Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
Illinois at Penn State – Noon on ESPN2
The Penn State Nittany Lions (6-2, 3-1) are bowl eligible and look like they could get to eight wins before a tough close to the season against Michigan and Michigan State. Illinois is 4-3 (1-2) with remaining games against Purdue, Minnesota and Northwestern so they are one of many B1G teams battling to reach bowl eligibility. These two teams are surprisingly similar: Penn State is 98th in scoring offense and Illinois is 84th. Penn State is 26th in scoring defense while Illinois is 31st. Penn State is 45th in the S&P+ rankings while Illinois is 37th. In short, expect this to be a low-scoring game that will swing on a big play or two. Penn State will be looking to run the ball much better than they did against Maryland and get Saquon Barkley back on track and the Illini will need to have a great game from Wes Lunt if Josh Ferguson is unable to go.
Nebraska at Purdue – Noon on ESPNU
Both of these teams are in desperate need of a victory. Nebraska is 3-5 (1-3) in Mike Riley’s first season and fans are already anxious about whether or not he can be successful in Lincoln. The Boilers (1-6, 0-3) continue to scuffle under Darrell Hazell and they appeared lifeless in their previous game before heading into the bye week. The Huskers have to be emotionally fatigued after losing yet another close game last Saturday but Tommy Armstrong should be able to have some success against this Purdue defense and the Nebraska secondary, although weak, might have a good day against David Blough (last in the conference in yards per attempt). If Purdue gets blown out yet again at home, this time after a bye week, what more evidence will they need to know Hazell is not the guy to lead their program? If Nebraska is to make a bowl game, they’ll need to get this one.
Rutgers at Wisconsin – Noon on BTN
I truly do respect the work the Wisconsin Badgers (6-2, 3-1) have done to get themselves to 6-2 despite several injuries and some limitations they are not used to. They’ve been unable to consistently run the ball and have been forced to rely on their defense and their passing game. The injury bug bit them multiple times again last Saturday as offensive line anchor Dan Voltz has been lost for the season. The junior center injured his right knee during the Badgers win against Illinois. In addition, wide receiver Rob Wheelwright suffered a leg injury and is out indefinitely and two other offensive linemen will miss Saturday’s game (Ray Ball and Hayden Biegel). Quarterback Joel Stave left early in the game against Illinois due to a head injury and he has been going through concussion protocol. His status for Saturday’s game is unclear at this time. If he can’t go, Bart Houston will start. Houston was adequate against Illinois but if Stave is unable to go, it will hurt. Rutgers was drilled by the Ohio State Buckeyes last Saturday but this is a huge line for a team that is dealing with so many injuries.
Rutgers’ (3-4, 1-3) star receiver, Leonte Carroo, didn’t look 100% last week and the Rutgers offense struggled mightily without his game-changing ability. I think he’ll look much more like himself this Saturday in Madison after having another whole week to rebound from an ankle injury he suffered in Bloomington on October 17. Carroo has nine touchdowns on the season and I think he can reel in a few against either Sojourn Shelton or Tanner McEvoy. While I think Wisconsin finds a way to battle through injuries and win this game somewhat comfortably, this game should be closer than the three-touchdown spread that was set by experts. The Badgers need to keep winning if they want to have any shot at catching the Iowa Hawkeyes in the B1G West.
Maryland at Iowa – 3:30 on ABC/ESPN2
The Iowa Hawkeyes are 7-0 (3-0) and ranked tenth in the country. Thus far, it has been a wildly successful season and they’ve set themselves up to accomplish some great things. The Maryland Terrapins (2-5, 0-3) showed some pride and fight in a narrow defeat to Penn State last Saturday but they were unable to get the win thanks to five turnovers. Perry Hills is proving to be a very dangerous running threat but the Terps are going to have to stop turning the ball over if they want to have any chance of hanging around in Iowa City. The Terrapins are now -13 in turnover margin, that’s dead last in the country. The Hawkeyes are +7 which ranks 13th in the country. In addition to turnovers, Maryland will need to stop the explosive big plays from the Iowa offense. That’s not a typo. In fact, Iowa leads the B1G in “explosive plays” (an offensive play of more than 40 yards) with 12 of them. If you would have told me that before the season, I would not have believed you.
If you take a look at the upcoming schedule for the Hawkeyes, it’s difficult to see them being any worse than 11-1 at the end of the year. After this Maryland game, the Hawkeyes travel to Indiana (they’ll be double-digit favorites), host Minnesota and Purdue (again, double-digit favorites) and then finish the regular season the day after Thanksgiving with a trip to Nebraska (as of now, they’d be slight favorites). At worst, this team will be playing in a very nice bowl game (Outback Bowl or Peach Bowl, maybe even the Fiesta Bowl). At best, they could be playing in the B1G title game with a chance to go 13-0 and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Michigan at Minnesota – 7:00 on ESPN
By the time Saturday’s game kicks off in Minneapolis, the Michigan Wolverines (5-2, 2-1) will have had two full weeks to stew over their devastating last-second loss to Michigan State. Count me as someone who believes the Michigan coaching staff can keep this team from falling apart and can instead use the loss as a glue to bond the Wolverines together.
Despite giving up 20 offensive points to the Michigan State Spartans, this defense is still ranked #1 in most major total defense categories. Michigan surrenders only 9.3 points per game (fewest in the country) and they are rated as the top defense by the S&P+ rankings. Actually, Michigan is ranked as the 2nd best team (not just defense) in the nation by the S&P+ rankings. I absolutely love the linebacker duo of Desmond Morgan and Joe Bolden and they may have the best pair of safeties in the country in Jarrod Wilson and Jabrill Peppers. Chris Wormley and Willie Henry have combined for 17 tackles for loss from the defensive line and Wormley is one of the better pass rushers in the B1G.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-3, 1-2) also had a week off after suffering a disappointing loss. The Gophers didn’t lose a heartbreaker though. Instead, they were waxed by the Nebraska Cornhuskers 25-48. Minnesota will be a bit healthier after the bye week but I think this version of Michigan is a terrible matchup for the Gophers. Michigan is as good as anyone at stopping the run and Minnesota can’t really move the ball consistently without their running game. If forced to pass, as I think they will be, I don’t see how Minnesota gets more than a couple of touchdowns on the board. On the other side of the ball, Minnesota was supposed to have a dominant defense of their own. However, I think they’ve been a little bit underwhelming. After opening the season with a good performance against TCU, the Gophers have surrendered 20 points to Colorado State, 24 to Ohio, 27 to Northwestern and 48 to Northwestern. They were very good against Kent State (only 7 for the Flashes) and Purdue (13 for the Boilers) but those games have proven to be the exceptions. On the whole, Minnesota is rated as the 31st best defense in the country (S&P+) and they’ve been better against the pass than the run. They are only 61st against the run and that’s something De’Veon Smith and the Wolverines rushing attack will likely be able to exploit.
Minnesota will also be coached by Tracy Claeys after head coach Jerry Kill was forced to retire due to ongoing health issues. It will be interesting to see if this can be a rallying point for the Gophers who are looking to turn their season around.
These two teams play annually for the Little Brown Jug and it’s scary to expect a blowout in a rivalry game but every matchup points to the Wolverines. Throw in my belief in this Michigan coaching staff and its ability to motivate their team after a crushing defeat and I think the Wolverines will roll on Saturday night.