The Big Ten is down to two undefeateds, Ohio State and Iowa, who’s presently the first team out of the College Football Playoff. What drama is in store this weekend? Here are the games, storylines, and predictions for this Saturday (times Eastern; Wisconsin and Penn State are idle):
#3 Ohio State (9-0, 5-0) at Illinois (5-4, 2-3), 12:00 p.m., ABC
The Illini were a completely different team last week against (perhaps unsurprisingly) flat Purdue with the return of running back Josh Ferguson, who contributed 133 yards to Illinois’ 382-yard rushing assault on the Boilers. The Buckeyes though, quite solid on defense and with J.T. Barrett restored as the starting quarterback, are not Purdue. Not by a longshot. Even so, and amid myriad administrative uncertainty, Illinois won’t likely be pushed over until well into the second half in Champaign.
Prediction: Ohio State 31 Illinois 14
Maryland (2-7, 0-5) at #13 Michigan State (8-1, 4-1), 12:00 p.m., ESPN2
The Spartans will almost certainly look to take out their frustrations from last week’s controversial, last-second loss at Nebraska, which also spoiled their undefeated season and almost certainly their CFP chances. The game-winning touchdown and PAT however, were the last of 39 total points scored on them by the Huskers; in other words, this is not the Michigan State of recent times, despite the gaudy record. The Terps are talented in spots, but utterly hapless, having outplayed Wisconsin for long stretches last week in a losing effort – and even blowing a successful, game-tying onside kick due to an offside penalty on the complete other side of the field from the play.
Prediction: Michigan State 37 Maryland 20
Purdue (2-7, 1-4) at #18 Northwestern (7-2, 3-2), 11:00 p.m., BTN
Any momentum Purdue had from its “breakthrough” win over Nebraska is a distant memory; they’ll have to somehow press on. The Wildcats gritted out a tough win over Penn State, maintaining at three the even number of ranked teams between the conference’s East and West Divisions. The ‘Cats’ starting quarterback Clayton Thorson, who left last week with a first quarter injury, is slated to start. Northwestern should roll.
Prediction: Northwestern 28 Purdue 13
Nebraska (4-6, 2-4) at Rutgers (3-6, 1-5), 3:30 p.m., BTN
Both teams, much maligned and battle-weary, have a path to bowl eligibility, but each likely requires nothing but wins the entire rest of the way – with 40 bowls, a 5-7 team could, alarmingly, receive a bowl bid. In any event, in the oft-repeated phrase, the Football Gods finally smiled on Nebraska last weekend, but it’s an open question as to whether they’ll be able start what Husker fans used to know as a “winning streak.” After being outscored 146-33 in the last three games, albeit against teams which have lost a combined four games all season, Rutgers should be happy to be back home and playing against a team with a losing record.
Prediction: Nebraska 33 Rutgers 29
#14 Michigan (7-2, 4-1) at Indiana (4-5, 0-5), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
Indiana may score 32.4 points per game, but Michigan is actually scoring at about the same rate, 30.9 ppg. The real problem for the Hoosiers is that the Wolverines lead the nation in scoring defense, at 11.9 points ppg – Indiana clocks in No. 115, 37.0 ppg, which is obviously, and unfortunately, more than they score. It may be the Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson will never get that side of the ball figured out, and it may cost him this job after the season. After so many tough conference losses, including last week’s against an Iowa team easily the physical equal of Michigan, you also have to wonder just how much Indiana has left in the tank.
Prediction: Michigan 45 Indiana 24
Minnesota (4-5, 1-4) at #5 Iowa (9-0, 5-0), 8:00 p.m., BTN
The Big Ten Network called this one for a primetime slot many months ago, anticipating an old-school smackdown for the old-school Floyd of Rosedale trophy. What the network couldn’t have anticipated is that not only would Iowa have yet to lose at this point, but also that Minnesota would have lost former head coach Jerry Kill to health-induced retirement during an already below-.500 season. Long-time Kill assistant Tracy Claeys had the interim tag removed this week, but the Hawkeyes, now a bona fide CFP contender, absolutely, positively will not have forgotten the 51-14 abject slaughter they received at the Gophers’ hands last year in Minneapolis.
Prediction: Iowa 24 Minnesota 13