Leistikow's Week 5 Big Ten picks: Good spots for home underdogs Nebraska, Penn State

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — In some ways, Iowa football practice felt like a game week — even though there is no game until Oct. 6 against Minnesota.

The Hawkeyes (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten Conference) had full practices Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — like they would on a normal game preparation — with Thursday off.

The differences: Nothing scheduled Friday and Saturday, and the backups were getting more reps with the 1s. For starters, this is one of their lighter weeks of practice. For coaches, it’s a time to evaluate the bigger picture.

With no Hawkeye game this week, eyes are on the matchups of Michigan at Northwestern, Ohio State at Penn State.

“We've gone back to a schedule that we used probably three or four years ago,” offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said Wednesday. “We just felt like that was the best thing for our football team right now.”

Coming off a 28-17 loss to Wisconsin in which the Hawkeyes lost the lead in the final minute, Iowa is the one of five Big Ten teams without a game this week. The others: Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

A look at the nine teams in action Saturday:

Central Michigan (1-3) at No. 18 Michigan State (2-1, 1-0)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., Fox Sports 1

Vegas line: Michigan State by 28½

Prediction: With their bye out of the way and three Big Ten games on deck — Northwestern, Penn State and Michigan — the Spartans wouldn’t mind getting their first comfortable win of the season. Always easier said than done, though, against an in-state foe. The last time Michigan State beat a team not named Rutgers by more than four touchdowns was in 2015. Look for former West Des Moines Valley quarterback Rocky Lombardi, the backup to Brian Lewerke, to get his first college snap under center (though the redshirt freshman has executed one pinch-hit punt). Michigan State 38, Central Michigan 12

Indiana (3-1, 0-1) at Rutgers (1-3, 0-1)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., Big Ten Network

Vegas line: Indiana by 17

Prediction: It’s so bad at Rutgers that the few fans (an estimated 10,000) that attended last week’s blowout home loss to Buffalo (the college team, not the Bills) weren’t even booing. There’s really no good reason to predict the Scarlet Knights to do anything good anymore. Indiana couldn’t run a lick against Michigan State last weekend but shouldn’t have any trouble against a Rutgers defense that gave up 405 yards on the ground to Kansas. Indiana 41, Rutgers 3

Purdue (1-3, 0-1) at Nebraska (0-3, 0-1)

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Vegas line: Purdue by 3½

Prediction: Scott Frost has to win this game. Has to. If not, his Cornhuskers will be 0-5 a week from now, with a trip to Wisconsin on deck — and maybe 0-6 with a road game at Northwestern after that. Nebraska has been plagued by slow starts (down 14-0 to Colorado; 17-0 to Troy; 39-0 at halftime to Michigan). But it’s also been hampered by freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez not playing a full, healthy game. He says he’s feeling “great” now. The unpopular guess here is Nebraska starts fast, gets a break or two … and its fans get something to cheer about. Nebraska 24, Purdue 22

No. 15 Michigan (3-1, 1-0) at Northwestern (1-2, 1-0)

Time, TV: 3:30 p.m., Fox

Vegas line: Michigan by 14

Prediction: Northwestern is coming off its much-needed bye week after home losses to Duke and Akron. This should be a complete athletic mismatch. The Wolverines’ ball-hawking defense meets the slow-footed Wildcats, who lost top running back Jeremy Larkin to retirement this week due to a spinal condition. Michigan routed the Wildcats, 38-0, in their last meeting — 2015, when both teams won 10 games. This result could be equally ugly. Michigan 35, Northwestern 10

No. 4 Ohio State (4-0, 1-0) at No. 9 Penn State (4-0, 1-0)

Time, TV: 6:30 p.m., ABC

Vegas line: Ohio State by 3½

Prediction: The first true heavyweight battle in the Big Ten East takes place at Beaver Stadium, two years after a 60-yard blocked-field goal return for a touchdown launched the Nittany Lions back to prominence and toward an improbable run to the conference championship. The rematch should be every bit as electric, with the teams combining to average 110 points and more than 1,100 yards per game. Ohio State has been lethal through the air with quarterback Dwayne Haskins. But on the other side of the ball, a big injury to star defensive end Nick Bosa looms for the Buckeyes. Penn State’s Trace McSorley is as clutch as they come at quarterback. Last team with the football wins. Penn State 45, Ohio State 42

Leistikow's ledger

Last week: 4-3 against the spread (5-2 straight up)

Season: 16-22 ATS (24-14 SU)

2017 record: 53-41-1 ATS (73-23 SU)

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.