BIG TEN WEEKLY FEATURES
Co-Owner Brett Ciancia provides weekly game previews each Thursday, along with national coverage of the 6 marquee games. This week he is joined by Staff Writer Zach Sepanik, who previews all 6 Big Ten Games. Be on the look-out for additional feature articles, and we invite you to join the discussion and follow us on Twitter:
Big Ten Game Previews - WEEK 10 BY ZACH SEPANIK, STAFF WRITER
Wisconsin @ Rutgers - Noon EST
Melvin Gordon is the straw that stirs the Wisconsin Badgers (5-2, 2-1 B1G) drink. He went off again last week versus Maryland (22 carries for 122 yards, 3 touchdowns) and has another legitimate shot for a big stat line against Rutgers (5-3, 1-3). On average, the Scarlet Knights defense allows 178.3 rushing yards per game, ranked 74th in the nation. That’s music to Gordon’s ears.
While the defense for Rutgers is not necessarily their bright spot, the Badgers have made their living as a blue-collar defense. Wisconsin has the Big Ten’s top-ranked defense in points (16.1) and yards (270.1) allowed per game.
For the Rutgers offense, quarterback Gary Nova remains questionable after injuring his right knee against Nebraska last week. If he misses any time, look for backup Chris Laviano to fill the void.
Either way, it won’t be enough. The Badgers have a pestering defense, a stout running game, and ultimately, will overpower the Scarlet Knights in New Jersey.
Wisconsin 48, Rutgers 10
Maryland @ Penn State - Noon EST
The magic number is three, both what the Penn State Nittany Lions (4-3, 1-3 B1G) are dealing with and looking to avoid. They have currently lost three straight games (Northwestern, at Michigan, Ohio State) and are in danger of falling to 0-3 at home in the Big Ten this season if the Terrapins show up hungry.
Sure, Penn State gave their maximum effort against Ohio State last week, taking the Buckeyes to double overtime. But having said that, the Nittany Lions haven’t won a game since September, so there is no use reminiscing on what could have been had they beat Urban Meyer’s squad. The focus has to be on Maryland (5-3, 2-2) and how they can stretch a defense that allows 29.3 points per game, 84th in country.
Maryland, meanwhile, has a home-run threat in Stefon Diggs. He has 46 receptions for 601 yards on the season, including five touchdowns. He’ll need to be accounted for otherwise Happy Valley may turn sad pretty quick with all the points Diggs could score for the Terps.
Defensively, Maryland defensive lineman Andre Monroe is extremely disruptive. He has eight tackles for loss, 6.5 of them sacks, on the 2014 campaign. Penn State was not too effective against Ohio State’s Joey Bosa. If Monroe watched the tape, he’ll execute efficiently and create havoc.
This game has the potential to be a nail-biter. Christian Hackenberg has been in a few more big games than C.J. Brown. I give the slight edge to the rowdy fans at Beaver Stadium, helping the home team pull one out late in the fourth quarter.
Penn State 21, Maryland 16
Northwestern @ Iowa - Noon EST
Suspensions and injuries plague the Iowa Hawkeyes (5-2, 2-1 B1G). Sophomore linebacker Reggie Spearman is out for the team’s next two contests after being charged with OWI last Saturday morning. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman LeShun Daniels will not see the field for six weeks due to injury, leaving the door open for players like redshirt freshmen Jonathan Parker and Akrum Wadley. Also, Jordan Canzeri is “a little dicey” to play against Northwestern (3-4, 2-2) according to Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. He even added that it has come to the point that the Hawkeyes have run out of guys.
The Wildcats come into Kinnick Stadium having lost two-in-a-row, putting up 17 points in both games. Look for Northwestern to provide a steady dose of freshman running back Justin Jackson. The shifty tailback has accumulated 630 rushing yards on the season and scored four touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, there is little wrong with Northwestern’s defense. The unit allows only 20.4 points per game, which is good for 23rd in college football. They have also forced 13 turnovers and 14 sacks.
Offense is not the strength for either team. The Hawkeyes rank 11th in the Big Ten in scoring at 27.0 points per game, while Northwestern sits at 13th, averaging 20.9 points per game. One thing Iowa does do well is limit turnovers. Hawkeyes quarterback Jake Rudock has only thrown three interceptions to this point in the season.
