Week 11 primer: It's time for Jim Harbaugh vs. Kirk Ferentz

Week 11 primer: It's time for Jim Harbaugh vs. Kirk Ferentz

Another week of full action, with seven games involving all 14 schools. There are six division games. The only one that isn’t—Michigan at Iowa—is the sexiest matchup of them all.

Iowa has won four of the last five from Michigan, including the last three in Kinnick Stadium. (Iowa is 6-4 in its last 10 vs. U-M.) The last time the Wolverines won along Melrose Ave. was 2005, a 23-20 decision. These schools haven’t met since 2013. The Wolverines will arrive unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in the nation. Conversely, the Hawkeyes are struggling, losers of two in a row coming off a 41-14 shellacking at Penn State.

Here is a look at the Best of Week 11.

Best game: Michigan at Iowa. The Hawkeyes are clinging to life in the Big Ten West as they welcome Michigan. These schools seem headed in the opposite direction. Iowa has lost two in a row, falling 41-14 at Penn State; the Wolverines are 9-0 and coming off a 59-3 win vs. Maryland. Iowa hasn’t played the Wolverines since 2013, winning four of the last five including three in a row in Kinnick. Still, Jim Harbaugh has Michigan rolling. This is the Wolverines’ last big test before finishing at Ohio State.

Best coaching matchup: Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz vs. Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh. This should be epic. Ferentz is the dean of Big Ten coaches, in his 18th season in Iowa City. Hayden Fry coached 20. But 2016 isn’t going as planned for Iowa, which is 5-4 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten coming off a 12-2 season and Big Ten West title. Harbaugh has created a tidal wave of excitement and energy at Michigan, which seems to be on the precipice of huge things.

Best coordinator battle: Indiana defensive coordinator Tom Allen vs. Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. Each was hired in the offseason. And each has made a big impact. The Nittany Lions are No. 3 in the Big Ten in scoring 34.4 ppg. The Hoosiers defense has gone from bad to solid, ranking No. 8 in total defense. Who will win this chess match?

Best quarterback clash: Penn State’s Trace McSorley vs. Indiana’s Richard Lagow. McSorley has been a revelation running Joe Moorhead’s spread attack, ranking No. 4 in the Big Ten in total offense (261.0 ypg). He is deft at making plays with his arm and feet with 291 yards rushing and 2,058 yards passing. Lagow is No. 2 in the league in passing, averaging 286.0 ypg. But interceptions have been an issue for the JC transfer, who has a Big Ten-high 13.

Best chance for an upset: Minnesota at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are coming off back-to-back losses at Wisconsin and at Ohio State, a game in which QB Tommy Armstrong was knocked out and carted off the field. He may play Saturday. Stay tuned. The Gophers are hot, winners of four in a row. And they are 2-1 in their last three vs. Nebraska, winning in Lincoln when they last visited in 2014.

Player on the spot: Minnesota RB Rodney Smith. If Minnesota wants to win a fifth in a row, Smith must keep rolling. And, the guy is on fire. He has rushed for more than 100 yards in four games in a row and in five of the last six and ranks No. 2 in the league in rushing with 954 yards (106.0 ypg) with a Big Ten-high 13 rushing TDs. NU is No. 6 in the league in rush defense (148.0 ypg).

Best unit battle: Michigan receivers vs. Iowa secondary. It will be fun to watch Michigan’s Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh go against a Hawkeye secondary led by Desmond King, Greg Mabin and Brandon Snyder. And who on Iowa will cover Wolverine tight end Jake Butt?

WEEK 11 GAME RANKINGS

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

More Week 11 notes:

  • Penn State is rolling, winners of five in a row. But it needs to be careful when it plays at Indiana in what could be a fun shootout. The Nittany Lions have won the last two vs. Indiana but lost in 2013 in Bloomington, PSU’s lone setback in the series (18-1). The Hoosiers have won two in a row, scoring a combined 75 points in dumping Maryland and Rutgers.
  • Purdue will play host to Northwestern, which has lost two in a row. The Boilermakers are struggling even more, dropping four in a row as they watch another season drift away into nothingness. NU has won four of the last five meetings and two in a row at Purdue, which looks for some type of success down the stretch.
  • Ohio State is 2-0 all-time vs. Maryland, outscoring the Terps, 101-52, the last two seasons. The Buckeyes are coming off a 62-point outing vs. Nebraska. The Terrapins just yielded 59 at Michigan. Gulp.
  • Illinois has one victory vs. Wisconsin since 2003 (1-10), taking a 31-26 decision in Champaign. The Badgers have won the last six. The last time the Fighting Illini won in Madison? It was 2002. Illinois will arrive in Camp Randall Stadium for UW’s homecoming coming off a nice home win vs. Michigan State. But the Badgers are one of the nation’s best teams, winners of three in a row. Can Illinois score on Wisconsin?
  • Michigan State plays Rutgers. The good news: Someone will get their first Big Ten win of the season. Each is 0-6 in league play. MSU has beaten Rutgers both times as Big Ten foes, outscoring the Scarlet Knights, 76-27.
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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6:30 PMSt. Peter's at MarylandWatch
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Friday Dec 9
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