Big Ten

Week 5 Big Ten previews: Michigan meets Badgers in top-10 showdown


Week 5 Big Ten previews: Michigan meets Badgers in top-10 showdown

Another week, another titanic Big Ten showdown featuring the Wisconsin Badgers.

Now up to the eighth-ranked team in the country following their dominating performance in a big win over Michigan State, the Badgers make another trip to the Great Lakes State this weekend for another battle with a top-10 team. Jim Harbaugh's Michigan Wolverines await, and though their schedule hasn't been as tough as many, they're playing as well as any team in the country right now on both sides of the ball.

It's another much-anticipated bout. But will it live up to the hype?

Here's a look at the entire Week 5 slate in the Big Ten. All games are on Saturday, Oct. 1, and as always all times are Central.

Northwestern at Iowa, 11 a.m., ESPN U

It's clear Iowa has yet to get back on track after that Week 3 loss to North Dakota State. Last weekend's win against Rutgers was an ugly one short on scoring and won thanks mostly to a fourth-quarter fumble that swung momentum and set up the game-winning score for the Hawkeyes. Iowa has to find away to get its offense cooking again after getting out-gained last week and mustering just 355 yards of offense. And that was against Rutgers. It'll be even more challenging now that No. 1 wide receiver Matt VandeBerg is sidelined for the foreseeable future. And on the defensive side of the ball, the Hawkeyes need to find a way to slow the run. They allowed 193 rush yards to Rutgers after allowing 239 to North Dakota State — and Northwestern has one of the Big Ten's best backs in Justin Jackson.

Northwestern, meanwhile, takes a trip to always-imposing Kinnick Stadium at a bad time. Just 1-3 through the season's first four games, the Cats are making mistakes left and right. Gifted two goal-line fumbles in last weekend's game against Nebraska, Northwestern couldn't do anything with them and lost by double digits. But that was just one of many screw-ups, with missed kicks, penalties, turnovers and a defense that was shredded for 556 yards shouldering plenty of the blame, too. Pat Fitzgerald vowed to get things fixed. We'll see how much progress he's made in just one week.

Rutgers at No. 2 Ohio State, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network

The Buckeyes finally get to open conference play following a bye week last weekend. Ohio State has looked as good as any team in the nation, and that No. 2 ranking is a good indication of that. J.T. Barrett, Curtis Samuel, Mike Weber and now Noah Brown — who you might remember had four touchdown catches against Oklahoma — form one dangerous offensive unit. But it's that defense, currently coordinated by former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano and formerly coordinated by current Rutgers head coach Chris Ash, that's making the biggest impression, ranked ninth and 14th in the country in scoring defense and total defense, respectively.

Rutgers will have to figure out how to do something against that tremendous defense, and that is made much, much harder without Janarion Grant. The Knights' top playmaker was knocked out for the season after suffering an injury last weekend against Iowa. Grant took a pass and ran 77 yards inside the Hawkeyes' five-yard line, but that was the last explosive play he made in the game and the last one he'll make this season. The offensive cabinet isn't completely bare, however. Robert Martin is currently the Big Ten's leading rusher with 358 yards in three games.

Purdue at Maryland, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

It's been quite the start for DJ Durkin at Maryland, and though his undefeated season probably won't last too deep into Big Ten play, it certainly could last past this weekend with lowly Purdue on the schedule. The Terps have quietly been one of the country's best running teams through the season's first four weeks, racking up 800 yards in three games for a 266.7-yards-per-game average that ranks 11th in the FBS. A fleet of running backs has been getting the job done, with no member of what's being described as a "five-headed monster" ranking in the top 10 in rushing in the conference.

That's not great news for the Boilermakers, who rank next to last in the Big Ten in total defense, allowing an average of 387.7 total yards each week. But there is the slightest bit of momentum in West Lafayette after last weekend's win over Nevada, Darrell Hazell's second win over a non-conference FBS opponent in 11 tries as Purdue head coach. And thankfully for the Boilers, they have a potent rushing weapon of their own. Markell Jones had just 47 yards in a loss to Cincinnati, but his 105.3 rush yards per game rank third in the Big Ten.

