B1G Contenders Try To Live Up To Billing

By John Carey, November 6th, 2015

The second annual College Football Playoff rankings are upon us again and from now on will be the barometer we use to rank the top 25 teams in the nation. The Playoff Selection Committee ranked five of the teams from the conference in its initial rankings on Tuesday.

Ohio State was the highest of the five teams, coming in at No. 3. Fellow undefeated teams Michigan State and Iowa also rank in the top 10 at Nos. 7 and No. 9 respectively. After a narrow victory at Minnesota last Saturday, Michigan finds itself at No. 17 and Northwestern rounds out the group at No. 21.

Through the first nine weeks of the season, only three teams in the conference are under .500 and seven teams are already bowl-eligible.

With a victory over Minnesota this Saturday night, No. 3 Ohio State would tie the FBS record for consecutive regular-season conference wins. The Buckeyes would match Florida State’s record of 29 straight ACC victories from 1992-95.

All 14 teams in the B1G are in action this Saturday after a couple of weekends where much of the conference found some rest on their bye weeks.

The following is a preview of each matchup with were you can watch each game (all times Eastern):

Penn State (7-2) at No. 21 Northwestern (6-2) – noon on ESPNU
If the Wildcats want to be taken seriously, they will need to win a game against a solid team. They opened the season with a victory over Stanford, but the Cardinal is a much better team now than it was two months ago. Since then, Northwestern has lost its marquee matchups against No. 17 Michigan and No. 9 Iowa by a combined score of 78-10.

The Nittany Lions and Wildcats rank 14th and 17th in total defense in the country, so I wouldn’t expect much of a shootout here. Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson will need to be ready to run from Penn State DE Carl Nassib, who continues to lead the country in tackles for loss as well as sacks. Thorson is no stranger to pulling the ball down, though, as he has 297 rushing yards on the season and leads the Wildcats in rushing touchdowns on the season with five.

Illinois (4-4) at Purdue (2-6) – noon on BTN
Purdue CB Anthony Brown pulled in three interceptions against Iowa last Saturday against Iowa, which brought his season total to four, good for second in the B1G. Other than that, there isn’t much to this Purdue defense. They give up the second most points per game in the conference with 34.4 and give up 434.6 yards in total each week.

Though Illinois has the worst rushing attack in the B1G, UI’s passing offense has been quietly impressive. The Fighting Illini average 243.4 yards through the air so far this season and Wes Lunt has a QB rating of 111.7 on the season. Lunt accounts for the sixth-most total offense per game and fourth-most passing yards in the conference.

No. 9 Iowa (8-0) at Indiana (4-4) – 3:30 p.m. on ESPN
The Hoosiers may need to wait another week to earn their first B1G victory. Iowa came in at No. 9 in the CFP rankings this week and has yet to lose a game. The Hawkeyes are not typically known for a powerful offense but they average more than 30 points and 400 yards per game, 200 of those on the ground mainly with workhorse RB Jordan Canzeri.

Indiana has a workhorse of their own in RB Jordan Howard. Howard is one of three B1G RBs to average over 100 yards rushing per game this year. Hoosier QB Nate Sudfeld ranks first in the B1G in total offense per game with 295.1 yards per game but the Indiana defense is still last in the conference, allowing 37.2 points per game.

The Hawkeyes continue to hold a one-game lead on Wisconsin in the loss column for first place in the B1G West and a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Badgers. With a win Saturday, Iowa would only need two more to clinch a birth to the B1G championship game on Dec. 5 in Indianapolis.

Wisconsin (7-2) at Maryland (2-6) – 3:30 p.m. on BTN
Wisconsin may just be the quietest two-loss team in the country this year, especially since its losses came to teams currently in the top 10 of the CFP rankings – No.4 Alabama and No. 9 Iowa. The Badgers’ defense has improved to tops in the country in points allowed per game with 11.0 and third in total defense with 267.1 yards allowed per game.

The Maryland offense won’t have a lot of fun on Saturday. The Terrapins are 11th in the B1G in scoring offense and 13th out of 14 in total offense. The best thing Maryland has going for it is that Wisconsin’s offense is pretty middle of the road in all major categories. The Maryland defense will need to step up for the team to have a chance at an upset this week.

Rutgers (3-5) at No. 17 Michigan (6-2) – 3:30 p.m. on BTN
After using a goal-line stand to beat Minnesota on the road last week, Michigan returns to the Big House for the first time since its loss to Michigan State. Michigan QB Jake Rudock left that game with a torso injury in the third quarter but is expected to be ready for the matchup against Rutgers.

The Wolverines’ defense continues to dominate this season and is now second in the nation in scoring defense, just 0.3 points behind Wisconsin. Their total defense and rushing defense are both tops in the country. Rutgers is coming off of a second straight loss and will need to find a way to get WR Leonte Carroo the ball if it wants to move up the field.

No. 7 Michigan State (8-0) at Nebraska (3-6) – 7 p.m. on ESPN
You can bet the Spartans take offense to two one-loss teams being ranked ahead of them in the CFP standings. Unfortunately for Nebraska, Michigan State will be looking to take that anger out on them. Lincoln isn’t the easiest place for a team to come in and earn a victory, especially at night, even with Nebraska on a down year.

Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong has the big-play ability that can keep Michigan State’s defense on their heels. Armstrong has already thrown for more than 2,000 yards this season with 16 touchdowns and over 250 yards on the ground. The Nebraska defense is what needs to step up to give Michigan State their first loss.

Minnesota (4-4) at No. 3 Ohio State (8-0) – 8 p.m. on ABC
After clock mismanagement robbed Minnesota of an upset over Michigan – or at least overtime – the Gophers are hungry for a victory. As much as a victory would have meant last week in honor of their former coach Jerry Kill, going into Columbus and knocking off the Buckeyes would mean more for “Jerrysota.”

Cardale Jones will be thrust back into the starting QB role for Ohio State with J.T. Barrett’s suspension. All Jones has done in his career starts is win a B1G title, the Sugar Bowl, a National Championship, and the first seven games of this season. The Buckeyes hope that Jones may be more relaxed than the beginning of the season since he is firmly the top choice for this game, though former QB Braxton Miller has seen time this week as second string QB in practice and is listed as such on this week’s depth chart.