Oct 20, 2012; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers defensive back Devin Smith (10) (center) and wide receiver Reggie Love (16) (left) celebrate with the Paul Bunyan Axe following the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin defeated Minnesota 38-13. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten Preview: Week 13 Edition – Wisconsin Badgers at Minnesota Golden Gophers heads a solid slate

With just a couple of weeks to go in the Big Ten schedule, and there are a few nice games on the schedule, although only one game has real meaning for a team. That team, Minnesota, has looked good all season long, apart from a 2-game stint against Michigan and Iowa. Now, they get a chance to prove that not only have they turned their season around, but that they are one of the better teams in the Big Ten. If they can win out, the Golden Gophers will represent the Legends division in the title game, not bad for a team that generally got pounded in B1G play last season. There’s one small problem – they need to beat Wisconsin and win in East Lansing to get there. Win one of those games, and they deserve that respect they’ve been working towards.

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

Michigan State @ Northwestern

12:00 PM ET

 

The skinny: The rapidly fading bottom dweller faces the big fish in the Legends pond.

 

Three things to watch for:

 

  • Some pass protection would be a good start: It’s no secret that the Spartans have one of the better pass rushes in the Big Ten. It’s also no secret that Northwestern have struggled to protect their quarterbacks, allowing 34 sacks so far this season. Expect to see more of athletic Kain Colter on saturday, as Trevor Siemian moves well enough in the pocket, but he may have nowhere to go.

  • The Running Man: The Spartans gnarly defense has been the rock they have built their season around, but running back Jeremy Langford has become the perfect complement. The hard-nosed runner gets stronger as the game progresses, and has proven to be great at finishing off teams as their defenses tire late. Expect to see plenty of Langford on Saturday as the Spartans take advantage of Northwestern’s lightweight defensive unit.

  • Finish drives: The Wildcats will have their hands full with MSU’s defense, so they need to score points when they get the chance. Northwestern are second in the nation in redzone percentage – an outstanding 97.44% – but 41% of those scores are field goals. Against the Spartans, while every point will count, but Northwestern need to get TDs to pressure MSU.

 

Prediction: Michigan State 23, Northwestern 10.

Nov 2, 2013; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Jake Rudock (15) runs for a first down against the Wisconsin Badgers in the first half at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan @ Iowa

12:00 PM ET

 

The skinny: An interesting game between two teams playing for little more than pride.

 

Three things to watch for:

 

  • Controlling the line: It goes without saying that most games are won at the line of scrimmage, and this one should be no different. The problem is, Iowa’s defensive line isn’t a whole lot better than Michigan’s offensive line. The Wolverines problems lately have been well documented, allowing 19 sacks over the last 3 games, but Iowa have only 17 on the year, with 10 coming in 2 games.

  • “…and on that note”: The Hawkeyes were pretty good stopping the run for most of the season, including stuffing Minnesota’s potent attack, but struggled the 3 weeks prior to last week against lowly Purdue. Michigan have had their struggles with the run, at least for a 2-game stint, but they have the talent to wear down the Hawkeyes feisty line, due to their lack of great depth. Definitely an x-factor worth keeping an eye on.

  • Rudock’s chance to shine: The freshman quarterback’s been in a nice situation this season, only being called upon to take the game on his shoulders a couple of times, thanks to the Iowa defense and running game. Not that he hasn’t been good – he’s been efficient for the most part – but he struggled against Ohio State and Wisconsin when the ground game wasn’t clicking. He faces another tough defense against the run in Michigan’s, but the secondary has some holes. Can he take advantage of these holes if the running game struggles again?

 

Prediction: Iowa 20, Michigan 17

Nov 16, 2013; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini running back Josh Ferguson (6) runs the ball during the first quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois @ Purdue

12:00 PM ET

 

The skinny: The prestigious battle for second last in the Leaders.

 

Three things to watch for:

 

  • Is this Purdue’s last chance?: With a trip to explosive Indiana next week, thus could be the Boilermakers (and Illinois) last chance to win a B1G game. If there’s one team Purdue can beat, it’s Illinois, whose defense has been one of the worst in the country. Of course, the same could be said of the Illini offense, so it’s a matter of which unit can hold up under not so trying circumstances.

  • Battle of the quarterbacks: In one corner, we have 5th-year senior Nate Scheelhaase; in the other, we have freshman Danny Etling, who seems to be getting better despite playing on a poor team. He had his best performance last week against Penn State, and gets his chance to show he’s the future against a poor defense. Scheelhaase, on the other hand, has a ton of experience and is playing for a Sunday job. Purdue’s pass defense has had its moments, but can it hold out against a cagey veteran?

