Best of Week 5: Miller vs. Spartan LBs
It’s Floyd of Rosedale Week! Hallelujah! Not only that, but this is the first week of full-scale conference—save for one game. And there are some intriguing matchups. The headliner is Ohio State’s visit to Michigan State. The Buckeyes lost an ugly 10-7 game last year in Columbus with just 178 yards of offense.
Wisconsin comes to Nebraska in another good inter-divisional matchup. Each team has won two in a row and is looking to continue that ascent after an ugly loss to a Pac-12 school on September 8.
Minnesota is looking to move to 5-0 for the first time since 2004 under Glen Mason when it visits Iowa. It also wants to keep the bronzed pig called Floyd of Rosedale, which it has owned the last two years.
It also will be fun to see if Northwestern can move to 5-0, or if Indiana can notch its first Big Ten win since 2010 when they meet in Evanston.
And Illinois will look to bounce back at home vs. a suddenly hot Penn State team.
By the way, Michigan is off and Purdue finishes non-league action at home vs. Marshall.
Here is the Best of Week 5:
BEST GAME: Ohio State at Michigan State – This, ladies and gentlemen, could have been a preview of the Big Ten title game, had the Buckeyes not been on probation. As it is, this will be a nice litmus test for both teams. The Buckeyes look like the best team in the Big Ten. Win in East Lansing, and there will be no doubt about OSU’s legitimacy. A Michigan State win would stamp it as the team to beat.
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BEST MATCHUP: Ohio State QB Braxton Miller vs. Michigan State linebackers. Max Bullough, Denicos Allen, Chris Norman, it’s up to you to try to contain Miller, who may be the top dual-threat quarterback in the nation. The Spartans, who looked lethargic in a 23-7 win over Eastern Michigan last week may have the best collection of linebackers in the conference. This is pure strength on the strength. Who is going to prevail? The winner of this battle within a battle figures to take the game.
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PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Illinois quarterback—whoever it is. Tim Beckman has said Reilly O’Toole (who started two games) and Nathan Scheelhaase (who started the opener and last week after returning from an ankle injury) will battle in practice this week for the right to start. Don’t expect Beckman to show his hand until Saturday. The Fighting Illini need a big effort after a 52-24 debacle vs. Louisiana Tech in Champaign. This is about defending their turf vs. a hot Penn State team that has won two in a row following a 24-13 win over Temple. And the Nittany Lion coaches likely are hacked off that the Illinois coaches came to their campus to recruit their players over the summer. This is gonna be fun. Can’t wait for the postgame handshake between Bill O’Brien and Beckman.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The Wisconsin offense. Yes, the attack is coming off its most well-rounded effort of the season in a 37-26 win over UTEP, notching 423 yards with 210 coming on the ground and 213 via the air. And this was without RB Montee Ball for most of the game, as Ball left in the second quarter with a head injury. Wisconsin will have to replicate that effort to have any chance to win at Nebraska, which has had its issues on defense this year but figures to passionately defend its home field as it seeks revenge for last year’s 48-17 embarrassment in Madison.
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BEST COORDINATOR MATCHUP: It will be fun to watch Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman battle Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. Each is among the best in the nation at what they do. Narduzzi pushes the buttons on the Big Ten’s top defense (233.5 ypg). Herman’s offense is No. 4 in the league (427.0 ypg). We also can watch what could be the Big Ten’s best offensive player (Buckeye QB Braxton Miller) take on a guy who was supposed to be the Big Ten’s best defensive player (Spartan DE William Gholston). But Gholston has been a disappointment thus far. But maybe the presence of Miller and Ohio State will light a fire under the big fella. Maybe.
BEST COACHING MATCHUP: Lots of good ones this week. Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio vs. Ohio State’s Urban Meyer; Minnesota’s Jerry Kill vs. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. But I am going with Nebraska’s Bo Pelini vs. Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema. Each is a good, young coach in the midst of building a strong program. Bielema has what Pelini wants: Big Ten dominance, as the Badgers have gone to the last two Rose Bowls. In Year Five, Pelini is looking for a big breakthrough. Each school has a modicum of momentum, coming off consecutive victories. This could be a real tone-setter for the winner.
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BEST QUARTERBACK MATCHUP: Nothing really stands out, so I’m going with Iowa’s James Vandenberg vs. Minnesota’s Max Shortell. Vandenberg has struggled the first month and finally tossed his first touchdown pass last week. But the Hawkeyes still lost to Central Michigan, 32-31. Still, Vandenberg is a talented passer whose receivers appear to be coming on. He is No. 3 in the Big Ten in passing. Shortell started last week for the injured MarQueis Gray (ankle/knee) and looked good in directing a 17-10 victory over Syracuse. The sophomore hit 16-of-30 passes for 231 yards—and his upside is ample.
|BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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