Best of Week 9: Ohio State looks for revenge vs. Penn State

Best of Week 9: Ohio State looks for revenge vs. Penn State

All 14 teams are in action in league play for the first time. And there are some good clashes on deck, headlined by Penn State playing at Ohio State. And we have a rivalry, too, with Minnesota at Iowa in a battle for Floyd of Rosedale.

Last year, the Nittany Lions were the only team to beat Ohio State in the regular season, shocking the No. 2 Buckeyes, 24-21, after Penn State defensive back Grant Haley ran back a blocked field goal 60 yards for the winning TD late in the fourth quarter. Before that, OSU had won four in a row vs. PSU.

Iowa has dominated the Floyd of Rosedale series with Minnesota, going 12-4 in the last 16 encounters. The Golden Gophers have not won in Kinnick Stadium since 1999, losing their last seven visits.

Michigan State probably will be an underdog when it plays at Northwestern, which may be the favorite in the Big Ten West. But the Spartans could leave Evanston with a win, especially if the line play on both sides of the ball has developed and MSU is getting consistent play at quarterback. NU has won two of the last three vs. Michigan State, but the Spartans have won the last five meetings in Evanston dating to a Wildcat triumph in 2001. Weird.

The last time Nebraska played at Purdue, it got embarrassed. A bad Boilermaker team won a wild 55-45 contest in 2015. It arguably was one of the lowest points in Cornhusker history, a catastrophic defeat that cast a pall on Mike Riley’s debut season. The Huskers had five turnovers and came up short even after scoring 29 fourth-quarter points. It was amazing—in a bad way. This was just one of three Big Ten wins the Boilermakers netted the last four seasons—and the program’s only conference home victory from 2013-2016. The ignominy for Nebraska.

Indiana has won the last two meetings with Maryland, scoring over 40 points in each meeting. This will be the first face-off between Tom Allen and DJ Durkin.

Wisconsin has dominated Illinois of late, winning seven in a row and 11 of 12. The lone Fighting Illini triumph since 2002 came in 2007 in Champaign.

Here is a look at the Best of Week 9.

Best game: Penn State at Ohio State. This will be a tough test for the James Franklin’s reigning Big Ten champs. Making the tilt more challenging: The trip to Columbus comes on the heels of a home game vs. Michigan. You know the Buckeyes have the visit from PSU circled in red, wanting to payback the Nittany Lions for last season. Penn State was the only team to beat Ohio State in the regular season, shocking the No. 2 Buckeyes, 24-21. Before that, OSU had won four in a row vs. PSU. Penn State last won in Columbus in 2011, taking a 20-14 decision. The Nittany Lions lost 63-14 and 38-10 in their last two visits to the Horseshoe.

Best head coach matchup: Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio vs. Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald. Prior to last season, Dantonio had the Spartans as one of the premier programs in the Big Ten, winning three league titles and even earning a playoff bid in 2015. Now, he faces an interesting season coming off a 3-9 mark, his first losing season in his 10-year tenure. Fitz is the second-longest tenured Big Ten coach with 11 seasons at his current post. Fitzgerald has led the Wildcats to seven bowl appearances in his 11 seasons and has guided the Wildcats to two of their three bowl wins in program history.

Best coordinator clash: Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano vs. Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. 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. Moorhead was named the 2016 National Offensive Coordinator of the Year by 247Sports. Penn State improved its scoring average by 14.4 points from 2015 to 2016, which ranked fourth in FBS and second among Autonomy 5 schools. The Nittany Lions scored 30 or more points in 11 games in 2016, which was the most since the 1994 squad did it in all 12 contests.

Best QB battle: Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett vs. Penn State’s Trace McSorley. After sharing the job with Cardale Jones in 2015, Barrett assumed command last year and excelled. It will be fun to see what impact new Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has on Barrett. McSorley was a revelation last year in leading Penn State to an improbable Big Ten title. He 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: Iowa needs to be careful when Minnesota comes to Kinnick Stadium in a battle for Floyd of Rosedale. You know new Golden Gophers coach P.J. Fleck would love to knock off the Hawkeyes in his first taste of this iconic series. But know this: Minnesota hasn’t won in Iowa City since 1999 when Kirk Ferentz was in his first season for the Hawkeyes and Glen Mason was coach of the Gophers.

Best matchup: It will be interesting to see the Ohio State front seven try to contain Penn State RB Saquon Barkley. The Buckeye are loaded in the front seven, highlighted by one of the nation’s elite defensive lines. Barkley may be the top running back in the nation. He has the Heisman in his sights after notching 1,496 rushing yards in 2016.

Player on the spot: If Iowa wants to defend its turf and win Floyd of Rosedale, it will need its new signal-caller to excel. And that man figures to be Nathan Stanley, a 6-5 sophomore who teems with potential for an Iowa program replacing C.J. Beathard.

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RANKING WEEK 9 GAMES
1. Penn State at Ohio State
2. Minnesota at Iowa
3. Michigan State at Northwestern
4. Indiana at Maryland
5. Nebraska at Purdue
6. Wisconsin at Illinois
7. Rutgers at Michigan

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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