Big Ten Football: B1G Bets For Week 12

Week 11 was our best of the season (5-1), and we were a fourth-and-29 touchdown pass by Rutgers (of all teams) from having a clean sheet. That ups our season record to 38-24 (61.3 percent) with only two weeks left.

All seven Big Ten games in Week 12 have tangible meaning to one, if not both, teams. A playoff spot, a division title, or a bowl bid hang in the balance.

Overall Record: 38-24 overall (+11 units) | ATS: 21-14 | Team Totals: 17-10

Onto this week’s picks. Scared money, don’t make money. Let’s eat!

B1GGEST Bets (2 Units):

Last Week: 1-0; Season: 4-5 (-2 Units)

MINNESOTA UNDER 16.5

Money Line: Minnesota +115 | Iowa -138 | Total: 32.5
Time: 4:00 p.m. ET; TV: FOX | Location: Huntington Bank Stadium | MN, MN
Iowa: 6-4 | CFP: NR | AP:  NR | Coaches: NR | SP+: 20 | PFF: 20
Minnesota: 7-3 | CFP: NR | AP: NR | Coaches:  NR | SP+: 16 | PFF: 23

It’s impossible to like Iowa and not double dip with a team total UNDER backing their stellar defense, ranked No. 1 by SP+. They’re sixth in net points per drive and EPA and 11th in defensive success rate.

The Gophers need to run the ball and do so at a whopping 62 percent clip. They rank 14th in rushing offense but 32nd in yards per carry at 4.8. That sounds better than it is because they’re as close to No. 92 Utah State (3.8 YPC) as they are to fifth (5.8 YPC).

They have 71 runs of 10+ yards (12th). Iowa has allowed only 27 runs of 10+ yards on the season, which is the fifth fewest. The Hawkeyes are eighth in rush defense (88.6 YPG), second in yards per carry allowed (2.55), and have given up three rushing touchdowns, tied with Georgia for the fewest.

DC Phil Parker’s unit excels on early downs, and when they get you into passing situations, the Hawkeyes lean on a pass defense that is ranked third in pass defense success rate and is hell-bent on creating turnovers.

That this could be the coldest game of the P.J. Fleck era (16.2 degrees) with 17.4 miles per hour winds is a bonus. The clock should run a lot, and possessions, along with scoring opportunities, will be limited. 

In Minnesota’s three most challenging games, they’ve scored just 41 points. That’s 13.7 per game, which sounds about right. 

We’re making this our B1GGEST bet on the presumption that Tanner Morgan isn’t playing with freshman Athan Kaliakmanis making his second career start. He’s completed 46.6 percent of passes with one TD to three INTs in 58 attempts. It’s almost not fair. 

Note: Monitor the Minnesota QB situation. If Morgan does start, the Gophers are still a play but downgraded it to a B1GGER bet. 

B1GGER Bets (1 Unit):

Last Week: 3-1; Season: 27-16 (+11 Units)

Iowa +2.5 MINNESOTA

I’ve liked Iowa more than the pundits all season. There’s not a defense at any level I’d rather watch. The Hawkeyes are the hottest team in the B1G West, with three straight wins to nearly grab control of their destiny to win the division, despite having to play Ohio State and Michigan from the East.

We’ve bought into the resurgence and expect them to continue to win.

The offense has shown some improvement, although not in Week 11, when the special teams (and elite defense) made the difference in their win over Wisconsin, as we predicted last week. A blocked punt and a big punt return by Cooper DeJean set up touchdowns. That’s Iowa football.

Minnesota football is bully ball. Their best win this season had come against Michigan State when Sparty had several key players out in September. In three games against teams currently with a winning record, the Gophers are 0-3, and all of the losses have come by double-digits.

They are very reliant on complementary football. If one piece doesn’t work, it falls apart. Their ball-control clock-churning rushing-dominant offense keeps the defense off the field. That is when they’re at their best. If Minny’s offense doesn’t work, neither does their defense. 

Let’s look at their loss to Illinois when the Illini limited the Gophers to 180 yards and held the ball for 40 minutes. Illinois scored more points (26) on Minnesota than they did against Indiana, Virginia, Iowa (only 9), Michigan State, and Purdue. Other than the Hawkeyes, all average to bad defenses.

You can expect a similar result on Saturday. That’s precisely what an Iowa win would be, with Kirk Ferentz a perfect 5-0 against P.J. Fleck as the midwestern programs play for the gloriously named Floyd of Rosedale trophy, a bronzed-covered pig.

Penn State -19 RUTGERS

Money Line: Rutgers +760 | Penn State -1300 | Total: 44.5
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET; TV: BTN | Location: SHI Stadium | Piscataway, NJ
Penn State: 8-2 | CFP: 11 | AP: 11 | Coaches: 12 | SP+: 7 | PFF: 12
Rutgers: 4-6 | CFP: NR | AP: NR | Coaches: NR | SP+: 84 | PFF: 78

This Nittany Lions team caught my attention with how they responded to their beatdown in Ann Arbor when they took it to Minnesota (45-17) the following week. I’ve been on them since. They hung with Ohio State for nearly 60 minutes before throttling Indiana 45-14 and Maryland 30-0. 

Their past three wins have come by 28, 31, and 30 points…and that includes a pair of victories over bowl teams, which Rutgers is not. PSU is a young team that is rolling and improving, coming into its own, and there’s no reason to get off them now. 

The freshman duo of Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen have come on and helped PSU rush for 175 yards against Minnesota, 179 yards at Indiana, and 249 yards versus Maryland. Allen is the more consistent runner, while Singleton is as explosive as any back in the country. 

