Minn-Michigan: More than Little Brown Jug at stake
A look at some things to watch as Big Ten play begins in earnest:
GAME OF THE WEEK: Minnesota at Michigan. The Little Brown Jug is on the line. So, it seems, is Brady Hoke’s job based on the noise coming out of Ann Arbor. Last week’s 16-point loss to Utah at home, following the 31-0 defeat at Notre Dame two weeks earlier, has made this as much a must-win game as there can be in late September. As of mid-week, Hoke still was undecided on his quarterback. Devin Gardner, the starter in 21 of the last 22 games, has thrown six interceptions already. One of the things Michigan has done well is stop the run, and that will be key this week. Gophers workhorse David Cobb is running for 135 yards a game and is the only weapon for a Minnesota team that ranks 124th nationally in passing. Michigan has won six straight against Gophers, all by 14 points or more, and 22 of the last 23 meetings.
BEST MATCHUP: Maryland at Indiana. The Terrapins play their inaugural Big Ten game against a Hoosiers team that upset then-No. 18 Missouri on the road. Look for lots of points in this one. Indiana’s Tevin Coleman is the nation’s leading rusher (189.7 ypg), and he’ll be going against a Maryland defense that’s worst in the Big Ten against the run. Maryland QB C.J. Brown and WR Stefon Diggs could have a huge day against an Indiana defense that is second-worst in the Big Ten against the pass. This one could come down to which team scores last.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Iowa is the only FBS school to play four games decided by eight or fewer points. ... Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah needs 38 all-purpose yards to overtake Michigan’s Anthony Carter for ninth place on the Big Ten career chart. ... Five Big Ten schools are among the top 20 nationally in rushing defense, including leader Penn State (49.5 ypg). ... Rutgers’ rushing average of 177.5 yards a game is nearly 50 yards more per game than last season. ... Purdue’s Paul Griggs is 6 for 7 on field goals after going just 6 for 12 last year. ... Wisconsin QB Tanner McEvoy leads FBS quarterbacks with 9.73 yards per rush.
LONG SHOT: Cincinnati at Ohio State. Sure, the Buckeyes have won 39 straight against in-state opponents and Cincinnati has lost in all 10 of its previous trips to Columbus and haven’t beaten the Buckeyes anywhere since 1897. But Cincinnati has won 76 games over the last seven years, Tommy Tuberville went 2-0 against Urban Meyer when he was at Auburn and Meyer at Florida, and QB Gunner Kiel is throwing for 345 yards a game with 10 touchdown passes in two games.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Illinois’s Josh Ferguson. He didn’t do much his first three games as a rusher before going for a career-high 190 yards against Texas State. This week he’ll be the key for the Illini against Nebraska. He ran for 114 yards against the Cornhuskers last year, and he’s dangerous as a receiver. Look for Wes Lunt to check down to Ferguson often when Illinois sends its receivers deep, isolating Ferguson underneath the coverage against middle linebackers who struggled against Miami last week.