Purists Beware: Black Has Arrived
This weekend will be a big one in terms of shaping the road to the Big Ten Championship Game this December in Indianapolis. There are six B1G games in total this Saturday, and they all pit divisional opponents against each other.
With Northwestern’s shutout loss at Michigan there remain only three undefeated teams in the conference – No. 1 Ohio State, No. 7 Michigan State and No. 17 Iowa.
Maryland not only lost its game on the field last weekend but lost its head coach as well. On Sunday, Maryland’s athletic department confirmed the many rumors surrounding Randy Edsall’s future with the Terrapins and fired him after the Terrapins’ third consecutive loss. Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley assumes the role as interim head coach for the rest of the season.
Through the first six weeks of the season, the B1G has produced five top-25 teams in Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Iowa and Northwestern. Michigan State and Northwestern slid from the rankings last week with another unimpressive victory and a loss, respectively, while Iowa and Michigan climbed up six and five spots in the polls, respectively, after last week.
Ohio State is the only B1G team to hold steady in the polls, where the Buckeyes have been a staple at the top spot since the first preseason AP poll. With their current No. 1 ranking, the Buckeyes surpassed the Oklahoma Sooners for the most weeks ranked atop The Associated Press poll with 102 weeks total.
Every B1G team in action this weekend is going up against another league opponent. The only two teams with bye weeks are Illinois and Maryland. Here’s a preview to all the action in B1G country this weekend and where you can watch each game (all times Eastern).
No. 17 Iowa (6-0) at No. 20 Northwestern (5-1) – noon on ABC/ESPN2
The two most surprising B1G teams so far this season square off in Evanston with the home Wildcats coming off of a very disappointing 38-0 loss at the hands of arguably the country’s hottest team in Ann Arbor. Both teams enter this game with a top-25 total defense in the nation with the Hawkeyes at No. 23, allowing 310.3 total yards per game and the Wildcats at No. 9, allowing only 269.5 yards per game.
Iowa hasn’t made many national headlines but the Hawkeyes are quietly putting up some pretty big numbers. To this point they have the second-best scoring offense in the B1G, scoring 31.7 points per game and star tailback Jordan Canzeri is tied – with Ezekiel Elliott – for the conference lead with 10 touchdowns scored through six games. Watch for Northwestern’s sophomore linebacker Anthony Walker wherever Canzeri is on Saturday, as he leads the Wildcats with 8.3 tackles per game.
Purdue (1-5) at Wisconsin (4-2) – noon on BTN
After a surprising near victory at Michigan State two weeks ago where they trimmed a 21-point deficit to just three points in the fourth quarter, many people thought the Boilermakers were primed to take that momentum into the rest of the B1G season. They lost the next week to Minnesota 41-13. At this point Purdue will just be playing for pride and to play spoiler for the rest of the conference.
The Badgers will lean on Joel Stave and wide receiver Alex Erickson who have posted an average of 231 pass yards and six receptions per game respectively. Purdue has just the 11th-best total defense in the B1G while Wisconsin scores better than 26 points per game. Saturday could be a long one for the Boilermakers if they can’t find a way to force a few turnovers.
Rutgers (2-3) at Indiana (4-2) – 3:30 p.m. on BTN
Rutgers nearly pulled off the upset last Saturday against Michigan State, and if it weren’t for a mistaken spike on fourth down, the Scarlet Knights just might have pulled it off. Josh Hicks will need to have a big day on the ground for Rutgers to walk out of Bloomington with a win. He currently is fifth in the conference with 79.2 rush yards per game and he will be going against a defense that allows 163.3 rushing yards per game this season.
The Hoosiers’ two biggest weapons on offense – quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard – are still hobbled from ankle injuries they suffered in their loss to Ohio State two weeks ago. If they can’t go out there at 100 percent, Rutgers has a real chance at the road victory, especially if it can take the momentum of last week’s performance into Bloomington this Saturday.
No. 7 Michigan State (6-0) at No. 12 Michigan (5-1) – 3:30 p.m. on ESPN
Ann Arbor will be the site of ESPN’s College Gameday on Saturday morning, and for good reason. In the past handful of seasons, while Michigan State has become a perennial power in college football, Michigan’s football program has faltered. With the Wolverines’ recent success, they haven’t been able to put up a real statement win against a big time opponent.
This Saturday they are primed to do so, coming in to the game having allowed a total of zero points in the last 189 minutes of gameplay. The Michigan State offense has an uphill battle ahead of them as Michigan’s defense has been nothing short of dominant over the last month or so. They rank first in scoring defense, second in total defense and no lower than third in the country in rushing, passing, and third-down defense.
Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook is widely regarded as a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft in the spring and has shown to step up when the lights shine brightest. Two years ago he was able to upset undefeated Ohio State in the B1G championship and then Stanford in the Rose Bowl, and last year lead a furious comeback in the fourth quarter to defeat Baylor in the Cotton Bowl.
Nebraska (2-4) at Minnesota (4-2) – 3:30 p.m. on ESPN2
Nebraska hasn’t seemed to have recovered from its opening day loss on a Hail Mary to BYU. The Cornhuskers hold the second-best passing offense in the B1G but only the sixth-most points per game. They shoot themselves in the foot more than any other team in the conference, as they average nearly 10 penalties per game for an average of 82.8 yards given up just from penalties.
Though Minnesota scores the least points in the B1G, the Huskers’ pass defense gives the Gophers a chance to score. Nebraska gives up the most yardage through the air in the conference and have the least interceptions of anyone in the B1G.
Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong continues to lead the B1G in total offense with 284.3 yards per game and he will attempt to be the weight that balances out the Huskers’ offense with their porous secondary.
Penn State (5-1) at No. 1 Ohio State (6-0) – 8 p.m. on ABC
The B1G is very familiar with Penn State’s white-out of Happy Valley for home games, but what we’ve never seen is Ohio Stadium with everything in black, I mean everything. For the first time ever the Buckeyes will be wearing black alternate uniforms. From helmets to cleats to fans in the ’Shoe, everything for Ohio State will be black this weekend – Sorry, college football purists.
As for the game, Penn State comes in unranked but they have won each of their games since falling to Temple on opening weekend. Christian Hackenberg gives the Nittany Lions one of the best playmakers in the B1G, and maybe the strongest arm in college football. He accounts for the fifth-most total offense in the conference and sixth-most passing yards. The Ohio State secondary will face their toughest test so far this season.
The Slobs up front for Ohio State will certainly need to account for Carl Nassib, Penn State’s defensive end who leads the nation in sacks and has already forced five fumbles this season. The Nittany Lion defense as a whole also leads the B1G in sacks with 25 on the year.
The Buckeyes, however, are the leader in the B1G in total offense as well as rushing and scoring offense. The Buckeyes proved last year that they shine brightest under the lights and with most of that team back for the 2015 campaign, don’t underestimate the atmosphere of the first night game in the ‘Shoe this season.