Week 12 Big Ten Previews: Ready for Nebraska at Wisconsin?
Two non-conference games are tucked into this mid-November Saturday, which rarely happens this late in the season in the Big Ten. The games: Penn State hosting Temple and Northwestern traveling to Notre Dame.
But a key West Division battle is what highlights the Week 12 slate.
That, of course, would be Nebraska at Wisconsin, in a highly anticipated battle of 4-1 teams tied atop the Big Ten West, along with Minnesota.
Speaking of the Golden Gophers, they have a mammoth game of their own vs. Big Ten East leader Ohio State, which is fresh off that impressive win last Saturday night at Michigan State.
Here’s a look at Week 12.
1. Nebraska (8-1, 4-1) at Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1) – 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC. This looks like it could be a de facto Big Ten West title game, but plenty of big contests remain for each school down the stretch. But the winner of this rematch of the 2012 Big Ten championship game, no doubt, will have a big leg up in the chase to reach the 2014 Big Ten championship game. Each team is playing well. The Badgers have won four in a row behind a monster defense that is No. 1 in the nation (251.1 ypg). The Cornhuskers are coming off a bye, winners of three in a row, playing well on both sides of the ball (No. 3 in the league in scoring offense—40.4 ppg–and No. 3 in scoring defense—19.7). The key for each team will be the play of its quarterback. Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong hasn’t been on top of his game of late, coming off an uneven effort vs. Purdue (8-of-21 passing). The Badgers continue to balance a two-quarterback system that seems to be improving each time out. And how will Ameer Abdullah look after leaving the last game with a knee injury? It will be fun watching him and Melvin Gordon on the same field.
2. Ohio State (8-1, 5-0) at Minnesota (7-2, 4-1) – noon ET, ABC. This game didn’t look great in August. But it looks juicy now. Each team is coming off a big victory, with the Buckeyes seizing control of the East with a resounding win at Michigan State. Will OSU suffer an emotional letdown coming off the big victory in East Lansing? No player is hotter than Buckeye QB J.T. Barrett. The Golden Gophers are coming off a destruction of Iowa in which the offense showed life in all phases. QB Mitch Leidner had one of his best games ever vs. the Hawkeyes. OSU must win to keep its playoff hopes alive, while the Gophers need to win to keep pace in the West with Nebraska and Wisconsin. History smiles on the Buckeyes. Minnesota is 7-43 all-time vs. Ohio State, losing the last eight games and 24 of 25. The only Gophers’ win in that span was in 2000.
3. Michigan State (7-2, 4-1) at Maryland (6-3, 3-2) – 8 p.m. ET, BTN (Watch on BTN2Go). How will the Spartans respond after getting emasculated at home by Ohio State? MSU’s playoff hopes have been scrapped. And its Big Ten title hopes have been put on life support. The Spartans defense was exposed by Ohio State, allowing 49 points. Can Maryland find similar holes? The Terps were off last week coming off a big win at Penn State, but the may be with top wideout Stefon Diggs (kidney). Maryland already is bowl eligible and is playing for postseason positioning now in what has been a nice debut season in the Big Ten. Michigan State is 4-1 all-time vs. Maryland, but the teams haven’t met since 1950. That year, the Terps took a 34-7 win in East Lansing.
4. Iowa (6-3, 3-2) at Illinois (4-5, 1-4) – noon ET, BTN (Watch on BTN2Go). What will be the mind-set of the Hawkeyes? They are coming off a 51-14 evisceration at Minnesota that casts doubt on the rest of the season. Will Iowa bounce back or turtle up? The line play on both sides of the ball hasn’t lived up to expectations. Coming off a bye week, the Fighting Illini are clinging to their bowl life. The expected return of QB Wes Lunt figures to help Illinois’ cause. But it’s defense that remains a big issue in Champaign, as the Illini are last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (36.7 ppg) and total defense (483.1 ypg). This will be the first time Illinois has played Iowa since 2008, with the Illini winning in Memorial Stadium that year. The Hawkeyes are 8-3 in their last 11 games vs. the Fighting Illini. Iowa is 4-2 in its last six trips to Champaign.
5. Northwestern (3-6) at Notre Dame (7-2) – 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC. Each team comes into this game on a loss. The Fighting Irish saw a valiant comeback fall short at Arizona State that ended ND’s playoff hopes. QB Everett Golson is struggling with turnovers, committing five in the loss to the Sun Devils that torpedoed ASU’s playoff hopes. The Wildcats have their own issues with offense, ranking last in the league in scoring (18.0 ppg) and No. 13 in overall offense (322.7 ypg). The line struggles to get a push and there is little big-play ability. The teams haven’t met since the Wildcats famously went to South Bend in 1995 and stunned the Fighting Irish, 17-15, behind Pat Fitzgerald. That was an opening salvo in NU’s improbable march to the Rose Bowl. Could lightning strike twice for the Wildcats? A loss would eliminate NU from bowl consideration for a second season in a row.
6. Indiana (3-6, 0-5) at Rutgers (5-4, 1-4) – 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN (Watch on BTN2Go). The Hoosiers lost a hard-fought home game vs. Penn State in which the defense played one of its best games of the season. But the offense? Each of these teams still has bowl hopes. The Hoosiers have been lost since QB Nate Sudfeld suffered a season-ending injury. That has essentially killed the passing game with true freshman Zander Diamont at the controls. He has hit 46 percent of his passes for 103 yards with no TDs and two interceptions since Sudfeld went down. Bottom line: IU can’t pass, ranking 13th in the Big Ten (142.8 ypg). The Scarlet Knights are coming off a much-needed bye after enduring a killer three-game stretch that saw them lose lopsided games to Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin and get outscored 135-41 in the process. The play up front on both sides of the ball has struggled. But a win will make RU bowl eligible. Indiana is the only Big Ten school without a conference victory.
7. Temple (5-4) at Penn State (5-4) – noon ET, ESPN2. The Owls are slumping, losers of three of their last four. But the lone win was an impressive one, as Temple beat No. 23 East Carolina. The Nittany Lions’ struggles are well documented, but they did end a four-game losing streak last week at Indiana and are a win from bowl eligibility. The offense has been the issue, with the line getting little push which has short-circuited the ground game. Christian Hackenberg also is struggling, completing just 56 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns, 12 interceptions and 35 sacks. The Lions are No. 12 in the Big Ten in total offense (322.7 ypg) but have a terrific defense that is No. 3 in the nation (267.6 ypg). Penn State is 31-3-1 all-time vs. Temple. But the last three meetings have been close, with the Nittany Lions taking 22-13, 14-10 and 24-13 decisions.