The cultural fits of USC and UCLA in the Big Ten are certainly questionable, but this season is illustrating why the league should benefit from welcoming them to the conference in 2024. With those two, the Big Ten would be on track for one or two more College Football Playoff bids in a theoretical 12-team bracket. Without them, the Big Ten has just two teams in the top 12 entering Week 10 action.
If the season ended today and a 12-team playoff began, the SEC would have five teams in the bracket and no other conference would have more than two. (Though UCLA is No. 12, the Bruins would be left out in favor of No. 19 Tulane since the Green Wave would receive an automatic bid as the sixth-best conference champion.)
Getting more than doubled up by the SEC in CFP bids in a 12-team format would be an unacceptable outcome for the Big Ten since it is supposed to be the SEC's peer in the so-called "super conference" category. USC and UCLA playing at this level in future seasons would help the Big Ten get more teams in the mix. In fact, both are having far better seasons than Oklahoma and Texas, which are the SEC's future additions.
As it stands now, it appears increasingly unlikely this will be the year when the Big Ten finally gets two teams in the four-team playoff. Perhaps a one-loss Ohio State team, whose only defeat came against Big Ten champion Michigan in the final week of the regular season, would have a chance. But the Buckeyes would need some help.
As the hypothetical scenarios play out, let's take a closer look at the Week 10 Big Ten slate with some picks from each of the league's seven games.
2022 record: 25-23-1
No. 2 Ohio State at Northwestern
Ohio State beat Iowa by 44 points and was criticized for its offensive performance. It also beat Rutgers by 39 with just 413 total yards. This team can play below its standard while still crushing opponents, and it shouldn't be particularly motivated to show mercy here. Given the uncertainties of the College Football Playoff selection process, appearances matter. The Buckeyes want to appear dominant just in case they are a one-loss team come Selection Sunday. The Wildcats just let lowly Iowa score 33 points with 25 first downs and 398 total yards last week. They aren't ready for Ohio State. Pick: Ohio State -38
No. 5 Michigan at Rutgers
That Rutgers is 4-4 with a viable path to bowl eligibility is rather shocking when you evaluate its statistical profile. The Scarlet Knights are 121st nationally in total offense, tied for 82nd in turnover margin and tied for 130th in red zone defense. By allowing just 295.2 yards per game, howevers, Rutgers has scraped by with a .500 record entering the season's final month. That respectable defense should help keep this one relatively close. The Wolverines are 5-0 in Big Ten play, but their largest margin of victory against a league foe is 24 points. Pick: Rutgers +26
No. 15 Penn State at Indiana
The last time Penn State won by more than 14 on the road against Indiana was in 2002. The Hoosiers are on a five-game losing streak, but they are still competitive and coming off of a bye. This is a letdown spot for Penn State, which has been in the national spotlight for the past three weeks. Double-digit losses to top-five teams sandwiched its "white out" win over Minnesota on Oct. 22 that came with the Gophers using a backup quarterback. Motivation could be an issue for the Nittany Lions, which have essentially been eliminated from the Big Ten title race and playoff consideration with a month still to play this season. Pick: Indiana +14
Michigan State at No. 16 Illinois
With eight players suspended, Michigan State is easy to fade. The Spartans are 3-5 and trending the wrong direction as they head to Illinois. But the Illini aren't the type to run laps around opponents. They rely on their run game and defense, which means this is going to be a low-scoring game. Michigan State should be motivated to salvage some dignity from has become a miserable season. It would be a shock if the Spartans won outright, but it would also be surprising if they were obliterated by an Illinois team that hasn't scored more than 38 points in a game this season. Pick: Michigan State +16.5
Minnesota at Nebraska
Nebraska quarterback Casey Thompson is day-to-day because of injury, and his status is certainly a factor here. But even if he can't go, this is a big number for Minnesota to cover on the road. The Gophers beat Rutgers 31-0 last week as quarterback Tanner Morgan returned from injury, but the they put their flaws on full display in three consecutive losses beforehand and have shortcomings even when Morgan plays. These teams have played each of the past 11 seasons, and Minnesota has only covered a spread this large twice. Both times were at home. The Cornhuskers will play with pride at home and should at least keep things respectable. Pick: Nebraska +16
It really doesn't matter who Maryland has played this season, the Terrapins have managed to score. Even with star quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa out due to injury, Maryland moved the football reasonably well in a 31-24 win over Northwestern last week. With Tagovailoa expected to return this week, Maryland is in position to play a high-scoring game at Wisconsin. The Badgers haven't been as elite defensively this season as we've come to expect. Even in the previous three meetings between these cross-division foes during Wisconsin's more stable times, the teams combined for 51 or more points in each game. Pick: Over 50.5
Iowa at Purdue
Purdue is better defensively than it has shown in recent weeks. Thankfully, the Boilermakers had a bye week to get healthy and get things corrected. Their defensive issues also weren't as bad as they seemed in a 35-24 loss at Wisconsin two weeks ago. One of Wisconsin's touchdowns was a defensive score, and the Badgers won the turnover battle 3-1. If Purdue takes care of the football at all, this will be a low-scoring game. Iowa scored a season-high 33 points against Northwestern last week, but that was a byproduct of the opponent's inferiority and by no means a sign of some grand breakthrough from this horrendous offense. Pick: Under 41
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 10, 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.