Nov 2, 2013; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner (98) is sacked by Michigan State Spartans defensive end Shilique Calhoun (89) during the 2nd half of a game at Spartan Stadium. MSU won 29-6. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten Preview: Week 12 Edition - Michigan State and Nebraska Battle for the Legends' Marbles

The big game this week is the battle for the Legends between Michigan State and Nebraska, where homefield advantage could tip the game in the Big Red’s favor. Wisconsin get a visit from the explosive Hoosiers, and it will be interesting to see how their defense holds up, and how many different Badger backs go over 100 yards rushing. The other watchable game on the slate is Michigan at Northwestern, but all take a back seat to the big division decider.

Nov 9, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg (14) hands the ball off to running back Zach Zwinak (28) in the third quarter against the Minnesota Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota wins 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue @ Penn State

12:00 PM ET

 

The skinny: A team fighting for a bowl eligibility versus a team fighting for a modicum of pride.

 

Three things to watch for:

 

  • Eating at Appleby’s: Lost in the shuffle of Purdue’s preseason quarterback battle was the play of redshirt freshman Austin Appleby, who pushed hard to fight for at least the number 2 spot, alongside 5th-year senior Rob Henry and freshman hotshot Danny Etling. He made sure no one rested on their laurels through either camp, but ultimately ended up in third place. After sitting on the bench, he finally got his chance late against Iowa, and looked pretty good, albeit against Hawkeye reserves. He completed 5 of 6 for 83 yards and a TD – will it give him a chance for more playing time against Penn State?

  • Speaking of hotshot freshman…: Christian Hackenberg of Penn State looked impressive early on against lesser opposition, but he has been understandably inconsistent since the competition stiffened. With struggling Purdue on the agenda, Hackenberg has a chance to rebuild his confidence a little, but he has to be smart with the football, or he could find himself in another dogfight.

  • Speed kills: Well, it does if you’re Penn State. The lions are a hard-nosed team, but their lack of speed on defense left them badly exposed against UCF, Indiana and Ohio State. While it would be remiss of me to break down football matchups to mere clichés, there is some truth to it, and Purdue have some speed, both at running back and wide receiver. Of course, Purdue also has a shocking offensive line, so it’s probably academic.

 

Prediction: Penn State 30, Purdue 7.

Nov 9, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Cody Hoffman (2) is tackled by Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Chris Borland (44) and cornerback Sojourn Shelton (8) after catching a pass during the fourth quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin won 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana @ Wisconsin

12:00 PM ET

 

The skinny: The Hoosiers unstoppable force against the Badgers immovable object.

 

Three things to watch for:

 

  • Walking wounded: When you’re coming up against not only one of the FBS’ toughest defenses, but toughest offenses too, you want all your best guys ready to rumble. The Hoosiers could be in trouble if top running back Tevin Coleman isn’t ready to go, and he’s currently doubtful for Saturday. Stephen Houston should keep them ticking over, but Coleman is a great big-play threat. Furthermore, while top defensive backs Mark Murphy and Greg Heban are ready to go, they may not be 100%, and the Hoosiers could be in trouble.

  • The quarterback question: Nate Sudfeld has had a nice season for the Hoosiers, playing the lion’s share of the snaps and generally being effective moving the offense. However, he’s struggled against better opponents such as Missouri and Michigan, setting the stage for “backup” Tre Roberson to step in and strut his stuff. Roberson has looked better on these occasions, and brings a running threat that opens up the Indiana offense. The question is – should he start in one of the Hoosiers key games this season?

  • Ball control: If Wisconsin was playing the top run defense in the nation, they would run the ball, and then run some more. Against the Hoosiers, they may not even pass – and may not have to. Indiana are 109th in the country in run defense, allowing 217 yards per game. The Badgers are 10th in rushing, averaging 281 yards. Worryingly, the Hoosiers may be even worse against the pass, meaning they can’t just put 8 or 9 in the box – Wisconsin QB Joel Stave is too good to allow those easy opportunities.

 

Prediction: Wisconsin 37, Indiana 27

Nov 2, 2013; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller (5) throws a touchdown pass to wide receiver Corey Brown (10) against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross Ade Stadium. Ohio State defeats Purdue 56-0. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State @ Illinois

12:00 PM ET

 

The skinny: A game with the potential to be close, for a quarter or two.

 

Three things to watch for:

 

  • Let the good times roll: The Fighting Illini have been decent this year, at least on offense, but they’re running into an Ohio State team that’s rolling at the right time, winning their last 2 games by the combined score of 119-14. While the Illini can put some points on the board, they won’t stop the Buckeyes offense – the best they can hope for is to slow them down.

