Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, October 23, 2014

The intense Michigan-Michigan State rivalry always draws a lot of attention. And the name-brand appeal of Ohio State-Penn State is interesting.

But don't sleep on Maryland at Wisconsin, an inter-divisional clash that figures to go a long ways in determining the fate of the schools in 2014. It also looks like the best chance for an upset, with the Terps coming off a big home victory vs. Iowa while the Badgers were off.

Check out my Best of Week 9.

BEST GAME: In a scheduling oddity, the Wolverines have to travel to East Lansing for a second season in a row. Michigan was absolutely embarrassed in Spartan Stadium last fall, losing 29-6. The Wolverines had 168 yards of total offense with a school single-game record low minus-48 yards rushing on 29 carries with seven sacks. The Wolverines have lost five of the last six meetings and haven?t won in East Lansing since 2007. The momentum in this fierce rivalry has changed dramatically. Seems like that ?little brother? crack made by Michigan running back Mike Hart happened YEARS ago, doesn?t it?


BEST MATCHUP: Ohio State offensive line vs. Penn State defensive line. Penn State is No. 1 in the nation in rushing defense, and No. 6 in the nation in scoring defense. This is a stout, tough Nittany Lions defensive line that has playmakers in Austin Johnson, C.J. Olaniyan, Deion Barnes and Anthony Zettel. Ohio State has had three straight games of at least 500 yards and 50 points. And the emergence of a line with four new starters has been key. This figures to be a classic trench battle that the football cognoscenti will enjoy.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg. He has been in a funk of late, but it hasn?t always been of his doing as the line is struggling. Regardless, Hackenberg has just five touchdown passes and seven interceptions, as he?s trying to make something happen for a listless offense that is No. 13 in the Big Ten in scoring (21.2 ppg). And Hackenberg has just one TD toss in the last four games. He must step up and deliver some big plays for Penn State to have any chance to stay close with visiting Ohio State.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Devin Gardner and the Michigan offense. The unit was roughed up last year in an ugly 29-6 loss at Michigan State, as Gardner was sacked seven times and the Wolverines had minus-48 yards rushing on 29 carries vs. MSU. Gardner had 18 totes for minus-46 yards in that game. It was a brutal afternoon for Michigan. Unless Gardner and the offense play better, things could get ugly again for the Wolverines, who have lost five of the last six meetings. Since that loss in East Lansing, Gardner has rushed for over 40 yards just once (at Rutgers this season). Prior to that, he ran for over 50 yards six times.

BEST COACHING MATCHUP: Let?s go with Penn State?s James Franklin vs. Ohio State?s Urban Meyer. The former SEC coaches are famous for their recruiting acumen. And each is a pretty good coach on Saturdays. This could blossom into a nice rivalry if both coaches stick around. The one thing they have in common is a burning desire to compete. It?s energy (Franklin) vs. intensity (Meyer).

BEST QUARTERBACK MATCHUP: It won?t get any better than Ohio State?s J.T. Barrett vs. Penn State?s Christian Hackenberg. Barrett has been a revelation, emerging as the Big Ten?s most efficient passer and pacing the conference in total offense. He is a rising star who shows a moxie and savvy that belies his years. Hackenberg was the freshman sensation last year. Now, he?s dealing with a sophomore slump, but it?s often self-induced as he tries to make a play for an offense that?s often stuck in neutral-or reverse-ranking 10th in the league (375.5 ypg). He?ll be a big test for a Buckeye pass defense that has been spotty in recent years. But a fierce OSU defensive line could cause Hackenberg issues.

BEST COORDINATOR BATTLE: How about Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda vs. Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley? This is a nice battle. The Terrapins have the No. 4 scoring offense in the Big Ten, averaging 35.1 points. They will face a quick and swarming Badger defense that is No. 2 in the conference in scoring (17.7 ppg). The battle within the battle will be to see how Wisconsin does stopping Maryland and its fleet of top wideouts in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. The Badgers are No. 1 in the conference vs. the pass (169.2 ypg).

UPSET ALERT: It wouldn?t be a shock to see Maryland wade into Madison and knock off the Badgers. The Terrapins are 5-2 with losses coming to ranked West Virginia and Ohio State teams. And Maryland is coming off a convincing victory vs. Iowa. The Badgers were off last week but continue to have questions at quarterback. If the Terps are able to get a lead and make Wisconsin play from behind and have to pass with Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy, Maryland could spring the upset and push the Badgers further down the pecking order in the wide-open West. Wisconsin is No. 13 in the Big Ten in passing (141.0 ypg). Maryland is No. 11 in pass defense (250.3 ypg). Which struggling unit will rise up?

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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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