Thursday, October 31, 2013
What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 10
By Mitch Sherman
Storylines to watch this week in the Big Ten:
1. The long October is over. Has it really been five weeks since Ohio State and Wisconsin played? In some ways, it feels like 10. The Big Ten's October schedule was downright scary -- and not in a Happy Halloween kind of way. Well, the league slate turns interesting again this week as No. 21 Michigan visits No. 22 Michigan State and No. 24 Wisconsin visits resurgent Iowa. Even Minnesota's visit to Indiana holds some intrigue. So long to mismatches like Ohio State-Purdue. That's this week, too? OK, they can't all look good.
Jeremy Langford and Michigan State can all but run away with the Legends division with a win over Michigan on Saturday.
2. Michigan State might run away with the Legends division. We'll find out this week. If the Spartans beat Michigan and Northwestern snaps its four-game skid at Nebraska, MSU can book its tickets to Indy. With five straight wins, Michigan State is clearly playing the best football in the Legends. Other than the Spartans, only Minnesota has won consecutive games to enter November. And really, looking at Nebraska's schedule and the way it played last week, it's hard to consider the Huskers a contender at this stage.
3. Let's go bowling. Friday is Nov. 1, so it's OK to discuss bowl lineups. Taking a peak at the Big Ten, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Minnesota are bowl eligible. Wisconsin or Iowa will join the mix Saturday, as can Nebraska with a victory over Northwestern. As for the Wildcats, after going 0 for October, it will be getting late in their bid to get back to the postseason without a victory in Lincoln. Indiana has some serious work to do, and Illinois ... the Illini just need to win for the first time in 18 Big Ten games.
4. That's offensive. Five Big Ten teams rank among the top 16 nationally in scoring. Thirty-six times this year, a Big Ten team has scored 40 or more points -- already up from 27 times all of last season. This week, two of the league's best offensive units face stern tests. Notably, Michigan, which averages 42.4 points, faces a Michigan State defense that allows only 12.3 points, third nationally. Wisconsin, averaging 39.9, visits Iowa and its 12th-ranked scoring defense, giving up 18.1. What will give? Answer that, and you've got your story of the weekend.
More on Ohio State
For full coverage of the Buckeyes, check out the Ohio State blog, part of ESPN's College Football Nation. Blog
5. Braxton Miller needs to do something for an encore. The Ohio State quarterback is playing the best football of his career after a super-efficient effort last week in the Buckeyes' stomping of Penn State. Miller accounted for 320 yards and five touchdowns on only 35 total-offense attempts in less than three quarters. Up next, Purdue. You've got to wonder when the Boiler D caves, getting no help from the dismal Purdue offense. Maybe it's this week against an Ohio State juggernaut that's scoring 47.3 points per game.
6. Nebraska is searching for defensive answers. The Huskers expected growing pains with this defense, but they did not expect to be remain so unsettled in the 10th week of the season. Particularly at linebacker, Nebraska has developed little consistency. This week, apparently, freshmen Josh Banderas and Michael Rose return as starters. Coach Bo Pelini stripped the top-unit players of their Blackshirt practice jerseys. Juggling personnel won't work, though, if the Huskers can't develop a more physical presence.
7. Minnesota coach Jerry Kill is moving toward a return. Kill, since taking a medical leave of absence following his fifth game-day seizure on Oct. 5, has resumed more coaching responsibilities over the past two weeks. He watched from the press box as the Gophers beat Northwestern, and coached a bit from the booth in Minnesota's upset win over Nebraska. On the road against Indiana on Saturday, Kill plans to do more of the coaching, though he continues to leave control of the sideline to Tracy Claeys, acting head coach and defensive coordinator.
8. Big test for Iowa. It's time to find out if the Hawkeyes are just a nice story, with their competitive play against Michigan State and Ohio State, followed by an overtime win over Northwestern, or if coach Kirk Ferentz's club is going to make some real noise this fall. Wisconsin presents a stiff challenge, but Iowa's solid rush defense and physical offensive play might make this a good matchup for the Hawkeyes. The schedule sets up well this month for Iowa to turn into perhaps the Big Ten's biggest surprise.
More on Penn State
For full coverage of the Nittany Lions, check out the Penn State blog, part of ESPN's College Football Nation. Blog
9. Penn State needs to find a fast defensive fix. The past two losses have turned ugly for the Nittany Lions, who surrendered more points to Ohio State last week than in any game since the 19th century. In its other October games, PSU allowed 84 points, splitting with Michigan and Indiana. All of it has led to scrutiny of defensive coordinator John Butler, defended adamantly this week by coach Bill O'Brien. The Nittany Lions get some relief Saturday against Illinois. Butler shifted a few bodies in the secondary, but he can only work with the talent on hand, and it's not great after key losses to graduation and low numbers because of probation.
10. Michigan is trying to shake its road woes. Even with that forgettable escape at Connecticut in September, Michigan remains just 6-8 away from the Big House under coach Brady Hoke. He's 19-0 at home, but that won't do any good on Saturday in East Lansing, where Michigan State sacked Michigan quarterbacks seven times in a 28-14 win two years ago. The Wolverines said this week they embrace the hostile environments at their rivals' stadiums. Numbers tell a different story.