The Big Ten division races are rounding the corner, and the leaders are coming into focus.
Michigan is the only team that controls its own destiny in the East, but Ohio State will almost certainly punch its ticket to Indianapolis if it wins out. Penn State is lingering and hoping that it can also win out, then hope for two Wolverines losses down the stretch and hold the tiebreaker over the Buckeyes.
In the West, Wisconsin got a huge boost when it buried Northwestern with a 21-7 win in Evanston, Illinois, while Nebraska got blasted by Ohio State in a 62-3 prime-time rout. The Badgers have an easy road to the conference title game as they need to beat Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota to clinch the West.
With just three weeks remaining in the regular season, here’s a look at the leauge’s most important games this weekend.
The West is now Wisconsin’s to lose.
The Badgers spent the majority of the Big Ten season chasing Nebraska, which raced out to a big lead with most of the conference’s easier opponents on the front end of its schedule. But the two-week road trip to Madison, Wisconsin, and Columbus, Ohio, proved too much to handle, as an overtime loss to Wisconsin and a beatdown at the hands of Ohio State have pushed the Cornhuskers behind the Badgers.
On Saturday, Wisconsin will host an Illinois team that has won just two Big Ten games in Lovie Smith’s first year as head coach. Even though the Badgers are favored by 26.5 points, via Odds Shark, they’ll need to bring it against a team that’s prepared after beating Michigan State last weekend.
How does Nebraska bounce back from the historic and embarrassing loss it suffered to Ohio State last Saturday?
That’ll be tough for the Cornhuskers. They’re back at home after the brutal two-week stretch visiting the Badgers and the Buckeyes, which should provide a huge boost. But they’re facing a tough Minnesota team that’s riding a four-game winning streak and an offense that’s averaging nearly 38 points per game during that stretch.
Will the Nebraska defense be able to shake off the 62 points and nearly 600 yards of total offense it just surrendered? If it can’t, it’ll have to rely on an offense that may not have quarterback Tommy Armstrong back, as he’s currently listed as day-to-day in his concussion recovery, according to ESPN.com.
The Penn State upset sent Ohio State searching for answers, and after two weeks of scrambling, it looks like Urban Meyer‘s squad is finding them.
Most anticipated the Buckeyes to put a hurt on Northwestern the week after losing to the Nittany Lions, as they entered as a 24-point favorite. But J.T. Barrett and a strong defense needed all four quarters to cage the Wildcats and secure a 24-20 win.
Things really started to come together a week later against No. 10 Nebraska. Ohio State’s offensive line, which got overwhelmed by Penn State’s pass rush, held up incredibly well, and Barrett started to stretch the field vertically with decent success.
Those developments resulted in Ohio State’s biggest win of the season, and it’ll look to continue that momentum on the road against a Maryland team it’s favored to beat by four touchdowns, according to Odds Shark.
Penn State is a Top 10 team.
Who would’ve guessed that after the Nittany Lions stumbled out of the gates, losing two of their first four games and looking lost defensively?
But chemistry started to materialize after the Michigan rout to open the Big Ten season. Saquon Barkley and a surging offensive line found a rhythm, but more importantly, head coach James Franklin appears to have finally found his quarterback in Trace McSorley.
The 24-21 upset over Ohio State was the springboard. In their last two games, the Nittany Lions have averaged more than 550 total yards and won games over Purdue and Iowa by an average of 32.5 points.
On Saturday, Penn State will face its toughest remaining test—a noon ET game on the road against Indiana. The Hoosiers, to their credit, are finding themselves as well over the last two weeks—at least offensively—as they’ve averaged nearly 38 points in wins over Maryland and Rutgers.
It’s hard to believe, but the college football season has reached Week 11 and Michigan is set to venture outside Ann Arbor for just the third time this year.
The undefeated No. 3 Wolverines have fared well in their first two road games, pasting Rutgers 78-0 and then exorcising some demons in a not-as-close-as-it-looked 32-23 win over Michigan State.
But in that game against the Spartans, the Wolverines gained a 30-10 lead that sucked the life out of Spartan Stadium. What happens when this team is consistently challenged in a hostile environment?
That’s about the only question remaining for Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines, and it likely won’t be answered until the season-finale showdown against Ohio State. Iowa is a solid team at 5-4, but it’s spiraling after losing to Wisconsin and Penn State in back-to-back weeks.