Here’s what to watch in the Big Ten this week:
GAME OF THE WEEK
Michigan State at Michigan.
The latest edition of one of the conference’s most contentious rivalries, the annual meeting of the state’s most famous siblings as derisively characterized by a Michigan player nearly a decade ago, will be played under the lights at the ”Big House” in Ann Arbor. Michigan State managed to make last year’s score, a 32-23 loss, respectable amid a dreadful 3-9 season. After winning seven of the previous eight games against the Wolverines, however, the Spartans for the first time under coach Mark Dantonio found themselves as the clear underdog for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. That hasn’t changed this fall. The seventh-ranked Wolverines and their FBS-leading defense, allowing an average of 203.3 yards per game, will be a tough test for Spartans sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke, who had a go-to wide receiver emerge in a victory last week over Iowa with junior Felton Davis III. The Wolverines have turned to backup quarterback John O’Korn , with starter Wilton Speight out with an injury.
Penn State’s defense against Northwestern’s offense, inside the 20-yard line.
The face of the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions is running back Saquon Barkley , but their defense is averaging only 9.4 points allowed per game for the third-best mark at the FBS level. They were a two-touchdown favorite when betting lines were set at the start of the week, but the Wildcats won’t be an easy win. They turned a 31-10 deficit with less than 10 minutes to go last week at Wisconsin into a one-score game, before their last-chance drive was thwarted by a safety . The Wildcats have scored on 16 of 17 possessions that reached the red zone, trailing only Purdue among conference success rates, including 14 touchdowns. Clayton Thorson is the Big Ten’s second-leading passer.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Penn State wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton became the program’s career leader last week against Indiana with 181 catches. … Indiana’s Griffin Oakes (three field goals, 16 extra points) and Ohio State’s Sean Nuernberger (seven field goals, 26 extra points) have each made all of their kicks this season. … With Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota, the Big Ten has six teams in the top 25 in the FBS in scoring defense. … Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck has his first Big Ten road game, at Purdue. The Gophers have a four-game winning streak against the Boilermakers, their longest ever in the series. They last lost to Purdue on the road in 2011. … Illinois, which plays at Iowa, is 10-40 in conference play since the start of the 2011 season. This will be the 73rd meeting between the Illini and the Hawkeyes, who first played in 1899. The last time Illinois won at Iowa was in 1999, losing on the last four visits. … Indiana hosts FCS foe Charleston Southern this week. Rutgers is the only team with a bye.
Nebraska, 11-point underdog against Wisconsin.
Wisconsin is one of three undefeated teams remaining in the league, with Michigan and Penn State, and the ninth-ranked Badgers have been dominant on both sides of the ball with several young skill-position players emerging as budding stars. Nebraska, meanwhile, had a rough September, marked by a loss at home to Northern Illinois and the firing of its athletic director. But the Huskers will be at home, and the game is at night. They’re 1-4 against the Badgers since joining the Big Ten, but their losses the last two years, including the 2016 game that went to overtime, were by a combined eight points.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Maryland running back Ty Johnson.
After fueling a 31-24 victory at Minnesota with a 34-yard touchdown run with 1:10 left in the game, Johnson and the Terrapins must go on the road again to play 10th-ranked Ohio State. Wide receiver D.J. Moore has received more accolades, but Johnson is fourth in the league with an average of 102.8 rushing yards per game.
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