  • The field position game: Purdue’s best weapon all season has been punter Cody Webster, who’s done an outstanding job of forcing opponents to drive the length of the field to score. The problem is, the defense hasn’t always kept up its end of the bargain. Now, facing an offensive unit that has had its fair share of problems, Webster could finally be the impact player he would be on a better team.

 

Prediction: Illinois 31, Purdue 21.

Wisconsin @ Minnesota

3:30 PM ET

 

The skinny: Can Paul Bunyan’s Axe return to Minneapolis after a decade in Madison?

 

Three things to watch for:

 

  • The Badger defense: Here’s a stat for you – the Golden Gophers are allowing 4.44 yards per rush this year; Wisconsin are allowing 4.32 yards per play! This is the daunting task that faces Minnesota. Running the ball on Wisconsin is tough, but the pass defense may be even better. If the Gophers struggle to move the ball on the ground, they don’t have the kind of passing attack to dent the Wisconsin secondary. This could be a bloodbath.

  • The turnover battle: Minnesota will have its hands full with the Badger’s running game, and the best they can hope for is to slow them down. With that in mind, forcing turnovers will be a key to their defensive game plan, as it has been all season. Any fumbles or errant passes that can be snagged and turned into points or favorable field position will help keep the Gophers competitive.

  • That new-fangled forward pass”: It would be a great surprise if Minnesota didn’t load up the box to try to slow down the Badgers. It would also be a great surprise if Wisconsin didn’t run the ball anyway. Even so, expect to see Joel State hook up with Jared Abbrederis, especially early if Minny have some success against the run. The Gopher secondary is okay, but they can’t watch the run and focus on the pass too. Of course, it would be to Wisconsin’s benefit if another receiver showed up this week.

 

Prediction: Wisconsin 38, Minnesota 13.

Oct 19, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Indiana Hoosiers quarterback Tre Roberson (5) runs the ball past Michigan Wolverines defensive lineman Chris Wormley (43) in the second half at Michigan Stadium. Michigan won 63-47. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana @ Ohio State

3:30 PM ET

 

The skinny: After last year’s points-fest (52-49), does anyone think Ohio State won’t be taking the Hoosiers seriously?

 

Three things to watch for:

 

  • Can the Hoosiers run the ball?: Indiana have run the ball well against most teams on their schedule, with the exceptions being Missouri, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Now they face a similar test in the Ohio State, and like the Badgers, they have to do it without big play threat Tevin Coleman.

  • Hyde and seek: Braxton Miller gets most of the plaudits for the team’s success, but Carlos has been the big dog on offense since coming back from suspension. He’s at his best in the second half of games, particularly when opponents are keeping it close. Hyde takes his game to the next level, providing an unstoppable rushing threat. Expect Indiana’s feeble run defense to see plenty of Hyde all game.

  • Roberson or Sudfeld:Quarterback has been something of a bone of contention for the Hoosiers, with both showing inconsistency too often. Roberson has looked better against the top teams on the slate, and is a good runner, but Sudfeld is the better pure passer. The Buckeyes pass rush may dictate who gets the lion’s share of the snap on Saturday.

 

Prediction: Ohio State 50, Indiana 24.

Nov 16, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Zach Zwinak (28) runs with the ball against the Purdue Boilermakers during the second quarter at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska @ Penn State

3:30 PM ET

 

The skinny: There’s nothing on the line except pride, but these are two proud universities.

 

Three things to watch for:

 

  • The freshman factor: Both these teams will sport freshman QBs who’ve had middling degrees of success this season. Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg is more accomplished, but has been inconsistent. Cornhusker Tommy Armstrong is a talented dual threat, but has been spelled by Ron Kellogg when he’s struggled. Armstrong has the better offensive talent at his disposal (at least an edge), and that should be a big factor in this game.

  • ZZ Top: The Nittany Lions seem to have something for alliterative running backs, with Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak splitting carries over the course of the season. Zwinak has been the guy over the last couple of games, racking up 299 yards and 4 scores. Nebraska’s run defense has been far from stellar this season, and could struggle against the powerful runner. Belton is still on hand to provide a change of pace too.

  • Ball control: Both of these teams have had ball control issues, with Nebraska’s turnover margin at -8 (5 TOs last season), while Penn State’s is a slightly less deplorable -6. Both offenses are very capable of moving the ball on the other, so coughing up the football and providing short fields could have huge momentum issues.

 

Prediction: Penn State 34, Nebraska 31.

Tags: Big Ten Leaders Big Ten Legends Illinois Fighting Illini Indiana Hoosiers Iowa Hawkeyes Michigan State Spartans Michigan Wolverines Minnesota Golden Gophers Nebraska Cornhuskers Northwestern Wildcats Ohio State Buckeyes Penn State Nittany Lions Purdue Boilermakers Wisconsin Badgers