Syndication: Lansing State Journal

All 14 Big Ten teams will be in action during Week 5 of the college football season as league play heats up with seven conference matchups that should bring clarity to the division title races. In particular, No. 21 Minnesota has the chance to take an early stranglehold on the Big Ten West as the Gophers host Purdue and look to improve to 5-0 after defeating their first four opponents by an average of 39.8 points.

If the Golden Gophers take care of business as 10.5-point favorites against the Boilermakers, they should find themselves as the lone team from the West still unbeaten in league play come Sunday. While Northwestern and Iowa also enter Week 5 with 1-0 league records, both are double-digit underdogs against Big Ten East powerhouses this week.

Barring an upset by the Hawkeyes against No. 4 Michigan, or from the Wildcats against No. 11 Penn State, the West will be Minnesota's to lose entering Week 6 -- provided that it beats Purdue. There is still plenty of time for a shakeup in the division, but given how weak Wisconsin and Iowa have looked early this season, the potential for Minnesota to have a special season is clear.

Since the inception of the Big Ten Championship Game in 2011, Minnesota is one of six teams from the league that have not appeared in the game. Even the 2019 team that finished 11-2 (7-2 Big Ten) fell just short as Wisconsin secured the divisional tiebreaker with a head-to-head win in the final week of the regular season.

After going on the road and crushing Michigan State 34-7 last week, this version of the Gophers looks like the best since that 2019 team. The offense ranks third nationally in yards per game at 543, and the defense is No. 1 nationally in yards allowed per game at 187.8. Though some of that is the result of playing three cupcake opponents, last week's total domination of the Spartans verified the legitimacy of this squad. 

Now, after cracking the AP Top 25 for the first time since early in the 2020 season, the Gophers are in position to become a national darling with another victory this week.

As the Week 5 action approaches, let's take a deeper dive into the Big Ten slate and make some picks.

2022 record: 12-9

No. 4 Michigan at Iowa

When these teams met last December in the Big Ten Championship Game, Michigan thoroughly trounced Iowa 42-3. The jury is out on whether the Wolverines are as good as last season, but Iowa appears to have regressed. The Hawkeyes have scored just four offensive touchdowns in four games and now face an opponent that is far superior to any they have seen yet.

Michigan gave up four touchdown drives of 70 yards or more in a 34-27 win over Maryland last week, but the Terrapins are far better equipped offensively than Iowa. Even if the Hawkeyes are successful in slowing Michigan's offense, it's hard to see them reaching double digits without some ridiculous turnover luck. The Wolverines should cover this spread with any score in the 20s. Pick: Michigan (-10.5)

Purdue at No. 21 Minnesota

A key factor here is whether Purdue quarterback Aidan O'Connell will be available after he missed the Boilermakers' 28-26 win over FAU in Week 4 due to injury. With him, this Purdue offense will be the biggest challenge yet for a Gophers defense that ranks first nationally in yards allowed per game. Either way, it's hard to see these Gophers getting involved in a game that is high-scoring enough to surpass this point total.

Minnesota leads the nation in time of possession and will be more than happy to keep the football away from Purdue and its potentially explosive offense. Even if the Gophers give up multiple touchdowns in a game for the first time this season, the under will remain firmly in play. Pick: Under (53.5)

Rutgers at No. 3 Ohio State

Considering the close ties between Rutgers coach Greg Schiano and Ohio State, this seems like a spot where the Buckeyes may be willing to let off the gas. Schiano had a three-year stint as defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes and was lavished with praise by coach Ryan Day for the work he did amid the coaching transition from Urban Meyer late in the 2018 season. The Scarlet Knights' margins of defeat against Ohio State so far under Schiano have been 39 points (2021) and 22 (2020). Pick: Rutgers (+41)

Northwestern at No. 11 Penn State

What is going on at Northwestern? Since a momentous season-opening win over Nebraska in Ireland, the Wildcats have dropped three straight against Duke, Southern Illinois and Miami (Ohio). That must be one of the worst three-game losing streaks ever from a Power Five school. The Wildcats just unveiled plans for a new $800 million stadium, but that won't help them much this week. Penn State's offensive weapons should overwhelm Northwestern. Pick: Penn State (-25.5)

Illinois at Wisconsin

With convincing wins over Virginia, a decent Wyoming team and a Chattanooga team ranked among the best in the FCS, Illinois looks capable of finishing above .500 for the first time in more than a decade. Wisconsin has shown nothing yet to indicate it can beat a quality opponent by more than a touchdown. Pick: Illinois (+7)

Michigan State at Maryland

This is the wrong team for Michigan State to be playing at a time when its defense is struggling. The Spartans allowed more than 500 yards in losses to Minnesota and Washington in the past two weeks, and they are now up against one of the nation's best passing attacks. The Terrapins should be able to pile up points while picking apart a Michigan State unit ranking 97th nationally in yards allowed per passing attempt. The Spartans should be able to score some as well, but the Terrapins have more firepower and at least some semblance of defensive ability. Pick: Maryland (-7.5)

Indiana at Nebraska

Nebraska ranks 127th nationally in yards allowed per game at 514, while Indiana is 109th at 429.3. These defenses are both bad, and both offenses are competent enough to capitalize. Look for both teams to reach the 30s in this contest with both quarterbacks likely enjoying huge games.

Indiana has allowed opposing passers to surpass 300 yards through the air in its past two games, and three of Nebraska's opponents have surpassed 500 total yards. The Hoosiers won 38-31 the last time these teams met back in 2019, and this meeting feels destined for a similar type of final score. Pick: Over (61.5)

Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 5, and which top-10 favorite 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 more than $3,100 in profit over the past six-plus seasons -- and find out.