Bucks, Sparty Continue Collision Course

By John Carey, October 23rd, 2015

As we head into the fourth week of Big Ten action, the contenders are separating themselves from the pretenders. This week only four of the top 25 teams in the polls reside in B1G country.

Last week saw one of the most improbable endings to a game in college football history, as Michigan fumbled the snap on a punt and Michigan State returned it for the game-winning touchdown as time expired.

With the win, MSU head coach Mark Dantonio became the fourth among active B1G coaches with 100 career wins – joining Jerry Kill (Minnesota), Urban Meyer (Ohio State), and Kirk Ferentz (Iowa).

The Iowa Hawkeyes announced their candidacy for meaningful postseason football this year with a 40-10 rout of Northwestern. The Hawkeyes have become a legitimate contender in the B1G and remain one of three undefeated teams left in the conference, along with Ohio State and Michigan State.

Northwestern fell out of the polls completely after their second straight blowout loss to a B1G opponent. No. 1 Ohio State and No. 7 Michigan State held their spots after staying undefeated while Iowa moved up five spots to No. 12 and Michigan dropped three places to No. 15.

The three undefeated B1G teams are already bowl eligible, while four other B1G squads will reach bowl eligibility with a win this Saturday – Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State, and Wisconsin.

There are only five B1G games on this weekend’s schedule with Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Purdue all on their bye weeks. Here is a preview of each matchup with where you can find each game (all times Eastern):

Northwestern (5-2) at Nebraska (3-4) – noon on ESPN2
After a strong start to the season where it reached as high as No. 13 in the AP Poll, Northwestern has taken a nose-dive in the last two weeks. The Wildcats have lost by a combined score of 78-10 in those games at Michigan and home against Iowa. The NU defense must look to return to early-season form as it goes up against an offense with a lot of big playmakers.

Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerka is one of only four players in the conference with multiple 100-yard receiving games this season and quarterback Tommy Armstrong is tied for the B1G lead in 300-yard passing games with three.

This game will have a lot to say about the rest of Northwestern’s season, as the ’Cats have a lot of problems to fix defensively. Two weeks ago they had the second best scoring defense in the country, and they now sit at ninth in the B1G. Not to mention they have the lowest scoring offense of all teams in the conference.

Wisconsin (5-2) at Illinois (4-2) – 3:30 p.m. on BTN
The Badgers and Illini come in very evenly matched statistically. In fact, both teams have the top pass offenses and pass defenses in the conference, with Wisconsin holding the top spot for both. They also sit at 10th and 11th in B1G scoring offense.

The only major team category where there is a significant gap between the teams is rushing defense. While Wisconsin sits at a respectable fifth place, allowing 131.7 yards per game, Illinois is dead-last, giving up north of 230 yards per game on the ground. The Badgers have not had nearly as much success on the ground as they normally do, but against Illinoi’s rush defense, it could look like Montee Ball or Melvin Gordon is playing running back for Wisconsin again.

Penn State (5-2) at Maryland (2-4) – 3:30 p.m. on ESPN
Maryland is coming off of a much-needed bye week. After a loss in Columbus two weeks ago, Maryland moved on from coach Randy Edsall and named Mike Locksley its interim head coach. The Terrapins have underachieved to many this year, but may have found something for the future of their season in their loss to the Buckeyes.

Junior quarterback Perry Hills was able to scramble away from one of the best defenses in the country for 133 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. Looking to stop him will be the nation’s leader in tackles for loss and sacks, Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib. Nassib and the Nittany Lion defense gave up 38 points last week but even with that number only allow 17.7 points on average. Penn States only two losses have come at the hands of two still undefeated teams and will look to spoil Locksley’s head-coaching debut for the Terrapins.

Indiana (4-3) at No. 7 Michigan State (7-0) – 3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2
This game has all the potential of the classic “trap game” for Michigan State. The Spartans are coming off of an improbable last-second win over their biggest rival and we have seen Indiana come within a fourth-down conversion of taking the nation’s No.1 team to overtime.

The Hoosiers’ best shot at an upset will be to make Michigan State get into a shootout with them. The IU offense averages almost 100 yards more per game than Michigan State does. The Spartans’ offense is no slouch either, and could be especially effective against Indiana’s defense. Indiana gives up yards and points as fast as its offense puts them up. The Hoosiers give up the most points and the most yardage in the B1G and will struggle containing a big arm like the Spartans’ Connor Cook.

No. 1 Ohio State (7-0) at Rutgers (3-3) – 8 p.m. on ABC
Rutgers has had an impressive last two weeks. The Scarlet Knights nearly came back to beat Michigan State at home and last week went into Indiana and won a 55-52 shootout against the Hoosiers. The Knights have sold out the game and are eager to pull off the upset that slipped from their fingertips two weeks ago.

Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood has also invited Matthew McConaughey to be on the sideline for the game for some reason – apparently Rutgers has adopted the chest-pounding chant McCounaughey performed in “The Wolf of Wall Street” as some sort of game hype they’re calling the “Knight Pulse.”

The Buckeyes come in with J.T. Barrett making his first start of the season after he won the job from Cardale Jones during last week’s rout of Penn State. It doesn’t bode well for the Scarlet Knights that the Buckeyes seem to be inching closer to the potential everyone saw after returning most of last year’s national championship team.

Ohio State and Rutgers are the two top scoring offenses in the B1G, scoring 37.0 and 34.3 points per game, respectively. If Rutgers wants to end the Buckeyes’ 20-game win streak, they will need to slow down the OSU offense considerably – a tall task for the 12th-ranked defense in the conference.