Big Ten's powers on primetime display

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

Big Ten powers No. 12 Penn State and No. 5 Ohio State will be front and center in prime TV attractions Friday and Saturday. Though they won’t play each other until Nov. 23, each of these national playoff hopefuls has a chance to be tested on the road in the next 48 hours.

Penn State visits upset-minded Maryland (Friday, FS1, 8 p.m. ET). The point spread has hopped between -6.5 and 7 through the week. Recreational bettors generally like ranked favorites at less than a touchdown. Many pro bettors see Maryland as a live underdog when sitting on the key number of plus 7. That square vs. sharp “tug-of-war” could continue to kick off.

Ohio State plays at disappointing Nebraska (Saturday, ABC, 7:30 p.m. ET). An opening line of OSU -14.5 was driven hard to -17.5, meaning it passed through the key number of 17. Oddsmakers weren’t finding a number that would attract Nebraska money. The reasons for that are obvious:

Ohio State just ran up the score in blowouts of Cincinnati (42-0), Indiana (51-10), and Miami-Ohio (76-5). That’s a combined 169-15 obliteration! If the Buckeyes believe they need style points to crack the SEC’s current stranglehold on projected playoff brackets, they will keep the pedal to the metal.

Nebraska split two recent nail biters with bad Colorado and Illinois teams. Ohio State would be favored by more than 17 vs. either of those (particularly the lowly Illini). 

A month into the season, it’s still difficult to gauge the true quality of the Big Ten. Both Penn State and Ohio State play in the East Division. Respected analyst Jeff Sagarin of USA Today actually has five of the loop’s seven teams in his top 22 this week. Sagarin is showing Ohio State #2, Penn State #10, Michigan State #19, Michigan #21, and Maryland #22. 

Sounds like fans and bettors are in for a series of blockbusters.

Maybe not. In recent action, Penn State (-17) only beat Pittsburgh 17-10, Michigan State (-15.5) lost outright to Arizona State 10-7, Michigan ( 3) lost huge at Wisconsin 35-14, and Maryland (-5) lost at Temple 20-17. 

Those computer rankings are more a reflection of how hard it is to separate teams in the large “bowl caliber but not consistently great” segment of the sport. Whoever you stick at No. 18—or No. 30—or No. Whatever either just had an embarrassing result, or is about to have one.

Bettors should watch the Penn State and Ohio State games with these questions in mind:

  • Is Penn State playing like a true national elite? Or, more like a grinder who will have trouble getting scoreboard distance from bowl caliber opponents behind inexperienced quarterback Sean Clifford? 
  • Is Ohio State partly an illusion created by bullying opponents that have thrown in the towel? Or, does it have the skill sets to make a serious run at the Final Four? 

Even when rooting for your bets, you should always be thinking about future smart bets!

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