  • Can the defense make some plays: The offense should be able to score some points, but can the defense make enough plays to keep the game interesting? Step forward, Jonathan Brown, the only real playmaker on the defense. Can he inspire his teammates to raise their game against the might of a national title contender? With just 10 total sacks and 2 interceptions to date, the Illini have to show some fight to add some credence to their nomenclature.

  • Keep your eye on the ball: The Buckeyes may be their own worst enemy in this game, focusing on talk of who belongs where in the National Title hunt, who they’ll play in the Rose Bowl, and the various trophy considerations that tend to follow great teams. While it’s unlikely that Urban Meyer will fuel any such beliefs, reining in a bunch of young guys with a chip on their shoulder after last year’s bowl shutout is another matter. Illinois still has a massive task in front of them.

 

Prediction: Ohio State 41, Illinois 14.

Nov 9, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines tight end Devin Funchess (87) is tackled by Nebraska Cornhuskers defensive back Andrew Green (11) in the fourth quarter at Michigan Stadium. Nebraska won 17-13. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan @ Northwestern

3:30 PM ET

 

The skinny: Two teams who promised much in the preseason, but have failed to impress since.

 

Three things to watch for:

 

  • And the beating goes on…: The Wildcats defensive line may lack ballast, but they’re quick and capable of getting into the backfield. Michigan’s interior line, on the other hand, has gone to pot the last couple of weeks, getting beaten up by Michigan State and Nebraska on consecutive weeks, allowing 7 sacks in each game. The Wolverines better find someone to throw a block this week, or QB Devin Gardner could be in for another pounding, and it’s only so long before he fails to get up from a hit. Northwestern may be missing defensive end Tyler Scott, which is a blessing for Big Blue.

  • Will the run be a factor: The Wolverines running attack, for those who haven’t heard, has been a disaster the last couple of weeks, with a total of -69 yards. While the 14 sacks play a part in this, the offensive line hasn’t exactly created opportunities for Fitzgerald Toussaint. Northwestern’s run defense isn’t great, but they could wreak havoc if that interior doesn’t sort itself out. Northwestern have been good running against better teams, but have struggled against stronger teams. Like Michigan. Losing Venric Mark for the season does no one any favors. Expect QB Kain Colter to be a major factor, but the Wolverine run defense is tough.

  • Playing keepaway: The Wolverines are the more talented team, but they’ve been loose with the football (especially Gardner), allowing lesser teams (Akron?) to stay within striking distance. Gardner has thrown has thrown 11 interceptions to date, not even mentioning fumbles, and pouncing on errant footballs has been Northwestern’s biggest strength this season. Gardner has to make smart decisions with the football, else this could be another nightmare for Big Blue.

 

Prediction: Michigan 24, Northwestern 20.

Michigan State @ Nebraska

3:30 PM ET

 

The skinny: With the Legends division on the line, can the staunch Spartans shut down the explosive Cornhuskers?

 

Three things to watch for:

 

  • Cooking up trouble: There are few concerns about the defense, they’ve been almost impenetrable all season, but can the MSU offense continue its recent improvement after a sluggish start to the season? Connor Cook’s improvement as a passer has been impressive, although he’s not quite big-time yet, as he showed against Purdue. The Spartan line is the key, allowing just 7 sacks and turning Jeremy Langford into the unsung hero of the team, with 4 straight 100-yard games. Langford should be the key again against a shaky Nebraska run D.

  • Ameer Abdullah: No need for clichés or facepalm-worthy puns, Abdullah is simply Nebraska’s best chance to navigate the Spartan brick wall. The junior has been terrific all season, failing to get 105 yards or more just once (98 against UCLA). Imani Cross will get some carries early to soften up MSU, as the Cornhuskers don’t want their small-but-tough star killed, but Big Red’s success will come down to whether Ameer can roll. Don’t forget, he’s a threat in the passing game too.

  • Collapsing the pocket: No doubt you are aware of Michigan State’s defensive line, but the Cornhusker unit has come on over the course of the season, and has racked up an impressive 29 sacks, 28 over the last 7 weeks. If Nebraska’s athletic front four can get in Cook’s face and force him into mistakes, a one-dimensional Spartan team will be easier to slow down.

 

Prediction: Michigan State 19, Nebraska 13.

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Tags: Ameer Abdullah Austin Appleby Big Ten Leaders Big Ten Legends Christian Hackenberg Connor Cook Danny Etling Devin Gardner Fitzgerald Toussaint Greg Heban Illinois Fighting Illini Imani Cross Indiana Hoosiers Jeremy Langford Joel Stave Jonathan Brown Kain Colter Mark Murphy Michigan State Spartans Michigan Wolverines Nate Sudfeld Nebraska Cornhuskers Northwestern Wildcats Ohio State Buckeyes Penn State Nittany Lions Purdue Boilermakers Rob Henry Rose Bowl Stephen Houston Tevin Coleman Tre Roberson Urban Meyer Wisconsin Badgers

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