Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, October 25, 2016
Welcome to Week 9, which has a trio of hefty matchups with Michigan at Michigan State, Nebraska at Wisconsin and Northwestern at Ohio State. This could be a season-defining Saturday.
Here is a look at the Best of Week 9.
Best game: Nebraska?s trip to Wisconsin is a big West Division tilt. The Cornhuskers are unbeaten, but many question their credentials for playing a schedule that so far has lacked oomph. This trip to Madison will be by far NU?s toughest test yet. How will the Huskers fare? The Cornhuskers have lost the last three vs. the Badgers, including three in a row in Madison. NU is 1-4 vs. UW as a Big Ten member. The Badgers are a strong squad finishing up a brutal start to the Big Ten season that has seen Wisconsin play at Michigan State, at Michigan, vs. Ohio State, at Iowa and now vs. Nebraska.
Best quarterback matchup: Nebraska?s Tommy Armstrong vs. Wisconsin?s Alex Hornibrook. Armstrong is enjoying a big senior season in a career that has been marked by inconsistency. Armstrong is a primo athlete who still can make some dubious decisions with the ball. But he?s rolling for 7-0 Nebraska this year with 11 TD tosses and five picks. Hornibrook is an emerging talent who has wrestled the job from Bart Houston, who won the gig in camp but now is being worked into games for a few series to offer a change of pace. Hornibrook is more than capable of executing Paul Chryst?s offense, a cool-operating lefty with touch and savvy.
Best head coaching matchup: Jim Harbaugh vs. Mark Dantonio. This is a beaut. Harbaugh is the big gun and is riding high, as his Wolverines are 7-0 and No. 2 in the nation. He?s brash, bold and determined to make the Wolverines a champion. To do so, Harbaugh must find a way to beat Dantonio, the current king of Michigan and the defending Big Ten champ. And his Spartans are reeling, riding the program?s first five-game losing skid since 1991. No doubt, toppling Michigan would cure a lot of ills in East Lansing.
Best coordinator battle: Northwestern defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz vs. Ohio State offensive coordinators Ed Warinner and Tim Beck. Hankwitz has done a good job building his unit in Evanston. In fact, this may be the most dynamic and athletic Wildcat defense every to stroll campus led by linebacker Anthony Walker, a sure-fire NFLer. The Buckeyes have a top signal-caller in QB J.T. Barrett, but this offense seems to be stagnating because of spotty line play and a lack of playmaking wideouts. Now would be a good time to put it all together.
Best chance for an upset: Nebraska could walk into Madison and dump Wisconsin. It would not be a surprise. But the Badgers have dominated the Huskers, winning three in a row and four of five since NU joined the Big Ten. The last time the Cornhuskers were in Madison, they lost 59-24. UW also beat Nebraska 70-31 in the 2012 Big Ten title game. In 2011, Wisconsin dumped Nebraska 48-17 in Camp Randall Stadium.
Player on the spot: Indiana QB Richard Lagow. The Hoosiers have lost three in a row. A big issue: Offense. In particular, QB play has been spotty. No doubt, Lagow has been off his game. He has 12 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions on the season. And he has tossed five picks in the last three games. With Lagow struggling, the Hoosier ground game has floundered, notching just 84 yards on the ground last week at Northwestern. Indiana had 88 vs. Nebraska and 99 vs. Ohio State in its previous two losses. The Hoosiers have scored just five touchdowns and 51 points in the last three games.
Matchup to watch: Nebraska offense vs. Wisconsin defense. The Badgers have one of the top defenses in the nation. The Cornhuskers are No. 3 in the conference in scoring (34.1 ppg); No. 3 in total offense (447.4 ypg); No. 5 in rushing (211.4 ypg); No. 4 in passing (236.0 ypg). Wisconsin is No. 2 in the Big Ten in scoring defense (14.3 ppg); No. 3 in total defense (300.6 ypg); No. 2 in rush defense (102.9 ypg). The Huskers have a banged up line; can it hold up vs. a tough Badger front seven?
More Week 9 notes:
- Michigan goes to Michigan State to renew their intense rivalry. The Spartans are 7-1 in the last eight games vs. Michigan, which hasn?t won in East Lansing since 2007. Michigan owes the Spartans after losing one of the wildest games in college football annals last season when Wolverine punter Blake O?Neill fumbled a snap with 10 seconds left and the Spartans? Jalen Watts-Jackson made the play of his life by returning it for a touchdown and a 27-23 win on the game?s final play.
- Northwestern travels to Ohio State, as the Buckeyes lead the all-time series, 60-14-1. But NU is hot, winners of three in a row with an offense that?s on fire. Conversely, the Buckeyes are coming off a stunning loss at Penn State, their first defeat of the season. The Wildcats? only win vs. OSU since 1971 came in 2004 in Evanston under the late Randy Walker. This will be NU?s first trip the Horseshoe since 2007, a 58-7 beat down administered by Ohio State.
- Penn State is 13-2 vs. Purdue, winning seven in a row. Can the Nittany Lions get up after that emotional win vs. Ohio State? The Boilermakers are playing with energy and abandon under interim coach Gerad Parker, pushing Nebraska to the limit last week.
- Minnesota has won four of the last five vs. Illinois. The Gophers have won their last two, while the Fighting Illini have lost five of six games with quarterback attrition being one of many issues.
- Iowa and Rutgers are off.
RANKING WEEK 9 GAMES
1. Nebraska at Wisconsin
2. Michigan at Michigan State
3. Northwestern at Ohio State
4. Maryland at Indiana
5. Minnesota at Illinois
6. Penn State at Purdue