Week 12 primer: Our attention turns to Michigan at Wisconsin

Week 12 primer: Our attention turns to Michigan at Wisconsin

The penultimate Saturday is upon us. And all eyes will be on Michigan’s trip 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.

[ MORE: Week 11 video | Power Rankings | Best of Week 11 | Week 11 predictions revisited ]

Nebraska’s season hasn’t gone as expected, but a win at Penn State would be a nice pick-me-up. These storied programs haven’t clashed since 2013—in State College–and have met just three times since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten in 2011. And Nebraska has won all three meetings. PSU last toppled the Huskers in 2002 in Beaver Stadium when Frank Solich was the Nebraska coach.

Iowa is 9-2 in its last 11 vs. the Boilermakers. Purdue is 2-7 in its last nine in Kinnick Stadium, last winning in Iowa City in 2012 with Danny Hope as coach. Each team is coming off a loss. The Boilers must win—and then win next week vs. Indiana–if they want to go bowling.

Minnesota has won three of the last four vs. Northwestern. The Gophers are trying to become bowl eligible, as they are sitting on five wins. NU can’t win the West but can sweeten its postseason positioning. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck is a Chicagoland native, so this will be a homecoming of sorts.

Michigan State is looking to rebound after getting pounded 48-3 at Ohio State. The loss means MSU no longer controls its destiny in the East. The Spartans are 2-1 vs. Maryland since the Terps joined the Big Ten, but Maryland won last year vs. the Spartans. This has been a tough year for the Terrapins, who have started four different quarterbacks.

Ohio State has won eight straight vs. Illinois. The last time Illinois won? It was 2007, when the Illini knocked off the No. 1 Buckeyes in Columbus, 28-21, behind Juice Williams. OSU controls its destiny in the East, so it needs to keep winning to take the division crown and play in the Big Ten title game for the first time since 2014. Illinois has lost eight in a row.

Indiana and Rutgers are both battling for their bowl lives. Both schools are 4-6, needing to win out to gain bowl eligibility. IU is 1-2 vs. RU since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten.

Here is a look at the Best of Week 12 (and a look back at the 2016 Michigan vs. Wisconsin game, too)

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Best game: Michigan’s trip to Wisconsin drips with intrigue. The Badgers are 10-0 for the first time in school annals and they already have clinched the West Division. Wisconsin will make its fifth appearance in the Big Ten title game in the seven years of the event. No school has been as frequent a visitor. But they must win-out if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive. Can the Wolverines be a spoiler?

Best head coach matchup: Let’s go with Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst vs. Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh. Chryst has had nothing but success since taking over the Badgers in 2015. The Wisconsin alum has built a 31-6 overall record and is 20-4 in the Big Ten with two West Division titles. Harbaugh’s resume speaks for itself. He led the 49ers to the Super Bowl and had big success with Stanford. Now, he has Michigan poised for big things.

Best coordinator clash: How about Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst vs. Michigan defensive coordinator Don “Dr. Blitz” Brown? Yes, please. The Badgers are No. 2 in the Big Ten in total offense (433.1 ypg) and are No. 3 in scoring (36.3 ppg). The Wolverines are No. 3 in scoring defense (16.4 ppg) and No. 2 in total defense (254.8 ypg). It doesn’t get much better than this.

Best QB battle: Let’s go with Nebraska’s Tanner Lee vs. Penn State’s Trace McSorley. Lee has lived up to his hype after sitting out last season following his transfer from Tulane. The guy has a big arm and has cut down on his interceptions. McSorley is the ultimate dual-threat QB who is equally adept at beating foes with his arm as he is with his feet.

Best matchup: Has to be the Wisconsin offensive line vs. the Michigan defensive line, two of the best units in the nation. The Badgers have a vintage front that anchors the Big Ten’s No. 2 rushing attack (245.0 ypg). Guys like Michael Deiter and Jon Dietzen are bellwethers for a mammoth front. The Wolverines are active and athletic up front with guys like Chase Winovich, Mo Hurst and Rashan Gary. They are why Michigan is No. 3 in the Big Ten vs. the run (110.3 ypg).

Best chance for an upset: Yes, it wouldn’t be a stunner if Michigan won in Madison. But, let’s go with Minnesota maybe winning at Northwestern. The Gophers are coming off a 54-21 win vs. Nebraska that has lifted spirits in Dinkytown as 5-5 Minnesota pushes for bowl eligibility. Northwestern is riding high, winners of five in a row as they look to sweeten their postseason destination by winning out and finishing 9-3.

Player on the spot: Penn State RB Saquon Barkley. He is watching his Heisman hopes drift away playing behind an offensive line that struggles to get a consistent push. The junior has eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark just one time in the last six games, notching a season-low 35 yards rushing last week. He has just three games with over 100 yards rushing on the season. Yes, Barkley impacts as a return man and pass-catcher, but he makes a living as a running back. And his production needs to pick up.

Ranking the games of Week 12:

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