Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, November 5, 2012
Just three weeks remain in the regular season, as schools continue to jockey for division championships and bowl eligibility.
Week 11 has some interesting games, beginning with Wisconsin?s trip to Indiana that drips with Leaders Division title implications. Northwestern plays at Michigan, with the loser facing long odds of getting back into the Legends Division chase.
And the Penn State at Nebraska game is filled with intrigue, as the Nittany Lions look to add to what has been a surprisingly successful season with what would be their best win of the season. The Cornhuskers control their destiny in the Legends and need to stay hot with a fourth victory in a row.
Here?s a look at the Best of Week 11 in the Big Ten.
BEST GAME: Penn State at Nebraska. The Nittany Lions are looking to add wins to what has been a season to remember-and one that has defied odds. A win in Lincoln would be without a doubt Penn State?s best triumph of the season under first-year coach Bill O?Brien. But the Nittany Lions are playing only for pride. The stakes are much higher for Bo Pelini and the Cornhuskers, who need another win to maintain first place in the Legends Division and control of their own destiny in search of the program?s first conference title since 1999.
BEST MATCHUP: Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez vs. Penn State front seven. Martinez may be the hottest signal-caller in the Big Ten, engineering three big wins in succession. And in two of them, Martinez led the Cornhuskers back from double-digit fourth-quarter holes (at Northwestern and at Michigan State). The Nittany Lions? defense has played well all season and ranks No. 4 in the Big Ten (334.6 ypg). The group is led by a strong group of linebackers spearheaded by Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges. And Penn State has excelled at generating turnovers, as it?s No. 1 in the Big Ten in turnover margin and No. 2 in turnovers gained (17). And no school has turned over the ball more than the Cornhuskers (23).
PLAYER ON THE SPOT: The Wisconsin quarterback. Joel Stave is out for the rest of the regular season with a broken collar bone. The Badgers will turn to Danny O?Brien or Curt Philips. How will the offense look? The attack was a bit tepid with O?Brien at the controls to start the season. The new quarterback must produce if the Badgers want to notch a win at Indiana and remain in control of their destiny in the Leaders Division and chug toward the Big Ten title game for a second season in a row.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The Iowa offense. The Hawkeyes are 4-5 overall and fighting for their bowl life. A home game against a floundering Boilermaker program that has lost five in a row is a must-win for Iowa, which needs running back Mark Weisman to return from injury. The Hawkeyes need their offense to produce, but that has been an issue all season for quarterback James Vandenberg and company. Iowa?s attack is No. 11 in the Big Ten (328.0 ypg) and No. 10 in scoring (20.4 ypg). Purdue?s defense is struggling, ranking 11th in the conference in scoring defense (30.2 ppg) and 11th in the total defense (419.8 ypg). The Hawkeye attack finally may take off.
BEST COORDINATOR MATCHUP: Indiana offensive coordinator Seth Littrell vs. Wisconsin defensive coordinator David Ash. For the Hoosiers, the best defense often is a good offense. Credit Littrell, whose attack is No. 2 in the conference (446.7 ypg). The passing game is Indiana?s best weapon, as the Hoosiers have the No. 1 aerial game in the Big Ten (299.9 ypg). The Badgers have the No. 3 defense in the Big Ten (311.3 ypg). The rushing defense is No. 2 (108.1 ypg), while the pass defense is No. 5 (203.2 ypg). It will be fun to watch these coordinators match wits.
BEST COACHING MATCHUP: Northwestern?s Pat Fitzgerald vs. Michigan?s Brady Hoke. Each coach has his squad in the thick of the Legends Division hunt. The Wildcats are 7-2 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten; the Wolverines are 6-3 and 4-1. Each is chasing Nebraska in the division; and neither can afford a loss. These coaches are hard-nosed leaders who both have a defensive background-and it?s reflected in their teams? personalities.
BEST QUARTERBACK MATCHUP: Penn State?s Matt McGloin vs. Nebraska?s Taylor Martinez. We all can agree that Ohio State?s Braxton Miller is the top signal-caller in the Big Ten. But this will be a battle to see perhaps who is the second best. McGloin and Martinez are tied for the league lead in touchdown passes with 18. McGloin paces the Big Ten with 2,436 yards passing; Martinez is third with 1,941. Each completes 62 percent of his passes. And each guy?s team is a winner, as the Huskers are 7-2 and the Nittany Lions are 6-3. Get the picture? These guys are good.
|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, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.
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