One B1G thing for every Big Ten team in Week 13
It’s finally here. The best week of the year.
Not because of the food. Which is saying a lot, because the food is great. Not because of the family, because you still have to take the ones who you are related to by marriage into account. Not because it’s finally appropriate to play Christmas music, because if you’re that excited about Christmas music you’re one of those sickos who started playing it on Nov. 1 anyway.
This is the best week of the year because it includes football on top of all those things. Football that matters, at least in the Big Ten. Even if the teams are lousy, every game has stakes of varying degrees on Thanksgiving weekend.
Perhaps due to the circumstances of the past 2 years, it feels like this week has never arrived faster. But here we are. And here is what we are looking to see from every Big Ten team in the final week of the regular season.
Iowa — Does Alex Padilla seal the starting job?
Alex Padilla looked well on his way to securing the role of Iowa’s starting quarterback in 2022 in his first 2 performances. And then he played Illinois.
The Fighting Illini have been far from lights out against the pass this year, yet Padilla struggled mightily — 6-of-17 for 83 yards and an interception.
Padilla’s performance against Nebraska could determine whether we still consider this Spencer Petras’ job to lose heading into next season.
Nebraska — Will this team finally beat a ranked opponent?
The Cornhuskers give everyone trouble, but with 7 one-score losses, finishing has not been their forte.
The table is set for Nebraska to end an agonizing season on a good note. The Huskers have a good enough defense to stifle Iowa completely. And a good enough offense to move the ball on a very good Iowa defense.
But walking turnover Adrian Martinez gives plenty of reasons to think this will be another painful ending for Nebraska.
Maryland — Will the defense show up?
Maryland’s defense is miserable. But Rutgers just got shut out. With bowl eligibility on the line, will the Terps finally tackle someone?
Rutgers — Will the offense show up?
It’s always interesting to see how a unit responds to an embarrassing performance, and there’s certainly no other way to describe Rutgers’ blanking at Penn State.
This is a big moment for quarterback Noah Vedral as he looks to get the Scarlet Knights bowling for the first time since 2014.
Penn State — Can the Lions QB dice up the Spartans?
Whether it’s Sean Clifford or Christian Veilleux, this week’s starting quarterback got a pretty good read on how to fillet Michigan State’s defense from Ohio State. And while the Nittany Lions don’t have as many weapons as the Buckeyes, they do have Jahan Dotson. It feels like this could be a career game for the senior star.
Michigan State — Time for Mel to make his money
Everyone loses. And most coaches, at some point, are on the wrong end of a complete ass-whipping. It’s how you respond to those performances that proves your mettle as a head coach.
With Mel Tucker allegedly in line to become the second-highest paid coach in college football, this would be a crucial week in proving he’s worth that kind of dough.
Northwestern — Stay owning the state
It’s been a crap year for Northwestern, but there’s still one thing Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats can hang their stovepipe hat on — absolute ownership of the boys from Champaign.
Northwestern has won the Land of Lincoln Trophy 6 straight years. Doing it again Saturday would knot up the all-time series at 55-55-5. If you’re a fan of numerology, there’s no other outcome to root for.
Illinois — Keep building momentum
The Illini played Iowa tough but fell short in their bid to stay alive for a bowl berth. Still, a season-ending win over Northwestern would clinch a 5-7 season for Brett Bielema — an undeniable win from where this team was at when he took over.
Illinois is still moving the right way regardless of outcome, but 4-8 feels a lot less like forward progress.
Indiana — Make us forget 2021 happened
It’s been perhaps the most disastrous season in the ignominious history of Indiana football, which is saying a lot. The Hoosiers started the year in the Top 25 and may finish it without a win in the Big Ten.
But if the season ends with the Old Oaken Bucket? Water under the bridge.
Purdue — Secure a quality bowl game
With either Michigan or Ohio State likely headed to the College Football Playoff, everyone in the B1G will move up a spot in the bowl pecking order. And at 8-4, the Boilermakers may find themselves in a very nice postseason destination indeed.
Wisconsin — Just get to Indy
It doesn’t matter how the Badgers get the job done. Just beat Minnesota and represent the Big Ten West in the conference championship game.
The good news for the Badgers is it appears they have somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen different ways to beat the Gophers. Braelon Allen has rushed for more than 100 yards for 7 straight games, including 228 against a pretty decent Nebraska defense. Graham Mertz is finally playing quarterback at a solid enough level where you’d trust him to lead a 2-minute drill. And it’s hard to see Tanner Morgan and Minnesota’s offense doing much against the Wisconsin defense.
Minnesota — Just win the Axe
Minnesota has won Paul Bunyan’s Axe just once since 2004. It doesn’t matter how the Gophers get the job done. Just beat Wisconsin. And, if Iowa loses to Nebraska on Friday, doing so results in representing the Big Ten West in the conference championship game!
Figuring out how this will happen does unfortunately require some imagination. Minnesota can run the ball, but Wisconsin leads the Big Ten with 59.8 rushing yards allowed per game. That’s 40 yards better than any other defense.
If Minnesota is to win, it will probably require forcing a Bunyan-sized bushel of turnovers. The Badgers are capable of complying with this directive, as they’re tied with Indiana for the most giveaways in the conference.
Michigan — Get to the quarterback
Based on the reaction to Ohio State’s 56-7 whitewashing of Michigan State, you’d think the Buckeyes have already won the Big Ten and CJ Stroud is the next Heisman Trophy winner.
Not so fast, my friend.
Michigan is actually capable of beating the Buckeyes for the first time in a long time. And the biggest reasons are defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, who are tied for the Big Ten lead with 10 sacks apiece.
Stroud looked like he had enough time in the pocket to make and eat a sandwich against the Spartans. He won’t have that luxury this week.
Ohio State — Don’t take Michigan lightly
The temptation has to be there for the Buckeyes after making the No. 7 team in the country look like a low-level FCS squad. And after beating Michigan 8 straight times. And due to the fact no one has ever lost a Big Ten football game playing for Ryan Day.
But for the first time in 5 years, Michigan is good enough to beat Ohio State. The Wolverines have exactly the right offensive formula for keeping the Buckeye offense off the field. Day must get that message across this week. Ohio State still has a talent advantage, but it’s no longer significant enough that the Buckeyes can beat the Wolverines by merely showing up.