Sean Clifford and Penn State open the season as near-touchdown road favorites against Indiana but should the Nittany Lions be on upset alert?
Finally! Big Ten football is ready to return — live and in living color to your college football slates and likewise, picks against the spread. The conference begins a nine week-long marathon that offers no rest for any team. It then culminates in a conference championship weekend that will feature all teams in action, not just the two division winners.
Illinois vs. Wisconsin officially kicks things off for the Big Ten on Friday night with the rest of the league set to join the fun on Saturday. The game everyone has circled is Ohio State hosting Nebraska in an unofficial "We Wanted Football Most Classic." Elsewhere on the slate, the Little Brown Jug is up for grabs right away as Michigan and Minnesota go head-to-head, and Penn State minus a couple of key players will try and avoid an opening upset on the road against Indiana.
Here are picks against the spread for the Big Ten's long-awaited opening week.
Note: All times are ET and all games are on Saturday, Oct. 24 unless otherwise noted.
Wisconsin (-19.5) vs. Illinois, 8 p.m. (Fri.)
The Graham Mertz show officially kicks off in Madison as the Badgers will break in a new quarterback while trying to replace stud running back Jonathan Taylor. Additionally, Chris Orr and Zack Baun leave a significant void at linebacker, but the defensive front should help new starters settle in.
Meanwhile, the Illini suffered some major losses in Reggie Corbin, Oluwole Betiku Jr., and Dele Harding. However, quarterback Brandon Peters and most of the pieces of an efficient offense are back. The defensive back seven is Illinois’ strength and this group has a tall task ahead in preventing another bruising victory for Paul Chryst's squad. Especially considering what transpired when these two teams met last season. Wisconsin 39, Illinois 15
Nebraska (+26.5) at Ohio State, 12 p.m.
If any coach equaled the ferocity Scott Frost did in demanding the Big Ten play in 2020, it was Ryan Day. And he's going to do his absolute best to show why against the Cornhuskers. Ohio State needs to make statements early and often to make their case as potential College Football Playoff contenders.
Both teams will make mistakes but despite the time off, the talent gap favors the Buckeyes even if they don’t cover at home. Ohio State 49, Nebraska 24
Michigan State (-13) vs. Rutgers, 12 p.m.
Former Nebraska quarterback Noah Vedral is battling with Artur Sitkowski for the starting spot for Rutgers with "new" head coach Greg Schiano holding his cards to close to the vest. Regardless of which one gets the nod, the Scarlet Knights still face an uphill battle against the Spartans' defense even though it only returns three starters.
New head coach Mel Tucker fits perfectly in a Michigan State program that has seen success on defense, and he has linebacker Antjuan Simmons to hold down the fort. Michigan State 24, Rutgers 10
Indiana (+6.5) at Penn State, 3:30 p.m.
The Hoosiers could be catching Penn State at the perfect time. With linebacker Micah Parsons opting out and recent reports that running back Journey Brown could miss the season because of a medical condition, the Nittany Lions are limping into their opener. It will be up to quarterback Sean Clifford and running back Noah Cain to solve Indiana's 4-2-5 defense.
On the other side, IU's offense is led by dual-threat quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and has enough playmakers around him to give a Parsons-less Penn State defense trouble. This should be a thriller. Indiana 34, Penn State 31
Iowa (-3.5) at Purdue, 3:30 p.m.
Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm will not be on the sidelines for this one due to a positive COVID-19 test, leaving his brother Brian to serve as acting head coach. The bigger news for the Boilermakers is that Rondale Moore decided to opt back in. His presence alone transforms this offense.
However, regardless of who takes over for quarterback Nate Stanley, the Hawkeyes have a stout offensive line to get comfortable behind. Purdue's QB situation also is unsettled, but whoever it is will probably run into issues operating against Iowa's front seven. Iowa 33, Purdue 16
Minnesota (-2.5) vs, Michigan, 7:30 p.m.
Rashod Bateman's return means defenses have to contend with one of the best quarterback-receiver combos in the Big Ten with Tanner Morgan taking snaps.
Michigan needs quarterback Joe Milton to step up immediately and the Wolverines draw just the defense for him to get into a rhythm as the Gophers return all of five starters. This is another game with the potential for fireworks. Minnesota 35, Michigan 30
Northwestern (-11) vs. Maryland, 7:30 p.m.
The Wildcats received an instant shot in the arm on offense with the arrival of Indiana graduate transfer Peyton Ramsey. With Pat Fitzgerald bringing Mike Bajakian in to call the offensive shots, Northwestern should be able to climb their way out of last year's massive disappointment.
Here's wishing the Maryland offense luck as they have to face an amazingly stingy Wildcats defense led by linebacker Paddy Fisher. Northwestern 24, Maryland 10
Podcast: Week 8 Preview and Predictions