Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
At this point in the season, we know the narrative surrounding each team and we know what each team is. There’s really no need to repeat that Purdue is having a hard time stopping the run or that Iowa has found a way to manufacture a magical season by having no weaknesses. I thought it would be more helpful for you, the reader, to see what each game this weekend means. What are the stakes and why should you bother watching?
Rutgers at Army – Noon on CBSSN
Rutgers steps out of conference to pay a visit to Michie Stadium in West Point and the 2-8 Army Black Knights. What’s at stake? I can’t really think of anything. It’s always fun to root for the service academies but neither team can become bowl-eligible and the only thing they have left to play for is pride. That’s important but I can’t really recommend watching this one.
Purdue at (5) Iowa – Noon on ESPN2
The Iowa Hawkeyes have very large and very obvious things to play for. First off, it’s Senior Day in Kinnick Stadium. Second, the Hawkeyes can win the B1G West with a victory over the Boilermakers. Third, a win keeps them unbeaten and in control of their own destiny as it relates to the College Football Playoff. The Boilermakers are only 2-8 and they enter this contest as three-touchdown underdogs. Purdue played decently last week against Northwestern but there’s very little reason to believe they can truly challenge Iowa. The Boilers are 114th in the country against the rush so look for Iowa to pound the ball with LeShun Daniels, Akrum Wadley and Jordan Canzeri. Markell Jones was banged up last week and there’s no update on his availability but the only thing Purdue has left to play for is the Old Oaken Bucket so it will be interesting to see what they have left in the tank this Saturday.
Indiana at Maryland – Noon on BTN
We all know what’s at stake for the Hoosiers and Hoosier Huddle will have extensive coverage of this game all week long.
Illinois at Minnesota – Noon on ESPNews
Both schools are still alive for a bowl game as they enter this clash in TCF Bank Stadium. The Illini are 5-5 (2-4) so a win here or in their finale against Northwestern gets them to a bowl game (and possibly gets the interim tag removed from Bill Cubit). Minnesota is only 4-6 (1-5) so the Gophers must win their final two games. The offense for Minnesota has been surprisingly potent in the past couple of games but the defense let them down in Iowa City. Illinois’ offense, outside of an explosion against Purdue, has been the opposite as Wes Lunt has struggled most of the season and the running game has been inconsistent. Having Josh Ferguson is a big boost but he didn’t look like himself against Ohio State and they’ll need a big performance from him to have a shot on Saturday.
(14) Michigan at Penn State – Noon on ABC
I think this may be the most competitive and compelling B1G game of the weekend as the 8-2 (5-1) Michigan Wolverines travel to Happy Valley to play the 7-3 (4-2) Penn State Nittany Lions. Michigan can still win the B1G East with victories against PSU and Ohio State. If they split those games, they’ll probably finish third in the division and be sent to a nice New Year’s Day bowl game in a sunny destination. Losing both games would take some luster of an otherwise sparkling debut season under Jim Harbaugh. The Penn State Nittany Lions will be fighting to finally win a “big” game under James Franklin. Thus far in his tenure, PSU has failed to notch a win that anyone would consider to be a “good” win so this is a very important game for their program. PSU heads to East Lansing to play the Michigan State Spartans next Saturday so they have a chance to either get to nine wins with the two best wins of the Franklin era (and be rewarded with a likely trip to someplace warm for New Year’s Day), split the games and be left with a decent eight win season or lose both and end up at 7-5 and with some serious questions about the future. The next two weeks are hugely important for both of these teams.
(18) Northwestern at (25) Wisconsin – 3:30 on BTN
Surprisingly, both of these teams are sitting at 8-2. The Badgers are 5-1 in B1G play while the Wildcats are 4-2. Wisconsin could still win the B1G West if Iowa loses the final two games of the season but it appears that this game is for second-place in the division. Considering the injuries and offensive struggles that Wisconsin has had and the expectations that Northwestern entered the season with, I think both fan bases are probably quite pleased with things so far. The winner moves to nine wins and keeps hopes of a ten win regular season alive. If you go 10-2 in the B1G, you’re going to get a prime bowl slot.
(13) Michigan State at (3) Ohio State – 3:30 on ABC
This is the game of the week in the B1G and it’s one that both teams have waited a long time to play. The Spartans and Buckeyes can both still win the B1G East by winning out and both can still dream of a spot in the College Football Playoff.
I believe the Buckeyes are due for a terrific performance and I’m confidently taking the scarlet and gray to win in dominant fashion. There are two primary reasons for my confidence and the first is Ohio State’s defense. The Buckeyes have quietly developed into a top ten defense and they’ve suffocated their past four opponents, allowing no more than 14 points to any of them. Illinois was only able to muster a field goal, Minnesota managed a pair of touchdowns while OSU’s offense struggled without J.T. Barrett, Rutgers only scored seven and Penn State was held to ten points. The Ohio State defense, dubbed the Silver Bullets by those in Columbus, is led by an incredible front line that includes Joey Bosa, Tyquan Lewis and Adolphus Washington. The linebacker duo of Raekwon McMillan and Joshua Perry leads the team in tackles the secondary consists of a tremendous pair of safeties in Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell. Ohio State is stout against the run (18th) and downright terrific against the pass (3rd). This is due to the great pass rush, good coverage from the linebackers and a pair of really good corners in Gareon Conley and Eli Apple. Michigan State’s passing game struggled mightily against Maryland and there are serious concerns about the health of Connor Cook. The Spartans won’t be able to run the ball effectively (if previous games this season are any indication) so they’ll need to rely on the passing game to move the ball and I don’t think they’ll be able to do so. Aaron Burbridge has been terrific but Ohio State has the personnel to keep him from exploding without doubling him and opening up space for Macgarrett Kings Jr. or R.J. Shelton. Josiah Price won’t be able to get free against the athletic linebackers of Ohio State and I don’t think any offensive line is capable of keeping OSU’s multiple pass rushers from pressuring the quarterback. In short, I don’t think the Spartans will be able to consistently move the ball and I’d be surprised if they topped 20 points.
The second reason for this pick is the Ohio State rushing attack. The Buckeyes know who they are with J.T. Barrett at quarterback. The passing game hasn’t been as explosive as many hoped or expected but the running game is extremely dangerous when Barrett is the signal caller. Ezekiel Elliott is proving to be one of the best running backs in the country. He’s averaging 6.5 yards per carry and has 16 touchdowns. Barrett is averaging 7.4 yards per carry and has eight touchdowns of his own. They were a bit sloppy against Illinois but still put up 28 points, racked up 49 against Rutgers and put 38 points on the board against Penn State. Things haven’t completely clicked for this offense and I know that 13 is a large number against a team that is 9-1 and used to winning. However, I think the Buckeyes can lock the Spartans offense down and then pound the ball on the ground against a run defense that is solid but not spectacular (33rd) and eventually pull away from Michigan State for a statement victory.