This is a key week, and it just so happens to present one of the more challenging matchups of the season. Flip a coin, and have your picks in by 11:00 a.m. EST tomorrow.
1. PENN STATE at MINNESOTA, 12:00 p.m. ESPN U (10/23)
GRAHAM predicts PENN STATE
I'm going to pick Minnesota here. Just kidding. I want to...and there is even some logic that says to, namely the fact that PSU has no offense, Minnesota just lost Tim Brewster, and it's a home game. However. Mini finds ways to lose games, they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, they self-mutilate, etc, etc. Penn State wins on the road.
JON predicts PENN STATE
The Nittany Lion organization was embarrassed by a home loss to Illinois two weeks ago, and I suspect they've taken advantage of a bye week to make the necessary adjustments. There's no way they drop to the worst team in the Big Ten.
Penn State - 9.5
Big Ten Portal* says "Penn State is only 1-4 ATS this season, and has gone Under 4 out of 5 games. Siince 1999 Joe Paterno is 3-4 ATS vs Minnesota. Minnesota has gone Over in every Big Ten game at TCF Stadium since it opened last year (5/0)."
2. No. 7 MICHIGAN STATE at NORTHWESTERN, 12:00 p.m. ESPN (10/23)
GRAHAM predicts MICHIGAN STATE
The Spartans are a complete team. Enough said. Running the ball doesn't get wiped away on the road, especially at the friendly confines of Ryan Field. And the Wildcats are, across the board, not made for getting smashed in the mouth the entire game. Which is exactly what MSU will do. Sparty's dream season continues.
JON predicts MICHIGAN STATE
Just how good is this Michigan State defense? Consider this: they surrendered 11 points less to Michigan than Iowa's defense -- a unit widely thought to be among the league's elite. I believe in the balance and discipline Mark Dantonio's squad has shown, and they should have no trouble escaping from Evanston with a W. Unless, that is, they get caught looking ahead to Iowa City.
Michigan State - 8
Big Ten Portal says "Pat Fitzgerald is 2-1 ATS vs Mark Dantonio and 1-2 Straight Up. He has only gone 7-10 Straight Up and ATS in Big Ten home games during his tenure at Northwestern. The last matchup at Ryan Field happened in 2008, with a similar line at MSU -3, and the Spartans won 37-20."
3. No. 13 WISCONSIN at No. 15 IOWA, 3:30 p.m. ABC (10/23)
GRAHAM predicts IOWA
I envision...John Clay being wrangled down in the backfield, JJ Watt juuust missing sacking Ricky Stanzi while he zips a ball to DJK for a touchdown, Scott Tolzien seeing that vaunted Hawkeye shell defense all game after the run game is slowed early. It's Iowa in a burner at home. KEY WORD: HOME...I picked Wisconsin on the road v. MSU, wrong. I picked OSU on the road v. Wisky, wrong. Time to be conservative...and smart.
JON predicts IOWA
I received the following text from Graham last night: "took 40 mins to pick wisky iowa." I wasn't surprised. There's no question that if the Badgers play like they did last week against Ohio State they'll be unstoppable. But that's a big if. Bret Bielema swears that his team has finally bought into the system, but they've still only played two complete games this season. I'm not picking Iowa because Ricky Stanzi has only thrown two interceptions all year, or because Adrian Clayborn is one of the few players in the country that might have the skills to swim past Gabe Carimi. I'm picking Iowa because the game is at Kinnick, and I just don't think the Badgers can get it up like they did against Ohio State.
Iowa - 6.5
Big Ten Portal says "Kirk Ferentz is 8-3 ATS vs Wisconsin in his career, including 3-1 the last 4 seasons. Bret Bielema's teams have gone Over 71% in Big Ten Road games."
2. No. 6 LSU at No. 4 AUBURN, 3:30 p.m. CBS (10/23)
GRAHAM predicts AUBURN
Les Miles is...Randle Patrick McMurphy. That's right, he's just faking being crazy, it's all an act! He really just wants to take the Michigan job and smoke cigars at Smokies in Ann Arbor and run the ball up the middle for three yards on every down. Earlier this season I picked LSU over Florida in the Swamp. Foolish, I know, UNTIL THE BALL BOUNCED STRAIGHT UP ON A FAKE FIELD GOAL and the Tigers miraculously survived. I refuse to gamble on Les again, I just refuse, the first time almost made my head explode. Auburn and Cam Newton win in a low scoring 42-39 affair.
JON predicts AUBURN
At the beginning of this season I described Cameron Neuton as a "poor man's" Terrelle Pryor. Now, I suppose the opposite may be true. This is the classic unstoppable force versus immovable object matchup. Auburn leads the SEC in total offense, but LSU boasts the best defense in the league. Where's the weak link? It's LSU's inability to pass the football. Last week, they managed just 103 yards passing against McNeese State. Les Miles is playing two quarterbacks to try to spark production on offense. Isn't it about time LSU's luck runs out?
Auburn - 4.5
Big Ten Portal says "Both teams have been mediocre in every betting metric this year and have terrible results overall since 2008. LSU has won and covered the past two matchups between these teams, but this year's matchup is more difficult. Both teams are run-dominant, but LSU's D has a definitive advantage. Truly a coin-flip."
1. No. 1 OKLAHOMA at No. 11 MISSOURI, 8:00 p.m. ABC (10/23)
GRAHAM predicts OKLAHOMA
Vegas loves Oklahoma by a touchdown here. Why? Because they're a non-gimmicky Big 12 team that can run AND pass. I loved Vegas for Jon's bachelor party and I'll follow their lead here. Oklahoma...not as good as they're ranked, but still better than Mizzou.
JON predicts OKLAHOMA
For the first time in as long as I can remember Missouri actually has a team capable of beating Oklahoma. That's because the Tigers have a real defense, led by All-Conference Sophomore Aldon Smith, and the Sooners have showed they're fallible in close games against Utah State, Air Force, and Cincinnati. So why, much to my wife's (she's a proud Mizzou alum) chagrin am I still picking Stoops? Because I'm a wimp. That's why.
Oklahoma - 6
Big Ten Portal says "Since 2008, the Sooners are 12-6 ATS against Big 12 opponents and 6-4 on all road games, while the Tigers are a weak 7-12 ATS versus Big 12 opponents and 5-9 ATS in all home games. Missouri's D has been noticeably strong against the run and weak against the pass thus far in 2010, while Oklahoma has had more mixed results."
* Big Ten Portal is a website devoted to the culture and trends associated with following and betting Big Ten football. Each week their team provides recent and historic analysis so you have all the data you need to make your picks.