Week 5 primer: Northwestern at Wisconsin highlights the slate
Welcome to Week 5, which has six games. And, they all are Big Ten tilts. Thank goodness.
The headliner is Northwestern at Wisconsin. The game has lost some hue, as the Wildcats already have a loss having been beaten down 41-17 at Duke in Week 2. Still, the arrival of conference play means everyone has a clean slate. The Badgers’ slate already is clean, as Wisconsin is off to a 3-0 start … and looking every bit the best team in the West. This will be a chance for NU to send a message and show it is a legit contender.
Here is a look at the Best of Week 5.
Best game: Northwestern at Wisconsin. What a Big Ten opener for each squad. In fact, it could be a de facto Big Ten West title game. At the least, it’s a big table-setter for the division chase. Each team was off last week. 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: Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz vs. Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio. These are two of the longest tenured coaches in the Big Ten, as Ferentz is in his 19th season in Iowa City and Dantonio is in his 11th in East Lansing. You won’t find two more tough-minded coaches.
Best coordinator clash: Maryland OC Walt Bell vs. Minnesota DC Robb Smith. Bell is going to have to be resourceful, as he may be down to starting third-string QB Max Bortenschlager. Maryland was rudderless after QB Kasim Hill left last week’s game vs. UCF; the Terps finished with just 197 yards in a 38-10 loss. Smith was hired from Arkansas and has done a bang-up job. The Gophers are No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense (8.0 ppg) and No. 1 in rushing defense (59.0 ypg). And Minnesota is No. 5 in total defense.
Best QB battle: Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson vs. Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook. Thorson is hitting 63 percent of his passes for 842 yards. In his last game, a 49-7 win vs. Bowling Green, Thorson hit 23-of-30 passes for 370 yards with two TDs. Hornibrook is No. 1 in the Big Ten in passing efficiency, hitting 70 percent of his passes for 701 yards eight touchdowns and a pick. The sophomore was sensational the last time out, hitting 18-of-19 passes for 256 yards and four TDs in a 40-6 win at BYU.
Best chance for an upset: Northwestern at Wisconsin. The Wildcats have given the Badgers some fits in recent years, so if they can establish the running game behind Justin Jackson, they may be able to leave Madison with a huge win. Jackson has not found his groove yet but has rushed for 248 yards and four TDs. The Wildcat offensive line needs to be dominant. Northwestern has won two of the last three meetings against Wisconsin, including the last meeting in Madison, 13-7, in 2015.
Player on the spot: Iowa QB Nate Stanley. If Iowa wants to rebound from that difficult home loss to Penn State, Stanley will need to keep rolling at Michigan State. He has been outstanding thus far in his first season as a starter, tossing a Big Ten best 12 TD passes. He is hitting 61 percent of his passes for 846 yards with just one interception.
WEEK 5 GAME RANKINGS
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
More Week 5 notes:
- Michigan and Purdue are idle.
- The Iowa at Michigan State is intriguing. Both teams are coming off home losses. The Hawkeyes lost a crusher on the last play of the game to Penn State, 21-19, while the Spartans got hammered 38-18 by Notre Dame. MSU and Iowa have split their last eight meetings with five of them being decided by seven points or less. Michigan State is hosting Iowa for the first time since 2012, a game the Spartans lost 19-16 in double overtime. Know this: Iowa has won 11 of its last 12 road games with the only loss coming last year at Penn State.
- Indiana has won two in a row, but keeping the mojo rolling may be difficult at Penn State. IU has lost 19 of 20 games all-time against Penn State. And the Hoosiers have lost 33 straight games against Top 5 teams, including a loss to Ohio State earlier this season. They haven’t beaten a Top 5 team since 1967 against Purdue. Penn State is 4-0 for the first time since 2014. The Nittany Lions will try to improve to 5-0 for the first time since 2008 when they started 9-0.
- Ohio State will invade Rutgers, which has lost 15 Big Ten games in a row. The 15-game streak is tied for the eighth-longest in Big Ten history and it’s the longest streak since a 20-gamer by Illinois from 2011-13. The Buckeyes have played Rutgers three times since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten and none of them have been close. Each win has come by at least 39 points and the combined scored has been 163-24, including a 58-0 win last year in Columbus for OSU.
- Minnesota will look to remain unbeaten with banged-up Maryland coming to town. This will be the third meeting between these teams, but they are playing for the second year in a row. Last year, the Gophers won, 31-10, in College Park in Conor Rhoda’s first career start. Minnesota is looking for its first 4-0 start since 2013. Maryland’s quarterback situation is dicey now with Kasim Hill joining Tyrrell Pigrome on the sideline. Max Bortenschlager will probably start if Hill can’t go. Bortenschlager threw for 132 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in a 38-10 home loss to UCF.
- Nebraska plays at Illinois on Friday night. The last time the Huskers visited Champaign in 2015, they got stunned, 14-13. Illinois keeps getting younger. After starting seven true freshmen against Western Kentucky in Week Two, they started 10 true freshmen at USF in the last game, which is the most in school history and the most by any team in the nation thus far. After the struggles against Arkansas State and the first half against Oregon, the Huskers have allowed just two offensive touchdowns in the last 10 quarters. But Nebraska QB Tanner Lee has nine interceptions this season, which leads the nation.