Week 7 B1G Primer: Nebraska’s bowl march begins now
Everything you need to know about this weekend’s B1G slate.
Game of the Week: Nebraska (-4) at Minnesota
This is a must-win for Nebraska (3-4) and head coach Scott Frost. If it feels like that is the case every week, well, that’s because Frost’s future is on shaky ground. This is Year 4 and Frost has yet to make a bowl game. This year’s team is undoubtedly his best and is probably going to wind up a couple plays away from going 9-3 when it’s all said and done.
But right now, the Huskers have no margin for error. They still have to face the 2 best teams in the Big Ten, No. 2 Iowa and No. 6 Ohio State. Since Nebraska is 0-10 vs. ranked teams in Frost’s tenure, let’s assume it loses both of those. That leaves road games at Minnesota and Wisconsin and a home game against Purdue as games Nebraska needs to win in order to become bowl eligible.
The stat: Nebraska is 5-16 in 1-possession games under Frost
This stat has probably been unavoidable if you consume any Nebraska content, and understandably so because it sums up the Frost era well. Often, it’s a late miscue that leads to a crushing defeat. Nebraska lost to Michigan State and Michigan, both now in the top 10, because Adrian Martinez threw an interception in overtime against the Spartans and fumbled late in the fourth quarter against the Wolverines.
Nebraska fans have grown used to pointing to 1 or 2 plays that swung each loss. Sometimes it’s a turnover, but other times it’s a boneheaded penalty or special teams mishap.
And that has to be frustrating, especially this season. Here’s the thing you can’t actually tell from Nebraska’s record: The Huskers are actually pretty good. They have the No. 32 point differential in the country despite being under .500. They have 3 losses to current top-10 teams by a combined 13 points. They have the No. 2 offense and No. 7 defense in the Big Ten, but they just can’t get over the hump.
Of course, Vegas thinks will be a 1-score game, adding to the intrigue.
The key matchup: Nebraska’s defense vs. the next Minnesota RB
Minnesota has had a tough go of it with its running backs. All-American Mohamed Ibrahim went down in the season opener against Ohio State, and backup Trey Potts, who averaged 29 carries and 146.7 rushing yards in the 3 full games he played, sustained a season-ending injury last game against Purdue.
So, it’s next man up for Minnesota. Maybe that is freshman Mar’Keise Irving, who got 6 carries against Purdue. Maybe it is Cam Wiley, who averaged over 6 yards per carry last year in a reserve role but has barely played this season. PJ Fleck tends to pick a guy and then ride him, as Ibrahim led FBS in carries per game last year, with Potts following that same script this year.
Minnesota’s passing attack is abysmal, ranking 124th nationally and ahead of only Colorado among Power 5 teams. That’s hard to believe given that 2 years ago, Tanner Morgan was one of the top QBs in college football. Now, the Golden Gophers attempt just 18 passes per game (the fewest in the country aside from the service academies) and lean heavily on the ground game.
So if you’re Nebraska, stop the run and you stop Minnesota. Last week’s game against Michigan aside, the Huskers have been excellent against the run, particularly in holding Heisman candidate Kenneth Walker III to just 61 yards on 19 carries.
The big question: Is Minnesota even more of a mess than Nebraska?
Currently, yes. I don’t think that is debatable. Minnesota is on its third-string RB, and you could say that is either bad luck or overusing your starter (or both). The Golden Gophers had a starting offensive lineman, Curtis Dunlap, enter the transfer portal during the bye week. Dunlap had started 15 games in his career, including all 5 this year.
Minnesota lost as a 31-point favorite to Bowling Green, which is now 0-2 in the MAC. It also barely beat Miami (Ohio), which is 2-4 overall. This is just a stunning fall from that magical 2019 season in which the Golden Gophers nearly won the West and finished ranked No. 10 overall.
Sure, Minnesota is 3-2 this season, but there’s a reason the Golden Gophers are home underdogs to a team with only 1 Power 5 win this season.
Don’t let the records fool you, Nebraska has played much better than Minnesota this season. That’s why I’m taking the Huskers to break this 2-game losing streak to the Golden Gophers and stay on track to becoming bowl eligible.
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• Nebraska 30, Minnesota 17
No. 10 Michigan State (-4.5) at Indiana
Indiana will likely be starting backup QB Jack Tuttle in place of the injured Michael Penix Jr., and while it’s never ideal to have an injury to the starter, the Hoosiers can’t get much worse on offense. They are coming off a bye, so they should have a well-devised strategy. But there is just something about this Michigan State team, which is blowing out teams and also winning games it probably shouldn’t (Nebraska). It feels like we are destined to see the Spartans and Michigan meet as undefeated teams in Week 9. This is the final hurdle for Michigan State.
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• Michigan State 35, Indiana 24
Rutgers (-2) at Northwestern
The bye week came at an excellent time for Northwestern, which got absolutely trucked by Nebraska, allowing 427 yards (on the ground!). The Wildcats have yielded over 500 yards to all 3 Power 5 opponents this season, and that includes Duke. Can a Ryan Hilinski-led offense compensate for such a leaky defense? The early returns haven’t been promising, as he is averaging just 5.7 yards per attempt, though his last outing against Nebraska went better. For a Rutgers squad coming off a disappointing second half against Michigan State, this is a get-right game. The Scarlet Knights may have lost 3 straight, but all have been against top-10 teams. We’ll see if Noah Vedral is able to go after he left last game and did not return due to injury. Cole Snyder is the backup.
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• Rutgers 24, Northwestern 17
Purdue at Iowa (-11.5)
The path is clear now for Iowa, so can it avoid a major upset? That’s going to be the question each of its last 6 games, starting with Purdue. And recently, beating Purdue has been a tough task for Iowa, which has lost 3 of the last 4 meetings. This one will be tough on the Boilermakers, though, because Iowa is not the team to solve a QB issue against; the Hawkeyes have 16 interceptions in their 4 games against Power 5 opponents this season. In that regard, it may not matter whether Jack Plummer or Aidan O’Connell starts at QB, as head coach Jeff Brohm didn’t commit to either earlier this week. You’d think Plummer, who hasn’t thrown an interception on 118 pass attempts, would have the upper hand over O’Connell, who has 5 INTs on 100 pass attempts. But that’s not how Brohm sees it.
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Iowa 26, • Purdue 17
Army at Wisconsin (-14)
This is the B1G’s only night game this week, and I don’t foresee having to stay up too late to see the end of this one. Army averages 65 rushing attempts per game, and Wisconsin is, well, Wisconsin, only passing if it has to. The Badgers are 115th in passing offense, Army is 129th. So this game should take, what, about 2 hours? Jeff Monken, who always seems to be in the mix for a Power 5 job, is not to be taken lightly as the Black Knights are 13-4 over the last 2 years and nearly won at Michigan in 2019. The big question at Wisconsin is how are the Badgers doing in terms of chemistry after an adversity-filled season, with the latest being the dismissal of last year’s top running back, Jalen Berger?
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• Wisconsin 28, Army 10
Week 6: 5-0 straight-up / 4-1 vs. spread
Season: 53-8 straight-up / 37-23-1 vs. spread