Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, November 19, 2015

Welcome to the penultimate Saturday of the regular season. And, it?s a Saturday filled with some big games.

None is bigger than Michigan State at Ohio State in a battle between two of the best teams in the Big Ten. This game lost some luster when the Spartans fell at Nebraska two weeks ago. Still, it?s a biggie and each squad controls its destiny in the East. The Buckeyes can wrap up the division with a win vs. MSU and a loss by Michigan at Penn State.

Michigan won last year?s meeting against  Penn State, 18-13, in Ann Arbor to snap a four-game losing streak in the series. The last meeting in State College came two years ago when Penn State won 43-40 in four overtimes. That is the longest game in Big Ten history. Both of these clubs remain alive in the East Division race-so this is a big one.

Northwestern?s trip to Wisconsin will be rugged. The Badgers still have faint hopes to win the West; they need to win out and have Iowa drop its last two games. But a Wisconsin loss to NU or an Iowa win vs. Purdue this Saturday would give the division pennant to the Hawkeyes. The Wildcats beat Wisconsin last season, 20-14, in Evanston and are 5-4 in the last nine games vs. UW. However, NU hasn?t won in Madison since 2000, when it took a wild 47-44 triumph under the late Randy Walker.

Iowa has won two in a row and four of five from Purdue. But the last time the Boilermakers were in Iowa City-in 2012-they won. As mentioned, a win on Senior Day by the Hawkeyes would give them the West Division title and a trip to the Big Ten title game.

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Minnesota lost at Illinois last season. Before that, the Golden Gophers had won four in a row vs. the Fighting Illini. Illinois last won in the Twin Cities in 2009. Both teams are fighting for their bowl lives. The Illini need one more victory for bowl eligibility; the Golden Gophers-who have yet to win under freshly-minted coach Tracy Claeys–need two.

Maryland won at Indiana last season. Now, the Hoosiers will make their first trip to College Park since 1934, when IU took a 17-14 decision. The Hoosiers are backed up against the bowl wall needing two wins to reach the six-victory plateau. Indiana hasn?t been to a bowl since 2007. This is a must win for IU. The Terps are playing out the string.

Nebraska is off, while Rutgers plays a non-conference game at Army. The Scarlet Knights have won nine is a row vs. Army, as they play out what looks like a lost season.

BEST GAME: No doubt, it?s Michigan State at Ohio State, a game that has been hyped since the end of spring practice. The teams have split the last four meetings. The last time the home team won in this series was in 2007 when Ohio State won 24-17 in Mark Dantonio?s first season at Michigan State. In an odd twist, the road team has won four straight games in this series. This is the fourth straight time both of these teams are meeting as ranked teams and the third consecutive time with both in the Top 15.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Michigan State QB Connor Cook. He is coming off a tough outing last week vs. Maryland, not playing in the second half after injuring a shoulder. Cook struggled mightily before leaving, completing just 6-of-20 passes for 77 yards. He will need to have a big game if the Spartans want to leave Columbus with a win. The road has been an interesting place for MSU this season. The Spartans needed a TD in the final minute to beat Rutgers. They won on the game?s final play at Michigan and lost a 12-point lead in the final two minutes at Nebraska.

BEST MATCHUP: They won?t go head to head, but watch the defenses for Wisconsin and Northwestern. This will be a matchup of two of the best defenses in the nation. Both rank in the Top 12 in scoring defense and Top 18 in total defense. So, points could be at a premium this Saturday, especially when you consider neither team has a dynamic offense. Wisconsin?s defense has been a steel curtain at home this season. The Badgers have allowed 10 points or fewer in all six of their home games. They need to win on Saturday to keep their West Division hopes alive. However, they could also be eliminated if Iowa beats Purdue earlier in the day.

BEST QB MATCHUP: The battle between Michigan?s Jake Rudock and Penn State?s Christian Hackenberg should be good. But lets? go with Michigan State?s Connor Cook and Ohio State?s J.T. Barrett. Cook looks like a future first-round NFL draft choice, the belle of the ball when it comes to Big Ten quarterbacks. The guy is a great leader who makes those around him better. And he can sling it. Barrett has had a bizarre season, losing the starting job in September to Cardale Jones ? reclaiming the job ? getting bagged for OWI and suspended for a game ? getting the starting job back. Now, here we are, Barrett under center for a huge stretch of games. He isn?t coming off a great effort at Illinois, throwing for 150 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Still, Barrett is a special talent and leader who makes this OSU offense go in ways Jones can?t.

BEST COACHING MATCHUP: It has to be Mark Dantonio vs. Urban Meyer. These two guys have owned the Big Ten in recent years. Dantonio is 33-4 the last three seasons with a Big Ten title. Meyer is 48-3 at Ohio State since taking over in 2012, winning the national title last season. It just doesn?t get any better than this. Savor it.

BEST COORDINATOR MATCHUP: This entire story can?t be all Michigan State and Ohio State. So, let?s go with Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno vs. Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Drevno has done a good job pumping life into a Wolverine attack that averages 32.6 points and almost 400 yards. The offense has had to rely a lot on its passing game. Shoop?s defense isn?t up to the standard it set last year, but it?s still a solid unit that is No. 5 in the Big Ten in scoring (17.7 ppg) and No. 4 in total defense (311.2 ypg).

UPSET ALERT: Sure, Michigan State can take down Ohio State in The Horseshoe. Neither team has lived up to expectations this season, but each is capable of big things. As for pressure ? there is more on the Buckeyes, who are unbeaten and playing at home. And Ohio State hasn?t faced a foe of this caliber yet, while the Spartans have tangled with Oregon and Michigan.


1. Michigan State at Ohio State
2. Michigan at Penn State
3. Northwestern at Wisconsin
4. Illinois at Minnesota
5. Indiana at Maryland
6. Purdue at Iowa
7. Rutgers at Army


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