Here’s what to watch in the Big Ten this week:
GAME OF THE WEEK
Wisconsin at Northwestern
Northwestern (4-3) somehow, some way is 4-1 in Big Ten play for the first time since 2000 and a half-game ahead of Wisconsin, Purdue and Iowa in the West. The Wildcats started 1-3 and in the last two weeks have escaped with close wins over two of the worst teams in the league (Nebraska, Rutgers). The 20th-ranked Badgers (5-2, 3-1) have not performed to their standards on defense, and the offense doesn’t have much to complement national rushing leader Jonathan Taylor. Wisconsin is a touchdown favorite, but this Northwestern team can’t be counted out as it goes for a third win in five meetings with the Badgers.
Penn State offense vs. Iowa defense
The 17th-ranked Nittany Lions (5-2, 2-2) begin the three-game gantlet of Iowa (home), Michigan (road) and Wisconsin (home) and will need to keep their offense chugging to get through it. No. 18 Iowa (6-1, 3-1) and Michigan are tied for second in the nation in rushing defense, and are third and first in total defense. Penn State has two of the top eight Big Ten rushers in RB Miles Sanders (110.3 ypg) and QB Trace McSorley (79.1), and McSorley is throwing for 208 yards per game with 11 TDs against just three interceptions.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Nebraska enters its game against Bethune-Cookman 11-0 against Football Championship Subdivision opponents. … Penn State’s McSorley had his streak of a TD pass in 34 straight games end against Indiana. … Michigan State’s Matt Coghlin has made a school-record 16 field goals in a row. … Indiana has a takeaway in each of its eight games and an interception in seven. … Minnesota’s 349 yards passing against Nebraska last week were its most since 2010. … Purdue is averaging 41.8 points, 163 yards rushing, 347 yards passing and 510 total during its four-game win streak. … Wisconsin is 24-3 against West Division opponents, including 16 straight wins since 2015. … Maryland QBs are a combined 22 of 49 (44.9 percent) for 205 yards over the last three games. … Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz needs one win to become the fifth coach in Big Ten history to win 150 games, joining Woody Hayes (202), Amos Alonzo Stagg (199), Bo Schembechler (194) and Joe Paterno (162).
Illinois, 18 ½-point underdog at Maryland
Coming off a second straight lopsided loss, the Illini (3-4, 1-3) reopened the quarterback competition between graduate transfer A.J. Bush and true freshman M.J. Rivers II. Whoever plays, it will be imperative to improve the passing game and keep the yards coming on the ground. Illinois has been held under 200 yards rushing just once and generated 210 in a loss to Wisconsin last week. Illinois’ defense is one of the worst in the country, but Maryland (4-3, 2-2) is no juggernaut on offense and overly reliant on the run.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Purdue WR Rondale Moore
The freshman sensation is tied with teammate Isaac Zico for the Big Ten lead with seven receptions of 30-plus yards, and he had 23- and 43-yarders while catching 12 balls for 170 yards against Ohio State last week. The Boilermakers (4-3, 3-1) will be going against a Michigan State team (4-3, 2-2) prone to giving up the big play, and that could be key as they go for a fifth straight win.
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