Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
Iowa at Nebraska – Friday – 3:30 on ABC
The 11-0 Iowa Hawkeyes are already B1G West champions. They invade Lincoln, Nebraska on Black Friday for a clash against the 5-6 (3-4) Nebraska Cornhuskers and battle for the Heroes Trophy. The two sides are meeting for the fifth year in a row (Nebraska has won three of four).
What’s at Stake: For Nebraska, it’s fairly simple: win and you go to a bowl game. A victory would also mean that the Huskers would end the regular season with a three-game winning streak (and they’d get 15 additional practices). That would be something positive to build on during the first full offseason of the Mike Riley era. While some may scoff at this being a rivalry, it definitely is and Nebraska would get great joy from ruining Iowa’s perfect season.
The Hawkeyes have much larger stakes. Iowa knows they will be representing the B1G West in Indianapolis but they suddenly have much larger goals on their minds. A victory on Friday keeps the Hawkeyes hopes alive for a berth in the College Football Playoff. I can’t imagine they will be able to get in with one loss but if they can win on Friday and then knock off the B1G East champion next weekend, the Hawkeyes will achieve what many thought was impossible when this journey began. My extensive scouting report, for whatever it is worth is below:
I completely understand why so many people are really high on Nebraska and their ability to pull off the victory and ruin Iowa’s perfect season. I know that Memorial Stadium is going to be rocking and I know that this is the perfect storm for the Huskers to salvage their season by wrecking Iowa’s. That being said, I doubted the Hawkeyes for the first five or six weeks of this season and I’ve learned my lesson.
The Iowa Hawkeyes are an extremely solid team with no noticeable weaknesses. They are 42nd on offense and 28th on defense in the S&P+ rankings. The Hawkeyes are averaging 34.2 points per game and they put up at least 30 points in each game since a 29-20 victory over Illinois on October 10. That includes a 40-point output at Northwestern and back-to-back 40-point performances against Minnesota and Purdue. The Hawkeyes are getting solid play from C.J. Beathard (61.3% completions and 13:3 TD:INT ratio) and they have five rushers averaging more than 4.5 yards per carry. Jordan Canzeri leads the way with 824 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns and 5.2 yards per carry. LeShun Daniels has chipped in 590 yards and 8 touchdowns and Akrum Wadley is averaging an impressive 6.5 yards per carry with 7 touchdowns. C.J. Beathard has been pretty dangerous with his legs, despite some nagging injuries, rushing for more than 400 yards with six touchdowns. The rushing defense of Nebraska has been solid, ranking 36th in the S&P+ rankings. However, they haven’t really played a terrific rushing attack that has tested whether or not they can stop a team committed to pounding the ball. Iowa will be committed to running the ball and I think they will have a good deal of success.
The real surprise for the Hawkeyes has been their passing attack. Iowa is not overly explosive but they move the ball well through the air thanks to a pair of good receivers and a couple of good tight ends. Matt VandeBerg leads the team in catches with 56 and yards with 591. Henry Krieger Coble has come on recently and has developed into a good tight end while George Kittle leads the team in receiving touchdowns (five). Nebraska’s secondary can be had as they are only 86th in passing defense. They surrendered 348 passing yards to Michigan State (despite Connor Cook missing a number of throws), 274 passing yards to Purdue and 301 yards through the air to Minnesota. Iowa doesn’t commit penalties and they rarely turn the ball over. I think they are going to be able to move the ball well enough to put up 30+ points on the board.
When the Huskers have the ball, they’ll be relying on a balanced attack led by Tommy Armstrong. The problem I have with this offense is that they turn the ball over way too much and I simply don’t trust Armstrong to do enough against this very strong Iowa defense. Terrell Newby has turned into a good running back but the Hawkeyes are a top 20 unit that can pressure Armstrong into mistakes.
I know the Huskers will have had nearly two full weeks to prepare for this week and that they are playing for a berth in a bowl game and to ruin Iowa’s bid for the College Football Playoff. Lincoln is a tough place for any opponent to play but they’ve lost at home to Northwestern, Wisconsin and BYU this season alone. I think the Huskers suffer their fourth home loss and the Hawkeyes move to 12-0.
Ohio State at Michigan – Noon on ABC
After Ohio State’s shocking home loss to Michigan State last Saturday, “The Game” has been relegated to the noon timeslot this Saturday. This is still a huge game but having both teams realistically out of the College Football Playoff picture knocks off the luster just a bit. Ohio State enters at 10-1 (6-1) and Michigan is 9-2 (6-1).
