Around the Big Ten: Week Four

Story posted September 19, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Bradford Conners

After Big Ten teams combined to go 7-5 a week ago, 11 Big Ten squads are back in action for a  Week 4 slate that includes the first conference match-up of the season.

Florida A&M (1-2) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (3-0), 12:00 ET

Despite being without Heisman candidate Braxton Miller for essentially the second straight game, the Buckeye offense continued to roll along last week with a 52-34 road victory over the California Bears. Backup signal caller Kenny Guiton powered the offense with 368 total yards and 4 TDs, but he’ll likely be holding a clipboard this Saturday when Miller is expected to return from his knee injury for a tune-up with FCS opponent Florida A&M.

After going 4-7 last season, FAMU is off to a 1-2 start in 2013 following a 27-20 loss to Samford a week ago. The Rattlers are 1-21 all-time against FBS opponents, and they will face an extremely tough task on Saturday against an Ohio State team that is averaging 45 points per game this year and has found paydirt on 9 of its 10 trips to the red zone.

San Jose State (1-1) vs. Minnesota (3-0), 12:00 ET

Though most of the national attention that came from Minnesota’s 29-12 win over Eastern Illinois last week was focused on the seizure suffered by Gopher coach Jerry Kill during halftime---his fourth gameday seizure since joining the program in 2011---Minnesota has quietly gotten off to its second consecutive 3-0 start. While the Gophers’ level of competition has been lackluster thus far with wins over UNLV, New Mexico State, Eastern Illinois, they’ll face a difficult challenge on Saturday when San Jose State pays a visit to Minneapolis.

The Spartans had their eight-game winning streak snapped with a loss to Stanford in Week 2, but they sport a high-octane offense led by quarterback David Fales, who threw for 4,200 yards and 33 touchdowns a season ago. Behind center for Minnesota will be Philip Nelson, who has completed just 51% of his passes this year but is the team’s leading rusher. Kill will be back on the sidelines for the Gophers, and his squad will try to take advantage of what will feel like a 9:00 a.m. start time for the west coast Spartans.

Western Michigan (0-3) vs. Iowa (2-1), 12:00 ET

Fresh off of a 27-21 road win over in-state rival Iowa State, the Hawkeyes will look to continue their winning ways as they play host to Western Michigan on Saturday.

Iowa has employed a run-heavy offense in 2013, keeping the ball on the ground on 65% of its plays. Mark Weisman has been a workhorse for the Hawkeyes, carrying the ball 35 times for 145 yards last week. For Western Michigan, Iowa will be its third Big Ten opponent in four games, having previously fallen to Michigan State and Northwestern, along with a loss to FCS opponent Nicholls State. Broncos quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen has completed just 44% of his passes on the season while tossing only two touchdowns versus five interceptions.

Maine (3-0) vs. No. 18 Northwestern (3-0), 3:30 ET

After cruising to a 38-17 win over Western Michigan last week, Northwestern is off to its third 3-0 start in the last four seasons. The Wildcats will look to extend their 15-game home winning streak against nonconference opponents when they welcome FCS opponent Maine to Evanston on Saturday.

After going 5-6 a season ago, Maine is out to a perfect 3-0 start in 2013, which includes a road win against FBS opponent UMass two weeks ago. However, the Black Bears will have to deal with a Northwestern offense that is firing on all cylinders, averaging 43 points and 520 yards per game thus far. Pat Fitzgerald has been effectively using his quarterback duo of Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter, and running back Treyvon Green has racked up 353 yards and five touchdowns on the ground just three games into the season.

Purdue (1-2) vs. No. 24 Wisconsin (2-1), 3:30 ET

Both the Boilermakers and the Badgers are coming off of devastating losses that will not be easy to put behind them. After a very shaky start to the season, Purdue jumped out to a 10-0 lead on No. 21 Notre Dame and took a seven-point lead into the fourth quarter, but the Irish stormed back late to take down the Boilers, 31-24. Then, in one of the oddest finishes to a game that you’ll ever see, confusion between the officials and players on both the Wisconsin and Arizona State sides resulted in the ball not getting spotted in time for the Badgers to spike it and set up a field goal try for the win, and Wisconsin ended up falling, 32-30.

