Big Ten rivalry week headed by Ohio St-Michigan
A look at what to watch for in the Big Ten this weekend:
GAME OF THE WEEK: Seventh-ranked Ohio State strives to keep alive its bid to reach the College Football Playoff in a matchup against Michigan.
The Buckeyes (10-1, 7-0, No. 6 CFP) are heavy favorites over the Wolverines (5-6, 3-4), who couldn’t come up with a better way to become bowl eligible than by defeating their archrivals.
Ohio State’s offense relies heavily upon freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, whose 42 touchdowns (33 passing, nine rushing) match the Big Ten record set by Drew Brees with Purdue in 1998.
“That’s pretty powerful stuff,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said.
For the Wolverines to pull off a huge upset, they must hold onto the football. Michigan ranks last in the Big Ten with a minus-14 turnover differential.
“If you boil it down to one thing, there’s no question we haven’t done as good a job as we like taking care of the football,” embattled coach Brady Hoke said.
BEST MATCHUP: Wisconsin hosts Minnesota in a game that will determine Ohio State’s opponent in the Big Ten title game.
Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1) has already clinched at least a tie atop the West Division. But Minnesota (8-3, 5-2) will win the tiebreaker with a victory.
“There’s a lot to play for, without question, and you put the rivalry game on top of it,” Badgers coach Gary Andersen said. “Fun spot to be in for both teams.”
With 200 yards rushing against Iowa last week, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon matched the Big Ten and school records for most in a season (2,109 by Ron Dayne in 1996).
Minnesota probably doesn’t stand a chance if it can’t collar Gordon.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Nine conference teams are already bowl eligible. Michigan, Northwestern and Illinois will attempt to join the list with wins on Saturday. ... Ohio State seeks to extend its Big Ten-record conference winning streak to 24. ... Maryland’s Brad Craddock has made 23 straight field goals, one short of the Big Ten record set by Mike Nugent of Ohio State from 2001-02. ... Rutgers QB Gary Nova is second nationally in passing yards per completion (15.47).
LONG SHOT: Penn State hopes home-field advantage and a stout run defense will add up to an upset of Michigan State.
Penn State (6-5, 2-5) leads the nation and the Big Ten in rushing defense (81.7 yards per game) and ranks second in the conference in total defense (267.2).
But Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) leads the conference in total offense, and senior Jeremy Langford has rushed for 1,242 yards and 17 touchdowns.
The Nittany Lions have won two of the last three in the series.
Unfortunately for Penn State, the Spartans did not experience a letdown after losing to Ohio State on Nov. 8. Since then, they’ve defeated Maryland and Rutgers by a combined 82-18 score.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Maryland QB C.J. Brown, a sixth-year senior, plays his final home game against Rutgers. Brown has already been part of a school-record 54 touchdowns and is 516 yards shy of the total offense mark. He faces a Scarlet Knights team that allowed 45 points at Michigan State last weekend.