Best of Week 4: 2016 weekend signals opening of league games
In week 4 of the 2016 football season, the Big Ten takes the lid off conference action. This season each team plays nine Big Ten games during the season for the first time since 1984. On this weekend, four leagues games are on the docket as the race to the 2016 title begins.
The Nebraska vs. Northwestern series has been one of the Big Ten’s best of late. Since joining the conference, the Cornhuskers are 3-2 vs. the Wildcats, losing last year in Lincoln. The games have been fun, with Northwestern stunning Nebraska in Lincoln in 2011 with a backup QB. The Huskers won by a point the next year and then needed a Hail Mary to win in 2013.
The visit from Wake Forest could be a pothole for IU. The Hoosiers won 31-24 in Winston-Salem last year to start 4-0 for the first time since 1990, so the Demon Deacons will be looking for revenge. This is a well-coached Wake squad under Dave Clawson, who went 3-9 in 2015 and is building a solid program.
Penn State has lost its last two vs. Michigan, last winning in Ann Arbor in 2009. Since joining the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions are 7-12 against the Wolverines—4-11 in the last 15 meetings.
This is the first meeting between Rutgers and Iowa – same for Purdue and Nevada.
Maryland, Illinois and Ohio State are off.
I continue to roll out my schedule analysis posts this spring – here are a few previous ones.
- Dienhart: Toughest stretch in each Big Ten schedule
- Dienhart: Best chance for each Big Ten team to be upset
- Dienhart: Every Big Ten team’s best chance to pull an upset
And here is a look at my Best of Week Four.
Game of the week: Let’s go with Wisconsin at Michigan State, which each will have a new signal-caller. Yes, Michigan State has some big holes to fill. Still, the Spartans are the defending league champs coming off a playoff appearance. These schools haven’t met since 2012, as Michigan State has won three of the last four. The Badgers’ lone win in that span? It came in the 2011 Big Ten title game. Earlier in that 2011 season, the teams met in East Lansing with the Spartans winning 37-31 on a Hail Mary from Kirk Cousins to Keith Nichol.
Best quarterback matchup: Keep an eye on the clash between Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner and Colorado State’s Nick Stevens. Leidner looks primed for a big season senior season after passing for 2,701 yards as he comes off foot surgery. Stevens had a nice sophomore season, throwing for 2,679 yards with 21 TDs for an always good Rams squad. The Gophers needed OT to topple CSU 23-20 in Fort Collins last season.
Best head coach matchup: It will be good to watch Nebraska’s Mike Riley take on Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald. Riley is coming off a tough debut in Lincoln that was notable for many difficult losses, but the Huskers did finish 3-1 in their last four. Riley is a seasoned coach who has led teams in the Pac-12, CFL and NFL. Fitzgerald is an all-time great as a college player and a coach in Evanston. And he is coming off a 10-win season with one of his most talented teams ever. He is Mr. Northwestern—and the Big Ten’s second-longest tenured coach.
Best coordinator matchup: Let’s go with two newbies, as Penn State OC Joe Moorhead matches wits with Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown. Moorhead, who was head coach at Fordham and has deep ties in the East, takes over for fired John Donovan. Fordham ranked 19th in the FCS in offense and ninth in scoring in 2015, reaching the playoffs for a third straight season before losing to Chattanooga in the first round. Brown spent the past three seasons coordinating the defense at Boston College and takes over for D.J. Durkin, who took the Maryland gig. His 2015 defense led the nation in eight defensive categories – total defense, rushing defense, scoring defense, red zone defense, first down defense, third down defense, fourth down defense and tackles for loss – and lists second in pass defense and pass efficiency defense.
Upset alert: Could Purdue knock off visiting Nevada? Maybe. A big key will be how well both lines perform for the Boilermakers. Can the Boilers both run and stop the run? Purdue also needs quarterback play that is a cut-above after years of inconsistent play under center. Maybe David Blough can provide it.
Ranking the game of Week 4our
1. Wisconsin at Michigan State
2. Penn State at Michigan
3. Nebraska at Northwestern (on BTN/BTN2Go)
4. Colorado State at Minnesota
5. Wake Forest at Indiana
6. Iowa at Rutgers
7. Nevada at Purdue
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