1 B1G thought about every Week 7 Big Ten game
The 2022 Big Ten race boils down to a pair of questions.
Which team has the best chance of beating Ohio State; and who is the best in the West?
By the end of this weekend, we will definitely know the answer to the first query as No. 5 Michigan hosts No. 10 Penn State. And we may get some insight on the pecking order in the jumbled West as No. 24 Illinois hosts Minnesota and Purdue takes on a Nebraska team that will show whether or not it’s capable of making some noise under interim coach Mickey Joseph.
The only downside to this week’s schedule is that the best two games are happening at the same time. All three ranked teams that are in action Saturday kick off a noon. That feels a bit like a fight card with the main even being scheduled before the undercards.
No. 10 Penn State (5-0, 2-0) at No. 5 Michigan (6-0, 3-0)
When: Noon ET, FOX
B1G thought: For all the history these programs possess, it’s rare for both to be clicking on all cylinders at the same time. This is the first meeting between the Wolverines and Nittany Lions in which both teams are ranked in the Top 10 since 1997. And we don’t need to explain to Michigan fans why anything connected to that year is a positive.
Led by cornerback Joey Porter Jr. and safety Ji’Ayir Brown, Penn State’s secondary poses perhaps the biggest test thus far for Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy. Though Iowa’s secondary is better, Jim Harbaugh was careful not to let McCarthy do too much against the Hawkeyes. That option might not be available this time around, because Penn State’s offense can actually score.
As noted earlier this week, Penn State is built for this road test. The Nittany Lions played in a top-5 showdown at Iowa last season. They’ve visited Purdue and Auburn for sellouts this season.
But the outcome will hinge on whether Penn State’s improving offensive line can pass its biggest test. Last year the Wolverines sacked Sean Clifford 7 times and finished with 12 tackles for loss. Clifford has only been sacked once since going down 5 times against Ohio in Week 2.
Even without Aidan Hutchinson or David Ojabo, Michigan is proficient at tackling in the backfield this season. We will learn a great deal about whether Penn State is a contender in the East based on this performance.
Sports Betting in Big Ten Country
Minnesota (4-1, 1-1) at No. 24 Illinois (5-1, 2-1)
When: Noon ET, BTN
B1G thought: What if it turns out Illinois’ 9-6 win over Iowa last week was … a shootout?
These are the top two defenses in the country statistically, with Illinois allowing 8 points per game and Minnesota surrendering just 8.8 per game. Measured by total defense, the Gophers lead the country with 222 yards allowed per game while the Illini are second with 228 ypg allowed.
The fact that the total for this game has been set at 39.5 points feels like a case of Vegas either knowing something we do not, or being slow on the uptake on account of Illinois’ surprising season.
Both running backs are entirely capable of pushing the scoreboard higher than expected. Illinois running back Chase Brown leads the country with 28 rushes of 10 yards or more. Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim is fifth with 18 such carries despite playing 2 fewer games. Ibrahim missed Minnesota’s most recent game against Purdue.
It’s too bad this game will get buried in the ratings, because it’s worth more of a watch than any of the 3 that follow.
Maryland (4-2, 1-2) at Indiana (3-3, 1-2)
When: 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
B1G thought: The Terrapins have a pair of losses, but they may turn out to be against the teams that end up meeting in the Big Ten championship game. A 9-3 season is still on the table for Maryland.
For Indiana, this is a must-win for the Hoosiers’ flagging bowl hopes. And though it’s difficult to picture much changing in a week’s time for the Big Ten’s worst offensive, perhaps interim line coach Rod Carey will light a fire under the boys up front.
Wisconsin (3-3, 1-2) at Michigan State (2-4, 0-3)
When: 4 p.m. ET, FOX
B1G thought: Anybody ready for the Graham Mertz renaissance?
The mercurial Wisconsin quarterback snapped out of a 2-year slumber against Northwestern last week, tying a school record with 5 touchdown passes. Mertz was one of the incumbent record-holders, setting the mark in his 2020 debut before his unsteady play factored into coach Paul Chryst’s dismissal 2 weeks ago.
Mertz will have a chance to keep his mojo rising against Michigan State’s woeful defense. The Spartans are allowing a league-worst 292 passing yards per game and a league-worst 80 passing plays of 10 yards or more.
Alternately, this could be a huge game for Badgers running back Braelon Allen. Michigan State is 12th in the B1G in run defense.
Nebraska (3-3, 2-1) at Purdue (4-2, 2-1)
When: 7:30 p.m. ET, BTN
B1G thought: Interim coach Mickey Joseph had to poke the Huskers with a stick, but they are in fact alive and kicking. Nebraska is shooting for its 3rd straight win in prime time after topping Indiana and Rutgers under the lights the previous 2 weeks.
As true historians of the game remember, a win here would give Nebraska its first 3-game winning streak since starting the 2016 season 7-0.
Granted, the Huskers are also 2-touchdown underdogs for good reason. A defense that’s 13th in the B1G with 29.3 points allowed per game is going to be tested by Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell. And the Boilermakers only have their own mistakes to blame for not going into this game 6-0 with a Top 15 ranking.
The winner of this game will be tied for first in the West with either Illinois or Minnesota. So no matter what happens earlier in the afternoon, there will be ramifications at Ross-Ade.