Leistikow's Week 10 Big Ten picks: Michigan, Illinois surging; Nebraska fading fast

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Saturday marks the football calm before the November football storm — not only for Iowa, but also the rest of the Big Ten Conference.

Of the league’s six teams enjoying an idle week with no game Saturday, five are ranked in the USA TODAY Amway Coaches Poll top 20: No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Penn State, No. 13 Minnesota, No. 17 Wisconsin and No. 19 Iowa.

They’ll all feel the urgency soon, with the first College Football Playoff rankings revealed Tuesday and a monster menu of November games that’ll decide the West and East divisions.

Nov. 9: 8-0 Penn State at 8-0 Minnesota; 6-2 Iowa at 6-2 Wisconsin.

Nov. 16: Minnesota at Iowa.

Nov. 23: Penn State at 8-0 Ohio State.

Nov. 30: Ohio State at Michigan; Wisconsin at Minnesota.

Two season-deciding games await Iowa and Kirk Ferentz after this idle weekend. The Hawkeyes travel to Wisconsin on Nov. 9 before hosting Minnesota the following Saturday.

Most of you reading this need to know the Hawkeyes’ path to Indianapolis and the Dec. 7 Big Ten title game against either the powerful Buckeyes or a rematch with Penn State. It’s not complicated: Win out (Iowa finishes with Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Nebraska) and have Minnesota lose one of its other three games (Penn State, Northwestern or Wisconsin).

But for now, we wait out this snoozer Saturday.

No. 15 Michigan (6-2, 3-2) at Maryland (3-5, 1-4)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., ABC

Vegas line: Michigan by 21

Prediction: The Wolverines are rounding into the form many thought they would have all year, as evidenced by a thorough domination of Notre Dame. Even though their Big Ten East hopes are shot, swatting rivals Michigan State and Ohio State in November would be sweet. Maryland is abysmal. Michigan 42, Maryland 0

Nebraska (4-4, 2-3) at Purdue (2-6, 1-4)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., Fox

Vegas line: Nebraska by 3½

Prediction: Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos raised eyebrows at Big Ten Media Days by saying bowl eligibility would be a success, even though the Cornhuskers were the media pick to win the Big Ten West. Now, six wins seems somewhat perilous. Beating the banged-up Boilermakers on Saturday might be necessary, with Wisconsin and Iowa still looming. It sounds like quarterback Adrian Martinez will return for Nebraska; Purdue's Rondale Moore hasn't been ruled out, either. Purdue 28, Nebraska 24

Rutgers (2-6, 0-5) at Illinois (4-4, 2-3)

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., BTN

Vegas line: Illinois by 20½

Prediction: Lovie Smith needs two wins for all-important bowl eligibility, a status that seemed unthinkable after a home loss to Eastern Michigan kicked off a four-game losing streak. But the stunner over Wisconsin changed everything. Win this one and the finale at home against Northwestern, and the Illini will be in the postseason for the first time since 2014. Illinois 30, Rutgers 7

Northwestern (1-6, 0-5) at Indiana (6-2, 3-2)

Time, TV: 6 p.m., Fox Sports 1

Vegas line: Indiana by 11

Prediction: Fresh off being shut out at home (by Iowa) for the first time since 1999, Northwestern’s scoring offense is the worst in the country (10.7 points per game). A week after becoming bowl-eligible with a spirited win at Nebraska, the Hoosiers might experience a letdown. Indiana 20, Northwestern 13

Leistikow's ledger

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

Season: 34-39-1 ATS (56-18 SU)

All-time: 136-127-2 ATS (193-72 SU)

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.