Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, October 22, 2015
A very abbreviated week of action with just five games. Why? Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue and Michigan all are off.
Maryland and Penn State have a burgeoning rivalry. And last year?s meeting in State College helped fuel it. Maryland was hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty before kickoff when its three captains refused to shake the hands of the three Nittany Lion captains gathered at midfield for the game's coin toss. Maryland went on to take a thrilling 20-19 victory after booting a go-ahead field goal with 51 seconds left and later apologized for the coin toss snub. No doubt, Penn State hasn?t forgotten.
Michigan State has won six in a row and 14 of 16 from Indiana. But one of those triumphs was in East Lansing in 2001. So, there is hope vs. Mark Dantonio?s Spartan juggernaut, right?
Illinois has just three wins vs. Wisconsin since 1992 (3-14-1), while Rutgers lost 56-17 last year at Ohio State.
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Here's a collection of our Week 8 football preview clips on YouTube (get the full menu by clicking in the upper left corner). Then read our Best of Week Eight below.[youtube https://youtu.be/M079c5FtdSg?list=PL2RRF9GtC9s2ummJSViU02NG2f-Xt7Q6p]
BEST GAME: Wisconsin?s trip to Illinois is a big one in the West Division. The winner of this game will be in second place in the division, a game behind Iowa in the loss column. The loser will have an uphill battle to catch the Hawkeyes since both teams have already lost to Iowa. The Badgers are coming off a workmanlike victory at home vs. Purdue. Illinois was off last week. What?s notable is each squad may be without its top running back.
That?s notable, because this one may come down to which team can run the best. Wisconsin?s Corey Clement hasn?t played since the opener because of a sports hernia. He dressed last week and seems to be closer to playing. Conversely, Illinois? Josh Ferguson sounds very doubtful after missing the team?s last game with a shoulder injury. This could turn into a passing battle between the Badgers? Joel Stave and the Illini?s Wes Lunt. The Fighting Illini have just three wins vs. Wisconsin since 1992 (3-14-1).
PLAYER ON THE SPOT: If Northwestern wants to get back on track, many things need to get fixed. But the most important is QB Clayton Thorson. He has become turnover prone, tossing five interceptions in addition to losing fumbles and getting sacked nine times in 2015. The redshirt freshman has been abysmal on the road with no TDs, three picks, a 44-percent completion percentage and a scant 3.52 yards per attempt. The last two games, Thorson has completed just 48 percent of his passes (30-of-62) for 231 yards with one TD and two interceptions.
BEST MATCHUP: The Indiana offense vs. the Michigan State defense will be interesting. The Hoosiers scored 52 points last week ? and lost. This is a prolific attack that is No. 3 in the Big Ten in scoring (34.1 ppg). Thank QB Nate Sudfeld, who is coming off a career-best 464 yards passing and four TDs vs. Rutgers. IU also can run the ball even with RB Jordan Howard out with injury, as Devine Redding and Mike Majette can tote it.
Michigan State?s defense is talented but hasn?t been up to its usual standards in 2015. Injuries have been an issue. The Spartans have had problems against spread teams. They are 10th in the conference in pass defense, allowing 231 passing yards per game. The Hoosiers lead the conference in passing, averaging 284 yards per game. Hmmmm.
BEST QUARTERBACK MATCHUP: Gotta like the clash between Indiana?s Nate Sudfeld and Michigan State?s Connor Cook, two of the Big Ten?s best. Indiana?s 2014 season went to pot after Sudfeld was lost to a shoulder (non-throwing) injury at Iowa on Oct. 11. He?s a steady passer who knows how to run Kevin Wilson?s attack. Cook is a legit Heisman candidate. The senior is 30-3 in his career as Michigan State?s starting quarterback, which is the best winning percentage (90.9 percent) among active FBS QBs.
BEST COACHING MATCHUP: Let?s go with Northwestern?s Pat Fitzgerald vs. Nebraska?s Mike Riley. The Fitzgerald?s team may be at a crossroads of sorts in 2015 as it arrives in Lincoln the losers of two in a row after a 5-0 start. And, the two defeats have been brutal, as Northwestern has been outscored, 78-10. Riley?s debut in Lincoln has been ? ahem ? interesting. No school has suffered more heartbreak with four late-game losses. But, the tide may be turning, as the Cornhuskers have some momentum coming off a dominating win at Minnesota. Fitz is an ?old soul? who already has been on the job 10 year despite being just 40. At 62, Riley could be Fitzgerald?s father. He?s a smart coach who knows how to maximize his talent.
BEST COORDINATOR MATCHUP: Bet you didn?t know that Rutgers is No. 2 in the Big Ten in scoring (34.3 ppg) and No. 4 in total offense (448.8 ypg). Credit first-year coordinator Ben McDaniels, who has a balanced offense with the No. 3 rushing game (199.2 ypg) and the No. 5 passing attack (249.7 ypg). He will lock up with Ohio State defensive coordinators Chris Ash and Luke Fickell, whose unit had issues for the third straight week.
The Buckeyes allowed Indiana?s Zander Diamont to run for a 79-yard touchdown. Then, Maryland?s Perry Hills ran for 170 yards and Penn State?s Saquon Barkley had 194 rushing yards last Saturday. The Bucks rank 11th in the conference in rushing defense, allowing 158.7 yards per game on the ground. What is going on with Ohio State?s defense, which is No. 6 overall in the Big Ten (302.3 ypg)? There is talent. Now is the time to rise as the season hits the homestretch.
UPSET ALERT: The Wildcats go to Lincoln in what has been one of the most fun matchups in the Big Ten in recent years. Northwestern is just 1-3 vs. the Cornhuskers since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, losing the last three. But the games-for the most part-have been close. Northwestern won, 28-25, in 2011 in Lincoln with a backup quarterback. However, the Cats lost, 29-28, in 2012; 27-24 in 2013 and 38-17 last year. The 2013 game featured the iconic Hail Mary TD heave from Nebraska?s Ron Kellogg to Jordan Westerkamp.
RANKING THE GAMES FOR SATURDAY
1. Wisconsin at Illinois
2. Northwestern at Nebraska
3. Indiana at Michigan State
4. Penn State vs. Maryland (at Baltimore)
5. Ohio State at Rutgers
And have you seen these Extreme Highlights?[youtube https://youtu.be/Y7B3PuvhdLs?list=PL2RRF9GtC9s3-8c9ZHFP1PVpYtF9R5iSv]
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