It’s week 8 for the NCAA and that means we are already at the halfway mark. Some teams have steadily improved week after week, pharmacy some have stumbled or flat out fallen and some have, well, done both. It’s a schizophrenic conference we’re all livin’ in this year.
Last week Michigan secured their first Big Ten win (did I really just type that in week 8?) against the Nittany Lions, 13-18. It wasn’t exactly what you’d call a good game, and if I were a Penn State fan I have to admit I’d be mortified. Both teams have a bye this weekend, and as probably two of the B1Ggest disappointments in the conference this year, they need it and I trust will use it wisely – TTUN to prepare for Michigan State (the Spartans are gonna love shoving that “Little Brother” thing down their throats, again) and PSU to get ready for Ohio State.
The Wisconsin Badgers put up a surprisingly low margin against Illinois – you know, 3-4 Illinois – beating them only 38-28. Wisky has a bye this weekend as well to prep for Maryland.
Michigan State grabbed the W against Purdue Saturday, but somehow the most stellar and coveted defense in the B1G let a 3-4 Boilermakers score 31 points. Go ahead, scratch your noggin. Even the Detroit Free Press said they “failed to impress” in that game. Yeah, I’m gonna say it definitely wasn’t that they were looking ahead to Indy this week.
The Spartans seem to be having some 4th quarter issues. They’re amassing big leads but losing them in the 4th, as they did two weeks ago versus Nebraska and earlier against Oregon. (Because Oregon.) They struggled again last weekend with Purdue, giving up two touchdowns – one the result of a failed fake punt – and only saving the game late with an interception. A win is a win but as the best team in the conference for the last two years who is gunning for a repeat Big Ten Championship, you need to win pretty.
Everything is really setting up for an incredible shoot-out November 8th for Ohio State at Michigan State.
The Spartans have Indiana this Saturday, for which I really don’t need to get into too much detail. QB Connor Cook will wow as usual, look for big plays by defensive end Shalique Calhoun and…spoiler alert…Michigan State will win.
I was beginning to think Northwestern made a deal with a crossroads demon in week 4. After losing their first two games they went on to beat what we thought was a pretty darn good Penn State and a ranked and rather feared Wisconsin. You know, the one with that terror running back Melvin Gordon, who is currently ranked 2nd in the nation for rushing yards, and has a #1 ranked rushing offense. “Seriously, Northwestern did?” But then last week they lost to….wait for it…the Minnesota Gophers.
3-3 Northwestern can boast nine interceptions in six games, giving their defense 13 total turnovers and 14 sacks. They host Nebraska this weekend, who is coming off a bye after really feeling the effects of Michigan State’s defense – they held Huskers star running back and Heisman contender Ameer Abdullah to a measly 45 rush yards. They shut. Him. Down. They also spoiled Nebraska’s perfect record. Expect a bit of a hate game from the Huskers, with the Wildcats struggling to stop Abdullah with their 55th ranked run defense, and Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian to rely heavily on the pass and continue his good game management.
But on that note of Minnesota. Could they possibly be the dark horse of the B1G?? At 5-1 they lead the Western division (what the…?) with a loss only to TCU. They are 2-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 2004 and only the third time since 1990. The Gophers’ David Cobb is currently ranked 7th nationally in rushing yards. Maybe keep a little bit of your eyeball on them, though they still have their toughest games ahead of them in the form of Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. We’ll see whatcha got then.
Ohio State – ahhh, some happy talk. First, stats and rankings. In the first five games of the season the Buckeyes are ranked 12th nationally in yards per game and 5th in scoring average. Quarterback J.T. Barrett’s passer rating puts him 3rd in the country. And they are currently ranked #13 in the nation, after jumping two spots during a bye week.
A bye week that the 4-1 Buckeyes weren’t real happy to have. Coach Urban Meyer stated “It’s uncomfortable,” and lamented it’s halting of some exceptional momentum for the team. Since the VA Tech loss – quickly becoming Virginia Who? – Ohio State played three games where they averaged 56 points and 623.7 total yards. The defense has been steadily improving, the offense has been firing on all cylinders, winning on both the ground and in the air, with J.T. Barrett impressing week after week (his last three games = 909 pass yards, 156 rush, 15 total TDs and only 1 interception) putting Ohio State back in the national talk about playoffs.
But let’s not get too jacked up over that just yet. It’s a longshot. The Bucks absolutely must beat Michigan State in November for that to happen, and will have to continue to win big and pretty in every single game to be contenders. The beauty of the loss and the new talk is that that oh-so-annoying “national perception” is probably fueling the players after being written off – to prove that loss wasn’t worth remembering, to improve and start to explode the way they have, and to at least be in that playoff talk while fighting for a Big Ten Championship Game spot.
Against Maryland, Ohio State’s defense only gave up one big play. We were treated to a much improved D that held “an explosive passing attack”, as some called the Terps offense, to just 244 yards while picking off their QB four times. The Bucks outgained them, outrushed them, and held the ball for 37 minutes. It’s true, the momentum was sweeeeet.
So here comes first-timers Rutgers, for Homecoming.
The new-to-the-conference and overly confident, IMO, Scarlet Knights are 5-1overall. They lost to Penn State (after a classless taunting by the fanbase) but beat Michigan. And Michigan just beat Penn State, so what does that say. They make up the only two Big Ten teams the Jersey boys have played thus far.
They have a respectable quarterback in Gary Nova, who has thrown for 13 touchdowns this season but also seven interceptions. They are ranked 36th nationally in the passing game. Nova can be their greatest strength, or their greatest weakness – five of those seven interceptions were in just one game – Penn State. He’s going to be a good test for OSU’s improved secondary. One of their best offensive players is wide receiver Leonte Carroo, who’s compiled 548 receiving yards this year, but also nine touchdown catches last year. Look for him to be a go-to guy.
The Knights’ defense is ranked 70th nationally, and their run defense 44th. But keep an eye on defensive end Kemoko Turay. He currently leads the B1G with 5.5 sacks and the nation with three blocked kicks, his last one sealing their win against the Wolverines.
If the Bucks can keep their momentum going and continue advancing as a team like they have been, this should be another beautiful win for Ohio State at home. As always, expect big things from running back Ezekiel Elliott and defensive star Joey Bosa. The best pass-rusher on the roster, Bosa has seven tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. QB Barrett entered the Heisman talk two weeks ago, with pundits comparing his first year performance to that of Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel’s, and he should be able to put up impressive numbers again this weekend. (Personally, I’m excited as hell about him and his future with the Buckeyes.)
So, Rutgers. *sneers* Your defense will have to play the best it has all year, and Nova is going to have be on like Donkey Kong. You try to stay classy, Jersey.