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Big Ten Week 11 picks: Can Wisconsin carry league flag in playoff race?



Six Big Ten teams and nearly a seventh appeared in the College Football Playoff rankings this week. So a good spot for the league, with more teams ranked than any other conference, right?

Wrong.

The Big Ten needs Wisconsin to win out to avoid almost certainly missing out of the playoff for the first time in its four seasons. The Badgers’ season-defining stretch starts Saturday at home against 20th-ranked Iowa, with Michigan -- knocking on the door of the top 25 -- set to visit Camp Randall next week. It’s white-knuckle time in Madison.

A four-way tie atop the standings in the East sets the stage for November intrigue. Michigan State’s visit to Columbus, Ohio, takes center stage Saturday in a division race that figures to go the distance.

Visit our college football PickCenter page for additional information on these games and many more.

Here's a look around the Saturday schedule in the Big Ten:

No. 12 Michigan State at No. 13 Ohio State, Noon ET, Fox

Tom VanHaaren: A Michigan State team ranked higher than Ohio State, yet an underdog in this game, seems about right for the Spartans, doesn’t it? Part of me wants to pick Michigan State, but I think that Iowa's win over Ohio State was probably the worst thing that could happen to Michigan State when it comes to this game. It was an embarrassing loss for the Buckeyes and I imagine they will come into this game with a lot of motivation to put Michigan State away. Ohio State 34, Michigan State 21

Dan Murphy: Spartans coach Mark Dantonio chuckled a little bit this week when a reporter pointed out to him that the Buckeyes were favored by more than two touchdowns in Columbus this weekend. Michigan State, of course, is plenty familiar with playing the role of underdog. Quarterback Brian Lewerke and an emerging group of receivers give the Spartans enough firepower to make things close, but Ohio State hasn't lost two weeks in a row since Urban Meyer was hired after the 2011 season. That won't change now. Ohio State 31, Michigan State 24

Mitch Sherman: Lewerke has thrown for 845 yards the past two weeks, while J.T. Barrett was intercepted four times last week at Iowa. These aren’t the paths on which we expected these quarterbacks to enter. The same applies overall to the Spartans and Buckeyes, who have split the past six games in this series. Ohio State 28, Michigan State 20

Rutgers at No. 14 Penn State, Noon ET, BTN

Murphy: The Nittany Lions are in circle-the-wagons mode this week, and Rutgers is in the unfortunate position of being in front of those wheels. The Scarlet Knights have made steady improvement this season. This week will make it clear how much further they have to go to close the gap and be competitive with the best teams in their division. Penn State 42, Rutgers 17

VanHaaren: Rutgers has had a much-improved season, but Penn State is coming off of two losses by a combined four points against Ohio State and Michigan State. The Penn State offense is likely going to be able to put up some good numbers against a Rutgers defense that is allowing an average of 393.9 yards per game. Penn State 31, Rutgers 21

Nebraska at Minnesota, Noon ET, FS1

Sherman: The Gophers are enduring the expected ups and downs of a team in transition, according to coach P.J. Fleck, who attempted to explain it this week with a poorly drawn graph. And what is Nebraska’s trajectory? Easier to draw, for sure, as the ship in Lincoln continues to sink with the Cornhuskers and coach Mike Riley aboard. Minnesota 24, Nebraska 21

Indiana at Illinois, Noon ET, BTN

Murphy: Neither team has a conference win yet, but the Hoosiers are still hanging on to a chance to reach a bowl game if they can rally for three straight winnable games in November. Illinois' young team needs to find some reason for optimism this month. In a matchup between the league's worst rushing offense and the league's worst rushing defense, let's give the edge to the guys with the ball in their hands. Indiana 28, Illinois 13

No. 28 Iowa at No. 8 Wisconsin, 3:30 ET, ABC

Sherman: The visiting team has won six straight games in this series, with three games by four points or fewer. The Hawkeyes and Badgers know each other so well that a close game looks like a near certainty. Bidding for the first 10-0 start in school history, Wisconsin must overcome key injuries to receiver Quintez Cephus and linebacker Chris Orr. Wisconsin 21, Iowa 17

Murphy: Wisconsin has a chance to earn some schedule credibility this weekend, but the Badgers will have to find a way to slow down Iowa QB Nathan Stanley, who has thrown 22 touchdown passes and only four interceptions this season. Iowa has allowed only 12 sacks all season. Wisconsin should be able to put a bit more pressure on Stanley than most teams have and keep its perfect record intact. Wisconsin 24, Iowa 13

VanHaaren: Wisconsin has been dealing with injuries all season and it will be no different against Iowa. Safety D’Cota Dixon is questionable and leading receiver Cephus is out with a leg injury. Those are two big contributors for the Badgers and Iowa is coming off of an unbelievable win against Ohio State. I’m torn on this one because I feel like I have no idea which Iowa team is going to show up. I’m going to go with my gut and say Wisconsin pulls out the win. Wisconsin 21, Iowa 17

Michigan at Maryland, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN

VanHaaren: Michigan seems to have found a stride on offense with Brandon Peters at quarterback. The offensive line is starting to create opportunities for the running backs, who had 391 yards rushing against Minnesota. Maryland’s run defense is ranked 77th in the country, giving up 174.8 yards per game, and the Terps are as thin as possible at quarterback. If Michigan is able to run the ball well again and get Peters into a rhythm, it might be a long day for Maryland. Michigan 34, Maryland 17

Purdue at No. 25 Northwestern, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Sherman: The Wildcats have taken clear control of second place in the West behind Wisconsin with four straight wins, including the past three in overtime. Nine wins in the regular season appears realistic. Meanwhile, the Boilermakers must win Saturday or next week at Iowa to stay in the running for bowl eligibility. Northwestern 31, Purdue 14

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