Week 8 Big Ten previews: Nebraska vs. Northwestern Part IV

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Week 8 Big Ten previews: Nebraska vs. Northwestern Part IV

It’s another light Saturday, as five games fill the Week 8 slate. But the weekend isn’t without some nice games, as the Nebraska at Northwestern tilt could be another doozy in what has been an exciting series since the former joined the Big Ten.

Iowa at Maryland is an interesting inter-divisional battle of teams looking to make statements.

Illinois, Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin are off.

Get our latest Week 8 coverage:

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Here’s a breakdown and ranking of Week 8 games.

1. Nebraska (5-1, 1-1) at Northwestern (3-3, 2-1) – 7:30 p.m. ET, BTN (Watch on BTN2Go). Nebraska’s trip to Northwestern will be a key Big Ten West game. The loser will be behind the eight ball when it comes to contending for the division crown. This has been one of the Big Ten’s best and most exciting series the last three seasons, as high drama has been the norm. The last time the Huskers were in Evanston, they rallied from a 28-16 fourth-quarter hole to win 29-28. Northwestern, which saw its three-game winning streak end last week at Minnesota, have become a factor after an 0-2 start because of an athletic defense and offense that’s gaining balance behind the running of Justin Jackson. More big plays are needed, however. The Cornhuskers were off last week after suffering their first loss, falling at Michigan State. Can Tommy Armstrong make enough plays in the passing game?

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2. Iowa (5-1, 2-0) at Maryland (4-2, 1-1) – noon ET. These schools never have played, and they’re battling to maintain relevancy in the title chase in their respective divisions. The Terrapins were off last week after getting a bucket of cold water dumped on their head by Ohio State in a 52-24 home loss. Maryland needs to button up a defense that’s No. 11 in scoring (25.2 ppg) and No. 13 overall (451.2 ypg). This is good news for an Iowa offense that has struggled for consistency, ranking 11th in the Big Ten in scoring (26.3 ppg). The Hawkeyes’ defense should be a good match for a strong Maryland offense. The Terps must protect their turf if they really wanna be a factor in the East. Iowa is tied with Minnesota in the West with a 2-0 mark.

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3. Rutgers (5-1, 1-1) at Ohio State (4-1, 1-0) – 3:30 p.m. ET. This is an underrated matchup you should keep an eye on. The Scarlet Knights have been the most surprising team in the Big Ten, opening with a 5-1 mark. And only a three-point loss at home to Penn State stands between them and perfection. However, now is when things will get tough, as the Scarlet Knights wade into a tough second-half-of-the-season schedule. Gary Nova has played lights-out the last two games. Since tossing five picks in that PSU loss, Nova has completed 47-of-74 passes for 846 yards with seven touchdowns and just one interception. And the Rutgers’ front-seven is salty, as its No. 3 in the nation in sacks with 24 in six games. The Buckeyes have their own white-hot QB in J.T. Barrett. How good is this kid gonna be? Barrett is No. 1 in the league in passing efficiency; Nova is No. 2. The OSU offensive line is developing chemistry with four new starters. And this OSU d-line may be the best in the Big Ten. Each team was off last week. This is the first-ever meeting between these teams. The last time the Buckeyes lost a Big Ten regular-season game? Nov. 26, 2011, at Michigan.

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4. Purdue (3-4, 1-2) at Minnesota (5-1, 2-0) – noon ET. The Golden Gophers are riding a three-game winning streak with their aim on the West Division title. Minnesota is using a stout defense to push it to the top of the division, forging a 2-0 Big Ten mark for the first time since 2004. Want more? Minnesota is 6-2 in its last eight Big Ten games. Purdue also is playing well, winning at Illinois and pushing Michigan State to the limit last week in a home loss. The offenses figure to decide this one. Which attack can make the most big plays? Watch the QBs. Austin Appleby has been a revelation for the Boilermakers, injecting moxie and playmaking ability into what was a listless offense. Mitch Leidner continues to develop as a passer, giving the Gophers balance. Purdue comes to Minnesota for a second time in a row. The Gophers hammered the Boilermakers, 44-28, in 2012. Minnesota hasn’t lost at home to Purdue since 2007. A home loss to a rebuilding Boiler team would really hurt the Gophers. Meanwhile, energized Purdue is thinking it may have a crack at a bowl.

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5. Michigan State (5-1, 2-0) at Indiana (3-3, 0-2) – 3:30 p.m. ET. The Spartans were at Purdue last week; now, they stay in Indiana to play the Hoosiers. When Michigan State last came to Indiana in 2012, it fell behind 27-14 at halftime. IU led 27-17 entering the fourth quarter before the Spartans ripped off 14 unanswered points to storm back for a 31-27 triumph. So, don’t expect Michigan State to overlook Indiana. And last week’s close call at Purdue also should keep the Spartans focused. IU is struggling on both sides of the ball. Can an IU defense that ranks No. 11 in the Big Ten stop a white-hot MSU offense that leads the Big Ten in scoring (45.5 ppg)? The only thing working consistently for a struggling Indiana offense is RB Tevin Coleman, who leads the Big Ten in rushing with 1,060 yards. But can he rip through a tough MSU defense that is No. 2 vs. the run (81.5 ypg) and is geared to stop him? With QB Nate Sudfeld out for the season with a left shoulder injury suffered last week at Iowa, Indiana faces a huge uphill battle with true freshman Chris Covington likely taking over. He hit just 3-of-12 passes for 31 yards and two picks last week when Sudfeld went out. Too bad Tre Roberson transferred to Illinois State this summer.

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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, 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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