1 B1G thing for every Big Ten team in Week 9
Remember back 2 weeks ago when Iowa vs. Penn State was the biggest Big Ten game we had seen in decades?
Different times, those were. Gas was around $3.32 a gallon. “Industry Baby” by Jack Harlow and Lil Nas X was only No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
And now we have ourselves an even bigger game to look forward to.
Sure, No. 6 Michigan against No. 8 Michigan State doesn’t technically supersede Penn State and Iowa, both of which were in the Top 5 way back on Oct. 16. But the most significant matchup in a rivalry that spans 113 meetings carries more heft in my book. When the first CFP rankings are released next week, the winner of this game will almost certainly be the No. 2 seed.
While we’re most eager for the Wolverines-Spartans matchup, it’s not the only B1G game on the schedule. After a couple of light weekends due to byes, every team is back in action. And this is what we are looking to see from each of them.
Iowa — Will the off week fix the offense?
The Hawkeyes are 13th in the Big Ten in total offense, 13th in yards per carry, and 14th in tackles for loss allowed. That leaves a lot of things to fix before facing Wisconsin’s ferocious defensive front.
Wisconsin — Can the Badgers win the turnover battle?
Even after forcing 5 takeaways at Purdue, Wisconsin ranks 124th nationally with a minus-8 turnover margin. Iowa pretty much rode to No. 2 in the country on the strength of its ball-hawking, still leading the nation with 21 takeaways despite not getting any in its loss to Purdue.
If the Badgers regress to their norm, it won’t matter if Iowa can’t fix its offense.
Rutgers — Can the Scarlet Knights score?
Rutgers is averaging 11.5 points per game in conference play. The Scarlet Knights are moving the ball well enough to do more scoring, but have only converted on 63.6% of their trips to the red zone against Big Ten opponents. That’s not their red-zone touchdown percentage, but scoring percentage.
Given Penn State’s struggles against Illinois from the 2-yard line, that trend might not get fixed against the Illini.
Illinois — Can Brandon Peters win a game?
Technically Peters was the hero at Penn State, throwing the winning 2-point conversion after Artur Sitkowski left the game with his left arm in a sling. But to say he’s struggled as a starter is putting it mildly. Peters has thrown 1 touchdown pass while completing 48.8% of his passes.
Illinois clearly intends to win games on the ground — the Illini had 67 carries at Penn State — but Peters needs to step it up.
Indiana — Can this offense do anything at all?
Nothing has gone right for the Hoosiers, who will likely use their third- and fourth-string quarterbacks at Maryland. And that’s to man an offense that’s averaging 7 points a game in conference play with its top 2 quarterbacks.
But if this offense has any pulse at all, it will show up against a defense allowing 461 yards and 42 points per game against Big Ten foes.
Maryland — Can this defense do anything at all?
If the Terps get lit up by this Indiana offense, it’s hard to see defensive coordinator Brian Stewart being back next year. Or possibly even next week.
Minnesota — Will the Gophers assert themselves as West favorites?
There is no reason Minnesota should lose to Northwestern. Indeed, there’s no reason this game should be even close. The Wildcats can’t stop anybody on the ground, and that’s all Minnesota does offensively.
These games are musts if your program is actually moving to the next level.
Northwestern — Can the Cats compete?
Spoiler alert: no.
Northwestern has the nation’s 122nd-ranked run defense. Minnesota has 5 different running backs who have rushed for at least 100 yards this season. Barring an enormous spate of Minnesota penalties and turnovers, there is no path to victory for the Wildcats.
Purdue — Which team shows up?
As previously noted, Purdue faced the nation’s leader in takeaways 2 weeks ago and didn’t throw an interception. Then the Boilers faced one of the country’s worst teams in turnover margin and gave it away 5 times.
The guess is this week’s version would fall somewhere in the middle, which won’t be good enough to beat Nebraska.
Nebraska — How will the Huskers stop George Karlaftis?
Adrian Martinez has been sacked 21 times this year, which is tied with Purdue’s quarterbacks for the most in the B1G.
That makes Boilermakers defensive end George Karlaftis an even more terrifying opponent to face than usual this Halloween weekend. Karlaftis has a modest 3 sacks this year, but perpetually seems to be in on the action with quarterback hurries despite drawing double-teams. It wouldn’t be a shock if he doubles his sack total Saturday.
Penn State — Can the offense find a pulse?
James Franklin clearly rushed Sean Clifford back too soon after his starting quarterback was injured at Iowa, because he didn’t look like the same player against Illinois. And if Clifford operating somewhere around 60% is still your best quarterback option, that does not bode well.
Perhaps the only saving grace will be the fact Ohio State’s defense might think it’s better than it actually is after laughers over Rutgers, Maryland and Indiana.
Ohio State — Will the offense do its thing against a real defense?
Ohio State’s offense is on an unbelievable tear, averaging 57.8 points in its 4 most recent wins. It’s video game stuff.
But even without star defensive tackle PJ Mustipher, Penn State has a bit more defensive heft than any of Ohio State’s other October opponents. The Nittany Lions are second in the Big Ten in yards per play allowed (4.31).
The Buckeyes should score enough to win given the state of Penn State’s offense, but I wouldn’t expect another 50-burger. Or even a 40-ouncer.
Michigan — Might it be JJ McCarthy’s time?
Jim Harbaugh is the type of guy who always seems to have something up his sleeve. Or down his khakis, as the case may be.
Reading the tea leaves, it feels like it is only a matter of time before JJ McCarthy gets closer to a 50/50 timeshare with current starting quarterback Cade McNamara, or usurps him completely. And a rivalry game feels like the type of setting where Harbaugh might finally take his freshman dual-threat out of the garage for more than just a spin around the block.
Michigan State — Can the Spartans tune out the noise?
For Michigan, this is a big game. For Michigan State, this is the game. That’s just the nature of this rivalry’s dynamic. It will always mean a little more to the Spartans.
On top of that traditional pressure are the stakes. As noted, the winner of this game will almost certainly be No. 2 in the initial CFP rankings behind Georgia. There won’t be another resume that compares.
On top of that, rumors are swirling that Mel Tucker is one of the candidates atop LSU’s wish list. And there’s enough smoke that he addressed a question about those rumors at his weekly press conference leading up to the Michigan game.
Michigan State is a better team than Michigan on paper, but maintaining the mental edge will be crucial this week.