There are just four games this Saturday—FOUR! Quite a come down from the 10- and 12-game weeks we had become accustomed to at the start of the season. The reason for the truncated schedule? Byes. Half of the teams are off. Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern all will catch their breath following four non-conference games.
This Saturday does at least have a marquee game, with Wisconsin playing at Ohio State in a huge Leaders Division clash. And Floyd of Rosedale is on the line with Iowa playing at Minnesota. The other two clashes are non-league tilts: Northern Illinois at Purdue and Miami (Ohio) at Illinois.
So, let’s dig in on the Best of Week Five.
BEST GAME: Wisconsin’s trip to Ohio State figures to be a de facto Leaders Division title game. Led by first-year coach Gary Andersen, the Badgers are off to a strong start. In fact, they should be 4-0 but were robbed at Arizona State. Wisconsin operates a new aggressive 3-4 scheme that Ohio State has never seen before. And the front seven is one of the best in the Big Ten. But the Buckeyes have won five of the last six meetings and look to be the prohibitive favorite to win not just the Leaders Division—but maybe the Big Ten and national championship. Wisconsin hasn’t won in Columbus since 2004. Still, the Badgers have what Ohio State wants: The Big Ten title. This is going to be fun.
UPSET ALERT: Iowa. It would be a mild upset. Minnesota is riding high off a 4-0 start as it looks to regain Floyd of Rosedale from Iowa. But the Hawkeyes have won three in a row after opening with a home loss to Northern Illinois. Both teams need this win to get a leg up in an uber-competitive Legends Division. The Hawkeyes won last year’s meeting in Iowa City, 31-13, and have won four of the last six in the battle for that iconic bronzed pig. But the Golden Gophers won the two previous meetings (both in Minnesota) prior to 2012 and have won three of the last four in Minneapolis. These teams are almost mirrors of each other: physical ground games, spotty passing, developing defenses, good special teams. The loser may have a difficult time getting bowl eligible.
MUST WIN: Illinois has to take care of business at home vs. an awful Miami (Ohio) squad that is 0-3. The Fighting Illini would move to 3-1 with a victory, bettering last season’s two-victory output. That would mean Illinois would need to go just 3-5 in Big Ten action to become bowl eligible. And that would be a nice step in Tim Beckman’s second season in Champaign. Yes, Illinois’ defense is bad. But its offense can win this game.
QUARTERBACK MATCHUP TO WATCH: Without a doubt, it will be Ohio State’s Braxton Miller vs. Wisconsin’s Joel Stave. Miller is the reigning Silver Football Award winner, but he essentially has missed the last three games with a knee injury. How will he perform? Kenny Guiton has proven to be a fantastic backup, but he hasn’t seen a defense like Wisconsin’s unit. Stave showed flashes last season after taking over the starting job in the fourth game until a broken collarbone suffered Oct. 27 vs. Michigan State derailed his season. The jury remains out for a Badger passing game that ranks just ninth in the Big Ten (198.0 ypg). The winning team’s signal-caller is going to have to hit some big passes.
PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner. He made his first career start last week and was a star, rushing for 151 yards and four TDs in a 43-24 triumph over San Jose State with Philip Nelson (hamstring) out with injury. Leidner looks to be the starter again with Nelson’s status still murky. But Leidner will need to hit some passes to keep a solid Iowa defense off balance. He connected on just 5-of-12 passes for 71 yards vs. San Jose State. That won’t cut it vs. the Hawkeyes.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Wisconsin’s rushing game. It’s the best in the Big Ten, averaging 349.8 yards with an 8.0-yard average per carry and 15 TDs. Melvin Gordon is the league’s top rusher—and perhaps best player—while James White and Corey Clement also are capable for this powerful ground game. If the Badger rushing attack gets traction at Ohio State, Wisconsin could leave Columbus with a victory for the first time since 2004. But know this: OSU is allowing just 79.8 yards rushing per game and 2.6 yards per carry with one rushing TD. Something has to give.
BEST COACHING MATCHUP: Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen vs. Ohio State’s Urban Meyer. These two have a history, with Andersen serving on Meyer’s 2004 Utah staff as defensive line coach during the Utes’ unbeaten run to a BCS bowl game. Meyer bolted for Florida the next season; Andersen remained in Salt Lake City, becoming defensive coordinator in 2005 before taking the head coaching job at Utah State in 2009.
COORDINATOR MATCHUP TO WATCH: The Ohio State offense and Wisconsin defense are among the best in the Big Ten among their respective units. So, it will be interesting to watch Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman match Xs and Os with Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. Herman is one of the sport’s bright young minds, a 38-year-old Wunderkind and future head coach. Aranda followed Gary Andersen from Utah State, where Aranda was a hot commodity who was wanted by many coaches. Adding intrigue to this clash: Herman and Aranda are good friends, having graduated from California Lutheran. Herman got out in 1997; Aranda in 1999.
RANKING THE GAMES
1. Wisconsin at Ohio State
2. Iowa at Minnesota
3. Northern Illinois at Purdue
4. Miami (Ohio) at Illinois
|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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