Ranking Best Big Ten Football Matchups of Week 13

Ranking Best Big Ten Football Matchups of Week 13

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The Big Ten has spent the better part of the last decade at the bottom of the conference hierarchy, but that started to change when the College Football Playoff era kicked off in 2014.

Ohio State won the first-ever playoff that year, and ever since, the Big Ten has represented itself well in nonconference and postseason play.

That trend has continued this year as the league is currently dominating the CFP rankings with four teams in the Top Seven—No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan, No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 7 Penn State.

All four of those teams have a legitimate shot at making the playoff, but they’ll need to survive Rivalry Week to keep their hopes alive. Here are the best matchups for the final week of the regular season.

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No. 5: Rutgers at Maryland

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The only game on this list that doesn’t have Big Ten title and playoff implications is the showdown between Rutgers and Maryland.

The Scarlet Knights—under first-year head coach Chris Ashhave been historically bad this season, especially in conference play, where they’re winless and have been outscored by division opponents Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State an incredible 224-0. They haven’t put points of any kind on the board since their matchup with Indiana at the beginning of the month.

Maryland is having a better year under its new head coach, D.J. Durkin, but it’s in a nasty slump as well. The Terrapins have lost four straight games after starting the season 5-2, and they need a win to become bowl-eligible.

One of these teams is going to get a much-needed season-ending boost on Saturday. 

No. 4: Nebraska at Iowa

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With just two legitimate contenders in the West, that divisional race is much clearer than the muddled East.

Nebraska and Wisconsin have identical 6-2 conference records, but the Badgers hold the tiebreaker via their 23-17 overtime victory over the Cornhuskers last month. 

So Nebraska needs a win and a Wisconsin loss this weekend to advance to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game, but head coach Mike Riley’s squad will have its hands full this Friday.

Iowa is hitting its stride and playing its best football of the season, especially on defense. After upsetting No. 3 Michigan two weeks ago 14-13, the Hawkeyes blanked Illinois in a convincing 28-0 victory.

The Cornhuskers will attack that solid defense with uncertainty at the quarterback position. Senior leader Tommy Armstrong Jr. missed last week’s game as he recovered from a hamstring injury, and while he’s practiced some this week, the coaching staff is getting multiple quarterbacks ready for the Hawkeyes.

No. 3: Minnesota at Wisconsin

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Win or lose, Nebraska’s game against Iowa will be moot in the West Division title race if Wisconsin takes care of Minnesota.

The Badgers have absolutely dominated this rivalry in recent years, winning 12 matchups in a row. And Vegas expects that streak to continue on Saturday as Paul Chryst’s team checks in as a 14-point favorite over the Gophers, per Odds Shark.

They’re the heavy favorite because the Badgers have the nation’s No. 8 total defense, and they’re facing a Minnesota offense that has struggled with Mitch Leidner at quarterback. The senior has thrown just six touchdowns against eight interceptions this season, but Minnesota’s No. 25-ranked defense has kept it in games.

It should be a low-scoring affair in Madison, Wisconsin, as the temperature could dip below freezing after the sun sets.

No. 2: Michigan State at Penn State

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Arguably the surprise team not just in the Big Ten East, but in the entire league, Penn State is on the brink of its first appearance in the conference title game. 

All it needs is for Ohio State to beat Michigan at home, then take care of Michigan State at home.

The seventh-ranked Nittany Lions should like their chances against the Spartans, as they’re a perfect 6-0 in Happy Valley. That includes the come-from-behind 24-21 victory over Ohio state that vaulted them into conference title and playoff contention.

But Penn State needs to be wary of a talented Michigan State team that’s playing its best football of the season. After toasting Rutgers in a 49-0 shutout, it was a failed two-point conversion away from taking a late lead (and most likely upsetting) the No. 2 Buckeyes last week. The defense is playing a lot better, and while the offense is struggling with quarterback Tyler O’Connor at the helm, running back LJ Scott is finding his legs.

No. 1: Michigan @ Ohio State

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The Game.

That’s the moniker assigned to the matchup between Michigan and Ohio State, as if it stands alone in relevance and importance.

That certainly isn’t the case with Penn State still in the race for the East Division title, but this Saturday’s battle between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan hasn’t had this much on the line since the classic 2006 showdown that pinned the top teams in the country against each other. 

The 2016 edition of The Game carries similar weight, as the winner will be one step closer to a coveted spot in the playoff, while the loser will certainly be knocked out of contention. 

It’ll be strength vs. strength as the top-rated offense in the Big Ten (Ohio State) goes against the conference’s (and the nation’s) best total defense. Will the Buckeyes prove to be too strong once again and notch their 12th win in their last 13 matchups?

They’ll have home-field advantage on their side, and possibly an even bigger advantage behind center. Ohio State has stability in J.T. Barrett, who ranks second in Big Ten history in total touchdowns, but the Wolverines are unsure whether season-long starter Wilton Speight will be ready after injuring his non-throwing shoulder two weeks ago against Iowa.

Jim Harbaugh and Michigan won’t be making any excuses, though, and they’re looking to draw even after Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes humiliated them in a 42-13 rout in Ann Arbor last November.