At long last, the showdown between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan is here, and the stakes couldn't be higher. Bragging rights, the Big Ten East and, potentially, a College Football Playoff spot are all on the line. For Ohio State, revenge is also a factor as the Buckeyes prepare to host the Wolverines on Saturday following last season's embarrassing loss to their arch rival.
But for their similarities as 11-0 Big Ten East teams, there is a major difference in their résumés. That difference is the nonconference victory over Notre Dame that Ohio State secured in Week 1. While Michigan breezed through a laughable nonconference slate of Colorado State, Hawaii and UConn, the Buckeyes tested themselves against a quality opponent that has quietly put together a solid season.
The Fighting Irish are up to No. 15 in this week's College Football Playoff Rankings and have a chance to rise even higher if they take down No. 6 USC on Saturday night. If Ohio State doesn't beat Michigan, Buckeyes fans should transform into serious Notre Dame fans on Saturday evening. If Notre Dame beats USC, it would eliminate the Trojans from CFP contention and make Ohio State's Week 1 victory over the Fighting Irish look even more impressive.
In that scenario, the Buckeyes would have a real shot at making the CFP as a one-loss team. But if Michigan loses? Tough luck. The Wolverines' best victory -- and only victory vs. a ranked team -- would be an Oct. 15 home win over Penn State.
Michigan has no one to blame but itself for why the stakes are so high here. The Wolverines were supposed to play UCLA this season but canceled their series with the Bruins in 2019 and reportedly paid $1.5 million to do so. Instead, they added a game with Hawaii.
UCLA is ranked No. 18 this week while Hawaii is sitting at No. 127 in the CBS Sports 131. Even if Michigan had played UCLA and lost in Week 2, it wouldn't have been a hindrance to the Wolverines' CFP hopes. A road win over Ohio State and a victory in next week's Big Ten Championship Game would absolutely have gotten the Wolverines in the College Football Playoff as a one-team loss squad.
On the flip side, a win against the Bruins in Week 2 would have given Michigan the same cushion Ohio State now enjoys.
Instead, the Wolverines backed themselves into a corner with a poor schedule and unnecessarily made the stakes for the biggest game of their season even higher. If Michigan loses against Ohio State, its national title hopes are likely over. If the Buckeyes lose, at least they can turn on the USC-Notre Dame game and cling to hope for a little while longer.
Now that the stakes are clear, let's dive in to this week's Big Ten slate for our final round of picks this season.
2022 record: 37-31-2
No. 3 Michigan at No. 2 Ohio State
Ohio State is significantly better defensively than it was last season when Michigan ended an eight-game losing streak in the series by physically dominating the Buckeyes in a 42-27 win. With the status of Michigan star running back Blake Corum in question after he suffered an injury last week, getting to 30 points may be a struggle for the Wolverines this time. The Buckeyes can use their defense, home field advantage and hunger for revenge to lean on Michigan over the course of this game. The Wolverines rank No. 1 nationally in total defense, but what great offenses have they played? Ohio State is No. 2 nationally in scoring offense and elite in the red zone. The Buckeyes have the firepower to pull away late and cover the spread. Pick: Ohio State -7.5
Michigan State at No. 11 Penn State
Bowl eligibility is on the line for the Spartans, though it's unclear if that will be sufficient motivation for a team that just lost at home to Indiana. Beating the Hoosiers would have been the easy way to six wins. Now Michigan State faces the unenviable task of going on the road to face a Penn State team that has quietly reached the cusp of a 10-win regular season. While it's easy to imagine the Nittany Lions leading this game by 21 or 24 points, it's also easy to imagine Sean Clifford throwing one or two unnecessary interceptions for old time's sake that keep this game close as the redshirt senior plays his final home game at Beaver Stadium. Prior to the Indiana loss, Michigan State had won three of four games with victories over Wisconsin and Illinois in that span. The Spartans can cover this huge number. Pick: Michigan State +18
Minnesota at Wisconsin
With Wisconsin's coaching search nearing its end and interim coach Jim Leonhard presumably still in a good position to land the full-time gig, look for the Badgers to play some inspired football here. A win would make Wisconsin 5-2 under Leonhard after the midseason firing of Paul Chryst and removing the interim tag an easy move. Though Wisconsin looked bad the last two weeks, it has won both of its home games under Leonhard by double digits against bowl-bound opposition in Maryland and Purdue. Another strong home performance here seems likely against a Minnesota team that is 2-2 on the road. Pick: Wisconsin -3.5
Iowa at Nebraska
It wouldn't be right to let the regular season end without taking the under on an Iowa game once more. The Hawkeyes boast the nation's No. 5 scoring defense, allowing just 13.5 points per game. Nebraska enters with the nation's No. 103 scoring offense. You get the picture. Even with quarterback Casey Thompson back from injury last week, the Cornhuskers mustered just 171 total yards in a home loss to Wisconsin that featured 29 total points. Iowa will clinch the Big Ten West with a win and play in the Big Ten title game next week. That means the Hawkeyes will likely want to conserve energy and health in the second half if they get ahead by two possessions. This is guaranteed to be a low-scoring game. Pick: Under 38.5
Purdue at Indiana
Did you think Indiana was just going to lay down and quit after a seven-game losing streak saw it fall from 3-0 to 3-7? Think again. The Hoosiers won a 39-31 double-overtime game at Michigan State last week and should be fired up for rivalry week after that performance. Assuming Iowa beats Nebraska on Friday, the Boilermakers will be out of the Big Ten West title race by the time this game kicks. All seven of Purdue's wins over FBS opponents this season have come by 10 points or less, so it seems unlikely that the Boilermakers will suddenly crush a Big Ten opponent on the road. Pick: Indiana +10.5
Rutgers at Maryland
Maryland played a great game and came up just short against No. 2 Ohio State last week. The Terrapins looked like themselves again offensively while holding the Buckeyes' prolific offense in check. Rutgers got absolutely crushed by Penn State while suffering a seventh loss. Five of them have come by margins wider than this spread. The Scarlet Knights are bad, have been eliminated from bowl candidacy and are up against a Maryland team that should be motivated to enter bowl season on a high note following last week's heartbreaking loss. And, yes, Terps quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa is expected to play after suffering an injury on the final play of the game last week. Pick: Maryland -14
Illinois at Northwestern
Why is this point total so high? Illinois is No. 92 in scoring offense and Northwestern is No. 128. It's true that the Illini should be able to pile up yards on the Wildcats' run defense, but they will also bleed clock in the process. With the Illini on a three-game losing streak after their 7-1 start, look for coach Bret Bielema to grind one out here for the sake of returning to the win column. Illinois' defense may be struggling with depth and attrition, but Northwestern hasn't reached double digits in its last three games, and the Wildcats aren't going to suddenly find an offensive rhythm in their last game of the season. Pick: Under 38
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 13, and which top-25 teams will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread -- all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $3,000 in profit over the past six-plus seasons -- and find out.