These two teams will have a chance to rebound from last week’s loss in the Big Ten’s 2013 conference opener on Saturday. Points will likely be hard to come by for Purdue, as its offense ranks 111th in the country with 17 points per contest, and Wisconsin ranks 10th in the nation defensively with 11 points allowed per game. The run game has been a struggle for the Boilermakers on the season, netting them just 2.7 yards per carry, but Wisconsin has been gashing its opponents on the ground with 8 yards per carry behind the three-headed monster of Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement.

Michigan State (3-0) vs. No. 22 Notre Dame (2-1), 3:30 ET

Coming up just one spot shy of a place in this week’s AP Top 25 rankings, the Spartans will have a chance for a statement win this weekend as they head to South Bend to take on the Fighting Irish.

Michigan State is off to its first 3-0 start since 2010, and for that, it can thank the strong effort of its defense. The Spartans are tops in the nation defensively with only 177 yards allowed per game, and they’re making big plays when they need to, holding their opponents to a 7-for-45 third down conversion rate. They’ll face their biggest challenge of the season, however, when they go up against Notre Dame’s offense led by Tommy Rees, who has already amassed nearly 1000 yards and seven touchdowns through the air this year.

South Dakota State (3-0) vs. Nebraska (2-1), 3:30 ET

To say that it has been a tumultuous week for Nebraska football would be a major understatement. First, the Cornhuskers not only gave up a 21-3 lead to No. 16 UCLA on Saturday, but they allowed 38 straight Bruins points in the process---on their own home turf---to fall 41-21. Then, amid calls from some fans and alumni to oust head coach Bo Pelini, a recording surfaced from 2011 in which Pelini used expletives to criticize Nebraska fans.

Despite all of the controversy, there is still football to be played on Saturday, and even though the Huskers are playing an FCS team in South Dakota State, they must be careful not to take the Jackrabbits---who are ranked No. 6 in the FCS---too lightly. SDSU has a +11 turnover margin on the season, but the Jackrabbits certainly haven’t faced anyone even near the caliber of Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, who has tossed nine touchdowns to just one interception thus far in his senior season.

No. 15 Michigan (3-0) vs. UConn (0-2), 8:00 ET

After surviving a major scare from an Akron team that had won just a single game in each of the last three seasons, Michigan remains unbeaten and will look to keep it that way when it travels to Connecticut this weekend.

Though a football game on UConn’s campus may not seem like your prototypical, primetime, network television game, due to a lack of marquee match-ups throughout college football this weekend, many eyes will be watching to see how Michigan looks in its first road test of the season. Wolverines’ quarterback Devin Gardner has struggled a bit throwing the football in the early stages of the 2013 season, notching seven scores but being picked off six times. For the Huskies, they are averaging just 1.9 yards per carry in their first two games, so they will need to establish a running game in order to have any shot of pulling off the upset on Saturday.

Missouri (2-0) vs. Indiana (2-1), 8:00 ET

Indiana has put up astronomical offensive numbers through the first three games of the season (50 points and 571 yards per game), but that should come as a surprise to no one. With all of their key skill position players returning from a 2012 team that excelled on the offensive side of the ball, it was clear that the Hoosiers would have no trouble putting points on the board. However, it’s their defensive effort from a week ago that has optimism running high in Bloomington.

In recent memory, the Hoosiers have been known for their porous defense, but last week they held Bowling Green---who was averaging 37.5 points per game coming in---without an offensive touchdown. That was the first time IU accomplished the feat since 2008, but the defense will be tested on Saturday as it goes up against a Missouri team averaging 48 points per game itself through its first two games. The Tigers have gone up against a pair of iffy defenses in Murray State and Toledo, but nonetheless, Indiana’s defense will need to step up for the second week in a row in order to give the Big Ten a win in the only Big Ten-SEC match-up of the entire 2013 college football season.

Bye: Illinois (2-1)

Bradford Conners is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email btc5082@psu.edu.