells you that the oddsmakers view Rutgers as the better team. (I said during our subscriber chat last week that Rutgers would probably win the West this year, so thanks for backing me up, Vegas.) Iowa is, of course, stout defensively, but so are the Scarlet Knights. The total for this game (28.5), another all-time low, projects this as close to 15-13. I’m not sure the Hawkeyes can get to 15, and Rutgers offers something on offense Iowa hasn’t really seen yet in 2023—the threat of a running quarterback. There are really only three this year in the Big Ten—Heinrich Haarberg (477 yards), Rutgers’ Gavin Wimsatt (411) and Illinois’ Luke Altmyer (282). Those are the next three teams Iowa faces. In addition to Wimsatt, the Scarlet Knights also feature the conference’s leading rusher, running back Kyle Monangai (903 yards). You basically have to think Rutgers can win outright to take them at this number, and I do. Pick: Rutgers +1.5
Minnesota at Purdue -1 (PTA: Minnesota -1.5)
This has my vote for the most surprising line of the week. It opened around Minnesota -3.5, so maybe I should exercise some caution here given it looks like sharp money has flipped it to Purdue. But I just think the Gophers are better. QB Athan Kaliakmanis is still up-and-down, but he’s been relatively up the past two weeks and this Boilermaker defense offers some room to work in the passing game. P.J. Fleck is 54.5% against the spread at Minnesota, but he’s even a little bit better coming off a loss (55.6%) and as an away underdog (55.0%). Pick: Minnesota +1
Northwestern at Wisconsin -9.5 (PTA: Wisconsin -11.5)
This has my vote for the toughest line of the week. It’s unclear if Wisconsin will have leading rusher Braelon Allen, big-play receiver Chimere Dike or starting quarterback Tanner Mordecai back from injuries that kept them out of last week’s loss to Indiana. If either Allen or Mordecai ends up being available, I’d probably take the Badgers. If both were a go, I’d definitely take Wisconsin. But even with those players, the game would still model close to an 8–10 point win. Given the uncertainty, I’m guessing Northwestern will keep things closer. The Wildcats, losers to Iowa last week, have yet to drop back to back games this season. They also haven’t won consecutive games in 2023, but that makes this an “on” week for Northwestern. Maybe. Pick: Northwestern +9.5
Michigan State at Ohio State -31.5 (PTA: OSU -32)
Nope. This number is too big for me, maybe too big for November. Ohio State is averaging 30 points per game in Big Ten play. Could the Buckeyes shut out Michigan State? Yes, but the Spartans can defend a bit, too. My hunch is this will be a fairly sleepy, easy Ohio State win. Let’s call it 34-14, or something like that. Pick: MSU +31.5
You have to sign up for a free account at the site, but if you do you can play around with the model and see what it says for a game between any two FBS teams. I have nothing to gain if you decide to get an account, just saying that I have one and I’ve found it interesting.