Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
(17) Iowa at (20) Northwestern – Noon on ABC/ESPN2
The Iowa Hawkeyes (6-0, 2-0) are perched alone atop the B1G West after victories over Wisconsin and Illinois. Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) returns to Evanston after a disappointing Saturday in Ann Arbor where the Michigan Wolverines pounded them 38-0. The Wildcats need a win to stay in the race for the division title and the Hawkeyes could cement themselves as the favorite to represent the West in Indianapolis. Iowa running back Jordan Canzeri was the standout performer for the Hawkeyes against Illinois and he is now averaging more than five yards a carry and has nine touchdowns on the season. Despite last week’s poor showing, Northwestern’s defense is still a top-10 unit nationally and they’ll need to play like it to get a win on Saturday. This game will probably be decided by whether or not Northwestern’s offense is able to get anything going. Justin Jackson is a very good running back but opponents know the Wildcats don’t have much of a passing game as Clayton Thorson tries to survive his freshman season. Drew Ott won’t be playing for Iowa but the Hawkeyes still have a solid defense that won’t make things easy for Northwestern. Expect a fairly low-scoring battle that will go a long way towards determining the B1G West.
Purdue at Wisconsin – Noon on BTN
This isn’t a vintage Wisconsin Badgers (4-2, 1-1) team. They don’t run the ball very well and the offensive line is too young and inexperienced to dominate a game like they have in years past. However, the Badgers play very good defense and they are proving capable of finding ways to win. Last week, Rafael Gaglianone nailed a field goal in the waning seconds in Lincoln, Nebraska to knock off the Huskers 23-21. The victory in Lincoln kept their B1G West title hopes alive and they’ll need to take care of business at home against Purdue (1-5, 0-2) to make sure they stay on track. The Boilers were embarrassed by Minnesota at home last Saturday and have still only won one B1G game (and two games against FBS opponents) under Darrell Hazell. Purdue will be without their top defensive player as Ja’Whaun Bentley is now out for the season after tearing an ACL. The Badgers don’t have a good offense but neither did Minnesota and they ran for more than 300 yards on the Boilers.
Rutgers at Indiana – 3:30 on BTN
Hoosier Huddle will have all the coverage you need to get you ready for IU’s huge clash against Rutgers this Saturday!
(7) Michigan State at (12) Michigan – 3:30 on ESPN
The Michigan State Spartans have won six of the past seven games in this in-state rivalry and they are getting points despite being the seventh ranked team in the nation. Despite my respect for Mark Dantonio’s program and the recent success they have had against the Wolverines, this is clearly a different University of Michigan program.
Since their opening week defeat at Utah (a loss that is looking far better than we expected), Michigan has obliterated every opponent that has stood in their way. They drilled Oregon State and UNLV and then shutout BYU, Maryland and Northwestern. This is the first time since 1995 that any FBS school has shutout three straight opponents. On the whole, the defense is performing at a historic level. The Wolverines are ranked as the top defense in the country and they are giving up only 6.3 points per game. Michigan’s defense is surrendering only 181 yards per game and they are ranked in the top 5 in every significant defensive category. Linebackers Desmond Morgan and Joe Bolden lead the unit and the secondary has a pair of elite players in Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis. It’s incredibly for opponents to attack this defense because there is absolutely no discernible weakness to exploit.
Meanwhile, the offense gets better and better each week. Michigan is running the ball successfully behind an improved offensive line that has clearly heard Harbaugh’s message to get physical. The Wolverines are spreading the carries around as four different running backs have more than 25 carries on the season. De’Veon Smith is the best of the bunch and I’m hopeful he’ll be 100% for Saturday’s clash against MSU. Ty Isaac is averaging 7.1 yards per carry and Drake Johnson is averaging 4.9 yards per carry to provide high-quality backup carries. Jake Rudock has only had one turnover in the past three weeks and he appears to be getting quite comfortable in the offensive system. Ideally, there would be a few more explosive plays in the passing game because I do think Amara Darboh, Jake Butt and Jehu Chesson are very capable weapons but for now, efficiency and mistake-free football is getting the job done.
The Spartans come into this matchup unbeaten but I’m uncertain of how good they are. Their marquee win this season is a narrow home victory over Oregon. That looked great in Week Two but the Ducks have faltered on multiple occasions since and the Spartans have stumbled their way through underwhelming performances against Air Force, Central Michigan, Purdue and Rutgers. When the whole season is taken into account, Michigan State is only outscoring their opponents by an average of ten points (31.3-21.3) and they’ve been outgained in three of their six games. I think Michigan State is a good team but I don’t think they are an elite team and it’s going to take an elite squad to win in Ann Arbor. Michigan State has given up more than 140 rushing yards to three different opponents and I think Michigan will be able to run the ball successfully, particularly if De’Veon Smith is completely healthy. I also think the Wolverines will be able to control the clock and keep Connor Cook and his big play receiver Aaron Burbridge from burning them.
Nebraska at Minnesota – 3:30 on ESPN2
No team has dealt with as much on-field heartbreak this season as the Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-4, 0-2). For the first time since the 1950s, the Huskers are 2-4 and their chances of a B1G West title in Mike Riley’s debut season are all but gone. The Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-2, 1-1) may have rediscovered their identity last week as they committed to running the ball and being physical once again. During the past offseason, the Gophers focused on balancing their attack by improving their passing attack. The improvement never really showed up on the field and the Gophers struggled for the first five weeks. Against Purdue last week though, Jerry Kill told the announcers prior to the game that they were going back to their roots and running the ball with purpose. The result was 326 rushing yards and a breakout game for Shannon Brooks. I don’t think the Minnesota offense is on the verge of being great but I do think they can be adequate if they focus on embracing what they are; running the ball and playing great defense. Nebraska needs much better play from Tommy Armstrong and they need to avoid yet another late-game collapse in what figures to be another tight contest.
Penn State at (1) Ohio State – 8:00 on ABC
I think the Ohio State Buckeyes have figured out a nice wrinkle that will have them playing at the level many expected before the season. Putting JT Barrett into the game when they get into scoring range adds a running threat (three rushing touchdowns last week) and surprisingly, it appeared to make Cardale Jones more comfortable. Jones had his best game of the season last week as Ohio State pulled away from the Maryland Terrapins for a convincing victory. That being said, I don’t think the Buckeyes are playing like the number one team in the country quite yet and Penn State has a stout defense that will make this competitive. Penn State has a top 15 defense that is capable of rushing the passer and is very difficult to run on. Carl Nassib, Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson form one of the best defensive lines in the country and Jordan Lucas and Marcus Allen are a tremendous duo at safety.
Ohio State is going to eventually be able to put up some points so Penn State’s offense is going to need to have a good performance to keep up. That means Christian Hackenberg will need to be throwing accurately (something he hasn’t always done this season) to targets like Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton and the offensive line will need to limit the OSU pass rush. The offensive line is a weakness but they’ve improved a bit as the season has gone on and they are much better now than they were the last time they played on the road (at Temple). Having Saquon Barkley back in the backfield would be a huge boost.