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Week 9 in the Big Ten: Clifford’s Final Crack vs. Ohio State

Sean Clifford

Sean Clifford

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy football guru Matthew Berry has joined the team and his two shows have you covered all season long. Spend weekdays at noon with the Fantasy Football Happy Hour and then, every Sunday at 11am getting ready for kickoff with the Fantasy Football Pregame. Watch both shows live on Peacock and catch replays for the weekday show on the NFL on NBC YouTube channel.

Week 9 of the college football season begins with Heisman favorite CJ Stroud and #2 Ohio State (-625) in Happy Valley for a showdown with Sean Clifford and #2 Penn State (+450). The Buckeyes are laying 15.5 points. The Buckeyes have won five straight in the series with the last three by margins of 11, 13, and 9 points. Penn State knocked off the Buckeyes in 2016 by 3. It is one of four games pitting Big Ten schools against each other this weekend.

Fresh off their first conference win of the season, the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers are getting 14 points when they take the field against a Minnesota Golden Gophers’ squad trying to end a 3-game losing streak. P.J. Fleck and co. are 3-0 when favored by two touchdowns or more this season.

Winners of four straight, Bret Bielema‘s 17th-ranked Fightin’ Illini (-276) look to continue their hold atop the Big Ten West with a game in Lincoln. Illinois has covered the spread in five of seven games this season. They are laying 7.5 points against Nebraska (+230).

Northwestern (+330) and Iowa (-425) tangle at Kinnick Stadium with the Wildcats getting 10.5 points. Both Iowa (2-5) and Northwestern (3-4) have struggled to hit the OVER this season. Regardless, the winner climbs out of the cellar in the Big Ten West.

The day closes in the Big Ten at The Big House with #4 Michigan (-1701) playing host to the Spartans of Michigan State (+1000). J.J. McCarthy and the Wolverines are laying a big number of 23 points in this annual showdown of in-state rivals. Four times this season Michigan has been a favorite of at least 23 points. They are 2-2 ATS in those games. The Spartans have been a dog getting 23 points one other time this season and they failed to cover.

As they have every week of the BIG Ten this season, the NBC Sports EDGE Analysts have taken a deeper dive into the Big Ten slate and present their top plays for those so inclined.

Week 9 Plays:

Northwestern @ Iowa Hawkeyes -10.5 (-107)

Vaughn Dalzell (@VmoneySports)

Iowa was laying -12 at Northwestern in their most recent meeting. The Hawkeyes won 17-12 but failed to cover. Despite Iowa’s offense being much worse in 2022 than 2021, the spread flips to Iowa -10.5 at home, so they are confident this is a Hawkeyes’ spot.

It does not matter whether or not Spencer Petras or Alex Padilla starts for Iowa, because the Hawkeyes are going to run the ball for a majority of this game and so should the Wildcats.

Northwestern’s rushing defense ranks 112th in the country at 187.6 yards per game. Iowa relies on both Leshon Williams (267 rushing yards, 3.7 ypc) and Kaleb Johnson (260 rushing yards, 4.3 ypc) to carry the load for the Hawkeye’s offense.

While their numbers will not blow you away, they might this Saturday. Northwestern’s defense is so bad that they could allow Iowa’s running game to have a day. Penn State won by 10, Wisconsin won by 35 and Maryland won by 7 with a backup quarterback. Iowa has a better defense than all those teams, so I believe the Hawkeyes can win by touchdowns because Northwestern should not score more than two touchdowns, if that.

Let’s take Iowa in a bounce back spot at home. I played the Hawkeyes -11 at -110 odds and would play this to -12.

Ohio State @ Penn State: Ohio State -8.5 (-107) – 1st Half

Zachary Kruger (@ZK_FFB)

Ohio State enters this one as 15.5-point road favorites. I have been tempted to get in on this game all week but feel more comfortable pivoting to the first half spread here. Ohio State is a perfect 7-0 with a 4-2-1 record ATS overall and 3-0-1 ATS vs. Big Ten competition. One of the truly elite teams in the nation, the Buckeyes are second in the nation in points per game (49.6) and fifth in the nation in points allowed per game (14.9).

