Big Ten Football: Here We Go

By John Carey, October 2nd, 2015

As we enter Week 5 of the 2015 season, Big Ten play officially begins. Though there has been one conference game already played this year – a Penn State victory over Rutgers – the 12 other members of the conference all square off against Big Ten foes for the first time this season.

Through the first four weeks of the season, five Big Ten teams remain unbeaten while another five have only one blemish on their record. The conference has made national waves early on in the season with having the first ever preseason unanimous No. 1 (Ohio State) team in the country and current No. 2 (Michigan State) ranked team in all of college football.

In Week 2, the Spartans claimed the best win in the young season for the conference – a three-point home victory over last year’s national runner up Oregon. MSU also holds the fourth-longest winning streak in the nation at eight games dating back to last season. The longest such streak belongs to the defending national champion Buckeyes, who handed MSU its last loss in November of 2014.

While Purdue holds the worst overall record in the conference at 1-3, Rutgers has had the most disappointing start to their season as a whole. The Scarlet Knights have had six players arrested since the first week of the season and stand at just 2-2 after four weeks. Also, coach Kyle Flood has found scandal as he has been suspended for three games and fined $50,000 following a university-led investigation into rules violations.

Two kickoff times have been adjusted this week in advance of Hurricane Joaquin – Michigan @ Maryland moves from 8 p.m. Eastern to noon and Nebraska @ Illinois moves from 3:30 to 4. In total there are six conference games this week, while Penn State hosts Army and Rutgers is off for the week. Here is a breakdown of each game and where/when to find them (all times Eastern):

Purdue (1-3) at No. 2 Michigan State (4-0) – noon on ESPN2
Michigan State comes in as the No 2-ranked team in the country for the third consecutive week. MSU senior quarterback Connor Cook will likely look to find wide receiver Aaron Burbridge early and often against the Boilermakers.

Burbridge is in the top five in the conference in receptions per game, receiving yards per game and touchdowns scored and Cook is third in the Big Ten in pass efficiency through his first four games. The Boilermakers will have their hands full defending MSU as they sit at dead-last in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 35 points per game.

Minnesota (3-1) at No. 16 Northwestern (4-0) – noon on BTN
This may prove to be the best matchup of the day in the conference, as Minnesota’s only loss came in Week 1 against No. 4 TCU – No. 2 at the time – and Northwestern has been one of the most surprising teams in the country so far after they took down preseason No. 21 Stanford at home in Week 1.

Northwestern’s freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson presents a challenge for defenses as he can beat you with his arm or his legs – Thorson is tied for the team lead in rush TDs. The Wildcats offense also has running back Justin Jackson, who averages 141.0 all-purpose yards per game, good for third-best in the Big Ten. Northwestern’s defense will also have their hands full, as they need to account for Minnesota’s running back Rodney Smith who stands at eighth in the conference for all-purpose yards per game with 111.5. Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner has averaged 219.5 passing yards per game so far but doesn’t hesitate to put the ball under his arm and run, which he does almost ten times per game.

Iowa (4-0) at No. 19 Wisconsin (3-1) – noon on ESPN
Wisconsin’s lone loss on the season came in their season opener against then-No. 3 Alabama in Dallas. Since then, the Badgers have outscored their opponents 114-3. They will need their defense to be firing on all cylinders on Saturday if they want to stop Jordan Canzeri, Iowa’s running back who is tied for the second most rushing touchdowns in the country with eight so far this season.

As a team, the Hawkeyes have 12 rushing touchdowns, which is best in the Big Ten. While both offenses are averaging better than 30 points per game, Wisconsin’s scoring defense is second in the conference, allowing only 9.5 points per game this season. It is going to be strength vs. strength in Madison this weekend.

No. 22 Michigan (3-1) at Maryland (2-2) – noon on BTN
Jim Harbaugh’s presence has been felt early in Ann Arbor. After losing their season opener to Utah – now the No. 10 team in the country – the Wolverines have become the outfit with the top total defense in the Big Ten and second in the nation, allowing only 203 yards per game. Maryland comes in ranked eleventh in the conference in passing offense, which does not bode well going up against the top pass defense in the conference.

The Terrapins best playmaker has a total of zero yards this season rushing and receiving. Will Likely does all of his work returning punts and kicks. He has two touchdowns on the season and from just special teams play still averages the sixth most all-purpose yards per game in the Big Ten with 122.2.

Nebraska (2-2) at Illinois (3-1) – 4 p.m. on BTN
Nebraska’s quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. is putting up some of the biggest numbers in the country at the position. He has thrown for the eighth-most yards (1,266) through the air and seventh-most touchdowns (11). He can also tuck it and run, which he has done 30 times this season.

While the Cornhuskers can throw the ball well, other teams do the same to them. Look for Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt to have a big day as the Nebraska pass defense is worst in the Big Ten to date, allowing 379.5 yards through the air per game.

No. 1 Ohio State (4-0) at Indiana (4-0) – 3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2
The nation’s top team rolls into Bloomington to face off against the unbeaten Hoosiers and the Big Ten’s top-ranked offense, which puts up 522.2 total yards per game. Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld accounts for the second-most passing yards per game in the Big Ten and running back Jordan Howard leads the conference with 168.8 rushing yards per game this season.

While Ohio State’s total defense is good enough for second in the conference and sixth in the country, its rushing defense is only ninth in the Big Ten through four weeks. The Hoosiers have some defensive issues they will need to figure out if they want to pull the upset, though. They give up 499.0 yards per game, worst in the Big Ten. The IU defense ranks no better than 11th in any major defensive category for the conference. Ezekiel Elliott and Cardale Jones could have huge performances on Saturday.