Game day is fast approaching, and that means it’s time for my weekly B1G grid quiz. Get out a pad of paper and your trusty No. 2 pencil. This your final chance to show that you have what it takes to maximize your enjoyment of Big Ten football this weekend. I hope you have studied and prepared well.
1. Which team needed a bye the most this Saturday?
A. Ohio State
Answer: D. The Hawkeyes are coming off a tough 26-14 home loss to Michigan State, which killed the mojo and momentum of a four-game winning streak. The loss also renewed some questions about the Hawkeye offense. Still, I think most of those struggles on offense last Saturday can be attributed to the great Spartan defense. This off week will allow Iowa to regroup and prep for a monster three-game stretch of games that figures to define the season: at Ohio State; Northwestern; Wisconsin.
2. True or false: The Big Ten is the nation’s second-best “power” conference behind the SEC.
No one denies the SEC is king of college football—yet again, as it looks for an eighth national championship in a row. But the Pac-12 has to be considered the nation’s second-best conference. In fact, the Pac-12 prevailed in non-conference clashes vs. the Big Ten this season, with Arizona State beating Wisconsin; UCLA topping Nebraska; Washington defeating Illinois. Ohio State and Northwestern each beat Cal. The most recent AP poll is more proof that the Pac-12 is better, with Oregon No. 2; Stanford No. 5; UCLA No. 11; Washington No. 16. And Arizona State was ranked the week before. The Big Ten had Ohio State at No. 4; Michigan No. 18; Northwestern No. 19. In fact, according to recent conference power rankings by ESPN, the Big Ten is just the fifth-best league in the nation, also trailing the ACC and Big 12. The Big Ten will have to wait until the postseason to show what it has vs. the other leagues.
3. Which team has the most on the line this Saturday?
C. Michigan State
Answer: E. The Wildcats must rebound from a disappointing 40-30 loss at home to Ohio State last week. Can Northwestern get up emotionally for another big game? The Wildcats need to run the ball better and tighten up their run defense, two areas that took hits vs. the Buckeyes. NU ran for just 94 yards vs. OSU and allowed 248. And NU knows the Badgers are going to want to run the ball. Can the Wildcats stop Wisconsin and its array of backs for the Big Ten’s top rushing offense (300.6 ypg)? And can Northwestern get Venric Mark and its running backs cranked up? Mark ran 17 times for 60 yards in his return from injury last week. (His long run? Eight yards.) If not, NU could be looking at a second loss in a row with games still to come at Iowa, at Nebraska, vs. Michigan and vs. Michigan State.
4. Which quarterback is under the most scrutiny this Saturday?
A. Connor Cook, Michigan State
B. Danny Etling, Purdue
C. Devin Gardner, Michigan
D. Northwestern’s Kain Colter
E. Wisconsin’s Joel Stave
Answer: A. It has to be the Spartans’ sophomore signal-caller. He enjoyed a breakout performance in a 26-14 victory at Iowa last week, completing 25-of-44 passes for a career-high 277 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Can Cook deliver another strong game vs. an Indiana team that will roll into East Lansing with some momentum after a home win over Penn State? This is a Hoosier defense that ranks last overall in the Big Ten (452.6 ypg) and eighth vs. the pass (240.4 ypg). Cook must make IU pay.
5. Who is the most surprising two-loss team?
A. 4-2 Iowa
B. 4-2 Minnesota
C. 3-2 Indiana
D. 3-2 Wisconsin
E. 3-2 Penn State
Answer: E. I am surprised that Penn State has two losses. When I looked at the Nittany Lions’ schedule before the season, I liked their chances to be 5-0 entering this week’s visit vs. Michigan. Penn State had Syracuse on a neutral field then Eastern Michigan, UCF and Kent State at home followed by a visit to Indiana. It seemed very plausible that the Nittany Lions would be 5-0—lack of depth or no lack of depth. Instead, Penn State lost at home to UCF, 34-31, and fell at Indiana last Saturday, 44-24. Are the wheels about to come off a Nittany Lion squad whose defense is struggling? And more players need to get involved on offense. Next week, PSU is at Ohio State.
|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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