Here’s what to watch in the Big Ten this week:
GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 7 Penn State (No. 7 CFP) at No. 24 Michigan State (No. 24 CFP).
Both teams are looking to bounce back from losses while playing for the Land Grant Trophy. The winner will be a game behind Ohio State in the Big Ten East or, if the Buckeyes are upset at Iowa, in a tie for first. Penn State star Saquon Barkley was held to 14 yards on 12 carries before getting hurt in the third quarter of last year’s game, a 45-12 PSU win, and this week is coming off a season-low 44-yard outing in a loss to the Buckeyes. The Spartans are first in the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing 90 yards per game. After getting shredded by J.T. Barrett, the Lions face a QB in Brian Lewerke who set school records for passing yards (445) and total offense (475) in a triple-overtime loss at Northwestern.
Maryland KR Ty Johnson vs. Rutgers kick coverage.
Johnson averages 27.4 yards per kick return to rank third in the Big Ten and tied for 14th nationally, and he ran one back 100 yards against Ohio State. Kick coverage has been one of the Scarlet Knights’ greatest areas of improvement. They’re allowing 17.2 yards per return, third in the conference. Last year they gave up 22.6 yards per return to rank 13th.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Penn State QB Trace McSorley has thrown a touchdown pass in 23 straight games. … Michigan State has held five opponents under 100 yards rushing and has allowed just three rushes of 20 yards or longer. … Wisconsin leads the nation in third-down conversion percentage, at 53.5 percent. The Badgers are among five teams to convert at a 50-percent rate. … The No. 4 Badgers (No. 9 CFP) are the third top-five opponent Indiana will play. The Hoosiers are the only team to face that many this season, and they and West Virginia are the only teams to play five ranked opponents. … Iowa’s three losses have been decided by one possession, and two have come down to the game’s final play. Since 2014, Iowa is 32-12 in the regular season, and 10 of those 12 losses have been decided by one possession. … The three games between Northwestern and Nebraska in Lincoln have been decided by a total of eight points. … Minnesota ranks in the top three nationally in fewest penalties per game and fewest penalty yards per game after being 108th and 105th, respectively, in 2016.
Illinois, 14-point underdog at Purdue.
You’ve got to wonder about Purdue’s state of mind after three straight losses by a total of 11 points, with last week’s 25-24 home loss to Nebraska especially crushing after the Cornhuskers went 70 yards with no timeouts for the winning touchdown with 14 seconds left. Illinois has lost six in a row but could give the Boilermakers a game, especially if it starts finishing drives in the red zone.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Michigan QB Brandon Peters.
The redshirt freshman is expected to make his first start against Minnesota. He replaced a struggling John O’Korn in the second quarter against Rutgers and finished 10 for 14 for 124 yards and touchdown. The arrival of the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Peters has been much anticipated since he was 2015 Indiana Mr. Football and the Hoosier State’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
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