Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, November 5, 2015
It?s a full load of games this Saturday, as all 14 teams are in action. But this comes with a warning: There is a noticeable lack of marquee appeal. Still, don?t be lulled to sleep. Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa all look to continue their perfect marches. Will any of the unbeaten fall?
Yes, Nebraska is smarting for its stupefying loss at Purdue, but it?s desperate, dangerous and playing at home. A victory over visiting Michigan State-off last week–would be a nice elixir for the Huskers. Beware, Sparty. The Cornhuskers won their first two meetings vs. the Spartans as a member of the Big Ten. But the Spartans have won the last two encounters, including a 41-28 victory in Lincoln in 2013.
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Ohio State is coming off a bye and faces a Minnesota squad coming off a home loss to Michigan in which it outplayed the Wolverines and should have won ? but lost at the end. Will the Gophers have anything left in the tank after laying it on the line to win one for Jerry Kill? Know this: Since 1969, Ohio State has lost just twice to Minnesota (1981 and 2000). The Buckeyes won, 31-24, in the Twin Cities last season.
Iowa lost three in a row to Indiana from 1998-2000. Since then, the Hawkeyes have gone 8-3 vs. the Hoosiers. But Iowa lost the last time it visited Bloomington in 2012. Could it happen again? If the Hawkeyes get behind or try to trade points with the Hoosiers, they may be in trouble ? big trouble.
Penn State had a six-game winning streak vs. Northwestern before the Wildcats took a 29-6 decision last year in State College. The last time NU beat the Nittany Lions in Evanston was 2003. This is the lone Week 10 Big Ten clash that pits teams with winning records.
Illinois and Purdue have battled annually for the Cannon since 1943. The Boilermakers have won three of the last four meetings. The Illini are desperate to end a three-game slide, while Purdue hopes to build on its first Big Ten victory in Ross-Ade Stadium since 2012 after it took down Nebraska. An Illinois triumph would put it back on a bowl track. A Purdue win would add further validation to the Darrell Hazell regime.
This will be Rutgers? first trip to Michigan, which won in Piscataway last season, 26-24. And this will be Wisconsin?s first trip to Maryland. The Badgers beat the Terps, 45-7, last year.
Let?s take a look at the Best of Week 10.
BEST GAME: Penn State?s visit to Northwestern in an underrated affair. Northwestern won last year, 29-6, in State College, Pa., giving James Franklin his first loss as Penn State coach. That was the only NU win in the last seven meetings against Penn State. Northwestern has lost three straight meetings in Evanston vs. the Nittany Lions, last winning in 2003. Penn State needs this game to keep its East Division hopes alive. The Nittany Lions are 4-1 in Big Ten play and have games against Michigan and Michigan State in the final two weeks of the year. They could stay in the conference title mix with a win against Northwestern.
PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Illinois is just two wins from bowl eligibility but is mired in a three-game slide that is threatening to derail that goal. A win at Purdue would be huge. To get it, the Fighting Illini offense needs to get on track. And the availability of RB Josh Ferguson is murky. QB Wes Lunt needs to have a big day. His eyes should light up knowing Nebraska?s Ryker Fyfe threw for 407 yards and four TDs vs. the Boilermakers last week in his first start. And only one Big Ten team is more generous in allowing opposing QBs to complete passes than Purdue (64.9 percent).
BEST MATCHUP: Watch the Penn State wideouts take on the Northwestern secondary. The Nittany Lions have an array of good pass catchers led by Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton, Saeed Blacknall, Geno Lewis and Brandon Polk. NU has a talented set of defensive backs with Nick VanHoose and Matthew Harris on the corners and Godwin Igwebuike and Traveon Henry at safety.
BEST QUARTERBACK MATCHUP: Iowa?s C.J. Beathard vs. Indiana?s Nate Sudfeld should be good. Beathard has not been 100 percent as of late but has been a revelation for this offense with his ability to stretch defenses with his arm. He?s a big reason why the Hawkeyes are 8-0 for the first time since 2009 and for the second time in school history. Sudfeld was rolling in 2014 before a shoulder injury vs. this same Iowa team ended his season. He leads the Big Ten in passing (292.7 ypg), total offense (295.1 ypg) and pass efficiency.
BEST COACHING MATCHUP: Mark Dantonio vs. Mike Riley. Dantonio has Michigan State in a golden age. Michigan State has won 21 of its last 22 games vs. Big Ten foes and is 8-0 for the sixth time in school history and the first time since the 2010 season. The Spartans are trying to start 9-0 for the first time since 1966 when it went 9-0-1. And the Spartans? 12-game winning streak is the program?s longest since 1955-56. Got all that? Good. Yes, Riley is struggling in his debut in Lincoln. But he?s an accomplished coach who also has worked in the NFL and CFL and was coached by Bear Bryant in college.
BEST COORDINATOR MATCHUP: It will be fun to watch Indiana offensive coordinator Kevin Johns match wits with Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker. Indiana?s offense ranks No. 1 in the conference overall (467.6 ypg) and is No. 3 in the Big Ten in scoring (33.1 ppg). Iowa is No. 3 in the conference in total defense (287.6 ypg) and is No. 4 in the league in scoring (15.3 ppg). They say good defense usually stops good offense. We shall see.
UPSET ALERT: Iowa needs to be wary as it wades into Bloomington. The Hoosiers are well-rested coming off a bye. Yes, the Indiana defense still has issues, ranking last in the Big Ten in scoring (37.3 ppg) and total defense (508.6 ypg). But the Hoosier offense makes it dangerous. The Hawkeyes must shorten the game by controlling the ball with their ground game while also playing with the lead. But if a shootout breaks out, Iowa may have issues keeping up.
RANKING THE GAMES OF NOV. 7
1. Penn State at Northwestern
2. Michigan State at Nebraska
3. Iowa at Indiana
4. Minnesota at Ohio State
5. Illinois at Purdue
6. Wisconsin at Maryland
7. Rutgers at Michigan