Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
Maryland at (1) Ohio State – Noon on BTN
The Ohio State Buckeyes (5-0) remain the #1 team in the country despite the close call last Saturday at Indiana. The Buckeyes aren’t quite hitting their stride offensively as the passing game is still struggling to gain traction. Explosive athletes like Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller are struggling to find themselves (turnovers and penalties/blocking issues). Michael Thomas appears to be the only wide receiver completely comfortable within the offense. Cardale Jones struggled at times last Saturday and the Buckeyes late-game playcalling suggested the coaching staff didn’t have a ton of trust in his ability to move the ball through the air. Fortunately for Ohio State, Ezekiel Elliott is a dynamic difference maker at running back and he’s able to mask many of the issues, at least for now. The defense is still playing well and the Buckeyes are still very capable of turning into the team many expected them to be before the season. Meanwhile, the Maryland Terrapins (2-3) come into this game after getting destroyed by West Virginia and manhandled by Michigan.
The Terps are playing going to go with Daxx Garman at quarterback. Garman will be the third starting quarterback of the young season and he’ll need to do a much better job of taking care of the ball than Caleb Rowe did. This game is expected to be a massive blowout and it will be interesting to see if Ohio State is capable of crushing an opponent as expected and whether or not Maryland is willing to fight back after back-to-back poor efforts.
Indiana at Penn State – Noon on ESPN2
Indiana (4-1) travels to Penn State (4-1) for a huge B1G East contest. Hoosier Huddle will have all the coverage you need to get ready for the Noon kickoff.
Illinois at (22) Iowa – Noon on ESPNU
The Illinois Fighting Illini (4-1) scored a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to score a come from behind victory over Nebraska. The victory came without running back Josh Ferguson who left the contest with an injured shoulder. Ke’Shawn Vaughn will attempt to carry the load if Ferguson is unable to go in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes (5-0) are ranked after surviving a low-scoring slog at Wisconsin, a game they were somewhat fortunate to get a victory in. CJ Beathard and the offense are going to have to be better if the Hawkeyes are to mount a serious challenge for the B1G West title but there’s a lot to like about the start from the Hawkeyes. Drew Ott continues to be a disruptive force and Desmond King now has five interceptions on the season.
If Ferguson is out, the Illini are going to have to find a way to get more than just Geronimo Allison involved in the passing game because Allison and Vaughn won’t be able to generate enough offense by themselves to get the win at Iowa.
(13) Northwestern at (18) Michigan – 3:30 on BTN
Based on rankings alone, the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan State Spartans are the top two teams in the B1G. Based on the body of work and the play of the teams this season, the two most impressive teams in the conference are the Northwestern Wildcats and the Michigan Wolverines. Those two defensively elite teams clash in the “Big House” on Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor.
Since losing to Utah in the opening week of the season, the Michigan Wolverines have outscored their four opponents 122-14 and are fresh off of back-to-back shutouts (first-time since 2000 for that) against BYU and at Maryland. The Wolverines are now the third ranked team in the advanced stats-based S&P+ rankings and they are only surrendering 7.6 points per game. Their lone loss on the season looks significantly better today than many anticipated it would as Utah has turned out to be an unbeaten, top-10 team.
Linebackers Joe Bolden and Desmond Morgan lead the way for this elite defense that is playing with the kind of physicality and edge that we have come to expect from a Jim Harbaugh led team. The offense is attempting to play with the same identity but, so far, results have been a bit less inspiring. The passing game is not explosive but Jake Rudock is starting to do a better job of taking care of the ball. Rudock is mainly charged with handing the ball off to the running backs. De’Veon Smith is the best of the bunch and he should be back from a foot injury that kept him from playing against Maryland. This is a borderline top-50 unit that appears to be improving each week. They’ll have their hands full on Saturday going against a defense that is almost equal to the one they deal with each day as the Northwestern Wildcats enter Michigan Stadium. The Cats have surprised by stunning Stanford in week one, winning at Duke and drilling Minnesota last week. Much like Michigan, they’ve relied on a stingy defense (ranked 6th in the country per S&P+) and a ball control offense. Sophomore linebacker Anthony Walker has played at an All-B1G level and the safety duo of Traveon Henry and Godwin Igwebuike has helped shutdown opposing passing attacks. The Northwestern offense relies on the outstanding Justin Jackson and supporting backs Warren Long and Solomon Vault. Much like Rudock, quarterback Clayton Thorson is mostly charged with taking care of the ball and being efficient. In my opinion, these teams attempt to do things in a very similar fashion but I think Michigan is going to be better at those things on Saturday.
