Week 5 B1G Primer: Two unexpected Big Ten semifinals are set. Can Ohio State and Wisconsin be stopped?
Everything you need to know about this weekend’s B1G slate.
Game of the Week: No. 9 Indiana at No. 3 Ohio State (-20.5)
A berth in the Big Ten Championship Game, essentially. The only other team with any sort of a chance in the East is Maryland, but I don’t think a team that has allowed over 40 points in 2 of its 3 games is competing for a B1G title. Since Ohio State (3-0) and Maryland (2-1) won’t play this season, technically Indiana could beat Ohio State and Maryland could beat Indiana (4-0) — creating three 1-loss teams in the East. Hey, stranger things have happened. Anyways, that’s where we are — Ohio State, Indiana and Maryland are the 3 teams alive in the East, as everyone else has 3 losses.
For Indiana, this is a chance to become a real contender to make the College Football Playoff. To this point, the Hoosiers are just a nice story. ESPN’s Allstate Playoff Predictor gives them just a 1.6 percent chance of making the CFP and a 0.1 percent chance of winning it all. Ohio State, meanwhile, has a 61.4 percent chance of making the CFP and a 21.2 percent chance of winning it all. Indiana’s odds of making the CFP would rise dramatically with a win. Their credibility would, too, for years to come.
For Ohio State, this represents its only quality opponent until the Big Ten Championship Game. Its 3 opponents have a combined record of 2-9. After Indiana, Ohio State’s final 3 opponents have a combined record of 3-9.
The stat: +8
That is Indiana’s turnover margin through 4 games, meaning they are coming out ahead by an average of 2 turnovers per game — the second-best mark in the country, behind only Wake Forest. In fact, Indiana’s +8 turnover margin is third nationally despite playing 3 fewer games than the 4 other teams in the top 5.
Creating turnovers can be a bit random from year to year, as it often depends on the opponents and luck. Clemson in 2016 was the last national champion to finish inside the top 20 nationally in takeaways. Indiana is excelling at creating turnovers so far, as it has 10 interceptions — which is already 3 more than it had in 13 games last season. Jaylin Williams and Tiawan Mullen keep stealing extra possessions for an Indiana offense that has started a little slow (at least compared to last year).
Limiting your own turnovers, though, is much more predictable, and Indiana has done a good job thus far. Among B1G teams that have played 4 games, Indiana has tied for the fewest (4) with Michigan. Three of those are Michael Penix Jr. interceptions.
The big question: Can Justin Fields be stopped?
That’s the key to this game. It isn’t about shutting down Fields for an entire game, because that’s just not going to happen — at least by a college defense. But can Indiana get a turnover or 2? Can Indiana hold Ohio State to field goals? The Buckeyes, so far, are better offensively than last year, when they were in the top 5 nationally in points per game and total offense. They are averaging 7.2 yards per play this season, and that’s with a dropoff in the run game. Fields has as many incompletions as TD passes (11), and it’s honestly been surprising he has that many incompletions. He has thrown 3 interceptions in his career. Good luck, Indiana.
Ohio State will be ready to go, especially after the game against Maryland was canceled due to the Terrapins COVID outbreak. I’m not sure if Ohio State is as good as last year on defense or rushing the ball.
Indiana needs a huge game offensively to keep pace. Lost in all the hoopla of this terrific start is that the offense is averaging a full yard per play less than last season.
– – –
Ohio State 48, Indiana 24
Purdue (-3) at Minnesota
Minnesota (1-3) has gotten absolutely wrecked on the ground this season, allowing an unfathomable 7.2 yards per carry — worst in the country. The good news for the Golden Gophers, though, is that Purdue doesn’t want to run the ball. The Boilermakers (2-1) average the fewest rushing attempts per game in the Big Ten and the fewest yards. That’s why this is a game Minnesota should be able to win. You have to figure at some point, Tanner Morgan looks like he did last year, right?
Purdue, it should be noted, could be without starting QB Aidan O’Connell, who is a game-time decision. Head coach Jeff Brohm did say the Boilermakers may get a few guys back this week. He didn’t say who, of course, but maybe it will be star wideout Rondale Moore and star defensive end George Karlaftis—2 of Purdue’s 3 best players.
– – –
Minnesota 28, Purdue 21
Illinois at Nebraska (-15.5)
This was a wild game last year in which Nebraska (1-2) had its highest yardage total (685) in the Scott Frost era — and won by just 4 points. Luke McCaffrey will make his second straight start in favor of Adrian Martinez, and he’ll have to prove that he can be consistent. McCaffrey played a good first half against Penn State last week, but he didn’t generate much offense in the second half.
It’s probably tough for Nebraska to prepare, as Illinois (1-3) has started 4 QBs in 4 games (Brandon Peters, Matt Robinson, Coran Taylor and Isaiah Williams) due to COVID. Peters, the starter in the opener, is due back this week. Illinois could go with Williams, who is more of a rushing threat than a passer.
– – –
Nebraska 34, Illinois 14
No. 10 Wisconsin (-7.5) at No. 19 Northwestern
Normally, a meeting of undefeated West teams in a matchup that will decide who goes to the Big Ten Championship Game would be the marquee game on the slate, but it takes a backseat to Ohio State and Indiana. For Northwestern (4-0), this is a chance to show that it is a real contender.
That’s because Wisconsin (2-0) has looked like a legit threat to win the Big Ten (and in a normal year without Justin Fields, it would probably be the favorite). Graham Mertz, the highly touted redshirt freshman who wasn’t even supposed to start this season, has lived up to the hype. The scary part is that he hasn’t even had to do too much in a pair of 38-point victories over Illinois and Michigan. Mertz is completing 74 percent of his passes, averaging 8.7 yards per attempt and has a 7-0 TD-INT ratio. He has been as good as could’ve been expected. Going against a defense ranked in the top 3 in the B1G in virtually every defensive category, he’ll face his stiffest test yet.
– – –
Wisconsin 31, Northwestern 28
Iowa (-2.5) at Penn State
At some point, Penn State (0-4) will break through, right? That’s the thinking, considering it has outgained 2 opponents by 200+ yards and lost (Indiana and Nebraska). Throw in a loss to Maryland when it didn’t show up, and it’s hard to really tell how many wins are out there for Penn State. The good news is after this week, the schedule gets significantly easier with Michigan, Rutgers and Michigan State.
This prediction makes no sense because Iowa (2-2) has really turned it around the last 2 weeks and has looked like one of the best teams in the West. But James Franklin is too good of a coach to start 0-5. I think.
– – –
Penn State 24, Iowa 23
Michigan (-7.5) at Rutgers
In a Michigan fan’s worst nightmare, did they ever believe they would be sweating out a game against Rutgers in Jim Harbaugh’s sixth season? That’s where Michigan is right now, though. It’s been a long 3 weeks.
The most interesting thing about this game is what Michigan will do at QB. Does Cade McNamara get a shot? Joe Milton had a terrible night against Wisconsin, throwing 2 first-quarter interceptions, opening the door for McNamara.
While I don’t have a ton of confidence in Michigan, it should be able to pull this out against the second-most turnover prone team in the Big Ten. The Wolverines haven’t forced a single turnover the last 3 weeks, and that’s really held them back. The extra possessions this week will help.
– – –
Michigan 34, Rutgers 27
Week 4 record: 3-3 straight-up / 3-3 vs. spread
Season record: 12-13 straight-up / 10-15 vs. spread