What’s at Stake: I don’t think I need to explain what this rivalry means to both schools. That being said, this year carries a little extra flavor because of the arrival of Jim Harbaugh. Michigan State hosts Penn State at 3:30. If the Nittany Lions can somehow actually beat a quality opponent and shock the Spartans, the winner of this clash in Michigan Stadium will represent the B1G East against the Iowa Hawkeyes next Saturday in Indianapolis. I think MSU will take care of business but you never know. Assuming Michigan State does win, these two are probably jostling for New Year’s Day bowl position.
Ohio State was incredibly disappointing last week against Michigan State, particularly on offense. Ezekiel Elliott was outspoken about the play-calling and many fans were incredibly frustrated with the lack of touches for the star running back and the lack of downfield throws for Barrett. It’s been the first week of adversity that Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes have really had to face in well over 15 months.
Jake Rudock is playing extremely well at quarterback for the Wolverines but I think Ohio State’s defense is the best unit he will see this season and the fact that UM is struggling to run the ball is going to be a problem. Michigan’s defense looked great last week against Penn State but they’ve been susceptible in recent weeks, particularly against the run, and I can only hope that Elliott and Barrett are both more involved in aggressively running the ball. I don’t think either of these teams is playing well right now and I know the Big House will be a real hornet’s nest for Ohio State to walk into but I just don’t see Urban Meyer and this talented squad losing back-to-back B1G games.
Indiana at Purdue – Noon on BTN
The battle for the Old Oaken Bucket! IU fans don’t need told what’s at stake (but I will anyway). The Hoosiers can win the Bucket for the third straight year for the first time since 1947. More importantly, a victory gives IU six wins and sends them to a bowl game for the first time since 2007. Hoosier Huddle will have extensive coverage this week so keep checking back!
Maryland at Rutgers – Noon on BTN
The two newest B1G members play each other in a manufactured “rivalry” game. Rutgers is 4-7 (1-6) and Maryland is 2-9 (0-7).
What’s At Stake: I can’t even pretend like there is anything more than pride at stake. As soon as this game is over, both fan bases will devote their entire focus to the coaching search that inevitably waits.
Penn State at Michigan State – 3:30 on ESPN
Does anyone have two wins as good as the Spartans have? They won at Michigan and then defeated Ohio State in the Horseshoe. I know they have a head-scratching loss at Nebraska but those two wins are incredibly impressive. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions are still searching for a signature win in the James Franklin era after a loss to Michigan dropped them to 7-4 (4-3).
What’s At Stake: These two schools battle annually for the Land Grant Trophy. The series is tied at 14-14 (with one draw) and the Spartans have won back-to-back games in the series. Penn State is looking for a big win under James Franklin, something they don’t have yet and a chance to improve their bowl destination. The Michigan State Spartans can win the B1G East with a victory and set themselves up for a potential College Football Playoff play-in game against Iowa.
Wisconsin at Minnesota – 3:30 on BTN
The Wisconsin Badgers are 8-3 and still have a shot at a nice bowl game and another ten-win season. The Minnesota Golden Gophers are looking to notch their first big win under new coach Tracy Claeys and get to six wins.
What’s At Stake: Most people probably think the Iron Bowl or the Egg Bowl or The Game is the longest-running rivalry in FBS college football. Those people would be wrong. At 124 games and counting, Minnesota and Wisconsin holds that distinction and the battle for “Paul Bunyan’s Axe” is an annual rivalry game beloved by both fan bases. Minnesota’s offense has been impressive recently and Shannon Brooks looks like a potential star in the backfield. Wisconsin’s normally strong running game has been a disaster all season but their defense has been stout for the entire year. This is always a fun game to watch and it’s clear the players on both sides know what it means.
Northwestern at Illinois – 3:30 on ESPNU
Northwestern has used an opportunistic offense and a very strong defense to reach nine wins on the season. Illinois has been better than many expected but they still need a victory on Saturday to reach a bowl game.
What’s At Stake: These two schools used to play for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk but that trophy was replaced by the Land of Lincoln Trophy in 2009. Illinois leads the all-time series 55-48-5 but Northwestern has won two of three. This game will be contested at Soldier Field in Chicago as both teams try to assert themselves as “Chicago’s B1G Team”. With a win, Northwestern would be the quietest ten-win team in the country. If Illinois manages to win, they’ll be 6-6, headed to a bowl game and Bill Cubit will get a lot of talk from the media to become the permanent head coach (I don’t think they’ll do that but it will be talked about by every announcer and analyst).