Much of the Big Ten had a bye week last week, decease but this weekend we have some great match-ups featuring several teams, illness teams that have benefitted from some time off to get healthy and some that have simply been the most exciting to watch this season. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s just get right to it…I’ve got a plane to catch to Chicago.
11:00am on BTN: Penn State at Indiana
Why you should care: Poor Indiana has been the joke of the B1G for a while now, but head coach Kevin Wilson and his Hoosiers are showing us that joke is not funny anymore.
Yes, Indiana still has the last-ranked defense in the Big Ten. But their passing offense? Try #11 in the nation. Sophomore quarterback Nate Sudfeld is a fantastic passer and his skills have made a huge difference in their continuing improvement. The Hoosiers can mix him up with dual-threat QB Tre Roberson, who has fantastic feet, and really try to keep the Lions’ defense on its toes.
Penn State has been impressing in their first four games, most notably with how their true freshman quarterback, Christian Hackenberg, has stepped up and the unlimited potential he has shown. He’s now had a bye week to rest, modify and improve, so expect to see some good numbers from him. And when he meets with deadly wide receiver Allen Robinson, the Lions can explode. PSU running back Zach Zwinak needs to shine; he’s certainly played well but much more was expected of him in this season.
I love seeing a much improved Indiana team that is on the path back to being a contender. But, at this stage Penn State’s talent and experience still outweighs the Hoosiers’. Facing the Lions’ defense is going to be a far different challenge than anything Indiana has seen so far in the season, even without their safety Ryan Keiser who’s out due to injury. It won’t be the boring blowouts of yesteryear, but we will probably see PSU take this one, on the road. But welcome back to the party, Indy.
11:00pm on ESPNU: Illinois at Nebraska
Why you should care: Well, we all know now Pelini hates his fans (Google his leaked rant if you haven’t already) so let’s see how much home field advantage helps the Huskers against an improving-every-week Illini team.
There’s not much on defense on either side of this match-up – Nebraska’s is ranked 12th overall in the conference and Illinois’ is 10th. Ummm, so let’s just focus on offense, shall we?
Much-hyped, but rather disappointing Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez has been inconsistent over the years, but this season he’s been consistently regressing. His numbers have significantly decreased week after week, he hasn’t had a single rushing touchdown all season, and he’s become mostly a pocket passer. All of this leads to the current speculation: that he is suffering from turf-toe. Here’s hoping for the sake of the coach in the hottest of the hot seats that a week off produced a healthier QB.
But if it didn’t, the Huskers will go with, and most likely rotate, redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong and fifth-year senior Ron Kellogg III. Armstrong is considered the next big Huskers QB (Oregon and UCLA made him offers) and fans go wild when he hits the field and are actually asking for a quarterback controversy. This could be a chance for him to really prove himself the better man for the job.
Illinois is rolling in with confidence after pummeling Miami last weekend. Yeah, they’re probably the worst team in the MAC but hey, confidence will get you everywhere.
Just ask Fighting Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. His performance, heavily attributed to his newly found confidence, has made all the difference for the team this year. He is the reason they have already won more games by week 5 than they did all season last year. So far he’s completed 67.2% of his passes and has 12 touchdowns. He’s better at hitting different targets down the field, has allowed seven different receivers to hit the end zone and his passer rating is the best in the Big Ten and 10th nationally.
If Scheelhaase can keep that up this weekend in Lincoln, then we could see the Illini take their first big win in the conference.
7:00pm on ABC: #4 Ohio State at #16 Northwestern
Why you should care: The Big Ten is getting some love from ESPN, because this is College Gameday’s pick of the week and the crew will be live in Evanston, Illinois for their daytime broadcast. And maybe that’s because what we could be seeing is a preview of the Big Ten Championship game in December.
OSU and Northwestern haven’t met since 2008. And in 29 match-ups, the Bucks have won 28. OSU has the longest winning streak in the country at 17, and is ranked #4. This is the most important game Northwestern has played, possibly ever. And they’ll be the ones to tell you that. It is the best shot anyone will have at taking OSU down, which would be bragging rights that border on a level of insanity. Northwestern doesn’t get ESPN Gameday in their hometown. Northwestern doesn’t really get the chance to play #4 in the country, like, ever. And that makes them a little bit dangerous.
The Wildcats have a hell of a lot more to gain mentally by winning than OSU does. Admittedly, their momentum has been at an all-time high and they are the second most highly ranked team in the conference. This feels like the perfect storm for them….except, Ohio State feels like the better team. To borrow the greatest-put statement I’ve heard about this game, “Are the Wildcats really going to be the first team to beat Urban Meyer at Ohio State??” Yeah, let that marinate.
Don’t get me wrong, Northwestern is good (probably the second best team in the conference right now) and playing great football. They have two powerful and explosive quarterbacks in Kain Colter, a dual-threat star, and Trevor Siemian, who’s a great pocket passer. Both have had incredible success and strong numbers. And they’ve got a bunch of weapons at receiver and running back.
And something that will make a huge difference to the Wildcats – they get a healthy Venric Mark back after not having him all season. Mark is one dangerous playmaker, an All-American running back and kick returner, who last year rushed 1,366 yards with 12 touchdowns on 226 carries.
But, some things to ponder….what is Northwestern’s defense going to do against a very powerful, loaded-with-weapons-itself Ohio State offense? NU’s weakness is defending the pass, and OSU has a hell of an aerial attack. How will NU’s linebackers fare against the Bucks’ star QB Braxton Miller? Can they really limit him as a runner? OSU leads the Big Ten in scoring and possesses the most explosive offense. Can Northwestern really hold them back?
Ohio State’s defense has some holes to fill, but this team held the nation’s leading rusher to 84 yards below his average last Saturday. The Bucks do lose an important member, after safety Christian Bryant broke his ankle against the Badgers. Bryant was a team leader and captain, so it’s a big moral loss as well, but I’m guessing he’ll be on the sidelines pumping everybody up as always in a scarlet & grey cast. Most likely Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown will take his place, and the good news is that statistically he stacks up with just one fewer tackle, 21 vs 22.
I don’t think I even need to go into how good the Buckeyes’ Miller, Hyde, Hall, Smith, Wilson, yada, yada, yada are….you definitely know that by now. So I’ll just end with this fun ‘lil fact. Northwestern is coming off a bye week, and Northwestern is 0-4 under Coach Fitzgerald in games following a week off. Just sayin’.
Allright my Midwestern bretheren, get out there and own Gameday with the best signs ever. Make Kirk blush through his spray-tan.