Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
Ohio State at Illinois – Noon on ABC
JT Barrett will return to the starting lineup after serving his one-game suspension following his arrest for Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated. The Buckeyes need him after the offense sputtered for much of the contest against Minnesota. Let me make this clear, Ohio State is a very good team. However, they haven’t been as dominant as many had expected and they’ve yet to find an offensive rhythm. Do you remember after the Virginia Tech game early this season? Many national experts were asking if this could be the “best offense of all-time”. The answer to that has been a very resounding no. They are very capable of playing electric football but I think the Illini have a good enough defense and a potent enough offense to keep this game competitive.
Illinois is now 5-4 after an impressive drubbing of Purdue. The most encouraging thing about that performance was the return of Josh Ferguson. Ferguson has missed multiple games and the Illinois offense suffered in his absence. He’s a dynamic threat as a runner and as a pass-catcher and the Illinois coaching staff has mostly done a very nice job of getting him the ball in positions where he can make plays. Ferguson is averaging 6.2 yards per carries and 6.6 yards per reception. Ke’Shawn Vaughn is a good second running back and Geronimo Allison has proven to be an elite receiver. Everyone keeps waiting for this Illinois defense to regress but they’ve continued to perform at a high-level (10th in the country). They have two ugly performances; one against North Carolina (who has proven to be quite explosive) and the other was two weeks ago against Penn State.
I think JT Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott can make enough big plays in the running game to propel the Buckeyes to their tenth victory but I expect Illinois to do what a lot of Ohio State’s opponents have done all season and hang around against the Buckeyes.
Maryland at Michigan State – Noon on ESPN2
The Maryland Terrapins enter this game at just 2-7 and they’ve dropped six straight games. The Michigan State Spartans are fresh off of a very disappointing finish in Lincoln as they dropped their first game of the 2015 season and now sit at 8-1. The Spartans can still win the B1G East by winning out and they are two touchdown favorites against the Terrapins.
For IU fans, this will be your final chance to see Maryland before next week’s clash with the Terps in College Park.
Purdue Boilermakers at Northwestern Wildcats – Noon on BTN
The Northwestern Wildcats have won back-to-back games by two points apiece to run their record to an impressive 7-2. The Purdue Boilermakers are the exact inverse as they were waxed by Illinois and fell to 2-7. The heavy defeat came after the Boilers defeated Nebraska thanks to five Husker turnovers that gave Purdue extremely advantageous field position. If not for those mistakes, Purdue would be in the midst of another miserable losing streak and I believe the Nebraska victory was a complete mirage in an otherwise barren wasteland of a season in West Lafayette. Northwestern has their attention squarely focused on a return to a New Year’s Day bowl and I believe their focus, plus an emerging running game meeting up against an awful run defense, will be more than enough to propel the Wildcats to a resounding victory.
The Wildcats win over Penn State wasn’t without some cost as Clayton Thorson was forced to exit the game with a lower body injury. Backup quarterback Zack Oliver stepped in performed admirably but Thorson has been upgraded to “probable” for Saturday’s contest against Purdue and he’s expected to return to the starting lineup for Northwestern. His biggest strength is his mobility and Purdue has given up a heap of running yards to nearly every opponent that has attempted to run the ball. Virginia Tech ran for 233 yards, Minnesota ran for 326 yards and Illinois churned out an astonishing 382 yards on the ground. In total, the Boilers are ranked 112th against the run (S&P+). Northwestern doesn’t have an amazing rushing attack but they looked good against Penn State and the trio of Justin Jackson, Warren Long and Clayton Thorson should be able to move the ball consistently against Purdue. If they are having a hard time running, they could air it out a little bit because the Boilers aren’t good against the pass either.
On the other side of the ball, Purdue’s offense has plummeted to 102nd in the country and they are only averaging 25.7 points per game. They were able to score 55 against Nebraska but if you take that performance away (again, heavily aided by turnovers and field position), Purdue has yet to exceed 21 points in B1G play. I think David Blough has some potential and I really like freshman running back Markell Jones but the offense has made some baffling decisions and has struggled to consistently get the ball to their playmakers. The Boilers are -4 in turnover margin and Northwestern is +3. If the Wildcats take care of the ball and don’t give Purdue advantageous field position, I don’t think the Boilermakers will be able to score more than a couple of touchdowns in this contest.
It’s possible that Northwestern has spent a bit too much time soaking in a win over Penn State or perhaps they will be looking forward to the November 21 trip to Wisconsin and the lack of focus will allow Purdue to hang around for a while. That being said, I’ve been impressed with Northwestern for most of this season and I think they have the personnel and mindset to get this done and comfortably move to 8-2.
Nebraska Cornhuskers at Rutgers Scarlet Knights – 3:30 on BTN
A break finally went their way. After much heartbreak and late-game guffaws, the Nebraska Cornhuskers finally won a close game and kept their bowl hopes alive as they stunned the Spartans of Michigan State and improved to 4-6. They now travel to Rutgers to take on the 3-6 Scarlet Knights before taking 13 days off to prepare for their rivalry clash on November 27 against the unbeaten Iowa Hawkeyes (now 5th in the College Football Playoff standings). Rutgers is still mathematically alive for a postseason berth but it appears the last positive thing they’ll do this season occurred a few weeks ago in Bloomington.
Michigan at Indiana – 3:30 on ABC/ESPN2
What a brutal stretch of games this has ended up being for the Hoosiers. Ohio State is ranked third. Michigan State is in the top 15. Iowa is now ranked fifth and this week’s opponent, the Michigan Wolverines, is ranked 14th. Hoosier Huddle will have all the coverage you need to get you ready for this Senior Day matchup at Memorial Stadium.
Minnesota at Iowa – 8:00 on BTN
The Iowa Hawkeyes are now 9-0 and heavy favorites to win the B1G West. They have climbed the ladder in the CFP rankings and now sit at 5th, just one spot outside of a coveted position in the top four. The Hawkeyes host the Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-5) under the lights of Kinnick Stadium with a primetime chance to impress the playoff committee and a nation that is now paying attention. The Hawkeyes aren’t incredibly flashy but it’s important to consider that they have two wins over teams in the Top 25 of the committee’s rankings (Northwestern and Wisconsin). Bottom line, if they run the table, they’ll be in the “final four”. If they drop a game, I’d expect them to end up in the Rose Bowl. Either way, this has been a magical season for the Hawkeyes. Minnesota has been competitive since Tracy Claeys took over for Jerry Kill but they lost to Michigan and Ohio State. Things get no easier this week and I’d expect a similar result.