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Chaos reigns in the Big Ten West
Heading into Week 12, college football’s most chaotic division is the Big Ten West, as four teams top the standings with two games to go, and none of them determine their own destiny. Here’s a look at the state of play:
To win the division, each team must win both remaining games and a loss to another team (or two) on the list.
Iowa has the clearest path to winning the division because the loss they need – Illinois to Michigan – is the most likely. If the Hawkeyes win and complete a tie with Purdue for the top spot, they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Boilermakers (Iowa 24, Purdue 3 in Week 10).
That list will likely narrow down to two teams after this Saturday, as Illinois is They are expected to lose 3rd place Michigan and either Iowa or Minnesota will lose their neck and neck race.
The Golden Gophers and Fighting Illini have harder ways to win the division – both needing an upset Purdue loss. Illinois also suffered one of the biggest upsets of the year in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
Iowa is trying to keep Minnesota division title hopes alive (MINN -2.5, o/u 32.5)
Best bets: Iowa +2.5, under 32.5
The Floyd of Rosedale Trophy is at stake in Minnesota this weekend – a bronze trophy in the shape of a pig in honor of the prize pig won by Minnesota Gov. Floyd Olson in a bet with Iowa Gov. Clyde Herring on the game between Minnesota and Iowa in 1935. The 1935 wager was seen as an attempt by the two governors to ease tensions between their states after the 1934 edition of the rivalry game was particularly violent, including . The trophy is now seen as a symbol of a friendly rivalry between the two schools.
But both teams have more to play for this season as they top the Big Ten West rankings in the aforementioned four-way tie.
Minnesota (7-3) and Iowa (6-4) both have three winning streaks in this game, although the caliber of Iowa’s last three opponents has been higher than Minnesota’s.
“Upbeat” is the Minnesota head coach’s first word PJ Fleck used to describe his feelings towards the team in his press release on Tuesday. The Golden Gophers win a 31-3 win over a dejected Northwestern at their freshman quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis got his first career start in the absence of an injured vet Tanner Morgan. Fleck said Morgan is making good progress (he sustained an unspecified upper-body injury) and his availability is still being assessed by medical staff.
In the Week 11 win, Minnesota ran the ball 58 times to relieve Kaliakmanis. “If we have to do this, we have to do this,” Fleck said. “Do I want to be more balanced? Absolutely. But we have to do the routine plays and we have to do the routine shots.
“When you play with a freshman quarterback, it’s like playing a rookie in the NFL. He just has to be able to get into his own routine.”
A majority of the carries go to senior running backs Mohammed Ibrahimwhose current streak of consecutive 100-yard rushing games stands at 18, the longest in FBS since 2000. Ibrahim is fifth in college football with 1,261 rush yards in the season.
“Our style of football is to run with the ball. Time management is what we’re proud of,” said Ibrahim after the win over Northwestern, in which he notched three Rush TDs to bring his career total to 51.
Fleck commented on the challenge from Iowa’s defense, which ranks third in the nation in yards allowed. “I don’t know if I’ve seen that in college football, where the defense gets the most points all year … They seem to do it every year.”
The Iowa defense actually hasn’t scored the majority of the team’s points (32 of the team’s 179 points this season if you count PATs for defensive TDs), but Fleck’s comment relates to playstyle — if the Hawkeyes score, the defense is usually responsible for bringing the offense to the first position.
Iowa coach Kirk Ference knows that to be the case and commended his defense and special teams units for their role in the team’s big win over Wisconsin last weekend.
Ferentz pointed to Ibrahim as a priority for the Hawkeyes on Saturday, calling him “the most proven veteran” in the Big Ten. He compared it to Michigan Blake Corumwho is fourth in the rush yards rankings this season, followed by Ibrahim’s fifth.
“It looks like maybe there’s nothing there,” Ferentz said, referring to a first impression of Ibrahim’s relative size and speed, “and the next thing you know he’s got 5.8 yards gain.”
Iowa is a tough bet this time of year — the team hasn’t lost a November game since 2019.