Northwestern’s defense is incredibly strong against the pass but teams have been able to have a bit of success on the ground. Duke ran the ball for 177 yards and 5.1 yards per carry and Ball State churned out 181 rushing yards and 5.3 yards per rush. That’s not to say the Cats are weak against the run but if you are looking for a way to attack this very strong defense, on the ground would be the way to go. The “Big House” will be rocking and I expect this to be a very low-scoring and physical contest between two teams with B1G title aspirations.
Wisconsin at Nebraska – 3:30 on ABC/ESPN2
Both the Wisconsin Badgers (3-2) and Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-3) come into this B1G West battle after disappointing losses. The Badgers lost at home to Iowa and Nebraska was stunned late at Illinois. Neither of these teams has beaten anyone you would think of as a “quality opponent”. However, I have more faith in the Wisconsin Badgers ability to bounce back and I’m taking the Badgers as underdogs on the road. Nebraska is giving up a lot of yards through the air and their offense struggled mightily last week against a very suspect Illinois defense. In addition, late-game execution has been putrid for Huskers as they’ve lost close games to Miami (although they were down big for much of that game), BYU and Illinois. Tommy Armstrong Jr. has been a decent dual-threat quarterback this season but it is clear things aren’t quite clicking in this new offensive system.
The Badgers have surrendered fewer than 10 points a game and they should have knocked off Iowa if not for an unlucky turnover inside the Hawkeyes five-yard line. Joel Stave played dreadfully against Iowa but he’s had a nice year overall and I expect him to be able to bounce back against a very porous Nebraska secondary. In my opinion, the Badgers D will be the best unit on the field on Saturday in Lincoln and I think that will be enough to propel Wisconsin to a narrow victory.
Minnesota at Purdue – 3:30 on ESPN
The Purdue Boilermakers (1-4) return home after a hard-fought loss at Michigan State that saw them nearly erase a 21-point halftime deficit. Minnesota (3-2) comes into this game with a wounded offense and some bruised confidence after getting shellacked by Northwestern in Evanston. Minnesota was unable to generate any kind of offense and the Wildcats took advantage of every Gophers mistake to steadily pull away for the blowout win.
The Boilers have to feel at least a little bit good about the progress of young players like running back Markell Jones (who appeared to take the reigns as the undisputed #1 RB last week) and quarterback David Blough. Still, it’s hard to get the record of 1-4 and the recent losses to Virginia Tech and Bowling Green out of your head. Meanwhile, injuries to the tight end and wide receiver positions have left Minnesota with what might be the weakest offense in the B1G. Purdue’s defense is only ranked 76th in the S&P+ but they should feel decent about their chances to hold Minnesota’s offense down. If Purdue can stop turning the ball over, they might get a rare conference win for Darrell Hazell.
(2) Michigan State at Rutgers – 8:00 on BTN
After a strong first half, the Michigan State Spartans (5-0) let off the gas and nearly stubbed their toe against Purdue. However, they got a late stop and hung on the for the closer-than-expected victory. There are concerns about their defense as they have no given up at least 21 points in three of five games. They still have a disruptive pass rush but the secondary isn’t great and their run defense isn’t elite. That shouldn’t be a problem this week as they take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-2). Rutgers is rated as the 110th best team in college football by the S&P+ rankings, easily the worst of any B1G team. Their defense is 111th and Michigan State should have a field day moving the ball. If Rutgers is able to have offensive success, there will be even more red flags flying around this MSU team heading into the October 17 clash with Michigan.