Best of Week 13: Ohio State at Michigan highlight rivalry week
It’s rivalry week, the final Saturday of the regular season! And, a lot could be on the line, including division championships. As usual, the place to start on this final Saturday is “The Game,” as Ohio State is at Michigan.
In case you didn’t know, Jim Harbaugh is 0-2 vs. the Buckeyes. Last year’s 30-27 double OT win by OSU in Columbus was epic. Michigan has lost five in a row to Ohio State and 12 of 13. The last Wolverine triumph? In 2011 in Ann Arbor.
Iowa-Nebraska is a Black Friday tradition. And the Hawkeyes have won the last two vs. the Cornhuskers and three of the last four. In fact, Iowa has won its last two visits to Lincoln, winning 28-20 in 2015 and 38-17 in 2013. It’s time for Mike Riley to start beating Iowa, right?
If Northwestern wants to win the West, it probably is going to need to win the finale at Illinois. The Wildcats have won two in a row and four of the last five vs. the Fighting Illini. The teams last met in Champaign in 2013—won by NU—after the 2015 contest was held in Chicago’s Soldier Field. Illinois last beat NU in Champaign in 2011.
Goal No. 1 for new Purdue coach Jeff Brohm has to be: stop losing to Indiana. The Hoosiers have taken command of the Old Oaken Bucket series, winning four in a row for the first time since 1944-47. Can Indiana continue its mastery over the Boilermakers in the first clash between Tom Allen and Brohm? Until Purdue gets the upper hand back in this series, making any tangible progress up the standings will be challenging. But the Hoosiers want none of that.
Penn State is at Maryland in what could be a brewing rivalry. Yes, the Nittany Lions are 37-2-1 all-time vs. the Terrapins, but Maryland is on the rise. Its last win vs. PSU came in 2014, a 20-19 triumph at Penn State, which is riding high coming off an improbable Big Ten title.
Rutgers may be able to top visiting Michigan State in the season finale. Questions loom over the Spartans, who are coming off a sobering 3-9 season and missed a bowl for the first time since 2006. MSU has won all three meetings between these schools since Rutgers joined the Big Ten, outscoring RU 125-27.
Here is the Best of Week 13.
Best game: All eyes will be on Ohio State’s season-ending visit to Michigan for “The Game.” The Buckeyes continue to dominate this series, winning five in a row and 12 of 13. Last year’s 30-27 double OT win by OSU in Columbus was an exciting tilt that left Jim Harbaugh fuming. The last Wolverine triumph vs. the Buckeyes? In 2011 in Ann Arbor. Can Michigan turn the worm in this iconic rivalry?
Best head coach matchup: It’s all about Harbaugh vs. Meyer, two coaching luminaries. Harbaugh wins everywhere he goes and has gone 20-6 his first two years back at his alma mater. But he aches for a championship after finishing third in the Big Ten East his first two seasons. Meyer has three national championships and has the Buckeye program playing as well as any in the nation. The Buckeyes are coming off a playoff berth but haven’t won the Big Ten since 2014, when they took the national championship, too.
Best coordinator clash: Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson vs. Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown. This is going to be good! Wilson’s IU offenses were paced by a productive passing attack that led the Big Ten three times, in 2012, 2013 and 2015, while finishing second in 2016. His 2015 offense led the Big Ten in passing, total offense and scoring. In his first season in Ann Arbor in 2016, Brown’s unit led the Big Ten in eight defensive categories, including scoring defense, pass defense, pass defense efficiency, third-down conversions allowed and red zone defense. Additionally, all 11 defensive starters earned All-Big Ten accolades.
Best QB battle: Let’s go off the radar a bit with Indiana’s Richard Lagow vs. Purdue’s David Blough in the Old Oaken Bucket clash. In his first season at IU after arriving from a JC, Lagow 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). Blough paced the Big Ten in passing yards per game in 2016 (279.3 ypg) in 2016. And his 25 TD passes were No. 2 in the league, as no other Big Ten signal-caller threw as many passes (517) or completed as many (295). Interceptions were a huge problem for each last season, as they threw 17 and 21, respectively.
Best chance for an upset: Nebraska should be favored in the finale on Black Friday when Iowa visits Lincoln. But the Hawkeyes have won the last two meetings and three of the last four. If the Cornhuskers want to move up the pecking order of the Big Ten West, they need to start beating Iowa. Both teams will have new quarterbacks, adding intrigue to this game.
Best matchup: Keep an eye on the Michigan front seven vs. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett. 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. And the LB unit is improving, too, with players like Devin Bush, Khaleke Hudson and Mike McCray. That front seven must contain Barrett. After sharing the job with Cardale Jones in 2015, Barrett assumed command last year and returned to his 2014 form. It will be fun to see what impact new Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson can have on Barrett, a senior looking for a big finish.
Player on the spot: If Michigan wants to take down Ohio State, QB Wilton Speight will need to play well. He had his moments last season, his first as a starter. But he needs to evolve as a playmaker for an offense that needs big-play ability as the wideout corps is being overhauled.
RANKING WEEK 13 GAMES
1. Ohio State at Michigan
2. Iowa at Nebraska (Friday)
3. Wisconsin at Minnesota
4. Penn State at Maryland
5. Michigan State at Rutgers
6. Indiana at Purdue
7. Northwestern at Illinois