3 B1G football teams with something to prove in Week 10
It’s a strange week in the Big Ten. There are six teams on bye, five of which are ranked. Michigan, up to No. 14 in the country and fresh off a beatdown of Notre Dame, is the lone ranked B1G squad in action.
Before we get a very intriguing game of unbeatens next week, here are three Big Ten teams with the most to prove in Week 10:
1. Nebraska (Noon at Purdue)
This season is officially off the rails for Nebraska (4-4). The players are wearing hoodies (because they’re apparently not very tough?), the freshmen are speaking up and Nebraska doesn’t respect Indiana, according to Indiana. I think HBO should’ve gone behind the scenes with Nebraska instead of Penn State, because this season has been one long soap opera.
Coming off a depressing loss at home to Indiana, the Cornhuskers are shaking their heads. From Big Ten West Division favorites to a must-win against Purdue.
Yes, if the Cornhuskers want to make a bowl game, this is a must-win. Purdue has its own issues, but this is far from a gimme. Vegas knows it too, as Nebraska is just a three-point favorite against a 2-6 team.
That’s because while Nebraska is fifth in total offense at 413.4 yards per game, it is last in the Big Ten in red-zone scoring percentage, getting points on just 67.7 trips. It is getting touchdowns on just 51.6 percent of its trips. The Cornhuskers are also allowing 33.6 points per game, 12th in the Big Ten. Nebraska isn’t reliable, especially on the road, where it is 1-2.
You may wonder, is it even worth it to go to an uninspiring bowl game at 6-6? Yes, it absolutely is. It’s another three weeks of practice for a freshmen class that was ranked fourth in the Big Ten recruiting rankings by 247Sports. In terms of sheer size (28 recruits), it was the biggest. This is the future of the program, and we started to see some of that against Indiana. Wan’Dale Robinson was terrific, yet again, and Luke McCaffrey (younger brother of Christian McCaffrey) looked good at quarterback in his first collegiate action. Those two, along with Garrett Nelson, spoke about having accountability
“All of us young guys — Wan’Dale, Garrett — we have to be the cornerstone,” McCaffrey told reporters. “We have to be the guys to flip this program. We’ll take it upon ourselves and do what we can.”
Will a split develop in the locker room? Maybe. But comments like that are good for the long-term health of the program.
In the short-term, though, what a mess. Could this get any worse? Let’s find out at Purdue.
2. Indiana (7 p.m. vs. Northwestern)
This is a huge night for the Hoosiers (6-2), the biggest they’ve had in a long time. By virtue of nearly all of the league’s ranked teams being off, all Big Ten eyes will be on Indiana, which has been one of the most surprising teams in the conference and in the country. Sure, the Hoosiers haven’t beaten anyone of substance (their only game against a Power Five team with a winning record is Ohio State), but that doesn’t matter as much. This is a program with a very real chance at winning eight games for the first time since Bill Clinton’s first year in the Oval Office.
And all of the hoopla, of course, sets Indiana up for a major letdown. It should beat Northwestern because it is a much better team. It has been from the opening game of the season. At no point has Northwestern shown itself to be a good team, and yet, I’m sure Indiana fans are preparing themselves for the possibility that their team falls flat. Indiana has lost nine of its last 10 meetings with Northwestern, dating to 2002. It’s not as if Northwestern has been an other-worldly football program in that time either.
Indiana is excelling in a couple areas.
IU has allowed just 11 sacks this season, fewest in the Big Ten. And yes, the Hoosiers already played Chase Young. They have also allowed 40 tackles for loss this season, which is tied for the second fewest in the Big Ten.
IU has 131 plays of 10-plus yards, which is second-most in the Big Ten behind only Ohio State. The Hoosiers aren’t a big-play offense, per say, but they are able to move the chains well.
IU’s defense is significantly improved, allowing just 22.1 points per game. The Big Ten is loaded with great defenses, so that ranks just eighth, but it is 38th nationally – easily its best standing in the last decade. The last 10 years, IU has been 81st, 52nd, 57th, 117th, 102nd, 115th, 104th, 114th, 102nd and 90th. As a side note, Northwestern is the worst offensive team in the country, so Indiana’s defensive numbers *should* improve even more.
3. Michigan (Noon at Maryland)
After its best performance of the season (by far), Michigan shouldn’t have much trouble with Maryland. That much we know. Or at least we think.
I’ll be interested in if Michigan sticks to its script from the Notre Dame game in which it ran the ball 57 times and threw it just 14. That was largely due to the rainy conditions, but it worked. The Wolverines piled up 303 rushing yards and still threw three touchdown passes. And most importantly, Michigan had no turnovers. It is still just 100th in the country with 14 turnovers this season, but progress is progress.
Saturday isn’t about proving anything on the scoreboard for Michigan. It’s about proving it can stick to and execute a game plan while building toward the Michigan State and Ohio State games.