Buy or Sell: Bowl hopes for Big Ten's 5-6 teams?
Here is what I’m buying and selling as we enter the final Saturday of the season.
Two Big Ten teams in the College Football Playoff?
Buy. There is a good chance that it could happen. The scenario that needs to unfold for that is this: Ohio State must beat visiting Michigan this Saturday, while Penn State needs to dump visiting Michigan State. That would make the Nittany Lions Big Ten East champs. PSU then would likely play Wisconsin in the league title game, if the Badgers topple visiting Minnesota on Saturday. The winner of that game seemingly would earn a playoff spot. The Buckeyes would be 11-1 after this Saturday but they may have a playoff-worthy resume even without having won their division. OSU will have won at Oklahoma, at Wisconsin and vs. Michigan. The lone loss? At Penn State. A very impressive set of accomplishments.
Bowl hopes for Indiana, Maryland and Northwestern?
Buy. The Hoosiers, Terrapins and Wildcats all are sitting on 5-6 records, needing one win for bowl eligibility. The good news: Each is playing at home on Saturday vs. a team with a losing record. IU is taking on 3-8 Purdue; the Terrapins are playing 2-9 Rutgers; NU is battling 3-8 Illinois. You have to like the chances of all three schools to win their finale and to punch their postseason ticket.
Quarterback play will be key in the Michigan at Ohio State game?
Sell. No doubt, the play of the signal-callers will be important when the latest edition of “The Game” kicks off at high noon on Saturday in Columbus. J.T. Barrett is a special player, but he’s coming off a spotty effort at Michigan State (10-of-22 passing for 86 yards) and often is asked to do too much—especially in big games. And John O’Korn looked very shaky in his first Michigan start last week, completing 7-of-16 passes for 59 yards vs. Indiana. If he has to go again with Wilton Speight out, the Wolverine attack could struggle again. The real key in my mind will be the play of the offensive lines. Which unit will step up and pave the way for a good rushing attack vs. the other team’s stout defense? Neither front has excelled all season. Whichever team can run the ball will take pressure off the quarterback and likely win this huge game.
Wisconsin is the best two-loss team in the Big Ten?
Buy. The Badgers are 9-2, just like Penn State and Nebraska. The Nittany Lions and Cornhuskers have better offenses than the Badgers. But what makes Wisconsin the best of this three-loss trio is its vicious defense that is No. 3 in the Big Ten overall (292.5 ypg) and in scoring (13.4 ppg), which keeps the Badgers in every game. And the ground game—and offensive line—continue to get better with each passing week, too. Proof? Running back Corey Clement has rushed for over 100 yards three games in a row and in five of the last six for the No. 3 rushing attack in the conference (220.8 ypg). The senior is rolling—and so are the Badgers, winners of five in a row.
A Big Ten Heisman winner?
Sell. The chances of a Big Ten player winning the Heisman seem to be diminishing. Even with a loss at Houston this week, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson still looks like the fav. After that, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Alabama’s Jalen Hurts and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, among others, all appear better positioned to win the Heisman than anyone from the Big Ten. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett has been inconsistent, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers has not made enough impact plays, OSU’s Curtis Samuel is underutilized and got too late of a push and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley has seen his production fall off.
Michigan State as a spoiler?
Buy. Michigan State is just 3-8 overall and 1-7 in the Big Ten, but it is a dangerous team. It nearly knocked off Ohio State last week, falling 17-16. The Spartans are team with talent and pride. And they are well-coached, too. Michigan State should give Penn State all that it can handle this Saturday when it visits State College, Pennsylvania. If the Spartans knock off the Nittany Lions, it would kill Penn State’s Big Ten East title dreams and open the door for Ohio State to win the division if the Buckeyes down Michigan on Saturday. Hey, if you can’t go to a bowl, you might as well try to ruin a team’s season, right?
Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson is the top QB in the Big Ten West?
Buy. Who saw this coming in August? No one except Thorson’s mom. Most felt Iowa’s C.J. Beathard would lead the West pack of signal-callers. And Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong and Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner were prideful seniors looking to end their careers with a bang. But look at Thorson now. He is averaging 258.8 yards passing per game, No. 3 in the Big Ten. And the sophomore has hit 57.8 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. Last season as a redshirt freshman, Thorson hit just 50.8 percent of his passes for 1,522 yards with seven TDs and nine interceptions. What a turnaround.