B1G Primer Week 12: Michigan State gets its chance to prove the doubters wrong
Everything you need to know about this weekend’s B1G slate.
Game of the Week: No. 7 Michigan State at No. 4 Ohio State (-18.5)
This is essentially an elimination game in the race for the Big Ten title and a berth in the College Football Playoff. Neither team can afford another loss. If Ohio State (9-1, 7-0) wins, Michigan State (9-1, 6-1) would have 2 conference losses. If the Spartans win, they would have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Ohio State and Michigan. And obviously neither team is getting into the CFP with 2 losses (not even Alabama is likely to be extended that privilege).
The stat: Michigan State has the 130th-ranked pass defense
That’s right, Michigan State’s pass defense is dead last in the country. The Spartans have had just 2 games this season that they have held the opponent under 266 passing yards: Sept. 11 vs. Youngstown State and Oct. 16 at Indiana. Of note, Western Kentucky threw for 488 yards on the Spartans and Purdue threw for 536.
So what will Ohio State’s explosive pass attack, which ranks sixth in the country, do against a unit that hasn’t stopped much of anyone? The Buckeyes have so much firepower on offense with Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba that it’s hard to imagine the Spartans keeping them under 400 passing yards. The key for Michigan State will be forcing CJ Stroud into a few poor decisions and turning those into takeaways. And if the Spartans can force field goals instead of touchdowns, all the better.
The key matchup: Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III vs. Ohio State’s TreVeyon Henderson
So these two stud running backs obviously won’t be on the field at the same time, but it’s going to be like a heavyweight fight between the pair. These are two of the best backs in the country, and there’s no doubt each is going to land a couple of big punches (err … plays). Walker leads all FBS running backs with 147 yards per game and 17 touchdowns, while Henderson has 14 rushing TDs on just 141 carries, which means he is scoring roughly once every 10 carries. The Buckeyes have limited his touches at times this year to preserve him for the stretch run, presumably, and this is it starting this week.
And who isn’t excited to see Walker on this stage? In Michigan State’s last big game, he went off for 5 TDs.
This is as good as it gets from a running back perspective. We should see plenty of highlights from these two.
The big question: Is this 2015 all over again?
Back in 2015, Michigan State was 10-1 and Ohio State 11-0 going into their matchup. The Buckeyes were the defending national champs and ranked second in the country, but the No. 9 Spartans pulled the upset in Columbus, 17-14. That Ohio State team wound up finishing 12-1 and not getting a chance to repeat, while Michigan State wound up winning the Big Ten and going to the CFP. That Michigan State squad is still the only non-Ohio State team from the B1G to make the CFP.
No, it’s not 2015. This is a very tough matchup for Michigan State given its struggles against the pass. And Ryan Day always has Ohio State ready to play; the Buckeyes have won 28 straight in the Big Ten dating to 2018.
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Ohio State 44, Michigan State 28
Purdue (-10.5) at Northwestern
Purdue’s offense is clicking, averaging 537.5 yards per game the last 2 weeks against top-10 teams. Meanwhile, Northwestern’s offense has been broken pretty much all season. Purdue has been one of the Big Ten’s biggest surprises, with a legit chance at 8 wins.
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Purdue 35, Northwestern 10
Rutgers at Penn State (-17.5)
After yet another crushing defeat, Penn State (6-4, 3-4) is reeling. James Franklin is starting to get a little cranky, making some ominous comments about big-time college football needing to be a year-round commitment. It was a clear shot at the administration, which apparently isn’t giving Franklin what he wants. It’s fair to wonder whether this is his last home game. This is a dangerous game against a team in Rutgers (5-5, 2-5) that is hungry to get bowl eligible.
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Penn State 24, Rutgers 14
Illinois at No. 17 Iowa (-12.5)
The Hawkeyes (8-2, 5-2) have no margin for error in order to win the West. The good news is that Alex Padilla has looked very comfortable in place of Spencer Petras. The bad news is that Illinois has already won 2 games on the road against ranked opponents. This is an upset alert in Bret Bielema’s return to Iowa City.
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Iowa 27, Illinois 20
No. 6 Michigan (-14.5) at Maryland
OK, so now even Paul Finebaum thinks Michigan is not just properly rated, but even underrated! Wow. I wouldn’t go that far, but good to know I’m not on an island with thinking Michigan is very good. The Wolverines have to be careful not to overlook the Terrapins with a big matchup against Ohio State up next week.
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Michigan 30, Maryland 17
Minnesota (-7) at Indiana
The spread is a little fishy. The Hoosiers (2-8, 0-7) have obviously checked out, and Minnesota (6-4, 4-3) is looking to boost its bowl projection. The Golden Gophers won’t rack up a ton of highlights, but they win in the trenches and play sound football. Indiana is coming off a 35-point home loss to Rutgers.
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Minnesota 27, Indiana 17
Nebraska at No. 15 Wisconsin (-9.5)
I’ve made my feelings on Nebraska (3-7, 1-6) quite clear, so I won’t rehash that topic. I think the Badgers (7-3, 5-2), with a West title in their sights, are going to come out firing in their final home game of the season. The only concern for the Badgers is that the Huskers are excellent in slowing down elite running backs; TreVeyon Henderson and Kenneth Walker III both had their season lows in terms of yards per carry against Nebraska. Braelon Allen has 6 straight 100-yard games, so it’s going to be interesting to see if he can make it 7 against a great run defense.
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Wisconsin 27, Nebraska 7
Week 11: 6-0 straight-up / 3-3 vs. spread
Season: 73-18 straight-up / 51-39-1 vs. spread