Week 5 primer: No. 8 Wisconsin at No. 4 Michigan, anyone?
Week 5 brings us the first full-blow Saturday of all Big Ten games, as all 14 teams are in action for the first time vs. each other. And there is no shortage of intriguing matchups.
Here is a look at the Best of Week 5.
Best game: Each team arrives with lots of momentum. The Badgers are 4-0 with wins over then-top-10 teams LSU and at Michigan State. Wisconsin looks very impressive. Michigan also is 4-0, scoring at least 45 points in each while playing good defense. This will be the Wolverines’ fifth home game in a row to start the season. This will be Wisconsin’s first tilt vs. Michigan since 2010 when the Badgers won in Ann Arbor. The coaches in that game? Rich Rodriguez and Bret Bielema. Wisconsin has won the last two and three of the last four. This is part of a brutal start to the Big Ten season for Bucky, which takes on Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern after playing the Wolverines.
Player on the spot: Iowa QB C.J. Beathard needs to regain his mojo. The last two games, he has hit just 23-of-45 passes (51 percent) for 314 yards. He has taken some big hits, too. And now must find a new No. 1 target with Matt VandeBerg out. Who will it be? Jerminic Smith? Jay Scheel?
Best matchup: Michigan defensive line vs. the Wisconsin offensive line. The Wolverines have one of the best lines in the nation, led by Chris Wormley. The Badgers have a solid front, but it lacks depth. UW can count on Michigan bringing some stunts and blitzes to get after Badger redshirt freshman QB Alex Hornibrook. How will he cope?
Best QB matchup: While the battle between first-year starters Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook and Michigan’s Wilton Speight will be fun, let’s go with Illinois’ Wes Lunt vs. Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong. Lunt is a vet who has yet to fully develop since arriving from Oklahoma State. He is hitting 62 percent of his passes for 665 yards with six TDs and just one interception. Armstrong is enjoying a sensational season, hitting 56 percent of his attempts for 931 yards with eight touchdowns and a pick. He has plenty of experience and is a primo athlete. Best of all: Armstrong isn’t turning over the ball.
Best coaching matchup: How about Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst vs. Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh? Perfect. Each is in his second season at his alma mater. And each is doing a great job with first-year starting quarterbacks, with Alex Hornibrook at Wisconsin and Wilton Speight at Michigan. Could this be a preview of the Big Ten title game?
Best coordinator matchup: Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno vs. Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. Drevno has a high-charged offense that is No. 2 in the Big Ten in scoring (52.0 ppg) and No. 5 overall (467.8 ypg). Wilcox has taken over for Dave Aranda and thrived. The Badgers are No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring defense (11.8 ppg) and rush defense (80.5 ypg) and No. 2 in total defense (277.0 ypg).
Best chance for an upset: Michigan State must be careful when it plays at Indiana, however Penn State could fall at home to Minnesota. The Nittany Lions are still a work in progress in Year Three under James Franklin, as PSU is off to a 2-2 start with a front seven on defense that is struggling as injury has decimated the linebacking corps. Football is all about running and stopping the run. And the Nittany Lions are last in the Big Ten in rush offense (101.3 ypg) and last in rush defense (213.8 ypg). The Gophers are riding high on a 3-0 start as they head to State College, Pennsylvania, for their first road game of the season. A fun subplot: Former Minnesota OC Matt Limegrover is coaching the Penn State offensive line.
More Week 5 notes:
- Nebraska is riding high with a 4-0 start. And it will have revenge on its mind when Illinois comes to town. Last year in Champaign, the Huskers suffered an epic meltdown in a 14-13 loss. The Fighting Illini moved 72 yards in 41 seconds, scoring with 10 seconds to play on a 1-yard TD grab by Geronimo Allison. Illinois trailed 13-0 before scoring with 13:21 to play. Nebraska squandered chances, the last when it elected to throw on third down in the final minute with Illinois out of timeouts. The Illini were off last week, looking to rebound from two losses in a row.
- Northwestern hits the road for the first time after opening with four games in Evanston. And the Wildcats need some mojo after starting 1-3. The Hawkeyes are coming off an ugly win at Rutgers but have won the last three vs. the Wildcats, which haven’t won in Kinnick since 2009. Iowa will be without No. 1 WR Matt VandeBerg, who is out indefinitely with a foot injury. A big key for NU will be how well QB Clayton Thorson plays; he needs to inject life into a NU offense that is last in the Big Ten in scoring (16.3 ppg) and 13th total offense (347.5 ypg).
- Michigan State is coming off a 30-6 whipping at home to Wisconsin. How good are the Spartans? Will MSU lose two in a row? They have won seven in a row and 15 of 17 from Indiana, who got dumped at home last week by Wake Forest. The Spartans last lost in Bloomington in 2006. This could be a dangerous trip for Michigan State, especially if IU’s offense is running well with RB Devine Redding.
- New Rutgers boss Chris Ash will take on his former boss in Urban Meyer, whose Ohio State club was off last week. The Buckeyes have won the only two meetings in the series vs. the Scarlet Knights, taking a 56-17 decision at Ohio State in 2014 and a 49-7 win last year at Rutgers. Ash hopes to model RU’s program after what Meyer has built in C-bus but the Scarlet Knights must rebound from a hard-fought 14-7 home loss to Iowa. But Rutgers has lost do-everything star Janarion Grant for the season to injury. A tough blow for an already limited offense.
- This is the first Big Ten meeting between Purdue and Maryland. The Terps physically manhandled the Boilermakers, 24-7, in the 2006 Champs Sports Bowl, the lone meeting between the schools as Joe Tiller faced off with Ralph Friedgen. The Boilermakers will arrive off a rare win but last won two games in a row in 2012. The Terrapins are 3-0, fueled by a strong rushing game and no turnovers. Maryland was off last week and welcomes back star RB Wes Brown from suspension. But is QB Perry Hills OK coming off a shoulder injury suffered in the last game?
WEEK 5 GAME RANKINGS
1. Wisconsin at Michigan
2. Northwestern at Iowa
3. Minnesota at Penn State
4. Michigan State at Indiana
5. Illinois at Nebraska
6. Purdue at Maryland
7. Rutgers at Ohio State