Big Ten Preview: Week 10 edition – the Battle for Michigan Rules the Roost

The Leaders looks to be a cinch for Ohio State, with a relatively manageable schedule prior to the big game against Michigan at the end of the season. The Buckeyes need to lose 2, and Wisconsin win out, in order for the Badgers to steal the division title, but they are very slim odds. The Legends, on the other hand, looks a little muddier with Michigan State unbeaten, 2 teams on 1 loss and 2 on 2 losses. There is all to play for over the next few weeks, and no one truly looks dominant. This week’s slate may not look like much on a national scale, but these games mean everything to the majority of contenders. And yes, even those out of the running are happy to play spoiler.

Oct 26, 2013; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (2) scrambles under pressure during the second half against the Michigan State Spartans at Memorial Stadium. Michigan State won 42-3. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois @ Penn State

12:00 PM ET

 

The skinny: Two teams who showed early promise, but have fallen off the radar recently.

 

Three things to watch for:

 

  • The re-emergence of Scheelhaase: Nate has been wildly inconsistent throughout this season, looking outstanding at times, and playing like a freshman at others. While it’s not entirely his own fault, a 5th-year senior needs to play at that level, particularly on a struggling team – Scheelhaase hasn’t thrown a TD pass in three games! Penn State has shown some holes in the secondary; let’s hope the Illini offensive line gives Nate enough time to take advantage of them.

  • It’s time to start running: Remember the good old days when Penn State had an effective running game? Back in non-conference play? The Lions are averaging just shy of 92 yards per game in league games – and that isn’t going to get it done. With a promising, not quite there yet, freshman quarterback, Penn State need to pound on the Illini, whose run defense is just shy of appalling.

  • Making 3rd down count: With neither offense humming at the moment, sustaining drives will be a key. Penn State are poor on 3rd down, averaging 31%, but Illinois are allowing 48% converted. The Illini offense is hitting a strong 46%, but Penn State are giving up just 32%. Whoever comes up trumps here, will come up trumps at the final whistle.

 

Prediction: Penn State 27, Illinois 17.

Sep 28, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller (5) is tackled by Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Chris Borland (44) during the third quarter at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State Buckeyes defeated Wisconsin Badgers 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin @ Iowa

12:00 PM ET

 

The skinny: Want to see two high-octane offenses moving the ball at will? Change the channel! Want to see two dinosaurs knock the snot out of each other? Stay tuned!

 

Three things to watch for:

 

  • The quarterback battle: It’s no trade secret that both teams like to run the ball, and they have the lines and backs to do it, but lets not overlook the quarterback situation. Both QBs are game managers, but could be X-factors in a game where both teams are pretty well matched otherwise. Iowa freshman Jake Rudock has been nicely effective, although he’s tailed off a little as the competition stiffens. Badger Joel Stave has also struggled a little against better opponents, but has played well otherwise. This game will be close, and should come down to who is the most effective passer.

  • Return to basics: With both defenses tough to move the ball on, scoring in other fashions should be a major factor, and Iowa have the edge on this count. So far this season, Wisconsin has a solitary return TD (a fumble), whereas the Hawkeyes have 5 (fumble, 2 Ints, 2 Punts). Even if the Badger offense doesn’t turn the ball over, punter Drew Meyer may want to keep the ball away from Kevonte Martin-Manley.

  • Points make prizes: This Is the kind of game where points could be hard to come by, so having a good kicker becomes a crucial factor. Iowa definitely have the edge, with seasoned Mike Meyer at placekicker. He’s missed a couple of easy kicks this season, but he’s hit 10 of 14 with a long of 49 so far. Badger Kyle French is less reliable. He’s hit 5 of 8 on the season, but he doesn’t share Meyer’s history of accuracy.

 

Prediction: Wisconsin 17, Iowa 13

Oct 19, 2013; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back Jeremy Langford (33) runs the ball against Purdue Boilermakers defensive back Frankie Williams (24) during the 1st quarter at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State @ Purdue

12:00 PM ET

 

The skinny: This…Could…Be…Ugly!

 

Three things to watch for:

 

  • Keep your eyes on the road: There are few, if any, scenarios where I can envision the Boilermakers even competing with Ohio State over the course of the game, but a Buckeye squad with their eyes on later engagements could allow Purdue to make a few plays and stick around, building confidence along the way. Don’t bet your house on it though.

  • Make stops on third down: I’ve harped on before about how quick Purdue’s starting defense is. I’ve also noted their lack of depth has hurt them as games go on. If they can keep the Buckeyes from sustaining drives, they’ve the slimmest of chances. The secondary will struggle against OSU’s lightning receivers though.

  • Find a playmaker on offense: Someone – anyone – on offense has to step forward this season to give the Boilermakers a shot in the arm down the stretch. Akeem Hunt was expected to star, but has suffered along with the rest of the offense. Danny Etling has taken over at QB, but has played like the freshman he is. The receivers have speed, but no one is a true gamebreaker.

 

Prediction: Ohio State 56, Purdue 10.

Oct 26, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner (7) scrambles from the packet in the first quarter against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota @ Indiana

3:30 PM ET

 

The skinny: The game that none of the other league games promise to be.

