Week 13 Previews: Plenty at stake this weekend

The final week of the regular season is upon us and there is still a lot is on the line. Nebraska needs a win at Iowa to clinch the Legends Division crown on Friday. On Saturday, Ohio State is trying to punctuate a 12-0 season with a triumph over Michigan. How sweet would that be for Buckeye fans? Of course, the Wolverines would love to trash that Buckeye dream and win the Legends, and they can do just that with a victory over Ohio State and loss by Nebraska.

Purdue and Michigan State need wins to become bowl eligible. And Wisconsin wants some mojo heading to the Big Ten title game after losing two of its last three, but escaping Penn State with a triumph on Senior Day may be difficult.

Listen to Dienhart on Wednesday night’s “#BTNLive.”

Here are a few more handy links for this holiday weekend:

And now, check out my previews and rankings of games for Week 13.

1. Michigan at Ohio State | Scoreboard & TV info
Why you should watch: It’s Michigan-Ohio State, one of the nation’s most iconic rivalries. The Buckeyes will be trying to punctuate a perfect season and seek revenge for seeing their seven-game winning streak in the series end in 2011. The Wolverines are playing for bowl position and chance to tie Nebraska for the Legends crown. And Michigan will go to the Big Ten title game if it wins and the Huskers lose at Iowa.

Player on the spot: Michigan running back Thomas Rawls. With Fitz Toussaint out after getting hurt last week, the burly Rawls must play a big role in the ground game to take pressure off quarterback Devin Gardner. Denard Robinson also figures to be asked to run the ball often after he notched 98 yards last week on the ground.

[RELATED: Watch these Ohio State-Michigan games on BTN2Go - 2002 | 2001 | 1981.]

Key matchup: Michigan front seven vs. Ohio State QB Braxton Miller. The Wolverine defense has played well most of the season and ranks No. 3 in the Big Ten (303.5 ypg). It will have a tall task in containing the shifty Miller, who is coming off one of his least effective games of 2012 in a 21-14 overtime victory at Wisconsin last week, when he threw for 97 yards and ran for 48.

Key number: 12, years since the Wolverines have won in Columbus. Michigan took a 38-26 decision in 2000.

Key number: Over its last three games, Michigan has scored 16 offensive touchdowns. Eleven of those 16 touchdowns were produced on 75-plus-yard scoring drives.

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2. Wisconsin at Penn State Scoreboard & TV info

Why you should watch: Despite some big challenges because of NCAA probation, the Nittany Lions are trying to cap a surprisingly successful season with an eighth win. The Badgers want to get back on the winning track after losing two of their last three games—both in overtime. They don’t want to enter the Big Ten title game on a two-game losing skid with a 7-5 record.

Player on the spot: Wisconsin QB Curt Phillips. The fifth-year senior continues to show progress as he makes just his third career start. Phillips passed for 154 yards in a 21-14 overtime loss to Ohio State last week. He’ll need to continue to improve as a passer vs. a Penn State defense that is No. 6 in the Big Ten (353.8 ypg). Montee Ball and the ground game likely won’t be enough.

Key matchup: Wisconsin defensive line vs. Penn State offensive line. The Nittany Lion front has been a mixed bag of sorts, as Penn State is just No. 8 in the conference in rushing (142.1 ypg). The unit will face a Badger defensive front that Bret Bielema has called his deepest yet. If Penn State can’t run, it will put a lot of pressure on quarterback Matt McGloin.

Key number: 964, rushing yards for Wisconsin’s Montee Ball’s since Oct. 1. That ties for third-best among running backs in the country since then. Oh, and Ball needs just one more touchdown to tie the NCAA career mark.

Key number: Matt McGloin has thrown a TD pass in every game this season.

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3. Michigan State at Minnesota Scoreboard & TV info
Why you should watch: The Spartans need to win to become bowl eligible for a sixth year in a row. But the season has been a struggle, as Michigan State has lost four of its last five games. The Golden Gophers already are headed to bowl but have lost two of their last three tilts and need some momentum.

Player on the spot: Minnesota QB Philip Nelson. The true freshman has had his moments but has struggled of late, failing to hit half his passes in each of the last three games. He completed just 8-of-23 passes for 59 with two interceptions last week in a loss at Nebraska. Nelson hit just 9-of-15 attempts for 78 yards in a win at Illinois before that. He’ll need to be more consistent vs. a Michigan State defense that ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten (289.4 ypg).

