OSU Stretch Run Begins In Champaign

By John Carey, November 13th, 2015

With Michigan State’s shocking loss to Nebraska in Lincoln on Saturday, only two unbeaten teams remain in the Big Ten – Ohio State and Iowa.

The conference added one team to the College Football Playoff committee’s rankings this week with No. 25 Wisconsin. Northwestern jumped up from No. 21 to No. 18 and Michigan climbed three spots to No. 14 – making the Wolverines the highest-ranked two-loss team in the country.

Just ahead of Michigan is in-state rival Michigan State who fell six spots from last week to no. 13. Undefeated Iowa moved all the way up to No. 5 while fellow unbeaten Ohio State stayed true at No. 3.

That makes six B1G teams in total in the top 25 with just three weeks left in the regular season. The Buckeyes are the only team on the list to have multiple games against any of these six ranked teams – No. 13 Michigan State and No. 14 Michigan lurking in the final two weeks of the season.

And there was other noteworthy news. After his second week as interim head coach at Minnesota, Tracy Claeys officially was named head coach for the Gophers earlier this week.

Also, Ohio State would break Florida State’s record for consecutive regular season conference victories with a win at Illinois this weekend. The Buckeyes currently are tied with FSU’s record of 29 straight from 1992-95.

Penn State and Wisconsin are the only B1G teams with byes this weekend.

The following is a preview of each matchup and where you can find each game (all times Eastern):

No. 3 Ohio State (9-0) at Illinois (5-4) – noon on ABC
The battle for the Illibuck trophy is on the line Saturday, which has not been won by Illinois since 2007 when Juice Williams and the Illini came into Columbus and shocked the No. 1 ranked and undefeated Buckeyes. For a repeat performance, the Buckeyes likely would have to be looking ahead to next weekend’s matchup with No. 13 Michigan State.

The Buckeyes get J.T. Barrett back behind center after his one game suspension and defensive tackle Tommy Shutt is back after a wrist injury he suffered against Penn State. Illinois’ strength is its passing offense, good for fifth in the B1G at 240 yards per game. Ohio State, on the other hand, only allows just north of 300 yards per game total on defense. Illinois will need to make some big-time plays and force a few turnovers to pull off the upset.

Maryland (2-7) at No. 13 Michigan State (8-1) – noon on ESPN2
Michigan State’s controversial loss to Nebraska may have led to a sharp drop in the polls, but the Spartans still control their destiny in the B1G East. If they win their final three games, they will be in the B1G championship in Indianapolis. The Spartans will need to avoid coming out flat after their deflating first loss last weekend if they want to make it to Indianapolis.

For Maryland, they are just playing for pride and to play spoiler at this point. The Terrapins have yet to win a B1G game this season and are on a six-game losing streak. Michigan State will look to put this game away early on the strength of Connor Cook’s arm against the third-worst pass defense in the conference.

Purdue (2-7) at No. 18 Northwestern (7-2) – noon on BTN
Northwestern picked up its best victory of the conference season last week with a 23-21 win over Penn State. Wildcat quarterback Clayton Thorson left that game with a lower-body injury in the first quarter and didn’t return. However, the dual-threat QB is expected to be ready for the matchup with the Boilermakers.

Even with a hobbled Thorson, Northwestern should be able to put points on the board against the B1G’s second-worst scoring defense. Purdue gives up the most yards per game on the ground in the conference with a 205.1 average. The Wildcats still have an outside shot at the championship game but will need some help. They are third in the B1G West, one game behind No. 25 Wisconsin and two games behind No. 5 Iowa.

No. 14 Michigan (7-2) at Indiana (4-5) – 3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2
Indiana has put up a good fight against both remaining unbeaten B1G teams, losing to No. 3 Ohio State and No. 5 Iowa by seven and eight points, respectively. The Hoosiers will need their dynamic backfield of quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard to be firing on all cylinders against this Wolverines defense to come out with a victory.

The Michigan defense currently stands at No. 1 in the country in scoring and second and third in total defense and rushing defense. The offense for Michigan has been playing well as of late as well, even putting defensive back Jabrill Peppers in the backfield for an 18-yard touchdown on a screen pass against Rutgers last week.

Nebraska (4-6) at Rutgers (3-6) – 3:30 p.m. on BTN
The Huskers will need to feed off of the momentum of their upset win over Michigan State last week if they want a chance at a bowl game. Nebraska can become bowl-eligible with wins in its remaining games against Rutgers and Iowa. The Huskers may not have a great record this year, but of their six losses only two have been by double digits – against Minnesota and Purdue.

The Scarlet Knights’ best weapon on offense is wide receiver Leonte Carroo but fellow wideout Janarion Grant tied the B1G record for kick return touchdowns in a season last weekend with his third on the year, proving that Rutgers has big-play ability. The Knights just need to find some consistency on offense if they want to have a successful end to their season.

Minnesota (4-5) at No. 5 Iowa (9-0) – 8 p.m. on BTN
With new head coach Claeys at the controls, the Gophers have played well against Michigan and Ohio State in the past two weeks. Playing in honor of retired coach Jerry Kill, the Gophers have extra motivation to take down the undefeated and No. 5 Hawkeyes.

They will need to stop Iowa running back Jordan Canzeri, who averages just under 100 yards per game and has 10 touchdowns on the year, if they want to give Iowa its first loss of the season. Hawkeye quarterback C.J. Beathard accounts for the fifth-most total offense in the country and is one of the biggest reasons for Iowa’s success this season. Any way you look at it, this will be a tall task for Minnesota, but many think Iowa is only a couple of missteps away from falling out of playoff contention.