There was a time — before the Big Ten lusted after the cable boxes surrounding Rutgers — when then-commissioner Jim Delany said the league would only expand the conference with programs that would be considered “home runs.”
In 2010, Nebraska fit the bill. The fanbase ranked among the nation’s best. Tom Osborne was athletic director, a reminder of the school’s three national titles in the mid-1990s. Bo Pelini inspired new hope, going 19-8 in his first two seasons, while recording the school’s best year-end ranking (14) in eight years.
In their new home, the Cornhuskers annually found eight figures more than the Big 12 could provide. They found cozy placement in the West Division, largely hidden from the most powerful programs in the conference (Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State). Yet Nebraska has rarely been more irrelevant — suffering three straight losing seasons for the first time in six decades, while most recently ending a season ranked in 2013.
Then, after years of failing to deliver for its new league, Nebraska threatened to leave — following the Big Ten’s initial decision to postpone play this season — and eight of its players sued the conference. When the new league schedule was drawn up, Nebraska drew a season-opening game against three-time defending champion Ohio State.
“No, I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said this week.
The Cornhuskers will pay. The Buckeyes have won the past five meetings by an average of more than 34 points. Last year, Justin Fields led OSU to a 48-7 win. This year, Ohio State (-26) — coming off a close semifinal loss to Clemson — have a maximum of just nine games to make their case to the playoff committee.
The Big Ten’s best will be ready. Who knows if Nebraska will ever be?
(Home team in CAPS)
Syracuse (+45.5) over CLEMSON
Clemson could win by 100, if it set out to do so. But against the biggest Syracuse underdog of all-time, Trevor Lawrence likely won’t play after halftime.
NORTH CAROLINA (-16.5) over North Carolina State
The Tar Heels are a different team at home, covering both games in Chapel Hill while failing to beat the spread in both road games this season. Expect an early onslaught from North Carolina after last week’s shocking loss at Florida State.
MICHIGAN STATE (-13) over Rutgers
At least one team will benefit from the shortened Big Ten schedule. Only so much damage can be inflicted upon the Scarlet Knights, who haven’t won a league game since 2017 and lost 27-0 against the Spartans last season.
TCU (+6.5) over Oklahoma
Someday, Spencer Rattler will earn the same trust as so many star Sooners quarterbacks to come before him. Saturday is not that day.
TENNESSEE (+21.5) over Alabama
Nick Saban will improve to 23-0 against former assistants. Alabama will win its 14th straight game against Tennessee. But the public’s perception of the Crimson Tide has never been higher — and that of the Volunteers has never been lower — after last week. There is value in the inflated spread.
PITTSBURGH (+10.5) over Notre Dame
Take the points in a matchup between two of the nation’s top defenses. The Fighting Irish have relied on their rushing game this season, but will run into trouble against the Panthers’ front, which is allowing the fewest yards per carry (1.85) in the nation.
Iowa State (+3.5) over OKLAHOMA STATE
Cowboys quarterback Spencer Sanders will return for the first time in a month. Since he last played, Brock Purdy has led the Cyclones to three straight Big 12 wins while completing 68.9 percent of his passes with no turnovers.
INDIANA (+6.5) over Penn State
The Hoosiers nearly pulled the upset in State College last season. At home, fourth-year coach Tom Allen could get the job done. Coming off its best season since 1993, Indiana returns a talented, experienced and undervalued offense, and the Nittany Lions return just four defensive starters, following the opt-out of star linebacker Micah Parsons.
South Carolina (+6) over LSU
The Tigers will likely be without Myles Brennan, leaving LSU’s disastrous defense paired with a true freshman quarterback. Last year feels more and more like a dream.
MINNESOTA (+3.5) over Michigan
The Big Ten has been gone for so long that you may have forgotten Ohio State was the only team in the conference to win more games than Minnesota last season. Also, of note, P.J. Fleck has as many top-10 finishes in three years at Minnesota as Jim Harbaugh does in five underwhelming years in Ann Arbor, thanks to Harbaugh’s 10-14 record against ranked opponents.
MIAMI (-12) over Virginia
Last week, the Hurricanes took advantage of Pittsburgh’s second-string quarterback. Now, Miami may luck out again, with Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong in concussion protocol. Regardless of the starter, only two teams in the country turn the ball over more than the Cavaliers.
SMU (-2.5) over Cincinnati
After facing three of the worst aerial attacks in the nation, the Bearcats’ supposedly elite defense will struggle in a matchup with the country’s second-ranked passing offense. Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder has no hopes of keeping up, last throwing for over 300 yards in 2018.
Best bets: Arkansas State, Indiana, South Carolina
This season (Best bets): 50-35-1 (9-8-1)
2014-19 record: 772-756-13