This may end up as the Big Ten West division title. The two teams bring similar styles of play: power football, tough defense, smart and penalty-free. Both enter undefeated, but beyond the win-loss column their data points are quite different.
Through their first three games, Northwestern didn’t allow a single point in the 2nd half, which is a testament to head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s halftime adjustments. However, their margin of victory has been razor-thin. Their last 3 games have all been within one score, and they’ve actually been outgained by over 100 yards combined.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s wins have been resounding blowouts. In the opener, they beat Illinois by 38 while new 5-star quarterback Graham Mertz was a near-perfect 20/21 (95%) for 5 touchdowns. Last Saturday, Wisconsin dealt Michigan its worst loss in The Big House since 1935 – again, a 38-point margin. Wisconsin outgained both their opponents by 200+ yards.
Since the Big Ten expanded in 2014, Wisconsin is 31-6 (84%) vs. Big Ten West opponents, and won the division 4 of 6 years. Until proven otherwise, this is still their division.
Prediction: Wisconsin 31, Northwestern 17
Pick: Wisconsin -7 @ -110
At first glance, it is very odd to see a powerhouse program like Florida State with such a huge underdog line next to their name. 35 points… 5 touchdowns… at home!
There are several things at play here. Clemson is 63% ATS when favored by 30+ points since the start of their dynasty five years ago. In these blowout style games, the line can’t be set high enough. Also, Trevor Lawrence is now back healthy as the starter, and already with a loss there is no margin for error. Look for Clemson to pile on as many “style points” as possible to bolster their Playoff resume.
Florida State’s two best players have opted-out (DT Marvin Wilson & WR Tamorrion Terry), original starting QB James Blackman opted-out, QB Chubba Purdy broke his collarbone, and in total 9 Seminoles are out for the season. QB Jordan Travis showed some future potential in starts against Notre Dame and UNC but is still questionable to play Saturday – with zero quarterback depth behind him. This program has a bigger rebuild than anyone could have expected.
Playoff Team vs. Transition/Rebuild/Opt-Out Team.
Prediction: Clemson 55, Florida State 17
Pick: Clemson -35 @ -110
Back in June, I was the only preseason publication to have Oregon in the Playoff. A lot has changed since then. Oregon’s schedule was cut in half, their Outland winner Penei Sewell opted out, and half of their nation-best secondary opted out.
However, so far so good. They are 2-0 straight-up, and 2-0 ATS. I’ve hit on them both weeks here, and I expect a third this Saturday. UCLA is 8-18 under Chip Kelly. His program has lacked physicality in the trenches, and looks nothing like his “blur” no-huddle offense from his 2010s success at Oregon.
Nowadays, Oregon still has the unique uniforms, but their style of play differs from Kelly’s speed, hyper-tempo, and quirky offense. This program is now built from the inside out, with strong lines and one of the nation’s toughest defenses. Look for the new Oregon to dominate its old coach. The line is quickly shifting due to UCLA starting QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson rumored to be out.
Prediction: Oregon 41, UCLA 23
Pick: Oregon -16.5 @-110
In a short season, Ohio State needs to maximize their national stage performances. This is essentially the Big Ten East Division title – both teams are undefeated and ranked in the Top 10.
Through three games, Justin Fields has more touchdowns (13) than incompletions (11) and regardless of opponent, I expect Ohio State to score 40+ each game.
Indiana has a stable of elite playmakers themselves, with one of the most underrated receiver groups in the nation. Ohio State’s only flaw so far has been in pass defense. Expect high scores here.
Prediction: Ohio State 48, Indiana 27
Pick: OVER Total Points 67 @ -110