Hickey: Final thoughts and predictions for Week 4 in the Big Ten
The most hyped game on the Big Ten schedule in Week 4, and thus far in all of 2023, is not actually a Big Ten game. Not even if it took place next year.
But it is No. 6 Ohio State at No. 9 Notre Dame, and that combination of teams is always going to get people excited regardless of where either is ranked. It’s the first time the Buckeyes have visited South Bend since 1996.
Any iteration of the Midwest’s Holy Trinity of college football — Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State — is a big deal.
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But this is also a game Ohio State can afford to lose without seeing any of its dreams dashed.
Win out from here and the Buckeyes still win the Big Ten. Accomplish that, and a College Football Playoff berth is still likely to follow. Especially if the Fighting Irish take care of business themselves the rest of the regular season.
The most important Big Ten game this week is actually in Happy Valley.
No. 7 Penn State has no wiggle room in the Big Ten East. A home loss to No. 24 Iowa would badly damage the Nittany Lions’ conference title and CFP aspirations.
And should the Hawkeyes find a way to pull off the upset, Iowa suddenly becomes the Big Ten West’s clearcut contender with a viable CFP path. The Hawks don’t play Ohio State or Michigan in the regular season. This could be a seismic outcome from Iowa’s perspective.
Will it happen?
Wisconsin (2-1) at Purdue (1-2), 7 p.m. ET Friday, FS1
The most recent Purdue quarterback to defeat Wisconsin?
Kyle Raymond Orton, American Legend.
As recently as last year, I declared that Purdue would never beat Wisconsin until a Boilermaker set foot on Mars. Wisconsin had never been more vulnerable, and Purdue would go on to win the Big Ten West. Yet somehow the Badgers remained unbeatable for the Boilers.
The spaceship must be en route, because it’s finally happening Friday night. Ryan Walters is the breath of fresh air who will change Purdue’s fortunes and snap the inexplicable 16-game losing streak to Wisconsin.
Well, fresh air and the fact Wisconsin is ranked 114th nationally in pass defense. Hudson Card will join Orton in Purdue’s most elite club.
Prediction: Purdue 35, Wisconsin 34
Rutgers (3-0) at No. 2 Michigan (3-0), noon ET, BTN
Vegas has overvalued the Wolverines all season. The Wolverines are 0-3 against the spread.
Rutgers, on the other hand, gets a Rodney Dangerfield level of respect. The Scarlet Knights are 3-0 against the spread.
What we’re saying here is that the Scarlet Knights are going to stay within 24 points of the Wolverines. Even if it’s not necessarily that much closer.
But you can count on Greg Schiano always having Rutgers ready for this game. His team was competitive against Michigan for 3 overtimes in 2020, 60 minutes in 2021 and the first 30 minutes of last year’s matchup.
Prediction: Michigan 30, Rutgers 13
Maryland (3-0) at Michigan State (2-1), 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Will the Spartans show some pride this week after getting steamrolled by Michael Penix Jr. and Washington? And will it even matter?
Michigan State is in an understandably bad place mentally after Mel Tucker’s dismissal. And a passing attack like Maryland’s is perfectly suited to make matters worse for the Spartans.
However, if the past 2 weeks are any indicator, Maryland will also spot its opponent 14 free points before finally showing up. So Sparty may keep this thing closer than expected.
Prediction: Maryland 30, Michigan State 23
Florida Atlantic (1-2) at Illinois (1-2), 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN
The Illini need to get well in the worst way after a disappointing start to the season. Florida Atlantic should be the proper antidote.
The Owls, 109th in total offense as it is, are without starting quarterback Casey Thompson for the rest of the year.
Prediction: Illinois 31, Florida Atlantic 10
Louisiana Tech (2-2) at Nebraska (1-2), 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN
The Cornhuskers will learn what they have behind running backs Gabe Ervin and Rahmir Johnson, both of whom are out for the rest of the season. Anthony Grant does have the talent to be Nebraska’s top running back, but has been in the dog house due to his acute case of fumbilitis.
Now Matt Rhule has no choice.
Starting quarterback Jeff Sims is also questionable for Saturday, but that might not be a bad thing given how much better the offense looked with backup Heinrich Haarberg not giving the ball away.
Prediction: Nebraska 33, Louisiana Tech 16
Akron (1-2) at Indiana (1-2), 7:30 p.m. ET, BTN
The Zips are the MAC’s final hope of securing a win over a Big Ten opponent for the 17th straight season. And I suspect they may come uncomfortably close to doing so. But Indiana’s defense is its strength, and an offense averaging 16 points per game is unlikely to have enough gas to complete an upset bid.
Prediction: Indiana 23, Akron 14
Minnesota (1-2) at Northwestern (1-2), 7:30 p.m. ET, BTN
The total for this game is 38.5 points and trending downward. As it should be. This game should draw a record-low Nielsen rating considering what it’s up against.
Prediction: Minnesota 23, Northwestern 10
No. 24 Iowa (3-0) at No. 7 Penn State (3-0), 7:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Iowa’s offense, which is not equipped to handle any additional adversity beyond its limited play-caller, must cope without leading tight end Luke Lachey for the rest of the season. That does not bode well heading into this matchup.
The Hawkeyes defense will keep the game close for awhile. And Iowa may move the ball with some success behind Leshon Williams, who will carry a heavy load with Kaleb Johnson and Jaziun Patterson both out with injuries. But the lack of a passing threat will eventually prove fatal.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Iowa 17
No. 6 Ohio State (3-0) at No. 9 Notre Dame (3-0), 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC
For all the history shared by these programs, they haven’t shared many compelling games. Each of Ohio State’s 5 consecutive wins have been decided by double digits.
To find a close game in this series, you have to go all the way back to Notre Dame’s most recent win over the Buckeyes — a 7-2 barnburner won by the Fighting Irish on Halloween Day, 1936.
In case you need more evidence that was a long time ago, Notre Dame’s other opponents that season included Washington University of St. Louis and Carnegie Tech, which is now known as Carnegie-Mellon.
Ohio State played the likes of NYU and Chicago that same year.
I think we’ll finally get our close game this time around. But it will still be the Buckeyes on top.
Prediction: Ohio State 28, Notre Dame 24