The college football season moves into Week 9 with the Big Ten having a featured event in State College, Pennsylvania. There are two other games in this conference which will shape the matchup in the Big Ten Championship Game this December in Indianapolis. Let’s look at the three most important Big Ten games of the week and see where there’s some betting value:
Illinois Fighting Illini at Nebraska Cornhuskers
Odds: Illinois -7.5
This is a game with big implication for the Big Ten West Division race. Illinois controls its fate. If the Fighting Illini win all their remaining games, they will win the Big Ten West for the first time and make their first ever appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game. However, it has to be noted that Illinois has to play Michigan on the road later this season. That game is almost certain to be a loss for the Illini, so their margin for error is not substantial. They have to take care of business against Nebraska on the road.
Illinois’ defense has been one of the very best in the country under coordinator Ryan Walters, who is a rising star in the coaching ranks and has been rumored to be a candidate at the University of Colorado. Walters is a Colorado alumnus whose stock is soaring. The Illinois defense is unlikely to regress against a mediocre Nebraska offense. Illinois is probably the better pick here.
Pick: Illinois -7.5
Ohio State Buckeyes at Penn State Nittany Lions
Odds: Ohio State -15.5
The Penn State Nittany Lions are up against a wall. They already lost to the Michigan Wolverines. If they lose here to the Ohio State Buckeyes, their season will be a clear and complete failure. Penn State measures itself against Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten East Division. Penn State might need this game to get a New Year’s Six bowl bid. Not winning here would leave PSU with a very thin resume.
Ohio State is on track to play in the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes look like the best team in the Big Ten. Quarterback C.J. Stroud is a foremost candidate for the Heisman Trophy. The Buckeyes have more speed and more offensive weapons than Penn State by a large margin. That should enable them to win this game. However, Penn State knows this game is a defining moment in its season. You should see Penn State play harder and better than it has in previous weeks. The Nittany Lions will at least be able to keep this game close.
Pick: Penn State +15.5
Michigan State Spartans at Michigan Wolverines
Odds: Michigan -22.5
This is a game in which Michigan is trying to remain unbeaten and keep itself fully in the national championship picture. The weird part of this game is that Michigan State, despite having a poor season, is 2-0 against Michigan under head coach Mel Tucker. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has not yet been able to defeat Tucker. Michigan State has generally owned the upper hand in this rivalry over the past decade. An upset is unlikely, but Michigan State has certainly shown that it can be very competitive against the Wolverines, so the Spartans plus the points is the smart play.