Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, November 24, 2015
The final weekend of the season, also known as Rivalry Week, is here.
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And, to no surprise, there is no shortage of storylines.
There is Urban vs. Jim, Part I, in ?The Game.? Michigan State can take the East division banner with a home win vs. Penn State. And Nebraska, Indiana, Minnesota and Illinois all need one more victory to reach six wins and guaranteed bowl eligibility.
See my Week 13 Big Ten previews below:
Iowa (11-0, 7-0) at Nebraska (5-6, 3-4) – 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC The Hawkeyes continue to dance with perfection, taking an 11-0 mark to Lincoln. Iowa already has wrapped up its first West title. But, it must win-out vs. Nebraska and in the Big Ten title game if it hopes to land a playoff spot. That might be easier said than done. Nebraska has had an extra week to prepare for this rivalry game coming off an open week and is one win away from bowl eligibility. Yes, the Huskers have their warts-offensive line and pass defense-but this still is an explosive offense and a defense with some talent. And never underestimate the program?s pride. The Hawkeyes have excelled with a deep collection of running backs, the swagger and big arm of QB C.J. Beathard and a solid defense. Yes, a signature win is lacking, although the Hawkeyes continue to take care of business in a blue-collar fashion.
Indiana (5-6, 1-6) at Purdue (2-9, 1-6) – noon ET, BTN (watch on BTN2Go) The battle for the Old Oaken Bucket continues. And-after snapping a six-game losing skid last week–IU has a lot on the line: Win, and become bowl eligible for the first time since 2007 and just the second since 1993. Purdue is looking to play spoiler and earn back the Bucket to put a salve on yet another dreary season. Indiana has taken command of the series by winning the last two (both in Bloomington). The last time the Hoosiers won three in a row from the Boilermakers was when they had a four-game winning streak from 1944-47. This will be the first meeting in West Lafayette since 2012. The Hoosiers are looking to win consecutive conference road games on the field for the first time since 1993 after snapping a 12-game Big Ten road slide last week at Maryland. The Boilermakers struggle up front on both sides of the ball. Purdue is 13th in rushing (129.6 ypg) and last vs. the rush (206.4 ypg). Even if IU?s Jordan Howard doesn?t play (he hurt a knee last week), the Hoosiers can pound Devine Redding. The Boilermakers had to turn to Austin Appleby at QB after David Blough left with a head injury last week at Iowa. Appleby played well and gives the attack hope if Blough can?t go.
Maryland (2-9, 0-7) at Rutgers (4-7, 1-6) – noon ET, BTN (watch on BTN2Go)
Two teams playing out the string. Maryland has lost eight in a row, blowing a 21-3 lead last week at home and falling to Indiana. The Terps are one of four power conference teams that are winless in conference play, joining Boston College, Kansas and Oregon State. In fact, Maryland is 0-7 in conference play for the first time in school history. Rutgers snapped a four-game losing skid with a victory at Army last week. Let?s hope this year?s meeting matches the excitement of last year?s. Maryland led 35-10 late in the second quarter but blew that 25-point lead in a 41-38 home loss. The Terrapins scored just three points in the second half. Ironically, RU?s only Big Ten win this season was a 25-point comeback at Indiana. Rutgers has played in a bowl game in nine of the last 10 seasons. However, its streak is in major jeopardy. If the Scarlet Knights finish 5-7, there is an outside chance that they could make a bowl game if enough eligible teams don?t fill all of the postseason slots.
Ohio State (10-1, 6-1) at Michigan (9-2, 6-1) – noon ET, ABC
?The Game? lost some luster with Ohio State getting stunned by Michigan State last week. Still, the winner can take the East if Michigan State loses to Penn State. What will be the mind-set of the Buckeyes coming off the upset loss that saw star RB Ezekiel Elliott rip his coaches in the postgame? Ohio State is coming off one of its worst offensive games in years, as the Buckeyes were held to a season-low 14 points and 132 yards. Ohio State?s defense allowed 201 rush yards against Michigan State, but it wasn?t really tested through the air against backup quarterbacks. The Buckeyes will have to deal with hot Jake Rudock, who has thrown for 1,033 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions in his last three games. As for the Michigan defense, it has been much better at home, allowing a total of 57 points in six games. Ohio State has won 10 of the last 11 meetings. The Buckeyes? last loss in the series came in 2011 in Ann Arbor in a matchup between Brady Hoke and Luke Fickell. Oh, and we can't forget to mention that this is Urban Meyer vs. Jim Harbaugh, Part I.
Wisconsin (8-3, 5-2) at Minnesota (5-6, 2-5) – 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN (watch on BTN2Go) The Golden Gophers need one more victory for bowl eligibility. The Badgers? They are playing for pride and bowl positioning. Bottom line: This has been a frustrating season for both programs. The Golden Gophers snapped a four-game skid last week vs. Illinois. Minnesota has lost 11 straight games against Wisconsin, which is the third-longest active losing streak by one Big Ten team against another. The Gophers had an 11-point lead last year in Madison but lost 34-24 as the Badgers won the West division. The Gophers have yet to put a complete game together on offense in conference play. Minnesota?s defense has been beat up all season and it has shown lately. Wisconsin has been better on the road than at home this season, going 3-0 away from Madison and winning six straight dating back to last season. (UW lost a neutral site game to Alabama this year.) The Badgers offense has struggled at times, but the defense has been great, leading the nation in scoring defense (12.4).
Penn State (7-4, 4-3) at Michigan State (10-1, 6-1) – 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN It?s all there for the taking for the Spartans: Beat the Nittany Lions, and win the East to advance to the Big Ten title game for the third time in five years. Penn State is looking to play spoiler after being eliminated from the Big Ten East race last week. A win would be the biggest under James Franklin. He is 0-4 against ranked teams as Penn State head coach. Overall, he?s 1-12 against ranked teams with nine losses coming by double digits. A big question: Will Michigan State QB Connor Cook be able to play after missing last week?s win at Ohio State with a shoulder injury? If not, the Spartans showed they can operate under center with Tyler O?Connor and Damion Terry, a strong rush game (203 rush yards last week) and stout defense (132 yards allowed to OSU). Penn State does a good job at getting to the quarterback. They have 44 sacks this season, which is tied for the most nationally. They are also third nationally with 97 tackles for loss.
Northwestern (9-2, 5-2) vs. Illinois (5-6, 2-5) – 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU A lot is on the line for both squads at Soldier Field. Illinois needs one more victory for bowl eligibility, while the Wildcats are looking for a 10th victory to better position themselves for a possible New Year?s Day Six bowl. This is familiar ground for the Illini, as Illinois won last season in Evanston, 47-33, to become bowl eligible. Northwestern has won four in a row and is looking for its fourth 10-win season, also doing so in 1903, 1995, and 2012. This is just the seventh time the Wildcats have won nine games in their history. Neither team has a boffo offense, but NU?s ability to run the ball with Justin Jackson may prove to be the difference. And Northwestern?s defense also is a cut-above, ranking in the Top 25 nationally in all four major categories. The Wildcats are ranked ninth in scoring defense and 11th in total defense. They have held seven of their 10 opponents to fewer than 20 points. And if the game is close, give the nod to NU, which has won five games by seven points or fewer this season. They were 4-8 in games decided by eight points or fewer in the previous two seasons.
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