Around the Big Ten: Week 9
Joe Esquivel-Murphy, Ben Jenkins and Ben Ferree break down all the action in the Big Ten this week, with all 14 teams back in action.
The national spotlight will shine directly on the Big Ten this weekend as No. 2 Penn State takes it’s perfect 7-0 record on the road to face No. 6 Ohio State.
Saturday’s clash of conference heavyweights will feature many things, including explosive offenses, elite defenses and major College Football Playoff implications. Many are labeling the showdown as the Big Ten Game of the Year, and rightfully so.
While all eyes will be on Columbus Saturday, there is one game in particular that Nittany Lion and Buckeye fans will want to keep an eye on during commercial breaks.
That game is No. 16 Michigan State at Northwestern. The Spartans boast a perfect record in conference play, and find themselves locked in a three-way tie for first in the East division.
While major matchups with Penn State and Ohio State loom in the coming weeks, the Spartans can’t afford to look ahead past a road game against resurgent Northwestern on Saturday.
After an underwhelming 2-3 start, Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats posted consecutive wins over Maryland and Iowa. Mathematically, Northwestern is back in contention for the West division and will be favored in four of its last five games.
Michigan State has been squeaking out victories in their four-game win streak, none by more than a touchdown. On Saturday against Northwestern, the difference will be the performance of the Spartan defensive front. Penetrating the Wildcats’ struggling offensive line and setting up camp in the backfield will be a key to Spartan victory.
For Northwestern, if senior running back Justin Jackson gets going early and often, the Wildcats have a very realistic shot at upsetting the Spartans in Evanston.
All season, the team sitting back and benefiting from the Big Ten drama is No. 5 Wisconsin. The Badgers roll into Champaign undefeated to face a 2-5 Illinois team that is winless in the conference and recently lost to Rutgers at home.
Although nobody is talking about the Badgers, they have a legitimate chance of being top four in the first set of College Football Playoff rankings that will release on Halloween.
At this point in the season, Wisconsin has the highest chances of any Power 5 team to win their division and get to a conference championship game. Currently, there are no ranked teams left in Wisconsin’s final five games, so the chances of going 12-0 are likely. Watch for the Badgers to play spoiler in this year’s playoff discussion.
Elsewhere in the conference, it’s a battle for fourth place in the East as Michigan hosts Rutgers. The Wolverines plummeted out of the AP Top 25 after a 42-13 beatdown at the hands of Penn State last week.
To avoid another three-loss season, Jim Harbaugh’s squad will need to win out and upset Wisconsin and Ohio State along the way. The road starts Saturday with Rutgers, who is riding some new-found momentum after consecutive conference wins for the first time in its four Big Ten seasons.
Look for Iowa to bounce back as the Hawkeyes welcome Minnesota. All-Big Ten linebacker Josey Jewell returns after an injury sidelined him for last week’s loss against Northwestern. Despite missing a week, Jewell is still considered one of the best defensive players in all of college football.
Minnesota has no margin for error if they want to make a bowl game. The Gophers will be underdogs in all five of their remaining games, including road trips to Michigan and Northwestern as well as a home finale against Wisconsin. In his first year at the helm, P.J. Fleck will likely end up rowing his boat from home during bowl season.
Tom Allen’s Indiana Hoosiers are back in action on the road against Maryland this week, although the crimson and cream could use a week off. Indiana has faced arguably the nation’s toughest schedule so far, with losses against Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.
The Hoosiers took Michigan to overtime, led Sparty in the fourth quarter, went toe-for-toe with Ohio State in the first half, and limited Saquon Barkley to 56 yards on 20 touches (his lowest all season). Indiana sports a road win over Virginia in Week 2, and you could argue they are the best 3-4 team in the country. Look for Peyton Ramsey and Co. to rebound in a big way against the decimated Terps.
Wrapping up conference action is Nebraska at Purdue, under the lights in Ross-Ade Stadium. The Boilermakers lost a ton of a momentum when they failed a two-point conversion and lost to Rutgers on the road last week.
Nebraska showed they have no upset potential, squandering home field advantage opportunities in back-to-back weeks against Wisconsin and Ohio State. When it comes to Saturday, the loser of this matchup will likely stay home during bowl season.
Matt Freiler is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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