With Week 8 of the college football season approaching, sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West is once again up for grabs as a wonky year in one of the sport's quirkiest divisions continues. If Purdue (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) wins as a slight underdog at Wisconsin (3-4, 1-3), the Boilermakers will sit alone atop the standings ahead of Illinois (6-1, 3-1) since the Illini are off this week.
But if Wisconsin wins, the Badgers will escape last-place in the division and Illinois will take over sole possession of first. Such a sentence would have been unfathomable before the season, but the Big Ten West is upside-down compared to preseason expectations, mostly thanks to Illinois.
The No. 18 Illini were picked to finish sixth in the league's unofficial preseason media poll but have proven themselves as a legitimate contender while running through the three teams picked atop the division already this month. Their loss at Indiana in Week 1 seems particularly inexplicable now, and without it this might be a top-10 team.
Nevertheless, Illinois gets the privilege of hanging out this week and watching 10 other teams in the league beat up on each other in what should be another solid Saturday of Big Ten action. Here are the Big Ten picks for this week.
2022 record: 22-16-1
Iowa at No. 2 Ohio State
Four of the five FBS opponents Iowa has played so far this season rank 90th or worst nationally in average yards per pass attempt. Ohio State (6-0, 3-0) ranks fourth. The Buckeyes are in a different stratosphere with their passing game than anyone Iowa has seen, and that will test Iowa's pass defense, which ranks first nationally in yards allowed per pass attempt.
But a 30-point spread is steep. This is the best defense Ohio State has seen by a wide margin, and the Hawkeyes (3-3, 1-2) can force Ohio State to punt at least a few times. Don't forget Ohio State showed some offensive mortality back in the season opener against Notre Dame. Even if the Buckeyes get ahead by 35 in the fourth quarter here, a backdoor cover could be in the cards as Ohio State prepares for a big trip to No. 16 Penn State next week. Pick: Iowa +30
Minnesota at No. 16 Penn State
Just a few weeks ago, this appeared to be shaping up as a critical game for the Big Ten picture that could have some national implications. But now, both teams are limping in on the heels of lackluster showings that exposed their undefeated starts as misleading. Minnesota averaged 45.8 points in its first four games but has since totaled just 24 points while throwing six interceptions in losses to Purdue and Illinois. Penn State led at Michigan early in the third quarter last week, but the Wolverines closed the game on a 25-0 run while dominating in a 41-17 win. The Nittany Lions won the turnover battle 1-0 and were penalized fewer times than Michigan yet were still blown off the field.
While the point total may seem high given their recent struggles, Minnesota star running back Mohamed Ibrahim should be amped up for this game after seeing what Michigan did to Penn State on the ground. Ibrahim has surpassed 100 yards in the five games he's played this season, and if he can gash Illinois he can certainly gash Penn State. On the other side, look for the Nittany Lions to put their best foot forward offensively as they take on their former coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. It would be particularly embarrassing for coach James Franklin and embattled veteran quarterback Sean Clifford if Penn State produced a dud offensive performance in this game. Pick: over 44.5
Purdue at Wisconsin
This is Wisconsin's first home game since the firing of Paul Chryst and thus a big part of interim coach Jim Leonhard's audition for the job. The Badgers allowed just 21 points in regulation of a 34-28 double-overtime loss at Michigan State and appear to be reclaiming some degree of their old spirit after a disastrous start to the season. Through the first six quarters of Leonhard's interim tenure, the Badgers allowed just two touchdowns, and one of them was gift-wrapped via turnover.
Purdue has its best defense of Jeff Brohm's tenure, and that should help Wisconsin's sleepy offense from generating more than an occasional long drive. Offensively, the Boilermakers put up 608 yards and 43 points in a win over Nebraska last week. But Nebraska also allowed Georgia Southern to surpass 600 yards. It would be a surprise if either team eclipsed the 400-yard mark in this game. Pick: Under 52
Northwestern at Maryland
Maryland coach Mike Locksley described star quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa as a game-time decision for this game after he injured his knee in last week's win over Indiana. His status looms as a massive uncertainty, but the Terrapins should cover even if he doesn't play. Northwestern is on a five-game losing streak and was steamrolled 42-7 by a mediocre Wisconsin team two weeks ago. While it can be tempting to find hope for the Wildcats in the box score of a respectable 17-7 loss at Penn State on Oct. 1, it's fool's gold. Brutal weather conditions kept the Nittany Lions from running away, and that won't be an issue this week.
Conditions are expected to be beautiful at Maryland, and Tagovailoa or backup Billy Edwards Jr. will be able to air it out to a deep group of talented receivers. Northwestern made Wisconsin's aerial attack look solid two weeks ago, so the Terrapins ought to be licking their chops considering how good their passing game can be on any given Saturday. Pick: Maryland -14
Indiana at Rutgers
The most yards Rutgers has allowed in a game against an opponent not named Ohio State is 304. Even in a 49-10 loss to the Buckeyes, the Scarlet Knights surrendered just 413 total yards, which is respectable against an offense of that caliber. Indiana ranks 97th in total offense and 126th in rushing offense. The Hoosiers may be entirely one-dimensional against a Rutgers team that is eighth nationally in rushing defense. The Scarlet Knights won 38-3 at Indiana last season and are well-positioned for another victory in the series. Pick: Rutgers -3
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 8, 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.