 

Three things to watch for:

 

  • Familiarity breeds contempt: Believe it or not, these two haven’t knocked heads since 2008 (16-7 to Minnesota), and the whole cast of characters has changed since then, including the coaches. This leads to an air of the unknown that no amount of game film can dissipate. Both teams match up pretty well, with Minnesota having the edge on defense, while the Hoosiers have the more explosive offense. The Gophers get the nod on special teams too.

  • Guarding the pass: Minnesota’s secondary has been solid this season, with only San Jose State and Michigan’s Devin Funchess showing them up, but the Hoosier passing attack is a different animal. Only Michigan State have held them to less than 319 yards this season (a mortal 259 yards), but the Gophers defense isn’t in the same league. The best bet is amping up the pass rush, but Indiana have given up just 11 sacks to date.

  • Control the clock: In 3 wins this season, IU allowed just 337 yards rushing; in 4 losses, they gave up 1210 yards on the ground. The Hoosiers are vulnerable to power running games, and guess what? Minnesota have a strong line and like to pound the ball. Can they stay out of long 3rd downs and make life easier for their talented but inconsistent quarterbacks?

 

Prediction: Indiana 41, Minnesota 37.

Oct 26, 2013; Champaign, IL, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back Jeremy Langford (33) runs the ball during the second half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium. Michigan State won 42-3. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan @ Michigan State

3:30 PM ET

 

The skinny: “We don’t like them and they don’t like us!”

 

Three things to watch for:

 

  • Can Gardner carry the load: Devin’s been mostly good this season, but he’s had the advantage of opponents needing to keep an eye on Fitzgerald Toussaint. Fitz won’t be going anywhere on Saturday, so Gardner’s going to find himself the primary breadwinner against a Spartan defense that is simply outstanding. Can he convert those long 3rd downs, and can he keep the ball away from guys with State on their jersey?

  • Raising their game: Speaking of MSU’s defense, while they have been ridiculously good so far this season, what’s the best offense they’ve played? Indiana? Notre Dame? No one in Michigan’s class then? They may have their hands full with the Wolverine’s speed, and while I don’t think Michigan will score 65 on them, Sparty could have problems in the passing game. There’s one other factor the Spartans defense hasn’t faced this season – a quarterback who can run. They’ll be put to the test this weekend.

  • No offense, East Lansing: Despite the occasional flurry of competence, the Michigan State offense for the most part has been, for want of a better word, poop. Their flirtations with mediocrity have actually just gotten the job done early in the season, although there has been more signs of life lately. The running game has become quietly effective, courtesy of Jeremy Langford, but the passing game has been woefully inconsistent. The Wolverines are giving up a lot of yards through the air, but they’re allowing a 53.1% completion rate and have 16 sacks and 11 interceptions.

 

Prediction: Michigan 24, Michigan State 20.

Sep 14, 2013; Evanston, IL, USA; Northwestern Wildcats running back Treyvon Green (22) runs with the ball against the Western Michigan Broncos during the third quarter at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern @ Nebraska

3:30 PM ET

 

The skinny: Don’t turn your back on a wounded Wildcat.

 

Three things to watch for:

 

  • Controlling the line of scrimmage: Northwestern were sitting pretty at 4-0 and had pundits wondering whether they could contend for a conference title, then they entered league play and now sit at a shaky 4-4. There are a few reasons for this, but here’s the big one – the Wildcats have allowed 28 sacks already this season, 21 in conference play. An offense can’t function with this kind of pressure. Want more bad news? Nebraska have 18 sacks so far, 17 in the last 5 games. Something has got to give.

  • Missing their Mark: The Wildcats have struggled the last two weeks in particular without QB Kain Colter and RB Venric Mark, their top playmakers. Colter may be back against Nebraska, which opens up their offense a lot (even though Trevor Siemian’s good), but Mark is a big loss. Treyvon Green has compensated nicely on the ground, but he doesn’t have Mark’s game-breaking speed, and Venric is also an outstanding returner, even though he hasn’t been a factor all season due to injury.

  • Can Martinez get back on track: Taylor’s return from injury was far from triumphant, losing to Minnesota in a game where he didn’t do a lot, and no doubt fans continue to call for backup Tommy Armstrong, who showed some great talent when Martinez was out. With the conference loss putting them behind Michigan State in the Legends standings, Nebraska can’t afford another loss, and Northwestern are not to be taken lightly.

 

Prediction: Nebraska 21, Northwestern 17.

Topics: Akeem Hunt, Big Ten Leaders, Big Ten Legends, Danny Etling, Devin Funchess, Devin Gardner, Drew Meyer, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Jake Rudock, Jeremy Langford, Joel Stave, Kain Colter, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Kyle French, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Mike Meyer, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Nate Scheelhaase, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, Purdue Boilermakers, San Jose State Spartans, Taylor Martinez, Tommy Armstrong Junior, Trevor Siemian, Treyvon Green, Venric Mark, Wisconsin Badgers

Want more from Saturday Blitz?  
Subscribe to FanSided Daily for your morning fix. Enter your email and stay in the know.