Must-Win for Michigan? Buckeyes Try to Crack Sparty Defense. Auburn Hits Swamp.

Northwestern, Illini, Cal hit the road. Some really close ATS calls this week. But that's what we're here for.

Back in the day, picking mid-season games was an easier chore. Teams settled into rhythms. Good teams muscled up and rolled.

That’s not as true now. Offenses are more unpredictable. So are efforts. In other words, picking is not easy in the modern era. But that also makes the games more exciting.

I probably should have saved the above for a rainy day. But no. I want that out there right now, when I am ahead of the picking game: Five games ahead, to be exact (16-11-3). Because there are a ton of coin-toss games this week.

Last week’s 3-3 was a rollercoaster. Ohio State and Auburn cruised in their night games, rescuing me from a 1-3 start. Oh, what a relief it was.

The good: Northwestern was able to hang tough at Wisconsin. And the Buckeyes and Auburn were able to roll. . .The mistake: Thinking Maryland was ready to muscle up with Penn State. . . The wrong: Doubting Minnesota against struggling Purdue. . . The frustrating: To see Virginia kick a late field goal when a touchdown would have given a backdoor cover at Notre Dame.

Oh well. . .

Time for this week’s guesses.

Good luck in sports.

THE GAMES

(Central Flyover Time)

Iowa plus-3.5 at Michigan, 11 a.m., FOX

Illinois plus-14 at Minnesota, 2:30 p.m., BTN

Auburn minus-2.5 at Florida, 2:30 p.m., CBS

Northwestern plus-7.5 at Nebraska, 3 p.m., FOX

Michigan State plus-20 at Ohio State, 6:30 p.m., ABC

Cal plus 18 at Oregon, 7 p.m., FOX

THE PICKS

Iowa plus-3.5 at Michigan, 11 a.m., FOX

I am very torn here. My head says Iowa is very solid and very capable. My heart says Michigan is very much needing to get back on the horse after that ugly trip to Wisconsin, and that it’s time for the Harbaughs to man up in the Big House. In a tossup game, my head says, take the points.

The Pick: Iowa

The Score: Wolverines, 20-17

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Illinois plus-14 at Minnesota, 2:30 p.m., BTN

Gulp. Illinois on the road against an unbeaten team? Here’s the thing. Minnesota’s four wins have come by a total of 20 points; it hasn’t won by more than seven. The Illini whaled on the Gophers 55-31 last year, but that might be fodder for P.J. Fleck’s crew. Bottom line: Stick with the team that finds ways to win and expect that this is the week the Gophers find ways to score.

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Gophers, 38-21

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Auburn minus-2.5 at Florida, 2:30 p.m., CBS

Auburn keeps facing daunting tasks and handling them. Oregon. Texas A&M. Mississippi State blwout. Gators are solid, especially on defense. But Guz Malzahn has a talented group poised for big things.

The Pick: Auburn

The Score: Tigers, 30-24

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Northwestern plus-7.5 at Nebraska, 3 p.m., FOX

The Northwestern offense has not looked good against Michigan State and Wisconsin the last two weeks. A lot of offenses won’t look good against those two. And at 1-2, Pat Fitzgerald’s Cats will have a backs-to-the-wall mentality. Huskers may win. But Wildcats will keep it close if they don’t win.

The Pick: Northwestern

The Score: Wildcats, 24-21

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Michigan State plus-20 at Ohio State, 6:30 p.m., ABC

First instinct is to say the Michigan State defense will keep it close. Upon further review, Sparty’s suspect offense will put too much pressure on the defense. And Ohio State will want to show critics of its schedule that it can smack a quality opponent.

The Pick: Ohio State

The Score: Buckeyes, 31-9

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Cal plus 18 at Oregon, 7 p.m., FOX

Cal will be packing its stout defense, but it will miss starting QB Chase Garbers. And Oregon, bolstered by the return of two (or possibly three!) injured receivers, looks ready to roll.

The Pick: Oregon

The Score: Oregon, 38-17

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LAST WEEK ATS: 3-3. . . SEASON: 16-11-3

LAST WEEK STRAIGHT UP: 4-2 . . . SEASON 22-8

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