Best of Week 14: Rivalry Week should be great

It’s rivalry week, and there are a lot of intriguing storylines and angles in what also is the final week of the 2013 regular season. Can Michigan upset Ohio State and end its rival’s BCS title game dreams? Can Iowa snap its funk vs. Nebraska?

Here’s a quick rundown.

  • Indiana needs to turn the tide vs. rival Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket battle. The Hoosiers have lost four of the last five meetings, and is 3-13 in the last 16.
  • Illinois has lost three of the last five meetings with Northwestern and seven of the last 10.
  • Nebraska has won five in succession vs. Iowa. The Hawkeyes haven’t scored more than 13 points in any of those five games.
  • Michigan State has won three in a row vs. Minnesota. Before that, the Golden Gophers won three in succession vs. the Spartans.

[ MORE: Week 14 scoreboard | Week 14 Previews | Power Rankings | Bowl Projections ]

And now, for my Best of Week 14.

Best game: Ohio State at Michigan. Otherwise known as “The Game.” The Wolverines have been on the short end of this series lately, dropping eight of the last nine. Michigan did win 40-34 the last time the game was in Ann Arbor in 2011, ending a seven-game OSU winning streak. The Buckeyes already have the Leaders Division sewn up but need to win stay in contention for the BCS title game. A win by Michigan would make up for much of the misery the program has endured this fall in what largely has been a disappointing season.

Upset alert: Wisconsin needs to beat visiting Penn State to stay in contention for possible selection to a BCS bowl. But it needs to be careful. The Nittany Lions, not eligible for a bowl, lack depth but have talent. PSU is stinging from an overtime loss last week at home to Nebraska. And it dumped the Badgers last season in overtime, so the Nittany Lions know they can beat Wisconsin. Penn State has nothing to lose; and teams like that always are deadly.

Must win: Obviously, Ohio State needs to win at Michigan to stay in contention for a BCS bowl. But some Iowa watchers think the Hawkeyes need to win at Nebraska to legitimize their season. No doubt, a victory over the Huskers would be the signature win of Iowa, a Big Ten surprise team that has a 7-4 mark. A loss would cause some to think progress hasn’t been as great as it appears in Iowa City after a 4-8 mark in 2012. As a side not: This essentially is a battle for Outback Bowl bid.

Quarterback matchup to watch: The battle between Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller is intriguing. It lacks the juice it appeared to have in the preseason, as Miller has missed almost three games and Gardner has struggled for consistency. But Miller has been playing as well as any quarterback in the nation the last month. Maybe the clash with OSU and Miller will spark Gardner and a moribund Michigan offense. Maybe not. Still, this could be a good clash.

Player on the spot: Minnesota QB Philip Nelson. The Golden Gophers’ chances for success will be slim without some semblance of a passing attack. The Spartans will stack the box, trying to take away the Minnesota run with a rushing defense that ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten (59.4 ypg). Gophers running back David Cobb had just 67 yards rushing last week in a loss vs. Wisconsin, ending his string of 100-yard rushing games at four. Minnesota’s passing game? It’s last in the Big Ten (143.4 ypg). Bottom line: Some Gophers passing will be needed to loosen that rugged MSU defense.

Keep an eye on: Iowa offensive line vs. Nebraska defensive line. The Hawkeyes have a big, physical front that paves the way for the No. 5 rushing attack in the Big Ten (191.5 ypg). And Mark Weisman is running strong after a midseason funk. He ran 17 times for 88 yards vs. Michigan last week (5.2 ypc), his highest total since Sept. 28. Nebraska’s rushing defense has been spotty, ranking No. 8 in the Big Ten (161.6 ypg). If Weisman and the other Iowa backs get cranked up, the Husker defense will be in trouble. And that will make life much easier for Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock.

Best coaching matchup: There are several intriguing clashes, including Bo Pelini vs. Kirk Ferentz; Jerry Kill vs. Mark Dantonio; Bill O’Brien vs. Gary Andersen. But let’s go with Urban Meyer vs. Brady Hoke. The two always will be linked since each arrived at roughly the same time in this heated rivalry, as Hoke is in his third season and Meyer his second. So far, Meyer is up 1-0. And Hoke is feeling some heat after what has been a difficult season. A blowout loss would hurt Hoke, no doubt. Conversely, an upset win could help spark a reversal in what has been a rivalry dominated by Ohio State in recent seasons.

Coordinator matchup to watch: How about watching Penn State’s Bill O’Brien call plays vs. Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda? Pretty good, huh? O’Brien is one of sharpest offensive minds in the nation, a great developer of quarterbacks who knows how to maximize his weapons. Aranda is one of the sport’s top young minds who has the Badgers playing defense on a high level. He’ll be a head coach one day. Bank on it.

Ranking Week 14 Games

1. Ohio State at Michigan
2. Iowa at Nebraska (Nov. 29)
3. Penn State at Wisconsin
4. Minnesota at Michigan State
5. Northwestern at Illinois
6. Purdue at Indiana

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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4 Comments

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Tim on 11/27/2013 @ 12:11pm EDT Said:

Too bad that video and games will no longer be available via BTN2Go app after Thanksgiving day (11/28/2013).

Don’t believe me? Check the app on your phone. No games are visible or accessible after November 28.

Boo to BTN!

E-mail BTN to complain.

    BTN.com staff on 11/28/2013 @ 10:11am EDT Said:

    Tim, we’re not quite clear what you’re seeing. Can you describe it in more detail? There will be video and BTN games on BTN2Go after 11/28. And you can always email BTN2Go support here with questions or requests for assistance: btn2gosupport@btn.com

shookwriter27 on 11/27/2013 @ 1:08pm EDT Said:

No matter what happens this Saturday, the Iowa team has done much better than anybody expected this season.

rdc91 on 11/27/2013 @ 2:04pm EDT Said:

I know you guys are contractually obligated to puff up “The Game,” but there is no way on Earth OSU @ Michigan is going to be the best B1G football game this weekend. The LOLverines don’t have a chance, needing a +3 turnover margin to even be competitive with Iowa. Iowa @ UNL will be a close, hard-fought game between two good teams fighting for a semi-respectable New Year’s Day bowl bid. That’s your game of the week. The rest of the slate will all be more competitive than The Game, and the majority of B1G nation will be watching the second half of Minn @ MSU while Kenny Guiton and OSU’s backups sweep the floor and turn off the lights in the Big House.