Best of Week 12: Wisconsin hosts Michigan for first time since 2009

Best of Week 12: Wisconsin hosts Michigan for first time since 2009

This could be a pivotal Saturday, as the finish line for the season draws near.

Keep an eye on Michigan at Wisconsin. The Wolverines and Badgers have met just one time since 2010, with Michigan taking a 14-7 decision last year in Ann Arbor. The schools haven’t met in Madison since 2009, as Wisconsin took a 45-24 win. In fact, UW has won the last three vs. Michigan in Camp Randall Stadium, where the Wolverines last prevailed in 2001.

Nebraska has won all three games vs. Penn State as a member of the Big Ten. This is a clash between programs on the rise. Year Three was a big one for Nittany Lions coach James Franklin last year; Husker coach Mike Riley is in his third year in Lincoln in 2017.

Northwestern needs to be careful when Minnesota visits in the second-to-last game of the season. The Gophers have a new leader and loads of mojo behind coach P.J. Fleck. And Minnesota has won three of the last four meetings vs. the Wildcats. Fleck needs a new quarterback and has holes to fill in the secondary, but he has talent. And a bowl trip may be on the line this late in the season for the Gophers. Northwestern has its eyes on winning the West led by QB Clayton Thorson and RB Justin Jackson.

Maryland figures to be an underdog when it plays at Michigan State. Questions hang over the Spartans, who are coming off a 3-9 season and missed a bowl for the first time since 2006 and for the first time ever under Mark Dantonio. MSU is 2-1 vs. Maryland since the Terps joined the Big Ten, but Maryland won last year vs. the Spartans.

Iowa is 9-2 in its last 11 vs. the Boilermakers. Purdue is 2-7 in its last nine in Kinnick Stadium. The Boilers last won in Iowa City in 2012.

Illinois’ trip to Ohio State will be tough. Who knows what type of shape the Fighting Illini will be in when they venture to Columbus to battle for the Illibuck Trophy? The Buckeyes have won eight straight in the series. The last time Illinois won? It was 2007, when the Illini knocked off the No. 1 Buckeyes in Columbus, 28-21, behind Juice Williams.

Could Rutgers win at Indiana? Yes, the Scarlet Knights went 2-10 last year in the debut of Chris Ash. But this is a program that continues to add talent. If Rutgers has solved its issues at quarterback, it may be a difficult out in a game that could have big bowl implications for both Indiana and the Scarlet Knights. IU is 1-2 vs. RU since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten.

Here is the Best of Week 12.

Best game: Let’s go with Michigan’s visit to Wisconsin. The Wolverines and Badgers have met just one time since 2010, with Michigan taking a 14-7 decision last year in Ann Arbor. The schools haven’t met in Madison since 2009, as Wisconsin took a 45-24 win. In fact, UW has won the last three vs. Michigan in Camp Randall Stadium, where the Wolverines last prevailed in 2001.

Best head coach matchup: How about Illinois’ Lovie Smith vs. Ohio State’s Urban Meyer? Smith is trying to turn the worm in Champaign. Last season, he returned to college football for the first time since 1996 after spending 19 years in the NFL, including 11 years as a head coach. He owns an 89-87 (.506) career record as a NFL head coach from 2004-12 and 2014-15 and went 3-3 in playoff games, including one trip to the Super Bowl. Meyer is 61-6 through his first five seasons in Columbus. He has coached the Buckeyes to a national championship in 2014–the program’s eighth–by winning the first College Football Playoff. Meyer is 38-2 in Big Ten games and 16-4 record vs. ranked teams.

Best coordinator clash: Many will be eager to see Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead match wits with Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. Moorhead was named the 2016 National Offensive Coordinator of the Year by 247Sports last season. 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. Previous to guiding UConn, Diaco had a highly successful four-year run as the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame. And he has roots in the Big Ten, twice earning All-Big Ten honors as a linebacker at Iowa in the mid-1990s. How will Diaco’s new 3-4 defense look? Moorhead’s offense will be a good test.

Best QB battle: Nebraska’s Tanner Lee vs. Penn State’s Trace McSorley looks great. Lee takes over the reins in Lincoln after sitting out last season following his transfer from Tulane. He drips with potential. McSorley emerged last season to become one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. He is an athletic marvel and a nice fit for what Nittany Lion OC Joe Moorhead wants in a signal-caller.

Best chance for an upset: Penn State needs to be careful when Nebraska comes to State College. These storied programs haven’t clashed since 2013—in State College–and have met just three times since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten. And Nebraska has won all three meetings. PSU last toppled the Huskers in 2002 in Beaver Stadium.

Best matchup: It will be fun to watch the Michigan defensive line battle the Wisconsin offensive line. The Wolverines lost some key personnel up front like Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton but are still loaded with studs like Maurice Hurst, Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich. The Badger front endured some tough times of late but appears to be in vintage form in 2017, led by Beau Benzschawel and Michael Deiter.

Player on the spot: If Minnesota wants to roll out of Northwestern with a victory, it will probably need a good effort from its quarterback. Who will that be? Conor Rhoda?

***

RANKING WEEK 12 GAMES
1. Michigan at Wisconsin
2. Nebraska at Penn State
3. Minnesota at Northwestern
4. Maryland at Michigan State
5. Purdue at Iowa
6. Illinois at Ohio State
7. Rutgers at Indiana

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.

Advertisement