Week 10 B1G Primer: Michigan State has earned its respect (except in Vegas). Now, can it back it up?
Everything you need to know about this weekend’s B1G slate.
Game of the Week: No. 3 Michigan State (-3) at Purdue
It’s a bit of an odd week in the Big Ten, as this is the only single-digit spread. And strangely enough, it’s a game featuring the highest-ranked team in the conference against an unranked one. Clearly, Michigan State hasn’t yet earned the benefit of the doubt of the fine folks in Las Vegas, though the College Football Playoff Committee clearly appreciates its incredible run. The committee put Michigan State third in its debut rankings this week, a clear indicator that the Spartans are a legitimate CFP contender, unlike how the committee seems to view fellow unbeatens Cincinnati and Wake Forest.
The stakes for the Spartans (8-0, 5-0) every week from here on out will be a potential East title and CFP berth. This is the second leg of a really tough back end of the schedule. After beating Michigan last week, Michigan State gets a Purdue squad that was briefly ranked, Maryland at home, No. 5 Ohio State on the road and formerly ranked Penn State at home.
The stat: Purdue has lost its last 2 at home
Purdue has had a terrific season, as it has won its last 2 on the road in impressive fashion, dominating against Iowa and coming back to win at Nebraska. But for whatever reason, Purdue hasn’t been able to get it done in front of its home fans, and that may cost it the West title. The Boilermakers lost at home to Minnesota and Wisconsin, with the latter game not competitive. Even in Purdue’s lone B1G home win, it was only 13-9 over Illinois. In its last 3 home games, Purdue hasn’t scored more than 13 points.
The key matchup: Michigan State’s secondary vs. David Bell
There is a lot of evidence that if you slow down David Bell, you can beat Purdue. Wisconsin held Bell to 33 yards on 6 receptions and won. Notre Dame limited Bell to 66 yards and won (though Bell left with a concussion). Bell didn’t play against Illinois, and the Boilermakers scored just 13 points. Bell went nuclear in the win over Iowa, tallying 11 catches for 240 yards and a TD.
Michigan State is allowing a B1G-worst 423 yards per game, including more than 300 per contest through the air. Cade McNamara and Andrel Anthony carved up the Spartans last week, and it took a heroic performance from Kenneth Walker III to keep this unbeaten run going.
Can the Spartans’ 127th-ranked pass defense get enough stops against a team that passes almost 44 times per game (7th in the country)?
The big question: How much gas does Kenneth Walker III have left in the tank?
This guy is on an incredible run, and boy, is he fun to watch. Walker had a performance for the ages with 197 yards and 5 TDs against Michigan. He has notched 23 or more carries in 4 straight games. Ideally, Michigan State wouldn’t have to overuse him in this game or next week against Maryland and could save him for Ohio State and Penn State. But if it takes 25-30 carries from Walker to get it done, so be it.
Walker is averaging just under 22 carries per game, which isn’t an outrageous amount, but it bares monitoring to make sure he has some gas left in the tank for the stretch run. The Spartans have so many playmakers, like Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor. Speaking of Nailor, his status for this game is unknown after he suffered a hand injury against Michigan.
Purdue is not the team you want to face as a top-3 team. Ask 2018 Ohio State and 2021 Iowa. But I think Michigan State will find a way. It has won games by getting big plays on defense (Nebraska and Indiana) and putting up huge numbers on offense (Miami and Michigan). Whatever it takes, the Spartans will get it done.
– – –
Michigan State 30, Purdue 21
No. 5 Ohio State (-15.5) at Nebraska
This feels like do-or-die for fourth-year head coach Scott Frost, who hasn’t been to a bowl game and is dangerously close to being eliminated again. All Nebraska (3-6, 1-5) needs is to beat 3 straight ranked teams (Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa) after not beating any in the prior 3 ½ seasons. No biggie. The Huskers have lost 3 straight and 5 of 6, and though 4 of those losses were to ranked teams, it doesn’t really matter. Nebraska will probably play Ohio State (7-1, 5-0) tough for a while and score late to cover and give the impression that it can compete with the Buckeyes. It’s an endless cycle.
– – –
Ohio State 38, Nebraska 24
Illinois at No. 20 Minnesota (-14.5)
Who else was surprised to see Minnesota in the top 20 of the committee’s first rankings? It’s kind of strange that a team without any quality wins and a loss to a MAC team is ranked this high, but that’s not Minnesota’s problem. The Golden Gophers’ problem is that they can’t keep a running back healthy. They have had 3 RBs suffer season-ending injuries. But the beat rolls on for the Golden Gophers (6-2, 4-1), who suddenly have one of the country’s top rush defenses after having one of the worst in 2020. That’s key against Illinois (3-6, 2-4), a team that can only generate offense on the ground.
– – –
Minnesota 21, Illinois 13
Penn State (-10.5) at Maryland
The Nittany Lions (5-3, 2-3) have lost 3 straight, which is why they were left out of the first CFP rankings despite beating 2 ranked teams. Surely, Penn State has revenge on its mind after losing in lopsided fashion to Maryland (5-3, 2-3) last year. The question is, can Penn State keep Sean Clifford in one piece? The Nittany Lions have no run game and no backup QB.
– – –
Penn State 24, Maryland 21
No. 21 Wisconsin (-13.5) at Rutgers
Wisconsin (5-3, 3-2) seems to have figured it out. Rutgers? It’s just hard to tell. The Scarlet Knights (4-4, 1-4) went on the road and beat an Illinois team coming off an upset victory over Penn State. That was after losing 4 straight, including a game to Northwestern. If Rutgers can shut down the run game like it did against Illinois, the Scarlet Knights should be able to keep it close.
– – –
Wisconsin 24, Rutgers 13
No. 22 Iowa (-11.5) at Northwestern
Northwestern (3-5, 1-4) has the No. 13 defense in the B1G, so this is a great opportunity for the struggling Iowa offense to figure out some things. But the Hawkeyes (6-2, 3-2) have struggled with the Wildcats in recent years, losing 4 of the last 5, so this is not a good week for a team in freefall like the Hawkeyes. Still, though, Iowa can’t be this bad, right?
– – –
Iowa 20, Northwestern 13
Indiana at No. 7 Michigan (-20.5)
How focused will Michigan be coming off the crushing loss to Michigan State? Tough to say. On paper, this defense should be able to bully Indiana’s offensive line and put the Wolverines (7-1, 4-1) in excellent field position. And if the Hoosiers (2-6, 0-5) are starting their third-string QB, the offense’s potential is limited.
– – –
Michigan 34, Indiana 10
Week 9: 4-3 straight-up / 3-4 vs. spread
Season: 62-16 straight-up / 44-33-1 vs. spread