1 B1G thing for every team in Week 4
The college football season still feels like it’s just getting started, but most Big Ten teams will be one-third of the way through their schedules at the end of this week. Time flies when you’re having fun, as previous philosophers have noted.
Here is what we’re wondering about or looking to see from B1G teams in Week 4, in order of scheduled kickoff time:
Penn State — Get the starters off the field as quickly as possible
The Nittany Lions are likely to be hungover following their 28-20 White Out win over Auburn, and scheduled accordingly — a noon kick against Villanova.
If this were basketball, of course, the Wildcats would be favored by about 20. But this is football, and Penn State will be expected to win by 4 touchdowns or so. Maybe these schools should find a third sport where the game would be competitive.
At any rate, the only priority for Penn State here is to build as big a lead as possible as quickly as possible so every player who matters can stay healthy.
Wisconsin — Graham Mertz needs to prove he was the right quarterback
Early in the season, it’s difficult to figure out what the Badgers saw in Graham Mertz over Jack Coan — a decision that comes to the forefront when Coan leads Notre Dame against his former teammates in Chicago on Saturday.
Coan is arguably the biggest reason the Fighting Irish are 3-0, averaging 276 yards per game with 8 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He transferred to Notre Dame this spring after spending the previous 4 years in Madison.
Mertz, on the other hand, has been pedestrian at best. He’s averaging 163 yards with no touchdowns and 2 picks in Wisconsin’s first 2 games. This coming off a 2020 in which he averaged 177 yards per game with 9 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
If the Badgers still had Coan, they probably would have defeated Penn State in the season-opener. Now we’ll see if they can beat Coan himself.
Minnesota — Continue to improve run defense
A week after holding Colorado to minus-19 rushing yards, the Gophers have an opportunity to stifle another opponent.
Bowling Green comes into Huntington Bank Stadium sporting the nation’s 129th-ranked rushing offense out of 130 teams. This should be another great confidence boost for a Gophers defense that ranked 102nd against the run a year ago.
Northwestern — Determine how bad you are
If the Wildcats can’t beat 0-3 Ohio, they aren’t winning a game in the Big Ten this year.
And there’s no guarantee they’re going to beat the Bobcats, even though Ohio has lost to FCS weakling Duquesne.
Tickets are being offered for as little as $2 on the secondary market for one of the least-anticipated matchups in college football this season.
Iowa — See if Spencer Petras can sling it
Spencer Petras is rated 11th out of 13 qualifying B1G quarterbacks. If you want to reach the Big Ten Championship Game, or perhaps the College Football Playoff, that’s not going to cut it.
Colorado State, which comes in ranked 95th nationally in pass defense, is an ideal opponent for learning what he’s capable of doing. And if he can’t, it’s time to see whether Alex Padilla can.
Michigan — Will mauling to wins work in the Big Ten?
The Wolverines lead the country with a ridiculous 350 rushing yards per game while attempting the fewest passes of anyone save the service academies and Kansas State.
Will it play in the Big Ten? We’ll get an early peek when Michigan hosts Rutgers, which has the second-best total defense in the B1G during nonconference play.
Rutgers — Is this defense stout enough for the Big Ten?
The Scarlet Knights’ defense has been the scourge of the Eastern Seaboard, allowing 4.2 yards per play and forcing 6 turnovers against Syracuse, Temple and Delaware.
There will be a slight upgrade in the quality of their opponents in yellow-and-blue winged helmets this week. Greg Schiano is certainly building Rutgers back up, but this would be a major leap.
Illinois — Is Brandon Peters really the answer at QB?
Peters was injured early against Nebraska in the Illini season-opener before finally making his return against Maryland last Friday. Perhaps he needed another week to work out the kinks.
The Michigan transfer was abysmal against Maryland, going 10-of-26 for 185 yards and an interception. Backup Art Sitkowski was more than adequate in his absence, directing the win over Nebraska and just missing on a potential game-tying Hail Mary against UTSA.
Peters will be in his home state of Indiana, but he figures to be on a short leash at Purdue.
Purdue — Who will step up for David Bell?
If receiver David Bell isn’t cleared after a scary head-slamming injury at Notre Dame, someone will need to step up for Purdue’s most talented offensive player.
Fortunately for the Boilers, there should be no lack of suitable candidates — Illinois ranks dead last in the B1G against the pass, allowing 8.7 yards per attempt with only 1 interception.
Maryland — Just get to 4-0
Maryland has been 4-0 just twice in the 21st century, doing it in Ralph Friedgen’s first year (2001) and DJ Durkin’s first year (2016). Now Mike Locksley has the Terrapins poised to get there in Year 3, but they must get past Kent State.
In theory that should be no sweat, but the Golden Flashes are battle-tested, with their losses coming to No. 7 Texas A&M and No. 5 Iowa. Locksley has to make sure his guys are locked in.
Nebraska — Can the Huskers win a road game?
So far the Cornhuskers have been unable to win in a venue where balloons aren’t released for their first touchdown. Next up on the list is Spartan Stadium, where they’ll try to rebound from an emotional loss to Oklahoma.
Michigan State — Can Sparty avoid rat poison?
After an impressive win at Miami, Mel Tucker’s Spartans are in dangerous territory — unexpected success.
No one expected much of Michigan State, which is now ranked 20th in the AP poll. It’s MSU’s first poll appearance since Sept. 29, 2019, so it’s reasonable to think they’ll be overlooking an underwhelming Nebraska team.
Ohio State — Really? This is a night game?
It’s good that Ohio State plays its in-state MAC opponents. They need the money. But for Akron to get a prime-time kickoff is another matter altogether. There is no ratings or crowd appeal for a game against 1 of the 5 worst teams in the FBS.
Ideally, the Buckeyes don’t play a starter in the second half.
Indiana — Get Penix rolling, or else
Michael Penix Jr. can’t have a great deal of confidence after throwing 6 interceptions in Indiana’s first 3 games. He isrrr the lowest-rated passer in the Big Ten and 105h nationally.
A random road game at Western Kentucky now looms as one of the biggest of his career, because a poor performance could very well result in a benching. It’s hard to say how good the Hilltoppers are against the pass, as they’ve played a ground-oriented Army attack and FCS opponent Tennessee-Martin.
Western Kentucky also has the benefit of coming into this game off an open week.