Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, June 12, 2015
Trick or treat! This is an abbreviated schedule with just five games on the slate.
Minnesota beat Michigan for the Little Brown Jug last season for the first time since 2005 and just the fourth time since 1967. The last time the Gophers won two in a row vs. the Wolverines? It was when Minnesota won four meetings in succession from 1960-63.
Penn State is 14-4 vs. Illinois since joining the Big Ten. The Illini last won in State College in 2010, but Illinois did beat the Nittany Lions last season in Champaign.
The Hawkeyes blew an early 14-point lead and fell in College Park, 38-31, last season. Iowa may have to beat a re-tooling Maryland squad in Iowa City this season if it wants any hope of contending in the West.
Wisconsin whacked Rutgers last year, taking a 37-0 decision in Piscataway fueled by 298 yards rushing. This will be the Scarlet Knights? first trip to Madison.
Nebraska has played Purdue twice since joining the Big Ten-and the Cornhuskers have waxed the Boilermakers each time, winning 44-7 in West Lafayette in 2013 and 35-14 last year in Lincoln in which Nebraska looked sluggish but still blocked two punts.
Northwestern, Indiana, Michigan State and Ohio State are off.
Game of the week: Michigan probably will be the underdog when it visits Minnesota for a prime-time battle for the iconic Little Brown Jug. The Golden Gophers won last year in Ann Arbor, 30-14, in a game that may have been the ultimate undoing of Brady Hoke and A.D. Dave Brandon with the inexplicable handling of injured QB Shane Morris. Minnesota will be good-maybe the best team in the West. But if the Wolverines are playing well, especially on offense, they may be able to prevail in Jim Harbaugh?s first game vs. the Gophers.
Best quarterback matchup: Illinois? Wes Lunt vs. Penn State?s Christian Hackenberg, who each could be NFL signal-callers. Each is coming off an uneven season. Lunt?s 2014 was hampered by injury (leg fracture) that limited him to eight games. Hackenberg didn?t receive much support from a line that struggled to protect him, as he was sacked 44 times and threw 15 interceptions. Each quarterback could be primed for rebound seasons.
Best head coach matchup: It has to be Jim Harbaugh vs. Jerry Kill. Harbaugh brings an NFL cachet to the sideline along with plenty of glitz in a career that has seen him win big at the highest levels of the sport in the Pac-12 and NFL before returning to his alma mater. Kill is the quintessential working-class coach who worked his way up the back roads of the sport with stops in places like Saginaw Valley State and Emporia State. Harbaugh and Kill are two of the Big Ten?s best.
Best coordinator matchup: How about Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley vs. Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker? Yep. During Maryland?s debut campaign in the Big Ten in 2014, Locksley coordinated the highest scoring offense for the program in four seasons. The Terps averaged 28.5 points, which is the most since Maryland averaged 32.2 points in 2010. Parker has been with Kirk Ferentz since Ferentz arrived in Iowa City in 1999. He?s an astute defensive backs coach whose Hawkeye defense always play with discipline and toughness.
Upset alert: If Purdue?s offense takes flight with some run-pass balance, the Boilers may have a shot to beat visiting Nebraska on Oct. 31. A big question will be what type of quarterback play Purdue is getting. QB play has been ineffective in Darrell Hazell?s two seasons. The Huskers are transitioning to Mike Riley?s new schemes. How will the personnel fit?
Ranking Week 9 Games
1. Michigan at Minnesota
2. Maryland at Iowa
3. Illinois at Penn State
4. Nebraska at Purdue
5. Rutgers at Wisconsin
|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.|