No. 8 Wisconsin at No. 4 Michigan, 2:30 p.m., ABC

The Badgers are banged up heading into this weekend's biggest game, there's no doubt about that. Already down linebacker Chris Orr for the season, Wisconsin this week announced that kicker Rafael Gaglianone will also miss the remainder of the campaign, and a Thursday report indicated star linebacker Vince Biegel will miss this game and some more following foot surgery. That being said, the Badgers' defense has been absolutely terrific through four games, all wins, two of which came against top-10 teams. After keeping Michigan State out of the end zone last weekend and holding the Spartans to just 75 rushing yards, Wisconsin ranks seventh in the country in scoring defense (11.8 points a game) and 12th in total defense (277 yards a game). The Badgers intercepted quarterback Tyler O'Connor three times and scored on a 66-yard fumble-return touchdown.

Thing is, Michigan's offense has been sensational so far this season. The competition hasn't been, necessarily, but that hasn't stopped quarterback Wilton Speight, an elite corps of pass-catchers and a seemingly unending stream of ball-carriers from piling up 208 points on 1,871 yards in four blowout wins. The Wolverines rank fourth in the country in scoring offense after last weekend's 49-10 pasting of Penn State. Five different running backs combined for six rushing touchdowns in that one, while Speight has nine touchdowns on the season.

Wisconsin has its own noteworthy quarterback after Alex Hornibrook impressed in his first career start against Michigan State. His stat line wasn't outrageous, but he made some mighty impressive plays, dropping passes into his receivers' hands and threading numerous needles. He also led the Badgers to an excellent 9-for-18 mark on third and fourth downs. Teamed with receivers Jazz Peavy and Robert Wheelwright and tight end Troy Fumagalli, the Wisconsin passing attack might finally be something to be reckoned with along with the Badgers' usually dominant run game, this year featuring another star in Corey Clement, who's scored five touchdowns in the three games he's played.

Finally, though, that Michigan defense has been every bit as good as Wisconsin's. In fact, the Wolverines place even higher in the national rankings when it comes to total defense, ranking 12th with 269.8 yards allowed per game. They're not too shabby in scoring defense, either, not far behind the Badgers at No. 13 with 13.8 points surrendered per game. Last weekend's effort vs. Penn State was a smothering one, Michigan allowing just 10 points on 191 total yards, forcing a pair of turnovers and sacking quarterback Trace McSorley six times. With so many playmakers on that side of the ball for the Wolverines, you wonder if the Badgers will be able to keep up on the scoreboard.

Illinois at No. 15 Nebraska, 2:30 p.m., ESPN 2

The Huskers are coming off another win and vaulted into the top 15 thanks to their perfect 4-0 record. That record is expected to move to 5-0 when they welcome in Illinois on Saturday. Nebraska continued to light it up on offense in last weekend's win, two goal-line fumbles erasing 14 points against Northwestern that would've made the score far more indicative of the way the Huskers shredded the Wildcat defense. Tommy Armstrong's fused rushing and passing numbers looked like this vs. Northwestern: 378 yards and a touchdown. That's a week after he had five total touchdowns in the win over Oregon. Along with Ohio State's J.T. Barrett, Armstrong is the class of the position in the conference.

Meanwhile, the Illini haven't played in two weeks but still have the awful taste of that blowout loss to Western Michigan lingering. After throttling an FCS opponent in their first game of the season, the Illini have been outscored, 82-33, with the defense surrendering almost 900 combined yards of offense in two losses, both coming at home. Illinois gained a shocking three rushing yards — three! — against Western Michigan. With all that pressure on Wes Lunt, it'll be tough to navigate the challenging Nebraska secondary, which has nine interceptions on the season, one off the national lead.

Minnesota at Penn State, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

The Gophers are flying pretty high, averaging nearly 40 points a game in their three wins. Now, wins over Oregon State, Indiana State and Colorado State do not a title contender make, but give plenty of credit to Minnesota's offense, which has looked more than just capable this season, it's been downright prolific. The Gophers are averaging 228.3 yards per game rushing, with just one Big Ten team scoring more rushing touchdowns, and that's Michigan, which scored six last weekend.

