LINCOLN — I took a bath last week on the Big Ten picks.
Ugly stuff — 3-5 against the spread and 3-5 straight up. Multiple folks pointed out the whiff on Illinois, which hammered Purdue 24-6 with a strong run game and opportunistic defense.
Illinois has indeed turned its season around with back-to-back upsets, if you’re talking point spreads. Purdue, meanwhile, has performed far below expectations this season.
Certainly I expected Purdue to make a bowl, perhaps even win seven or eight games after coach Jeff Brohm became one of the highest-paid men in the league. His program remains on the upswing, I think, for years to come.
But this season? Not pretty. Injuries to two of his best defensive players — Lorenzo Neal and Markus Bailey — and his best offensive player, receiver Rondale Moore, have sunk whatever promise 2019 held in store. A season-opening loss at Nevada set the tone. It hasn’t really improved since then, and Purdue stands at 2-6 overall. Another loss, and Brohm and the Boilermakers will be staying home for the holidays.
“We've used the back against the wall this past week and the playoff format this past week and even before,” Brohm said this week. “I think at this point, that's zero of our focus right now. Our focus is finding ways to get better this week. We've got to take the small steps in order to get that done. We can't worry about anything beyond that.”
Neither can Purdue’s opponent Saturday — Nebraska.
The Huskers had designs on a Big Ten West title, but as the season's progressed, the team we thought Nebraska could be turned out to play in Minneapolis.
Minnesota parlayed close, less-than-perfect wins in nonconference play over Fresno State and Georgia Southern into an 8-0 record. What if NU had squeezed out a win at Colorado? Well, outside of a loss to Ohio State, who knows what might have happened. As it is, the Huskers are 4-4 with a powerful freshman, Wan’Dale Robinson, exhorting his older teammates.
No. 1 should get some help this week from No. 2, Adrian Martinez, the starting NU quarterback who returns to action. The Husker offense had plenty of flashes in Martinez’s absence, but it didn’t win a game. NU is 0-3 over two seasons when Martinez doesn’t play. It’s not really a coincidence, either.
He’s back and Nebraska is back — in the win column. NU is favored by 3. My pick: Nebraska 31, Purdue 21.
Other Big Ten picks
No. 14 Michigan (6-2, 3-2) at Maryland (3-5, 1-4)
11 a.m., ABC
Interesting line here, given that Michigan smashed an excellent Notre Dame team by 31 and Maryland just lost to Minnesota by 42. Small crowd in College Park, and Jim Harbaugh is not known for being soft on head coaches (Mike Locksley) who are in a bit of a tiff with one of Harbaugh’s assistants (offensive coordinator Josh Gattis).
Line: Michigan by 21
My pick: Michigan 38, Maryland 13
Rutgers (2-6, 0-6) at Illinois (4-4, 2-3)
2:30 p.m., BTN
The Illini are staring at pretty good odds of making a bowl. Who would have figured Illinois would be nearly a three-touchdown favorite in any Big Ten game? Yet here it is.
Line: Illinois by 20½
My pick: Illinois 31, Rutgers 10
Northwestern (1-6, 0-5) at Indiana (6-2, 3-2)
6 p.m., FS1
Already bowl-eligible, the Hoosiers are playing with house money — and playing an unusually hungry opponent in Northwestern, whose offense should — should, mind you — have a slightly better game against IU’s mediocre defense. Not enough to win, though.
Line: Indiana by 11½
My pick: Indiana 27, Northwestern 20