Key matchup: Michigan State RB Le’Veon Bell vs. Minnesota front seven. The Gophers are just No. 8 in the Big Ten in rush defense (164.8 ypg). Tackle Ra’Shede Hageman must be stout. The unit will have its hands full vs. Bell, who is No. 2 in the league in rushing with 1,382 yards and a national-high 315 carries. If Minnesota lets Bell run wild and wear it down, it will have a tough time winning.

Key number: 13, combined points Michigan State has lost five Big Ten games by this season.

Key number: On defense, Minnesota has allowed 261 points this year. With a strong defensive showing against Michigan State on Saturday and in the bowl game, the Gophers have a chance to keep their opponents from scoring a combined 300 points this year. The last time that happened was the 2004 season.

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4. Nebraska at Iowa Scoreboard & TV info
Why you should watch: With a win, the Cornhuskers will wrap up the Legends Division and a spot in the Big Ten title game. The Hawkeyes are trying to squash a five-game losing skid and finish a dreary season on a positive note.

Player on the spot: Taylor Martinez. Can the Nebraska signal-caller stay on a roll? He has led Nebraska to five victories in a row. And the junior is No. 1 in the Big Ten in passing efficiency, completing 63 percent of his passes for 2,112 yards with a Big Ten-high 19 touchdown throws and eight interceptions. And Martinez is 10th in the conference in rushing (77.0 ypg). The guy is good.

Key matchup: Iowa offense vs. Nebraska defense. It has been a season-long struggle for the Hawkeye attack, which ranks 11th in the Big Ten (320.5 ypg). If Iowa can’t generate any offense vs. a hot Cornhusker defense, the Hawkeyes will have no shot. Iowa hasn’t scored more than 24 points in a game since a 31-13 win over Minnesota on Sept. 29.

Key number: 7. A win at Iowa would make the Huskers 7-1 in Big Ten action. The 7-1 mark would be Nebraska’s best conference record since posting a 7-1 record in Big 12 action in 2001, when the Cornhuskers played for the national title.

Key number: Iowa leads the country with six games decided by three points or less, including two decided by one point. This is the first time in school annals that six games have been decide by three points or less.

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5. Indiana at Purdue Scoreboard & TV info
Why you should watch: The Boilermakers need one more victory to earn bowl eligibility for a second season in a row. That didn’t seem possible when Purdue was in the midst of a five-game losing streak. After flirting with winning the Leaders Division and earning bowl eligibility, the Hoosiers are left to play for pride—and the Old Oaken Bucket—after two losses in a row.
Player on the spot: Purdue QB Robert Marve. He continues to amaze by playing on a busted ACL. The sixth-year senior refuses to lose and wants to extend his career as long as possible. Marve brings playmaking ability, leadership and heart to an offense that is in short supply of all three commodities.

Key matchup: Purdue defense vs. Indiana defense. Which unit will step up and make some plays? The Boilermakers are No. 10 in the Big Ten in defense (397.7 ypg); the Hoosiers are No. 12 (454.9 ypg). This game could hinge on a key turnover created by a defense.

Key number: 50-16, combined record of the six teams that Purdue has lost to this season, including the only two undefeated teams in the FBS ranks (No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 4 Ohio State).

Key number: The Boilermakers look to win three consecutive games in the same season for the first time since 2007. And Purdue will attempt to retain the Old Oaken Bucket for a second consecutive year and for the fourth time in the last five meetings. But IU won the last time in West Lafayette.

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6. Illinois at Northwestern Scoreboard & TV info
Why you should watch: The Wildcats are jockeying for bowl position with their eyes on a nice New Year’s Day slot in Florida. Gator? Outback? Capital One? They all are in play. A win here would help. It has been a season-long struggle for the Fighting Illini, losers of eight in a row and 13 Big Ten games in succession.

Player on the spot: Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase. He’s the straw that stirs the Illini offense, which is limited to begin with and ranks last in the league (301.6 ypg). Scheelhaase needs to have a big game running and throwing vs. a Northwestern defense that is just 11th in the Big Ten overall (398.4 ypg) and last vs. the pass (275.9 ypg).

Key matchup: Northwestern offensive line vs. Illinois defensive line. The Illini have some nice players up front in Michael Buchanan, Akeem Spence and Glenn Foster. They must excel to slow down a dynamic Wildcat attack that is led by hot quarterback Kain Colter.

Key number: 1. Pat Fitzgerald needs one more win to tie Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf’s school record of 49 career coaching victories.

Key number: Illinois is holding opponents to a third-down conversion rate of just 29.6 percent (40-of-135), which leads the Big Ten and ranks eighth in the nation.

About Tom Dienhart 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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