Week 3 B1G Primer: Time to panic for Penn State, Iowa and Minnesota?
Everything you need to know about this weekend’s B1G slate.
Have any teams had as bad of a 2020 as Penn State, Iowa and Minnesota? Ironically enough, those teams were the Big Ten’s 3 best bowl performers in the final days of 2019.
Penn State (53 points vs. Memphis in the Cotton Bowl) and Iowa (49 points vs. USC in the Holiday Bowl) looked absolutely loaded and returned most of their production, while Minnesota surprised everyone but themselves in handling Auburn in the Outback Bowl. Each team, on the backs of those strong bowl performances and what they had coming back, was in the preseason AP Top 25.
But since the calendar turned to 2020, it seems like nothing has gone right for any of them. Penn State lost all-everything Micah Parsons as an opt-out and lost its 2 best running backs, Journey Brown and Noah Cain, to injury. Iowa’s rocky offseason with race relations is well-chronicled, and the latest is that star wideout Ihmir Smith-Marsette got a OWI arrest after Saturday’s loss to Northwestern. And as for Minnesota, there is a legitimate case that the Golden Gophers are the worst team in the Big Ten through 2 weeks, and the only team you can put below them with any certainty is Illinois.
Meanwhile, Indiana, Purdue and Northwestern are 2-0. Go figure.
Penn State, Minnesota and Iowa are all favored to win by at least a touchdown this week, so if any of them lose and drop to 0-3, they will officially cross over from “disappointing” to “disaster.”
Here’s a breakdown of the Week 3 slate:
Game of the Week: No. 23 Michigan (-3.5) at No. 13 Indiana
Indiana’s path to legitimacy runs through Michigan. A win likely leads to a top-10 ranking for the Hoosiers (2-0) for first time since 1969. A loss means the inevitable “Same old Indiana” groans from a fan base that has typically moved on to basketball by this point of the calendar. The reality is that Indiana football may just be getting started, as it has its highest ranking since 1987.
Sure, Michigan (1-1) just lost to a Michigan State team that is supposed to be rebuilding, but you have to understand the power Michigan has over Indiana — and a lot of other Big Ten programs not named Ohio State and Michigan State. The Wolverines have beaten the Hoosiers 24 straight times and 39 out of 40 dating to 1968.
Of course, Indiana is traditionally a much inferior team to Michigan, which explains the lack of success. Last year, however, the Hoosiers were supposed to compete with Michigan. They entered last season’s matchup at 7-3 and coming off a narrow loss at Penn State, but the Wolverines won easily, 39-14. It was a massive letdown for Indiana and underscored the distance it still had to go in order to populate the upper echelon of the Big Ten East.
Indiana beat No. 8 Penn State to open the season, but there are some skeptics, like me, who believe it was a little fluky. The Hoosiers were out-gained 486-211, an astounding number that has only been replicated by a winning team once in the last 20 years (also Indiana, in 2004 against Oregon). In addition, Penn State could have run out the clock in regulation. And officials could have easily ruled Michael Penix Jr. was down as he reached for the pylon on the fateful 2-point conversion in overtime.
An Indiana win would make the Hoosiers one of the best stories in college football — if not the best.
The stat: Michigan is 8-1 in the regular season after a loss under Harbaugh
Would Indiana have been better off with the Wolverines narrowly beating Michigan State last week instead of narrowly losing?
Say what you will about Michigan being able to sustain quality play for an entire season, but it has rebounded well from losses under Jim Harbaugh. The lone blemish was when Michigan lost to Wisconsin and Ohio State to close the regular season. After losing to Wisconsin last year, Michigan beat Rutgers by 52, and after losing to Penn State, Michigan beat Notre Dame by 31.
The big question: Which version of Michael Penix will show up?
Penix was outstanding on the final drive of regulation and in overtime against Penn State, and that heroic effort overshadowed a pretty poor performance for the first 58 minutes of the game. And Penix was better against Rutgers, but he’s still just 9th in the B1G in passing yards per game, 11th in yards per attempt. He would’ve been third in the latter category last year if he had enough games to qualify for the league leaders, so this season has been a step down from Penix’s previous performance.
Michigan is extremely vulnerable at corner, as Michigan State’s Rocky Lombardi showed last week in throwing for 323 yards and 3 TDs. Indiana needs Penix to deliver like he did last season.
Joe Milton and Michigan’s offense is better than they showed against Michigan State. That was a bad loss, but it is a rivalry and wacky things tend to happen in such games.
It comes down to this: Can Indiana really beat Penn State and Michigan in the same season? I’m skeptical, even if both games are in Bloomington.
– – –
Michigan 31, Indiana 24
Nebraska at Northwestern (-4)
Northwestern’s defense has been terrific again this season (it was last year, too, but you wouldn’t have known that because its offense was abominable. The Wildcats (2-0) are among the early B1G leaders in total defense (2nd), rushing defense (1st), passing defense (2nd), scoring defense (2nd) and turnovers (T-1st). The same Maryland that put up 45 against Minnesota managed only a field goal against Northwestern.
What makes this one tricky to predict is that I don’t have a feel for Nebraska (0-1) yet. Its one game was against Ohio State, and I think pretty much every team in the Big Ten could lose to the Buckeyes by 35 on a given day. All I really know is that Nebraska really, really, really wants to play football.
That’s why I’ll go with my gut and take the Huskers in a close one. (But I reserve the right to retract my pick if the grass at Northwestern hasn’t been cut in 2 months, thus making it tougher for Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey to run.)
– – –
Nebraska 24, Northwestern 19
Michigan State at Iowa (-6.5)
The Hawkeyes (0-2) appear to be a team in free fall. There was the tumultuous offseason involving racial issues, the back-to-back losses to start the season and then Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s arrest and suspension. Kirk Ferentz is the longest-tenured coach in FBS, but his once-stable program is not in a good place. The Hawkeyes should win against the Spartans (1-1), but the game will be close.
– – –
Iowa 28, Michigan State 24
Maryland at Penn State (-25)
Maryland’s defense hasn’t stopped much of anything this season, and this feels like a good opportunity for Penn State (0-2) to take out some frustration from a few early-season losses. Sean Clifford and Jahan Dotson could become one of the league’s best QB-WR duos.
– – –
Penn State 42, Maryland 14
Minnesota (-7) at Illinois
If there was ever a chance for Minnesota’s defense to get right, you’d have to think it would be against an offense that doesn’t know who will be its starting QB. The Illini (0-2) played fourth-string QB Coran Taylor for the majority of last week’s loss to Purdue, but third-stringer Matt Robinson may be back from injury. Starter Brandon Peters is still out with COVID-19, and backup Isaiah Williams could be out for contact-tracing purposes, as well.
The Golden Gophers (0-2) allowed only 306 yards per game in their breakthrough 2019 season; in 2020, they are allowing 578 per game — which is 102nd nationally out of the 103 teams currently playing.
– – –
Minnesota 34, Illinois 24
Rutgers at No. 3 Ohio State (-38)
Ohio State (2-0) has been nearly flawless in the first 2 weeks and is already firmly entrenched in the College Football Playoff race. Why would I expect anything other than a Buckeyes rout, even if Rutgers (1-1) has shown signs of life?
– – –
Ohio State 48, Rutgers 14
Week 2 record: 3-3 straight-up / 2-4 vs. spread
Season record: 6-7 straight-up / 5-8 vs. spread