Quarterback C.J. Stroud’s Heisman run (-125) has resulted in a 2023-28-4 line through seven games, despite the fact that his No. 1 receiver, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, has been out for the majority of the season. Wide receivers Emeka Egbuka (41-735-7) and Marvin Harrison Jr. (38-598-10) have stepped up in JSN’s absence and wreaked havoc on opposing defenses all season.

Penn State is scoring 33.4 points per game (39th) and has enjoyed some big games on the season, including last week’s 45-17 home win over Minnesota. Defensively, the Nittany Lions have benefitted from some soft opponents and slow starts by said foes. A 35-31 win over Purdue got the season off to a fun start, but the Lions, who went 4-0 against the likes of Ohio, Auburn, Central Michigan and Northwestern, outscored their opponents by a combined score of 137-43.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have been outscoring opponents 27.6-10.0 in the first half this season. In their loan road game, the Buckeyes held a 35-13 lead over Michigan State. I truly believe the Buckeyes’ offense could overwhelm Penn State all afternoon. The Nittany Lions are at home, though, and have played tough against Ohio State over the years. That said, playing the Buckeyes tough has still resulted in losses the last three years by an average of 11 points.

Boasting a solid defense and an explosive offense, I like the Buckeyes to find a way to get a two-possession advantage on the Lions at least through the first half.

Editor’s Note: Looking for a deeper dive into Week 9 in College Football from a Bettor’s Perspective. Join NBC’s team of college analysts at 11A Eastern for an NCAA College Football Betting Preview Q&A on the NBC Sports YouTube page.

Northwestern at Iowa:

Northwestern Team Total UNDER 12.5 (-130)

Brad Thomas (@MrBradThomas)

After last weekend’s bloodbath against Ohio State, the Iowa Hawkeyes get to play at home against a Northwestern team that is already looking forward to the offseason. I am rolling with Northwestern’s team total Under 12.5 points.

If we learned anything from the Ohio State game, it is that this Iowa defense could be the best in the country. Despite Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla giving the ball away in their own territory multiple times, the Buckeyes often struggled to put points up on the board. This Hawkeyes’ team is second in defense FEI and ninth in scoring defense despite playing against Ohio State and Michigan, who rank second and fourth, respectively.

To say the team Iowa is playing routinely struggles on offense would be an understatement. Northwestern is 100th in offensive FEI and 118th in scoring offense. I have their team total set at 9.5, so getting an extra few points of value works for me.

Ohio State @ Penn State:

Sean Clifford, QB, Penn State – UNDER 235.5 Pass Yards

Eric Froton (@CFFroton)

To say that four-year starting QB Sean Clifford is a known commodity is like saying Kanye needs to get back on his meds, i.e. it is self-evident. Clifford’s middling performance has continued unabated once again in 2022 as the Nittany Lion fanbase clamors for dreamy five-star freshman QB Drew Allar who will pilot PSU’s offense for the next two years and possibly beyond.

Clifford has failed to eclipse the 235.5 Passing Yards mark in five of his last six games, with the lone Over being last week against a Minnesota team that lost its veteran starting QB before the game and was completely unable to mount an effective drive, converting 2-of-13 third down opportunities.

Now Penn State has the pleasure of welcoming Ohio State for a noon kickoff against DC Jim Knowles’ defense that is allowing just 149 passing yards and 15 points per game thus far. With the defensive scheme finally matching the talent level on the field, Ohio State ranks second in overall defense nationally.

I think OSU’s defense will be able to corral the limited Clifford and disrupt his rhythm with their dominant four-man pass rush led by Edges J.T. Tuimolau and Zach Harrison. Adding to the appeal of this Under is the looming presence of Allar who is a mortal lock to get at least 2 series in any blowout scenario, eliminating the potential garbage time backdoor cover scenario.

Accordingly, Clifford is going to have to go Over the hard way by keeping the Nittany Lions competitive against the number one team in the land…I do not see it happening. Take the Under 235.5-down-to-225.5 Passing Yards on Clifford.

Enjoy another Saturday of Big Ten Football and enjoy the sweat!

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