In another iteration of the Big Ten’s brazen approach to be the only show in town, the conference configured Champions Week, because we can safely assume Winners Week was already spoken for. 

In Champions Week, Northwestern and Ohio State square off for the Big Ten Championship, the biggest game for the conference, the tentpole, if you will, at 11 a.m. CST on Saturday. There are also rivalry games rescheduled from earlier cancellations, so you can enjoy your Minnesota and Wisconsin with an appetizer of Nebraska and Rutgers. In this mishmash of rivalry games and oddest couplings since closing time during Senior Week, you should refuse to comprehend the pairings and how the conference office made them so. 

Related: Check out the latest Heisman odds going into championship weekend.


ESPN BET is now live in 17 states

Use promo code SATURDAY to get your $250 bonus


It’s best to just enjoy the games and hope a healthy dose of Kinnick weather from last Saturday repeats itself throughout the 5 of 6 games played in open-air stadiums. Football in the snow creates the sort of soothing yet sloppy aesthetic needed to bolster the relevance of games with little to no relevance. That is, the games still scheduled to be played. 

Thanks to cancellations in Week 8, I lost my top two picks. I’d like to think those tickets would have cashed, but I’m an optimist that way, same way in my heart of hearts I know John McClane could run barefoot through Nakatomi Plaza even in 2020 and save Christmas. 

Stickler’s note: Lines may have shifted since the inception of the picks. 

Validate the exemption

The game: Northwestern vs. Ohio State -20.5 O/U 58.5

The play: Ohio State

The logic: I’ve spent a lot of time trying to piece together a Big Ten team suited to beat the Buckeyes. Probably quick-strike on offense, defense prone to creating turnovers, some electricity on special teams. In short: a volatile group that plays in home run/strikeout mode. Glad to mix analogies for you at any time. 

Northwestern is not that team. The Wildcats are unyielding on defense, ninth nationally in average yards per play given up and eighth in punts per offensive score, but the explosive, multi-dimensional attack of the Buckeyes is the sort of firestorm the Wildcats are not ready to endure. 

Northwestern’s main hope is to hold on to the ball, drain the clock of its minutes and in turn drain the Buckeyes defense of its patience and force it into penalties to extend drives. 

There’ll be points in the Valley

The game: Illinois vs. Penn State -15 O/U 52

The play: Penn State

The logic: In the midst of a three-game winning steak, the Nittany Lions outscored opponents by 41 points. Games against the 2020 version of Michigan and Michigan State, along with the AD version of Rutgers, fails to stir up the sort of long-term optimism to carry into next season, but it sure beats a losing streak to close out the season. Let’s give Penn State credit for somehow maximizing the feel-goods going into next season after losing its first five games. 

Illinois is in the middle of a coaching search after dismissing Lovie Smith on Sunday. None of the candidates for the vacated position include coaches on the Illinois staff. That includes interim head coach Rod Smith. Little likelihood of a promotion not withstanding, Smith has shown he can orchestrate a dynamic running attack. One game against Penn State is not going to sully or boost his reputation to astronomical heights. 

To Shell with the Huskers

The game: Nebraska vs. Rutgers +6.5 O/U 55

The play: Rutgers

The logic: Rutgers looks for its first win at home while Nebraska tries to reboot the momentum for yet another time in the Scott Frost era. Down starting lineman Brenden Jaimes and with the stench of Saturday’s underwhelming performance against Minnesota lingering, Nebraska seems like it’s favored based solely on expectations coming into the season. 

The Huskers’ ability to commit turnovers and be forced into turnovers coupled with an inability to force turnovers scares me away from giving six and a hook. Throw in the disparity between the two teams specific to net punting yards and third down conversions, both heavily tilted toward Rutgers, and it’s hard to see Nebraska handling the little things to escape with a cover.

Last week: 0-3
Overall record: 20-23