The Big Ten West deteriorated into such a state of despair in Week 5 that, for a few hours, Northwestern held solo possession of first place in the division. After Minnesota lost to Purdue and Iowa lost to Michigan in last Saturday's early wave of games, the Wildcats found themselves as the division's lone squad without a league loss until they suffered one as well in a 17-7 defeat at Penn State during the afternoon.
But the fact that even for even a fleeting moment a 1-3 team coming off consecutive losses to Duke, Southern Illinois and Miami (Ohio) could find itself atop a division in one of college football's premier conferences speaks volumes to the decrepit nature of the Big Ten West. Wisconsin, the presumptive favorite to win the division, is 0-2 in the league and just fired its coach.
Nebraska, a program expected to make a significant leap in 2022, has already fired its coach as well. Iowa can't score and Minnesota just lost at home as a double-digit favorite to Purdue. So who are the best bets to win the Big Ten West at this point?
It's anyone's guess, and the candidacy of Illinois and Purdue shouldn't be dismissed. Neither have ever appeared in a Big Ten Championship game, but if there's ever a season to make a breakthrough, this is it. The Badgers and Hawkeyes are operating well below their program standards and Minnesota just squandered a golden opportunity to take control of the division.
Illinois is sporting one of the nation's top defenses and boasts the country's leading rusher in Chase Brown. Purdue, meanwhile, is just two tough luck losses away from a 5-0 start and looked like a defensive juggernaut in its big win over the Gophers last week.
While the Big Ten West's national reputation is floundering even more than usual, it should make for captivating theater as seven flawed teams battle it out for the right to get obliterated in the league title game on Dec. 3.
Against that backdrop, let's dive in for some picks from the Week 6 Big Ten slate.
2022 record: 17-11
No. 3 Ohio State at Michigan State
Remember last November when this was a battle of one-loss teams in the top 10 that had major Big Ten East and College Football Playoff implications? The Buckeyes won 56-7 that day. The Spartans are less-equipped to be competitive now than they were then after a 2-3 start that includes three straight double-digit losses. The Buckeyes haven't played a true road game yet, but the forecast is good in East Lansing, Michigan, this weekend and Ohio State should be able to rack up points with no problem. Pick: Ohio State (-26.5)
No. 4 Michigan at Indiana
These two teams haven't surpassed this point total in their annual meeting since the 2015 season, and unless Indiana's passing game experiences a breakthrough, the Hoosiers will struggle to score more than a couple times. With Michigan content to run Blake Corum 30 times per game and control the clock, there would need to be some wild turnovers or special teams highlights for this game to reach 60 total points. Pick: Under (59)
Iowa at Illinois
Illinois ranks No. 1 nationally in points allowed, while Iowa ranks No. 3. Hence, a point total of 35.5 that is comically low. This is going to be a battle for field position and a clash of the running games. Touchdowns will be at an absolute premium, which makes a 3.5 point spread seem on the high side. Don't be surprised if this one comes down to a late field goal or a fourth quarter fumble. Pick: Iowa (+3.5)
Purdue at Maryland
Maryland's pass defense has been refreshingly strong this season, allowing just 5.99 yards per attempt. That ranks 22nd nationally and is a significant improvement from the 7.89 yards per attempt that the Terrapins allowed last season. Purdue also showed its defensive might last week against Minnesota, and the Boilermakers are 26th nationally in yards per play allowed. Maybe one offense gets going in this game, but it's hard to see both scoring enough to surpass this total. Pick: Under (60)
Wisconsin at Northwestern
Wisconsin is dealing with the firing of coach Paul Chryst and turning to defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard as its interim leader. The players ought to know that Leonhard has a shot at the full-time gig and play some inspired football on his behalf. This program has played six Power Five opponents since its 35-7 win over Northwestern last season and hasn't beaten any of them by 10 points. But the Wildcats are just as bad now as they were then. Northwestern lost just 17-7 at No. 10 Penn State last week, but five turnovers from the Nittany Lions helped them stay in the game. Wisconsin won't be that careless with the ball and could look like a totally different team this week after an embarrassing 2-3 start. Pick: Wisconsin (-10)
Nebraska at Rutgers
Nebraska's defense looked stunningly competent in a 35-21 win over Indiana last week, allowing just 290 yards after the Cornhuskers' first three FBS opponents each amassed 500 or more yards. The Hoosiers punted 11 times, one of their touchdowns came on a fumble return and they did not score at all in the second half. The Scarlet Knights are averaging just 14.5 points against the four FBS opponents they've played this season and have less firepower than Nebraska. Pick: Nebraska (-3)
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 6, and which top-10 favorite will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread -- all from a proven computer model that has returned more than $3,100 in profit over the past six-plus seasons -- and find out.