Final thoughts and predictions for Week 7 in the Big Ten
We are only just crossing the midpoint of the 2023 schedule, yet it is already Championship Saturday in the Big Ten West.
The winner of the Iowa-Wisconsin game at Camp Randall Stadium won’t mathematically clinch the West, of course. Heck, the Badgers still have 6 more conference games left to play after Saturday. You can’t clinch something that’s barely even started.
But let’s be honest: The B1G West stinks to high heaven in its final year of existence.
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The Badgers and Hawkeyes aren’t just runaway favorites to represent the West in the Big Ten championship game. There is a chance — perhaps not a likelihood, but a still a distinct possibility — that Iowa and Wisconsin finish the year as the only West teams with bowl eligibility.
So the outcome of this game will matter. A lot.
Here are my final thoughts and predictions for that showdown and the rest of the Week 7 Big Ten slate.
Indiana (2-3, 0-2) at No. 2 Michigan (6-0, 3-0), Noon ET, FOX
Indiana last won a game in the Big House in 1967. To put that in perspective, a person sentenced to a life term in the other Big House in 1967 likely would have been paroled no later than 1992.
The parole board is unlikely to show any clemency to the Hoosiers on Saturday.
That said, Indiana has a habit of exceeding Vegas’ usually modest expectations when it plays Michigan. IU is 7-4 against the spread in its last 11 meetings with the Wolverines.
Indiana is coming in fresh off a bye week and has performed respectably against a pair of undefeated opponents.
The Hoosiers frustrated No. 3 Ohio State in the season opener before falling 23-3. IU also could have beaten No. 14 Louisville if not for a disastrous sequence of goal-line play calls by since-fired offensive coordinator Walt Bell. Instead, 4 late cracks at the end zone failed in a 21-14 loss.
This is also the debut for new Indiana offensive coordinator Rod Carey. Maybe he’ll have a few tricks up his sleeve.
Prediction: Michigan 35, Indiana 13
No. 3 Ohio State (5-0, 2-0) at Purdue (2-4, 1-2), Noon ET, Peacock
We all know what happened last time Ohio State visited Purdue.
The Buckeyes, ranked No. 2 in the country in October 2018, were handed a 49-20 walloping by the unranked Boilermakers. It remains the defining Big Ten upset of the past decade thanks to how thoroughly the underdogs beat the superior team in the only game it would lose that season. This was no squeak by on a last-second field goal scenario. It was total domination.
The Boilers would surely be just as happy with a last-second field goal scenario this time around. And as the Big Ten leaders in tackles for loss and sacks, they’ll have a chance against Ohio State’s struggling offensive line.
But the Buckeyes will stave off the upset this time around — not because of their offense, but because of their defense.
Prediction: Ohio State 30, Purdue 21
Michigan State (2-3, 0-2) at Rutgers (4-2, 1-2), Noon ET, BTN
This is the football equivalent of the scene in “The Dark Knight” where The Joker breaks a pool cue and whoever survives the ensuing brawl gets to become his henchman.
Michigan State needs this game because there aren’t many possible wins left on the schedule after this week. And if Rutgers wants to reach a bowl game for legitimate reasons for the first time since 2014 (sorry, a bunch of guys on another team getting sick doesn’t count in the Saturday Tradition rulebook), the Scarlet Knights cannot afford to slip against the woebegone Spartans.
It’s a shame there’s turf at SHI Stadium. There’s rain in the forecast, and this game should be played in pure mud.
Prediction: Rutgers 21, Michigan State 16
UMass (1-6) at No. 6 Penn State (5-0), 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN
James Franklin ignited a minor non-troversy this week when people interpreted him as taking a swipe at Michigan’s easy non-conference schedule.
James Franklin on scheduling weak Out of Conference Opponents:
“There's a team in this conference that's buying out a ton of game contracts to go in another direction. You gotta do whatever you possibly can to give yourself a chance to be undefeated.”
— College Football Report (@CFBRep) October 10, 2023
But if you watch the footage, it’s clear that Franklin was referring to a) Indiana looking to kill the final 2 games of its contract with Louisville as a result of the Big Ten’s addition of 4 Pac-12 teams next year and b) he actually means it as a compliment because he sees this as the best way to reach the College Football Playoff.
Which is why we get this wretched matchup this week. Brilliantly slotted a week before the Ohio State game, no less.
Prediction: Penn State 49, UMass 0
Illinois (2-4, 0-3) at Maryland (5-1, 2-1), 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC
In the preseason, this looked like it might be an appealing enough matchup to warrant a place on national television. It is not.
Illinois is the sloppiest, most broken team in the Big Ten this season. The only thing that could make this game interesting is if Maryland can’t shake off the disappointment of last week’s fourth quarter at Ohio State. Which, to be fair, is very much in the cards.
Prediction: Maryland 34, Illinois 20
Iowa (5-1, 2-1) at Wisconsin (4-1, 2-0), 4 p.m. ET, FOX
Iowa’s last victory in Madison was a 10-6 affair in 2015, and it’s going to take something like that for the Hawkeyes to get another.
Quarterback Deacon Hill simply does not look ready for this. He’s struggled mightily in both of his appearances, and those were at home against 2 of the Big Ten’s leakiest pass defenses in Michigan State and Purdue. The Badgers are tied for the B1G lead with 8 interceptions, and it’s dang near a guarantee that Hill will add to that total.
That said, don’t expect much from Wisconsin’s offense against the Iowa defense. The Hawkeyes have allowed only 1 rushing touchdown this season, and Tanner Mordecai and the Wisconsin passing game have not delivered.
A battle of attrition awaits.
Prediction: Wisconsin 17, Iowa 13