Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, September 18, 2017
Appetizer hour is dying down. It?s time to start the main course in earnest: conference action.
There are still more non-conference games (four) than Big Ten games (three) this week. And the lid was taken off Big Ten action in the opening week. But for the first time in 2017, this Saturday has multiple league games.
And no Big Ten tilt this Saturday is juicer than Penn State?s trip to Iowa. Both teams are 3-0 and playing well, especially the Nittany Lions. Penn State is clicking in all phases. Check out an offense that has scored 30 or more points in 10 consecutive games. But know this: Since 2000, Penn State has lost four of five games in Iowa City, but it did win in 2012 in Kinnick, 38-14.
In August, Michigan?s trip to Purdue didn?t look that interesting. But Jeff Brohm has quickly created a buzz in West Lafayette, as he has the Boilermakers playing well in every phase of the game. Has there been a more impressive first-year coach in America? Nope. Now, can 2-1 Purdue make its feel-good story even groovier with a win vs. No. 8 Michigan on Homecoming?
Here is a look at the Best of Week 4.
Best game: Penn State at Iowa. This is as good as it gets ? at least for this week. Both teams are unbeaten and thinking big. Could this be a preview of the Big Ten title game? No. 4 Penn State has won three in a row vs. the Hawkeyes and won the last time in Iowa City in 2012. And who can forget when the No. 3 Nittany Lions got upset in Iowa in 2008 on a last-second field goal?
Under-the-radar game: Rutgers at Nebraska. Rarely can you call a game in September a ?must win.? But, that?s the case for Nebraska when it welcomes Rutgers. The Cornhuskers are 1-2 for the second time in three years under Mike Riley and are coming off an embarrassing 21-17 home loss to Northern Illinois. Before Riley, NU had not started 1-2 since 1981. The Scarlet Knights have a bit of mojo coming off a 65-0 win vs. FCS Morgan State. Could RU win? And, if it does, what will the mood be in Lincoln? The Huskers haven?t started 1-3 since 1957. Nebraska is 3-0 all-time vs. the Scarlet Knights, winning in 2014 and 2015 as Big Ten foes.
Best head coach matchup: Penn State?s James Franklin vs. Iowa?s Kirk Ferentz. Franklin has arguably the hottest program in the Big Ten coming off a 2016 Big Ten title. No league school has been more impressive in the opening three weeks. Effervescent Franklin is building a juggernaut. The stoic Ferentz? He is the longest tenured coach in the nation (19 years at Iowa) with a tried and true formula based on physical football.
Best coordinator clash: Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm, who calls plays, vs. Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown. The Boilermakers have been an early-season surprise. And a big reason for that has been the offense, which is averaging 35.7 points. Purdue averages 173 yards rushing and 286.7 yards passing. The Wolverines had to replace 10 starters on defense but haven?t missed a beat. Michigan has the No. 2 defense in the Big Ten (208.0 ypg) led by guys like Devin Bush, Khaleke Hudson and Chase Winovich.
Best QB battle: Penn State?s Trace McSorley vs. Iowa?s Nate Stanley. McSorley is the best QB in the Big Ten, hitting 67 percent of his passes for 753 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. Stanley has been a revelation for the Hawkeyes in his first season as a starter, hitting 61 percent of his passes for 655 yards with a league-high 10 touchdown passes and just one pick.
Best chance for an upset: Purdue vs. Michigan? If you didn?t think coaching mattered, check out the Boilermakers under first-year boss Jeff Brohm. He knows how to motivate, prepare, scheme and call a game. And defensive coordinator Nick Holt has his unit playing hard ? all of the time. Speaking of defense, the Wolverines? unit has grown up quickly and may be the best in the Big Ten. But the offense? Issues persist at quarterback and especially in the red zone. And how good is the line? This could be a VERY interesting game.
Player on the spot: Michigan State RB L.J. Scott. If the Spartans want to continue authoring a story of redemption following a 3-9 season, Scott needs to roll. He bounced back from a bad performance in the opener to run for 86 yards and a touchdown and also catch a touchdown pass in the last game. As a team, the Spartans ran for 296 yards vs. Western Michigan the last time out, which was the most they?ve had in a game since running for 330 yards against Indiana in 2014.
Bye week: Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
WEEK 4 GAME RANKINGS
1. Penn State at Iowa
2. Michigan at Purdue
3. Notre Dame at Michigan State
4. Rutgers at Nebraska
5. UCF at Maryland
6. UNLV at Ohio State
7. Georgia Southern at Indiana