Best of Week 5: Never underestimate the Northwestern-Wisconsin rivalry
There isn’t an abundance of pizzazz on a six-game slate this week that includes a Friday night tilt pitting Nebraska at Illinois.
The unquestioned top game is Northwestern at Wisconsin in a game between arguably the top two teams in the Big Ten West. A de facto Big Ten West title game? Too early in the season for that. But at the least, this will be a table setter for the division race and a contest that will go a long way in shaping the chase for the West championship.
No doubt, Nebraska will want revenge after losing in Champaign the last time the Cornhuskers visited in 2015, as Illinois scored 14 fourth quarter points to take a 14-13 decision. It was a stupefying and stunning defeat for Nebraska in Mike Riley’s first season in Lincoln.
Michigan State has won two in a row vs. Iowa, but the Hawkeyes have won the last two times they visited Spartan Stadium. It will be important for MSU to protect its home turf as it comes off a disappointing 3-9 season.
Ohio State has obliterated Rutgers in three all-time meetings, winning by scores of 56-17, 49-7 and 58-0. Former Buckeye defensive coordinator and current Scarlet Knights coach Chris Ash is trying to lay a strong foundation for RU.
Purdue and Michigan are off.
Here is a look at the best of Week 5.
Best game: Northwestern’s Big Ten opener at Wisconsin will be a challenge. These two teams may be the favorites to win the West. Wisconsin won last year vs. NU, but the Wildcats won two in a row before that. These teams are similar, as each can run the ball and has a nice defense. It may come down to which QB makes the most plays: Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson or UW’s Alex Hornibrook.
Best head coach matchup: Gotta go with Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz vs. Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio. Ferentz is the dean of Big Ten coaches, as he is in his 19th season roaming the sideline of Kinnick Stadium. He already has achieved icon status as just the second Iowa coach since 1979, the year Hayden Fry began his 20-year run in Iowa City. Dantonio is an all-time great in East Lansing who took the program to nine bowls in a row before last year’s 3-9 clunker.
Best coordinator clash: How about Rutgers offensive coordinator Jerry Kill vs. Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano? Yes! Kill lacks many top-end weapons in his first year at Rutgers, but the former Minnesota coach knows how to scheme … and coach. Kill worked in an off-field capacity last year at Kansas State and never has been an assistant. The former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach, Schiano seems on the precipice of landing another head coaching job as he has seen Chris Ash (Rutgers) and Luke Fickell (Cincinnati) both use the Buckeye DC post as a launching point.
Best QB matchup: It will be fun to watch Indiana’s Richard Lagow and Penn State’s Trace McSorley lock horns. Lagow, despite interception woes, is coming off a nice debut after arriving from a JC. In 2016, he ranked second in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (258.6, 28th nationally), third in yards per completion (13.3, 32nd) and completions (19.4, 39th), fifth in touchdowns (19) and sixth in total offense per game (250.3) and passing efficiency (128.8). McSorley was a revelation last year in leading Penn State to an improbable Big Ten title. Has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 15 straight games, breaking Kerry Collins’ school record streak of 14 from 1993-94. And in 2016, McSorley became the first Penn State quarterback with three consecutive games with both a rushing touchdown and passing touchdown since Matt McGloin in 2012.
Best chance for an upset: Minnesota could be toppled by Maryland when the Terrapins visit in the Big Ten opener. Like the Gophers with P.J. Fleck, Maryland has a rising star coach in DJ Durkin, who already has one year under his belt in College Park. If the Terps are improved in the trenches and getting steady quarterback play, they could leave Dinkytown with a victory. Minnesota won last year at Maryland.
Best matchup: Wisconsin LB T.J. Edwards vs. Northwestern RB Justin Jackson. Edwards will be a key player for a Badger front seven that should be stout even without linebackers T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel. Jackson led the Big Ten with 1,524 yards rushing in 2016, becoming the first Wildcat to rush for 1,000 yards in three seasons. He is poised to become NU’s all-time leading rusher, as he finished last season ranked second in program history with 4,129 career rushing yards.
Player on the spot: If Iowa wants to leave Michigan State with a victory, the new QB will need to play well. And that new QB figures to be Nathan Stanley. The 6-5 Wisconsin native was one of 10 true freshmen to see action in 2016 for the Hawkeyes, as he played in seven games and completed five of nine pass attempts for 62 yards.
RANKING WEEK 5 GAMES
1. Northwestern at Wisconsin
2. Iowa at Michigan State
3. Maryland at Minnesota
4. Indiana at Penn State
5. Nebraska at Illinois (Friday)
6. Ohio State at Rutgers