Week 7 primer: Don't sleep on No. 10 Nebraska at Indiana
The headline act Saturday is No. 2 Ohio State’s trip to No. 8 Wisconsin. In fact, depending on how things play out, this could be a preview of the Big Ten title game.
And it also will feature two standout defenses. The schools arguably have been the best in their divisions in recent years. The Buckeyes have won the last four meetings and seven of eight. The last Badger win was in Madison in 2010—two coaches ago. The Buckeyes won the last time they visited Camp Randall Stadium, taking a 21-14 decision in 2012. The schools last played in 2014 in the Big Ten title game, a 59-0 Ohio State victory.
Here is a look at the Best of Week 7.
Best game: Ohio State at Wisconsin. This figures to be the Buckeyes’ most difficult test on the road. And OSU is coming off a less-than-scintillating win over Indiana. Wisconsin was off last week, giving it more prep time. Ohio State has won four in a row vs. the Badgers and seven of eight, last losing in Madison in 2010. OSU hasn’t been to UW since 2012. The Badgers are in the midst of a brutal stretch that already has seen Wisconsin play at Michigan State and at Michigan. After Ohio State’s visit, UW goes to Iowa before welcoming Nebraska.
Player on the spot: The Michigan State QB. If the Spartans want to end their first three-game slide since 2009 with Northwestern coming to East Lansing, they need to fix several issues. Chief among them: unsteady quarterback play. In a 31-14 home loss to BYU last week, Tyler O’Connor was pulled after hitting 7-of-11 passes for 58 yards. Damion Terry took over and completed 6-of-10 passes for 63 yard with a pick. MSU is No. 12 in scoring in the Big Ten (21.0 ppg) and No. 10 in total offense (366.2 ypg). Who will run this team?
Best matchup: Ohio State offensive line vs. Wisconsin defensive line. Strength on strength. The Buckeyes are No. 1 in the Big Ten in rushing (323.6 ypg); the Badgers are No. 1 in the Big Ten in rushing defense (90.4 ypg).
Best QB matchup: Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong vs. Indiana’s Richard Lagow. Armstrong is having a spectacular season, pacing the Big Ten in total offense (288.8 ypg). He is hitting 58 percent of his passes for 1,151 yards with nine TDs and two picks. Armstrong also has 293 yards rushing. Lagow is No. 2 in the league in total offense (285.8 ypg). And he’s No. 1 in passing (292.0 ypg), hitting 60 percent of his attempts for 1,460 yards with 11 TDs and seven picks.
Best coaching matchup: Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald vs. Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio. This will be a good battle of the wits. Yes, neither coach’s team is having the type of season fans expected. But both are good coaches. And each is among the longest-tenured coaches in the Big Ten, with Fitzgerald in his 11th season and Dantonio in his 10th. Only Iowa’a Kirk Ferentz has been in his job longer (18th season) in the league. NU is just 2-3 with losses to FCS Illinois State and Western Michigan but is coming off a 38-31 win at Iowa. The Spartans are 2-3 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten for the first time since 2007.
Best coordinator matchup: Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox vs. Ohio State offensive coordinators Ed Warinner and Tim Beck. The Badger defense hasn’t missed a beat with Wilcox taking over for Dave Aranda. UW is yielding just 12.2 points and 291.4 yards per game, both third in the Big Ten. The rush defense is No. 1 (90.4 ypg). The Buckeyes pace the Big Ten in scoring (53.2 ppg); total offense (537.6 ypg); and rush offense (323.6 ypg). Something has to give.
Best chance for an upset: While it wouldn’t be a stunner if Wisconsin beats Ohio State, let’s go with Indiana over No. 10 Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are unbeaten and coming off a bye week. Mike Riley’s second season in Lincoln is going swimmingly on both sides of the ball. And a big key has been a positive turnover margin (plus four) and an ability to finish that has seen the Huskers out score foes 78-6. Indiana is a rising program under Kevin Wilson, already knocking off Michigan State and pushing Ohio State last week. The offense is as potent as ever behind QB Richard Lagow and RB Devine Redding, along with WRs like Nick Westbrook and Mitchell Paige. And new coordinator Tom Allen has the defense playing well. This is a very deadly game for NU.
More Week 7 notes:
- Northwestern goes to Michigan State in an intriguing intra-divisional clash. NU is 1-5 in its last six contests vs. the Spartans, but the Wildcats–off last week after winning at Iowa–won the last time they were in East Lansing (2012). And MSU is slumping, losers of three in a row for the first time since 2009.
- This will be the first time Indiana plays Nebraska as a Big Ten team. The schools last met in 1978, with the Cornhuskers taking a 69-17 decision.
- Minnesota is at Maryland, as each team is looking for success. The Golden Gophers will start backup QB Conor Rhoda looking to end a two-game slide. Maryland QB Perry Hills is banged up. The Terps are coming off their first loss of the season. How will they respond?
- Purdue is 2-8 in its last 10 vs. Iowa, which last lost in West Lafayette in 2007. But the Boilers have some mojo coming off an overtime win at Illinois. Still, Purdue has not won back-to-back games since 2012. The Hawkeyes are coming off a potentially season-saving win at Minnesota last week. Has Iowa found its groove?
- Illinois plays at Rutgers in a game between teams desperate for a win. Illinois, losers of four in a row, has some talent, especially on offense. But QB Wes Lunt got banged up last week. RU has been outscored 136-0 in its last two games. This will be the first meeting between these schools since a two-game series 10 years ago, as Illinois won 33-30 in Champaign in 2005 and Rutgers prevailed 33-0 in New Brunswick in 2006.
- Michigan and Penn State are off.
RANKING WEEK 7 GAMES
1. Ohio State at Wisconsin
2. Nebraska at Indiana
3. Northwestern at Michigan State
4. Minnesota at Maryland
5. Iowa at Purdue
6. Illinois at Rutgers