4 Big Ten football teams with the most at stake in Week 12
As we go deeper into the season, the games just feel bigger. And Week 12 looks like a really good slate.
But I won’t lie to you, I don’t know if this week can top Week 11, because it was awesome. Minnesota gained some national respect with a down-to-the-wire win over Penn State, Illinois became bowl eligible with an epic comeback at Michigan State, a walk-on led a late rally for Purdue, Indiana didn’t even play and got ranked and Wisconsin held off Iowa in a battle of ranked teams.
Good luck, Week 12.
But there are some enticing matchups on the docket for Saturday. Here are four teams with the most at stake in Week 12:
1. No. 8 Minnesota (9-0, 4 p.m. ET at No. 20 Iowa)
The Golden Gophers are two up in the West Division with three to play, and they could all but clinch a spot in the Big Ten championship with a win. And if Wisconsin loses too, Minnesota would clinch a spot the West.
But, in case you’ve been living under a rock, Minnesota’s goals have probably changed a little bit – at least realistically speaking. Minnesota is a legit CFP contender, as it moved from No. 17 to No. 8, which was the largest jump into the top 10 in the six years of this current format. It’s because the Golden Gophers gained a ton of credibility in handling then-No. 4 Penn State.
Minnesota can probably afford to lose a game and still make the CFP, but that would require beating Wisconsin and Ohio State. And it will be far from easy against an Iowa squad that has been somewhat sneakily good this year. The Hawkeyes won at Iowa State (which lost to Big 12 favorites Baylor and Oklahoma by a combined three points). They have lost their three games by a total of 14 points, and each was to a team currently in the top 14.
The Golden Gophers have gotten this far with a run-first approach (they run it even more than Wisconsin and behind only Ohio State) while maximizing their passing opportunities, as Tanner Morgan is third in the country in yards per attempt. Iowa’s defense is fourth in the country in allowing 11.7 points per game, just ahead of a Penn State defense that Minnesota torched for 31 points and 460 yards last week. Iowa’s defense has held six of its nine opponents to a season low in points, which would mean limiting Minnesota to 27 points or fewer.
2. Penn State (8-1, Noon vs. Indiana)
This is an important bounce-back game for the Nittany Lions, who are still very much in CFP contention. After losing to Minnesota and with a trip to No. 2 Ohio State next week, Penn State needs to be very careful that it doesn’t slip up against Indiana (7-2), which is enjoying its best season in 25 years.
Among the things I’m most interested in: How will Penn State’s defense respond to getting shredded by Tanner Morgan, Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson? Morgan threw for 339 yards on just 20 passing attempts. There have been just nine FBS quarterbacks to have such a game in the last 20 seasons. Penn State had been fourth in the country in opponents’ yards per play (4.0), but it dropped to sixth despite allowing one of the nation’s hottest run offenses to just 121 rushing yards on 40 attempts.
And now Indiana’s passing offense that ranks atop the Big Ten and 15th in the country at 308 yards per game rolls into town. Indiana’s Whop Philyor is second in the Big Ten in receiving yards, behind only Bateman. There could be some fireworks in this one, as Penn State’s KJ Hamler is known to make a big play or two.
3. Michigan (7-2, Noon vs. Michigan State)
This is one of Michigan’s biggest games every year, along with Ohio State and Notre Dame. The Wolverines have very quietly been taking care of business for the last 2 ½ games, starting with the second half at Penn State and continuing against Notre Dame and Maryland.
After that abominable display of offense against Iowa, Michigan has averaged at least 5.2 yards per play in its last four games. Michigan averaged 4.9 yards per play or worse in three of its first five games of the season.
The Spartans have nothing to lose, at this point. It’s been a nightmare of a season, who were ranked 18th in the preseason AP poll and have only gone down from there. In fact, that’s Michigan State’s worst peak ranking of a season since 2009. It isn’t as bad as 2016, when Michigan State was at one point the No. 8 team in the country and finished 3-9, but this has been a season to forget.
The one saving grace for Saturday for Michigan State is that it has won eight of the last 11 games in this rivalry, including two years ago when the unranked Spartans beat No. 7 Michigan 14-10. The teams have played every year since 1925.
4. Nebraska (4-5, Noon vs. No. 14 Wisconsin)
Nebraska is up against it in terms of bowl eligibility and in grave danger of not making a bowl game for the third straight season. When was the last time the Cornhuskers had such a futile stretch? The answer is 1959-1961. Yikes.
As 14.5-point underdogs to Wisconsin, Nebraska will probably lose. But the Cornhuskers desperately need to play well. When was the last time they did that, the Northern Illinois game? Has there been a time in 2019 when you could really feel good about them? Maybe not. The longer Nebraska struggles, the more fans will start to question whether Scott Frost is the right guy for this job. I think he is, but Nebraska has to start showing some progress.