And who did those six rushing touchdowns come against? Penn State, making this week's matchup not a good one for the Nittany Lions. They looked just miserable against the Wolverines, and while the Gophers are not the Wolverines, they can provide similar challenges for a defense that has failed multiple times at stopping the run this season. Penn State was gashed for 341 rushing yards in a loss to Pitt and gave up 326 rushing yards in the loss to Michigan. It could be another headache of a day trying to slow the running back combo of Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks plus quarterback Mitch Leidner.

No. 17 Michigan State at Indiana, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network

If any team could use a blowout win, it's Michigan State, which still remains a bit of an unknown a week after getting dominated on both sides of the ball by Wisconsin. Thing is, a week earlier the Spartans looked terrific in a road win at Notre Dame. The Irish haven't helped Sparty's cause, losing to Duke last weekend, and Mark Dantonio's squad has a Jekyll-and-Hyde element to it through only three games. Best way to fix that? Beat Indiana. The Spartans' defense would be the key to that after Hoosiers quarterback Richard Lagow threw five interceptions last weekend, but can that unit play well down a pair of starting linebackers? Jon Reschke will miss this week and beyond, while Riley Bullough could still be out following his surprising sit-out last weekend.

Lagow, despite the turnovers, showed last weekend that Indiana's passing attack is still as explosive as ever, passing for a school-record 496 yards in the loss to Wake Forest. The problem there is "the loss to Wake Forest," and those five picks played a big role in it. Michigan State's defense is a good one, when healthy — which it isn't expected to be this weekend — but between Lagow and his new big-play connection in Nick Westbrook and a reliable running attack with Devin Redding out of the backfield, there's no reason the Hoosiers can't score some points in this one. And Spartans quarterback Tyler O'Connor pitched three interceptions against Wisconsin, good news for an Indiana defense that's played better this season than in seasons past.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings


See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?

See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings


See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 11 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (9-1)

The Sooners probably won’t be No. 1 in the Playoff rankings, as the committee will almost surely move Bama up a notch. But OU has an incredible resume, one much better than the Tide’s, with wins over Ohio State, TCU and Okie State. No one in the country can compete with those wins.

2. Miami (9-0)

The Canes are too legit to quit after pulverizing Notre Dame on Saturday night. That signature win teamed with the prior week’s win over Virginia Tech makes that near loss to lowly North Carolina seem like forever ago. Welcome to Miami, indeed.

3. Alabama (10-0)

A great win on Saturday night by the Tide in what seemed like their first actual game of the season. The schedule has been soft as silk, but now Auburn’s status as an SEC juggernaut makes the Iron Bowl a colossal clash.

4. Georgia (9-1)

Knocked off the top of the college football mountain, the Dawgs still deserve to be in the Playoff field, just a one-loss team with that one loss coming to another top team and that still-excellent win at Notre Dame. The resume’s still there, but now the SEC title game will be for all the marbles.

5. Wisconsin (10-0)

Bucky’s sitting pretty after making Iowa look like an FCS team on Saturday — especially impressive considering what Iowa did the week prior. Expect Michigan and Minnesota to provide decent enough challenges, but it seems like Wisconsin’s set up for a Big Ten title-game date with Ohio State.

6. Clemson (9-1)

Miami is the king of the ACC, but thankfully the ACC title game looks to be a Playoff play-in game between the Tigers and Canes. The champs still have as good a shot at this thing as anyone.

7. Auburn (8-2)

Two-loss Auburn in the Playoff? It’s not crazy at all after what the Tigers did to Georgia on Saturday, destroying the No. 1 team in the country and setting up what will be another titanic Iron Bowl meeting with Bama.

8. Notre Dame (8-2)

The Irish’s Playoff hopes sank like a ship in Biscayne Bay thanks to the demolition Miami dolled out on Saturday night. ND’s resume is still fine — two losses to two Playoff-caliber teams. But with no conference title to play for, a two-loss ND team might as well be a six-loss ND team.

9. Ohio State (8-2)

Guess who's still lurking in the Playoff race? It seemed Brutus was dead as could be after getting woodshedded by Iowa last weekend, but then Ohio State put a whooping on Michigan State and everyone’s ears perked up again. Appearing destined for the Big Ten title game, things could get interesting.

