Week 8 primer: Wisconsin's next tough test? At rival Iowa

Week 8 primer: Wisconsin's next tough test? At rival Iowa

Week 8 features all 14 teams in action in seven games. And all eyes will be on two games, one from each division that will go a long way in shaping the races: Ohio State at Penn State in the East and Wisconsin at Iowa in the West.

The Badger-Hawkeye game is the marquee clash. Iowa is coming on, winners of two in a row; Wisconsin has lost its last two as it plays a brutal five-game stretch to open Big Ten play. Iowa is 3-5 in its last eight vs. Wisconsin but won last year in Madison to end a three-game slide vs. the Badgers. This will be a key clash to determine who win the Big Ten West.

When Ohio State comes to Penn State, it will be the Nittany Lions’ annual White Out game. The last time the Buckeyes played at Penn State was Oct. 2014, when the Lions fell 31-24 in overtime. OSU has won four of the last five tilts between the schools; Penn State hasn’t beaten the Buckeyes since 2010, when it prevailed 20-14 in Columbus. OSU leads the all-time series, 17-13. And the Buckeyes should add to that with an unbeaten squad that is loaded. But will OSU be flat coming off an emotional overtime win at Wisconsin? And the Nittany Lions are coming off a bye, giving them extra prep time.

Here is a look at the Best of Week 8.

Best game: Wisconsin’s trip to Iowa will be fun. The Badgers have lost two in a row. But, they were doozies, as UW fell 14-7 at No. 4 Michigan and 30-23 in overtime vs. No. 2 Ohio State. Wisconsin is good, thanks to a strong defense (15.2 ppg; 311.3 ypg, both No. 3 in the Big Ten) and developing offense behind redshirt freshman QB Alex Hornibrook. The Hawkeyes have lost twice at home but are coming off wins at Minnesota and at Purdue. Iowa is getting better up front on both sides of the ball. The loser of this game may be out of the Big Ten West race.

Player on the spot: Indiana QB Richard Lagow. If the Hoosiers want to score a big win and end a two-game slide, Lagow needs to excel. He has thrown a combined three picks the last two games, losses at Ohio State and to Nebraska. The JC transfer has hit just 33-of-60 passes (55 percent) in those two games with minus-24 yards rushing. If IU can’t pass, it can’t fully utilize RB Devine Redding. And, the Hoosiers will have little chance for success.

Best QB matchup: Penn State’s Trace McSorley vs. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett. This one is easy. McSorley has been a revelation replacing Christian Hackenberg. A dual-threat option more suited to what James Franklin wants to do offensively, McSorley is a nice fit for the new quick-paced spread attack. Barrett is a legit Heisman candidate who makes the Ohio State offense go. And, he’s a great leader.

Best coaching matchup: How about Illinois’ Lovie Smith vs. Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh? Pretty good stuff. Each arrived in the Big Ten off of coaching stints in the NFL, Smith with the Buccaneers and Harbaugh with the 49ers, and both coached in the Super Bowl. Each brings a lot of savvy to the sideline, though Harbaugh is more of an emotional coach prone to sideline histrionics. Yes, Smith’s Fighting Illini aren’t ready for a foe like the Wolverines. But, it will be fun to see if he can come up with some scheme to keep it close.

Best coordinator matchup: Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead vs. Ohio State defensive coordinators Greg Schiano and Luke Fickell. Moorhead has amped up the Nittany Lion offense with a spread look that goes at a quick pace. And he has a good triggerman in Trace McSorley. The Buckeyes are allowing just 12.8 ppg and 280.5 ypg, both No. 2 in the Big Ten.

Best chance for an upset: Iowa is a home underdog to Wisconsin, but it would not be a surprise to see the Hawkeyes protect their turf . UW plays great defense and can run the ball; that gives it a chance in each game. The Hawkeyes have won two in a row and look to be gaining steam, as the play in the trenches is getting better. UW has had recent success in Kinnick, winning the last three games there. But Wisconsin lost to the Hawkeyes last year in Madison in a crushing heartbreaker. Iowa has what the Badgers want—the division title. If Wisconsin wants it, the Badgers must beat the Hawkeyes.

RANKING WEEK 8 GAMES
1. Wisconsin at Iowa
2. Ohio State at Penn State
3. Indiana at Northwestern
4. Michigan State at Maryland
5. Rutgers at Minnesota
6. Illinois at Michigan
7. Purdue at Nebraska

***

More Week 8 notes:

  • Illinois plays at Michigan, which was off last week. And, it could be a long afternoon for the Illini, which did end a four-game skid last week with a 24-7 victory at Rutgers. Jim Harbaugh has this program rolling in Year Two in Ann Arbor, unbeaten and thinking big. The defense is one of the best in the Big Ten, while the offense continues to develop. The Wolverines have won the last three meetings and nine of 11. The teams haven’t met since 2012, a 45-0 Michigan win in the Big House in a battle between Brady Hoke and Tim Beckman. A lot has happened since then.
  • Nebraska reached its nadir last year in a 55-45 loss at Purdue. The loss dropped the Huskers to 3-6 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten, as they lost despite scoring 29 fourth-quarter points. Nebraska had just 77 yards rushing and committed five turnovers (four picks). The good news for NU: It is 9-1 since that awful defeat in West Lafayette. (The Boilers lost 35-14 when in Lincoln in 2014.) Count on Nebraska looking to payback the Boilermakers, who will play their first game since Darrell Hazell was fired on Sunday.
  • Minnesota welcomes Rutgers, which has lost four in a row and is last in the Big Ten in scoring offense and scoring defense. The Golden Gophers ended a two-game slide last week with a win at Maryland. RU ended an 11 quarter scoring drought last week but still lost at home to Illinois, 24-7. Minnesota and Rutgers never have met.
  • Indiana could knock off Northwestern in Evanston. IU has lost two in a row since beating Michigan State. The Hoosier defense is playing well, but the offense needs to run well and limit mistakes. Northwestern is rolling, winning road games at Iowa and at Michigan State. The offense has found some balance, as QB Clayton Thorson has six TD passes the last two games. He hit 77 percent of his passes for 281 yards in a 54-40 win last week at MSU.
  • Michigan State and Maryland both need a win. The Spartans have lost four in a row and are seeing their season slip away. The Terrapins have dropped their last two. Michigan State is 6-1 all-time vs. Maryland, winning its two Big Ten meetings: 37-15 at College Park in 2014; 24-7 last year in East Lansing.
Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

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, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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