The grind will be real for both offenses and it will ultimately come down to which defense comes up with the first big play. I think the trust falls in the Wildcats lap there and they escape Iowa City with a win.
Northwestern 28, Iowa 20
Indiana @ Michigan - 3:30 p.m. EST
Remember last year when the Michigan Wolverines (3-5, 1-3 B1G) and Indiana Hoosiers (3-4, 0-3) combined to score 110 points in a game that saw Michigan win, 63-47? Neither do I. That seems like forever ago after watching these two offenses in 2014.
Indiana is down to their third-string quarterback Zander Diamont. He completed only five passes in their last game against Michigan State on October 18. It’s a good thing the Hoosiers don’t rely heavily on their passing game. It’s really the rushing attack that sets the wheels in motion, averaging 289.9 yards per game, 9th in the country. Junior running back Tevin Coleman leads the way as he is currently third in the nation in rushing yards (1,192) and fifth in yards per carry (8.8).
For Michigan, they aren’t even that lucky to have one part of their offense performing as well as Indiana’s rushing game. There is just nothing going right for the Wolverines and senior quarterback Devin Gardner has struggled mightily. But the IU defense has given up 34.9 points per game. That is where U of M has the advantage, as their defense has played far better, and their offense can take full advantage of the Hoosiers obvious weakness.
The loser of this game will claim the distinct honor of being the worst team in the Big Ten East Division. I’m giving it to Indiana right now as the Wolverines will rebound after a tough rivalry loss last week to keep the Hoosiers on the downward spiral.
Michigan 34, Indiana 23
Purdue @ No. 15 Nebraska - 3:30 p.m. EST
I said it last week and I’ll say it again — Fear Ameer!
Nebraska (7-1, 3-1 B1G) senior running back Ameer Abdullah is way too good. He dominated Rutgers to the tune of 225 yards on 19 carries and three touchdowns. And he’ll continue his torrid pace against the Purdue Boilermakers (3-5, 1-3) in Lincoln on Saturday.
Purdue surrenders 173.8 rushing yards per game, bad enough for 70th in college football. In their last game on October 18, they let Minnesota Golden Gophers senior running back David Cobb run rampant, as he torched the Boilermakers for 194 yards and a touchdown. Expect similar results when the Purdue defense goes up against Abdullah.
And it doesn’t get better on the offensive side of things for Purdue. Overall, the offense is ranked 99th in the country. And one of those teams ranked ahead of them is definitely Nebraska.
I see the Cornhuskers faithful rocking as Nebraska pulls away early and does not look back. Maybe throw up a garbage time touchdown for Purdue, but this game stays out of reach.
I’ll also send my pitch in right now: Ameer for Heisman!
Nebraska 49, Purdue 17
Illinois @ No. 16 Ohio State - 8 p.m. EST
College football teams never overlook an opponent, right? I mean, that is what the coaches and players say so we should believe them. In this case, I’m not buying it. The Ohio State Buckeyes (6-1, 3-0 B1G) are one-half game behind Michigan State in the race for first in the Big Ten East Division. And the matchup between those two is looming in just one week.
But first things first, Ohio State must handle Illinois (4-4, 1-3), a team coming off their first Big Ten win of the season against Minnesota. It also marked the Fighting Illini’s second win in their last 26 conference games.
After a week where the offense was slowed down to tortoise speed, going up against the worst total defense in the Big Ten may be just what the doctor ordered for the Buckeyes to get healthy. Freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett is dealing with a sprained ligament in his left knee, but is expected to play. I would say I hurt myself too if I threw for 74 yards and two interceptions the week prior.
Barrett’s counterpart, Reilly O’Toole, completed 14-of-21 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown in the upset win over the Golden Gophers last week. He has steadily led a fairly productive pass attack for Illinois, ranked 31st in the nation averaging 284.0 yards per game. They will need a lot more where that comes from to even stay close with Ohio State.
I called the Illinois victory last week. But I’m not calling it here.
Ohio State 41, Illinois 14
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