Watch for Singleton to break free as RU’s three-and-outs pile up, leaving the defense on the field for too many snaps. Through the air, talented sophomore tight end Theo Johnson is also becoming a factor, with 13 of his 16 receptions in those three games, including two touchdowns

RUTGERS UNDER 13.5

On a Saturday full of offensive-defensive mismatches, this might be the biggest. With the ball, Rutgers is 129th in EPA and 124th in success rate. Their metrics are bad, whether rushing or passing, on early downs or third-fourth down success.

Quarterback Gavin Wimsatt is coming off a career game, but that was probably more about the opponent (Michigan State). Against Michigan and Minnesota, he was 20-of-46 (43.5%) with one touchdown to four interceptions and 5.1 yards per attempt.

Against the better defenses they’ve faced–Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota, and Michigan–RU has scored 37 points. They scored more than 13.5 points once in those four games (versus Michigan) when they benefited from a blocked punt for a touchdown; otherwise, it would be 0-for4.

PSU is that level of defense: tenth in EPA, 39th in success rate, and tenth in net points per drive. A shutout is on the table. 

MICHIGAN STATE -9.5 Indiana

Money Line: Indiana +290 | Michigan State -375 | Total: 47.5
Time: 12:00 p.m. ET; TV: BTN | Location: Spartan Stadium | East Lansing, MI
Michigan State: 5-5 | CFP: NR | AP: NR | Coaches: NR | SP+: 58 | PFF: 54
Indiana: 3-7 | CFP: NR | AP: NR | Coaches: NR | SP+: 92 | PFF: 110

Both defenses play hard but aren’t very good. It’s not intentional and not for lack of effort, but if you watch them play enough, it’s almost as if they employ a tackling-optional philosophy to defense. I don’t trust either unit after MSU’s debacle against Rutgers last week. 

This game will tilt on Michigan State’s superior offense. They have the better quarterback in Payton Thorne (16 TDs, 63.2%, 7.1 YPA), the best two offensive players in wideouts Keon Coleman and Jayden Reed, and the best two running backs in Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard.

Sparty also has a lot more to play for. While Indiana was officially eliminated from bowl contention last week, as they limp to the finish with seven-straight losses, the Spartans have won two straight (three of four) to get back to .500 after a 2-4 start.

With a trip to Penn State looming, expect Michigan State to come out strong and lock up a bowl bid against a Hoosiers team that has allowed at least 30 points in their past seven games against teams not named Rutgers while scoring 17 or fewer in four of their past five games.

The Hoosiers are trending toward giving Dexter Williams II most of the snaps on Saturday, and the sophomore has completed 33.3 percent (10-of-30) of passes in two appearances. Sure, he’s played against Penn State and Ohio State, but don’t expect him to light things up in Spartan Stadium, especially with the expectation of winds reaching over 20 miles per hour in East Lansing. The Hoosiers are a pass-happy team (65.9 percent of plays) with one of the worst rushing attacks in the country (112th EPA and 122nd success rate), which will limit their options, at least good ones.

Indiana also suspended their punt returner. Usually, this wouldn’t warrant mention, but they’re down to their third-string return man, and with the wind, that could be a precarious situation. 

Illinois UNDER 12.5

Money Line: Michigan -1100 | Illinois +680 | Total: 40.5
Time: 12:00 p.m. ET; TV: ABC | Location: Michigan Stadium | Ann Arbor, MI
Illinois: 7-3 | CFP: NR | AP: NR | Coaches: NR | SP+: 26 | PFF: 16
Michigan: 10-0 | CFP: 3 | AP: 3 | Coaches: 3  | SP+: 3 | PFF: 3

Even at 100 percent, the Illinois offense was seriously lacking, 80th in EPA, 87th in net points per drive, and 97th in SP+. This week the Illini could be without star running back Chase Brown (1,442 yards) and emerging wideout Pat Bryant, whose 6’3″ size could be a factor. 

Ultimately, it’s about Michigan winning at the line of scrimmage, with their defense ranked second in EPA and net points per drive, third in SP+, and fifth in success rate. Do you know what all those fancy metrics add up to? The No. 1 total (232.8 YPG) and scoring defense (11.2 PPG).

Against offenses ranked 45th or worse in SP+, the Wolverines have allowed 68 points in eight games (8.5 PPG), including ten or fewer six times (five-for-five at home). How did two teams put up more than ten? Iowa scored 14 points, thanks to a touchdown with eight seconds remaining, and Rutgers put up 17 points, including a punt blocked for a touchdown.

The expectation of 19-mile-per-hour winds in Ann Arbor will make things even more challenging for the Illini. Bad beats happen, but that’s the only way Illinois puts up more than ten points this week in the Big House.

B1G Bets (1/2 Unit):

Last Week: 1-0; Season: 7-3 (+2 Units)

MICHIGAN -17.5 Illinois

This Illinois team is reeling, losers of their past two, which coincided with national attention as the B1G West favorite and even some mention as a longshot national title contender as the third-highest ranked B1G team. You have to imagine there has to be some doubt creeping into their minds.

As good as their defense has been, they have struggled to keep up when facing decent offenses. The best two offenses they’ve faced this season are Michigan State (lost 23-15) and Purdue (lost 31-24), both at home in games the Illini were favored to win. 

And as much as we get down on Michigan’s offense at times, they are tenth in EPA, fifth in success rate, and sixth in net points per drive. This is easily the best unit that Illinois will have faced this season. 

They’re also going into a very different environment than they’ve experienced, as the Illini’s road games have come against last-place Indiana (lost 23-20), at Wisconsin (fired their coach the following week), and at Nebraska (interim coach and starting quarterback injured with Illinois trailing). 

Finally, last week was very emotional for Illinois against rival Purdue in a game that had significant divisional ramifications. A win would have put them squarely in the driver’s seat in the West. Recovering from those defeats is challenging, so feel comfortable laying the points.