10. TCU (8-2)

The Frogs will most likely still get a crack at a Big 12 title — and revenge on the Sooners, who picked em apart on Saturday — but the Playoff might be out of the cards now.

11. Oklahoma State (8-2)

You know who’s still really good despite having losses to the two top teams in the Big 12? Okie State. That was some game between the Pokes and the ‘Clones on Saturday. If only the Mullet could be unleashed on the Playoff. Alas.

12. USC (9-2)

Dramatically overrated in the last batch of Playoff rankings, the Trojans now seem to be the cream of the unimpressive Pac-12 after Washington’s loss. All sorts of madness would have to occur in order for USC — or any Pac-12 team — to land in the final four.

13. Penn State (8-2)

Great job beating up on Rutgers this weekend, Penn State. Now what? With games against Nebraska and Maryland left, will any preseason favorite (outside Florida State, of course) get less attention down the stretch than the Lions?

14. UCF (9-0)

Central Florida is that Group of Five team this year. If it beats USF in the regular-season finale, people you know will be like, “Why shouldn’t UCF be in the Playoff?” And you’ll just have to give them a look and walk away.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Wazzu has to win one game and it’ll play USC for a Pac-12 title. Despite the lack of Playoff stakes, the Cougs winning a conference championship would be a pretty big deal.

16. Washington (8-2)

Of course, standing in Wazzu’s way is Washington, which tripped up against Stanford and could follow up last year’s Playoff appearance with absolutely nothing.

17. NC State (7-3)

The ACC and SEC seemed to have flipped roles overnight. The once-mediocre SEC now has three playoff-caliber teams and a couple other decent ones. The once-awesome ACC now has two of the best teams in the country and then … NC State.

18. Mississippi State (7-3)

The Bulldogs put up one heck of a fight against Bama on Saturday, and if it wasn’t for that ridiculous sequence of play-calling following Bama’s missed field goal, they might have won. Oh well.

19. LSU (7-3)

LSU beat Arkansas on Saturday, which isn’t a terribly difficult thing to do. 2017 will go down as a “what if” year for the Bayou Bengals. As in, what if they hadn’t lost to Troy?

20. Stanford (7-3)

Two of Stanford’s losses have come against ranked teams. It’s now beaten Washington and could beat Notre Dame in two weeks. It has one of the best running backs in America. So shouldn’t Stanford be better?

21. Memphis (8-1)

Since losing at UCF, Memphis has rolled everyone, winning five straight by an average of 47.8-27.2. Good job, Memphis.

22. Arizona (7-3)

The Wildcats are 7-3 this season and have scored at least 45 points in every one of those wins. That includes last weekend’s win over Oregon State, in which Khalil Tate ran for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Dude's good.

23. Northwestern (7-3)

Meow. The Cats are winners of five straight, even if their overtime streak came to an end. The quest for a 9-3 finish is on, with only Minnesota and lowly Illinois left on the regular-season schedule.

24. Michigan State (7-3)

Two losses in three weeks for Sparty, who got absolutely steamrolled by Ohio State this past weekend. Michigan State will likely be rooting for Michigan in The Game as it would figure to wrap its regular season with wins over Maryland and Rutgers.

25. West Virginia (7-3)

The ‘Neers have only lost to Virginia Tech, TCU and Okie State, which is not too bad. But that’s a couple losses too many in the high-flying Big 12.

Others receiving votes:

Virginia Tech (7-3)

Things have bottomed out for the Hokies, who have lost back-to-back road games to Miami and Georgia Tech after a 7-1 start. Without the loss to the Jackets, Virginia Tech’s resume would look real nice. But alas.

Iowa State (6-4)

There was almost another Attack of the ‘Clones this past weekend in a thriller with Okie State. But the Pokes came out on top, sending Iowa State to its fourth loss. That dream Big 12 title game featuring the ‘Clones? A fantasy. Sigh.

Michigan (8-2)

Michigan only has two losses, which means it has to be kinda good, right? Well, it’s lost its only two games against ranked teams and its best win is Florida, so … no, I guess not.

South Florida (8-1)

Way to beat UConn, South Florida.