Week 13 primer: The Game, once again, highlights Rivalry Week

Week 13 primer: The Game, once again, highlights Rivalry Week

It’s the final week of the season. And, even better, it’s rivalry week! Division titles are on the line, in addition to cool trophies, as schools also jockey to stay in the playoff conversation.

Front and center on this Saturday: “The Game,” between Ohio State and Michigan. So much is on the line. The Buckeyes have dominated this series of late, going 12-2 since 2001 and winning the last four meetings with a 42-13 triumph last season. The last time Michigan won in Columbus? In 2000, when the Wolverines took a 38-26 decision. The offenses have something to prove for both teams in this game. If Michigan wins, it takes the East title.

Here is the best of Week 13.

Best game: Michigan at Ohio State. A lot is on the line. U-M will win the East with a victory and look to take its first Big Ten crown since 2004. Ohio State needs to beat Michigan and hope Michigan State dumps Penn State if the Buckeyes want to win the East. Even if PSU beats MSU, Ohio State still may earn a playoff spot if it beats the Wolverines. The Buckeyes have dominated this series of late, going 12-2 since 2001 and winning the last four meetings with a 42-13 triumph last season.

Best head coach matchup: Jim Harbaugh vs. Urban Meyer. Meyer got the best of Jimmy Ballgame last year, making Harbaugh 0-1 vs. Meyer. Urb? He’s still perfect vs. the Wolverines, sporting a 4-0 mark. Let’s just hope these guys hang around for years to come in what could be a coaching rivalry on par with the Woody vs. Bo “Ten Year War” in the 1970s.

Best coordinator matchup: Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker vs. Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf. Parker is a wily vet who has been at the side of Kirk Ferentz since Ferentz arrived in Iowa City in 1999. He always crafts a tough, disciplined defense. Iowa has allowed just 13 points the last two games, shutting out Illinois last week. Langsdorf is one of the brightest minds in the Big Ten who needs to have QB Tommy Armstrong back from injury that kept him out last week. Whoever wins this chess match figures to help lead his team to victory.

Best quarterback matchup: Nothing really jumps out. Let’s go with Michigan’s John O’Korn vs. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett. O’Korn made his first start of the season last week, leading the Wolverines to a win vs. Indiana with Wilton Speight out with injury. (Speight also figures to miss this game.) O’Korn’s results were mixed, as he hit just 7-of-16 passes for 59 yards but did have a 30-yard run. Barrett isn’t coming off a memorable effort at Michigan State, completing just 10-of-22 passes for 86 yards, but is a dangerous playmaker. Who will step up and make some big pass plays?

Best chance for an upset: Michigan State at Penn State. The Spartans are playing well down the stretch. There still is lots of talent on the roster. And there is a lot of pride for a team that has nothing to lose. This is a very dangerous foe for Penn State, which needs to win to keep its Big Ten East title hopes alive. Michigan State has won the last three meetings and hasn’t lost in State College since 2008. Watch the running back clash between the Spartans’ LJ Scott and the Nittany Lions’ Saquon Barkley, who got dinged up last week.

Best matchup: Michigan State linebackers Riley Bullough and Chris Frey take vs. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. The Nittany Lions ran for 339 yards last week at Rutgers. MSU is No. 10 in the Big Ten vs. the run (166.1 ypg).

Player of the spot: John O’Korn. Making his first start at Michigan with Wilton Speight out, O’Korn didn’t shine in a 20-10 win vs. Indiana. He hit just 7-of-16 passes for 59 yards. The Wolverine offense needs some big plays from O’Korn.

WEEK 13 GAME RANKINGS
1. Michigan at Ohio State
2. Nebraska at Iowa (Nov. 25)
3. Michigan State at Penn State
4. Minnesota at Wisconsin
5. Illinois at Northwestern
6. Rutgers at Maryland
7. Purdue at Indiana

More Week 13 notes:

  • Iowa can’t win the West, but it can kill any hope for Nebraska by dumping the Huskers on Black Friday in Iowa City. This has been a bizarre series since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten, as Iowa has lost both meetings in Kinnick, but the Hawkeyes are 2-1 in Lincoln. Go figure.
  • Michigan State wants to play spoiler by winning at Penn State and ending any Big Ten East title hopes for the Nittany Lions, who have won seven in a row. MSU almost knocked off Ohio State last week, falling 17-16. Michigan State has won the last three meetings and hasn’t lost in State College since 2008. All the pressure is on PSU, which needs Michigan to lose to Ohio State in addition to knocking off the Spartans if the Nittany Lions want to win the East.
  • Winners of five in a row, Wisconsin can wrap up the West by beating Minnesota. The Gophers can finish first with a win and if Iowa beats Nebraska—but the Badgers still would go to Indy in that scenario. Minnesota hates playing Wisconsin. Just hates it. The battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe has been a lopsided affair of late, as the Gophers have gone 2-17 vs. the Badgers since 1995. In fact, Minnesota has lost 12 in a row to Wisconsin. And the Gophers haven’t won in Madison since 1994. Will the drought end when Minnesota travels south down I-94?
  • Indiana needs one more win for bowl eligibility. And, IU should cruise vs. moribund Purdue, losers of six in a row. These are halcyon days for the Hoosiers in the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket, winning three in a row for the first time since a four-game run from 1944-47. But anything can happen in a rivalry game. And ruining IU’s bowl hopes would make the season for the Boilermakers.
  • Illinois at Northwestern is big for recruiting in Chicago. You know new Illini boss Lovie Smith wants this one in his return to the city in which he coached the Bears. The Wildcats have won three of the last four. But the Fighting Illini won the last time in Ryan Field, taking a 47-33 decision in 2014. NU needs to win to become bowl eligible.
  • Maryland needs to topple Rutgers to become bowl eligible. The Terps are coming off a tough three-game run of games at Michigan, vs. Ohio State and at Nebraska, losing by a combined 149-13. Maryland and Rutgers have had two wild games as Big Ten members, with each winning on the other’s field. The Scarlet Knights won, 41-38, in 2014 in College Park; the Terps prevailed, 46-41, last year at RU. Rutgers is desperate to end 2016 with some success. The Scarlet Knights have lost eight in a row and been shutout four times this season.
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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