Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, June 14, 2016
This is the penultimate week of the Big Ten schedule. And the action figures to be at a peak, as all 14 schools will be in action headlined by Ohio State?s visit to Michigan State in what could be a de facto Big Ten East championship game.
Last season, the Spartans invaded Ohio State and knocked off the No. 3 Buckeyes, 17-14, with backup Tyler O?Connor at the controls. The loss effectively killed Ohio State?s Big Ten and national title hopes while helping propel the Spartans to the Big Ten championship and playoff bid. No doubt, the Buckeyes haven?t forgotten. Check this out: Ohio State has won its last five trips to East Lansing, last losing in 1999.
This is the Best of Week 12.
Best game: Ohio State at Michigan State. The Spartans have a perpetual chip on their shoulder, playing the disrespect card better than anyone else in the nation. And Michigan State has no fear of Ohio State, toppling the Buckeyes last year in Columbus en route to winning the rugged Big Ten East. It is the only Big Ten regular-season loss for Urban Meyer.
Best quarterback matchup: The clash between Iowa?s C.J. Beathard and Illinois? Wes Lunt could be good. Beathard is one of the Big Ten?s top signal-callers, able to manage a game and also make plays coming off a brilliant 12-win season. Lunt has yet to fulfill expectations as he enters his senior season after transferring from Oklahoma State. Maybe a new staff will bring out the best in Lunt.
Best head coach matchup: Has to be Ohio State?s Urban Meyer vs. Michigan State?s Mark Dantonio. These two are the gold standard of Big Ten coaching, as OSU and MSU have won the Big Ten each season since 2013. Michigan State in 2013 and 2015; Ohio State in 2014. And the Buckeyes won the league in 2009, while the Spartans won a share of the 2010 crown. Want more? These two have the only two playoff berths from the Big Ten, with Meyer guiding the Buckeyes to the 2014 national title and Dantonio earning a playoff bid last year. Dantonio and Meyer are 2-2 vs. each other.
Best coordinator matchup: It will be fun to watch Indiana OC Kevin Johns take on new Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown. Johns pushes the buttons on one of the Big Ten?s most effective offenses, but he has work to do as the attack folds in a new quarterback. IU led the Big Ten in scoring last year (36.5 ppg) and was No. 1 overall (504.3 ypg). Brown brings a wealth of experience to Ann Arbor, as his Boston College defense ranked No. 1 in the nation in 2015. His defense could be one of the best in the nation this fall, especially if the linebacking corps comes together.
Upset alert: Don?t discount Rutgers? chances of beating Penn State. The Scarlet Knights came close to toppling the Nittany Lions in their Big Ten debut in 2014, but Penn State won the game late in the fourth quarter. Rutgers knows if it wants to get a foothold in the rugged Big Ten East and win some recruiting battles along the Eastern Seaboard, it needs to beat Penn State on the field.
- The visit from Wisconsin will be daunting for Purdue. The Badgers-Boilermaker series has been a real-life Roadrunner vs. the Coyote episode. Wisconsin has won 10 in a row and 12 of 14 ? often in crushing fashion: 62-17 ? 41-10 ? 37-0 ? 34-13 ? 38-14. Purdue hasn?t beaten the Badgers in West Lafayette since 1997 (Joe Tiller?s first season), losing six in a row in Ross-Ade Stadium to UW.
- Iowa has beaten Illinois seven of the last eight meetings. The last Fighting Illini victory came in 2008, a 27-24 win in Champaign.
- Rutgers-Penn State could be a real blossoming rivalry, though the Nittany Lions are 24-2 all-time vs. the Scarlet Knights and have won nine in a row. RU almost beat Penn State in its first Big Ten game, falling 13-10 at home in 2014. The Nittany Lions won, 28-3, last year in State College.
- Indiana-Michigan has been fun of late. The Hoosiers made the Wolverines sweat last year in a 48-41 Michigan win in Bloomington. In 2013, Michigan took a wild 63-47 victory in Ann Arbor. And it was 42-35 Michigan in 2010, and 36-33 Wolverines in 2009. The Hoosiers have been oh-so-close to notching their first win vs. Michigan since 1987.
- Northwestern-Minnesota has been a good series, as the teams have split the last 12 meetings. NU has taken four of the last six but lost the last time in Dinkytown in 2014.
- Maryland and Nebraska never have met.
Ranking the games of Week 12
1. Ohio State at Michigan State
2. Northwestern at Minnesota
3. Iowa at Illinois
4. Penn State at Rutgers
5. Indiana at Michigan
6. Maryland at Nebraska
7. Wisconsin at Purdue