Week 11 primer: Michigan State at Ohio State could decide Big Ten East

Week 11 primer: Michigan State at Ohio State could decide Big Ten East

The homestretch of the season is here. And with each passing week, the games take on greater importance.

[ MORE: Week 10 video | Power Rankings | Best of Week 10 | Week 10 predictions revisited ]

Here is a look at Week 11, which is dotted with some intriguing matchups.

The marquee clash is Michigan State’s visit to Ohio State. The schools have split the last six meetings, as the Buckeyes won last year in East Lansing, 17-16. The year before with a backup quarterback, MSU stunned OSU in Columbus, 17-14, to cost the Buckeyes a shot at defending their national title as the Spartans went on to win the Big Ten and earn a playoff bid. After that game, star OSU back Ezekiel Elliott called out his coaches’ about their play-calling. Another interesting factoid: The Spartans have won their last two trips to the Horseshoe.

Here is a look at the Best of Week 11.

Best game: Michigan State at Ohio State. The winner of this one will be in the driver’s seat to win the Big Ten East. The Spartans are coming off a big 27-24 win vs. Penn State, while the Buckeyes got crushed at Iowa, 55-24, in what was the worst loss ever for Urban Meyer and the most points OSU has allowed since 1994. What will be the mindset of Ohio State? You know the Spartans are sky-high, having already dumped Michigan and Penn State as they come off a 3-9 season. What an amazing turnaround.

Best head coach matchup: Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio vs. Ohio State’s Urban Meyer. Dantonio has had his share of success vs. Meyer, going 2-3. One of those victories came in the Big Ten title game in 2013. And Dantonio won the last time he was in Columbus, taking a 17-14 decision to kill the Buckeyes’ Big Ten title and playoff dreams a year after OSU had won the national title. These are two of America’s best coaches.

Best coordinator clash: Iowa DC Phil Parker vs. Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst. Chryst calls plays for the Badgers, and he’s good at it. It will be fun to watch him match wits with Parker, who did a good job limiting the Buckeyes in last week’s upset. OSU had just 371 yards and Iowa came up with four interceptions. Chryst’s offense is built around a physical ground game led by true freshman RB Jonathan Taylor. And the pass-game is underrated with QB Alex Hornibrook throwing to an underrated group of wideouts.

Best QB battle: Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke vs. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett. Lewerke is a star on the rise coming off a huge game in a win vs. Penn State. He hit 33-of-56 passes for 400 yards with two TDs and a pick. Lewerke also ran for 25 yards. Barrett is coming off a tough game, hitting just 18-of-34 passes for 208 yards with three TDs and a career-high four picks. He will be looking to rebound.

Best matchup: Iowa LB Josey Jewell vs. Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor. Each guy is coming off a big game. Jewell had a team-high nine tackles in a 55-24 win vs. Ohio State and kept J.T. Barrett and the Buckeye RBs in check. J.K. Dobbins had just 51 yards rushing; Mike Weber had 27. Taylor got dinged at Illinois two weeks ago but rebounded Saturday at Indiana, running 29 times for 183 yards and a TD.

Best chance for an upset: Iowa at Wisconsin. Why not? I mean, we just saw the Hawkeyes shock the world by smashing No. 6 Ohio State, 55-24. And Iowa came within two points of beating No. 4 Penn State earlier this season. Last year, the Hawkeyes dumped No. 3 Michigan. Be careful, Bucky.

Player on the spot: Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett. The six games after Barrett struggled in a home loss to Oklahoma, he looked to be back on track. Barrett was sensational two weeks ago in a 39-38 win vs. Penn State, hitting 33-of-39 passes for 328 yards and four TDs and leading the team with 95 yards rushing vs. the Nittany Lions. He put himself squarely in the Heisman hunt, ranking No. 1 in the Big Ten in total offense (327.5 ypg) after last week. But he struggled mightily in the loss at Iowa. Barrett needs to get on track.

More Week 11 notes:

  • Iowa’s trip to Wisconsin drips with storylines. The Hawkeyes are coming off the monster upset of Ohio State, while the Badgers chug along as the Big Ten’s lone unbeaten with playoff thoughts dancing in their heads. Wisconsin is 6-3 in the last nine meetings vs. Iowa. This will be only the second meeting in Madison since 2009 in a series Wisconsin leads 45-43-2.
  • Nebraska’s trip to Minnesota features two schools looking for success. The seasons for both are spiraling out of control. Will either make a bowl? The Cornhuskers have lost three of four, while the Gophers are 1-5 in Big Ten play. Minnesota is 2-4 vs. Nebraska since the Huskers joined the Big Ten.
  • Maybe Purdue can find a way to shock Northwestern when it visits Evanston as it fights for bowl eligibility. But it will be a tall task, as the Wildcats are one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten. How hot? NU has won three OT games in a row, the first time any FBS team has done that. And the Wildcats are hot in this series, too, winning three in a row in. The Boilermakers last beat NU in 2010, taking a 20-17 decision at Ryan Field.
  • Indiana travels to Illinois in a game between two teams winless in the Big Ten. In fact, the Illini have lost seven in a row; IU has lost four in succession. The Hoosiers have won the last two vs. the Fighting Illini, but the schools have split the last 10 encounters. Indiana won its last trip to Champaign in 2012.
  • Michigan travels to Maryland. It’s 2-1 vs. the Terrapins since Maryland joined the Big Ten, winning the last two meetings 59-3 and 28-0. Maryland coach DJ Durkin was Jim Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator before landing in College Park in 2016.
  • Penn State welcomes Rutgers riding a two-game losing streak. PSU has won 10 in a row vs. Rutgers, last losing in 1988. Since joining the Big Ten, RU has been outscored, 80-13, by the Nittany Lions.

***

WEEK 11 GAME RANKINGS
1. Michigan State at Ohio State
2. Iowa at Wisconsin
3. Nebraska at Minnesota
4. Purdue at Northwestern
5. Michigan at Maryland
6. Indiana at Illinois
7. Rutgers at Penn State

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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