“Really good teams should peak in November,” Iowa QB said Spencer Petras said Saturday.
Petras will have his work cut out for him: Minnesota is one of four teams ahead of Iowa, which is allowed this season at just 13.1 points per game. The Hawkeyes are allowing a 13.9 average, so this should be a solid defensive match with a lot at stake.
Forecast: Iowa seems to be on the rise, and with a division title on the line, they’ll do enough to make it on the road in a tight one. Given the defensive strengths of these teams, the Under should be in play. (Hopefully, however, the overall score will be higher than the temperature, which is forecast at 17 degrees on Saturday afternoon.)
Illinois is hoping for an upset from No. 3 Michigan in Ann Arbor (ME -17.5, o/u 40.5)
Best bets: Michigan -17.5, over 40.5
It’s likely that the Fighting Illini’s hopes of reaching the Big Ten title game will end this weekend in Ann Arbor, where they will be surpassed in almost every way. The most telling team stat Illinois (7-3) has over Michigan (10-0) is pass yards per game, where the Illini average about 10 more than the Wolverines.
Given Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito‘s inability to find a rhythm at home against Purdue (18/32, 1 TD, 1 INT) last week, this Michigan road pass yards stat might not help them much. And in other areas of Illini strength, the Wolverines should have an answer:
- Illinois has the nation’s leading rusher Chase Brown (1,442 meters). Michigan has the nation’s leading rush defense (72.7 yards/game).
- Illinois is 7th in the nation in rush defense (85.9 yards/game). Michigan’s Blake Corum is the nation’s fourth-most prolific rusher (1,379 yards).
Michigan’s only danger in this game is that the team could be caught looking ahead to Week 13 when they go up against Ohio State in a showdown that will likely determine the conference winner and a playoff berth .
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh focuses on preventing Brown from having an impact on the ground. “Our running speed was very good,” said Harbaugh on Tuesday. “It will probably be tested this week like no other yet.”
For its part, Illinois needs to win that game and its Week 13 game at Northwestern, and Purdue needs to suffer an upset loss to Northwestern or Nebraska in the last two weeks to win the Big Ten West. It’s a big task.
Like the coach from Harbaugh, Illinois Bret Bielema fears this week’s assault and calls Corum “as good as anyone else in the country”.
Forecast: Michigan’s rush defense should end Illinois’ ground game, making it difficult for the Illini to keep up in Ann Arbor. Michigan simply wins with the over in play.
More predictions for week 12
The team of NBC Sports EDGE did a deep dive into the Big Ten roster this week, serving up their favorite games for the week. Here’s a preview:
Northwest @ Purdue: 2nd Half Purdue -8.5 (-110)
Zachary Kruger (@ZK_FFB)
Northwestern is one of the nation’s worst offenses, having scored 20 or more points just once in their last seven games. The Wildcats rank 128th in the nation in points per game (15.3) and 83rd in points per game allowed (28.2).
This weekend, Northwestern travels to Purdue to face off against a Boilermakers offense that is 29.6 points per game behind opposing defense while ranked 50th in yards per game (407.8) and in passing yards per game finished 17th. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell (2674-18-11) keeps flaring bad defenses through the air. To its credit, Northwestern have the 12th lowest passing yards per game in the country (182.8), but to cover that 8.5-point spread in the second half, they’ll need to find a way to get on the board a few times to come yourself.
Northwestern only managed 14 points this season last season and were outplayed 19-7 in the second half. In two of their last three encounters, Purdue has beaten the Wildcats by double digits in the second half.
The 10.5 first half felt a bit like a steep hill to climb given the two-point difference between the first and second half lines. While I’m confident Purdue can rack up the points needed to cover this one, I’m equally confident Purdue can limit an offense that has been less than productive against the majority of the opponents they have faced this season.
For more Week 12 Big Ten analysis and advice from the EDGE team, click here. And if you’re looking for a deeper dive into Week 12 in college football from a bettor’s perspective, join the team of NBC college analysts at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time NCAA College Football Betting Preview Questions and Answers on the NBC Sports YouTube page.
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