NCAA

Penn State, Wisconsin have hopes beyond Big Ten title

Penn State, Wisconsin have hopes beyond Big Ten title

INDIANAPOLIS — The winner of the Big Ten Championship Game has an outside chance of slipping into the four-team College Football Playoff.

The loser knows that it has been formally — if not officially — eliminated.

It is a showdown between the third- and- fourth-best teams in the conference when No. 6 Wisconsin faces No. 8 Penn State in the Big Ten title game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday (8:17 p.m. ET, FOX).

The Badgers are ranked sixth in the latest CFP rankings and the Nittany Lions sit seventh. The winner will likely need both No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington to lose its conference title games as No. 5 Michigan is positioned to be the first benefactor should the Tigers or Huskies stumble.

So the fate of the winner is hard to determine and some players aren't spending much time worrying about it.

"I've said before: We can't control what (the selection) committee does," senior cornerback Sojourn Shelton said on a conference call. "For that decision to be made, the only thing we can do is just try to focus on the week of the game and try to play our best football and just put ourselves in the best position to be talked about."

Both squads have certainly put themselves in position to be discussed as two of the hotter teams in the country.

The Badgers (10-2, 7-2) won six consecutive games to claim the Big Ten's West Division. Wisconsin averaged 42.7 points over its last three contests and the defensive-oriented squad leads the nation with 21 interceptions.

Penn State (10-2, 8-1) enters with eight straight wins and averaged 40.4 points during the stretch en route to the East Division crown. The Nittany Lions registered a shocking upset of Ohio State on Oct. 22 and rode the momentum to win a division that includes both the Buckeyes and Michigan.

With both teams streaking and so much at stake, it's hard to downplay the magnitude of the teams' first matchup since 2013.

"It's going to be a great challenge," Penn State coach James Franklin said at a press conference. "I know our guys are excited."

This is the Nittany Lions' first-ever appearance in the Big Ten title game and it wasn't expected to occur this season.

Not just because of the powerful Buckeyes and Wolverines, but due to where Penn State's program had dropped in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child-molestation scandal.

The legacy of Joe Paterno was tainted and the football program received a bowl ban and scholarship reductions. Worse to the players was the stigma hung over them despite no wrongdoing on their parts.

But suddenly the joy is back in Happy Valley with the Nittany Lions reveling in their best season since 2009.

"Yeah, there's a huge buzz going around right now," fifth-year senior defensive end Evan Schwan said at a press conference. "Before I got here, I always heard that whenever Penn State is playing well, Happy Valley is that much happier.

"You see it walking around campus. People that I have never met in my life will say, 'Hey, great game,' that kind of thing. I'm very, very appreciative of them supporting us throughout this entire ride."

Schwan is tied with junior defensive end Garrett Sickels for the team lead with six sacks for a unit that held three of its last four opponents to 14 or fewer points.

The Nittany Lions will be attempting to slow standout Wisconsin senior running back Corey Clement, who paces the offense with 1,140 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns.

The Badgers are employing two quarterbacks in redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook and senior Bart Houston. Hornibrook's output is 1,243 yards and eight touchdowns against seven interceptions, while Houston has 912 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions.

Hornibook suffered a concussion during last Saturday's victory over Minnesota but was cleared to practice on Tuesday and is expected to play against Penn State.

Wisconsin's opportunistic defense ranks third nationally in scoring defense (13.7) and rushing defense (100.8 yards per game).

Among the standouts are senior free safety Leo Musso (team-best five interceptions), junior strong safety D'Cota Dixon (four picks), Shelton (four picks) and junior outside linebacker T.J. Watt (team-leading 9 1/2 sacks).

Penn State sophomore running back Saquon Barkley suffered a right foot injury in Saturday's win against Michigan State but Franklin declined to discuss his status during a press conference.

Barkley is the team's most explosive weapon and rushed for 1,219 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Quarterback Trace McSorley enjoyed a breakout campaign as a sophomore by passing for 2,976 yards and accounting for 27 touchdowns (21 passing, six rushing). The passing yardage is the fourth-best single-season output in Penn State history.

Wisconsin has more experience on this stage as it is making its fourth Big Ten title game appearance in six seasons. And coach Paul Chryst sees the goal this time around -- winning and slipping into the national playoff.

"You always want to be the best you can be," Chryst said on a conference call, "and certainly, in college football, that's the pinnacle."

Temple-UConn observations: Despite valiant effort from Marchi, Owls lose 1st homecoming game since 2008

Temple-UConn observations: Despite valiant effort from Marchi, Owls lose 1st homecoming game since 2008

BOX SCORE

That’s why football is a week-to-week game. Forget about momentum.

Temple found that out the hard way. After coming alive in a big road win over East Carolina last week, the Owls were humbled when a fourth-quarter rally fell short Saturday in a 28-24 homecoming loss to Connecticut at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Owls had one final shot at the victory with a drive in the final minute, but a Logan Marchi heave to the end zone was broken up.

The loss dropped Temple back under .500 at 3-4 (1-3 American Athletic Conference). UConn moved to 2-5 (2-2) with the victory.

• Say what you want about Temple quarterback Marchi (and you surely will after this game), but the guy is a fighter. Whether things are going his way or not, he continues to try to search for his receivers and attempt to squeeze the ball into those windows on the field. He made it two consecutive games with 300-plus yards passing as he was 33 of 54 for 356 yards with one touchdown and one interception Saturday.

• The game marked Temple’s first homecoming loss in nearly a decade. TU hadn’t suffered a homecoming defeat since a 7-3 loss to Western Michigan on Sept. 27, 2008. On that day, former Eagles DB Jaiquawn Jarrett was beaten in coverage on a double move in the third quarter for the game’s lone touchdown. Coming into Saturday, the Owls had won eight straight homecoming matchups by an average margin of 19.3 points.

• There was a rare sighting for Temple at the Linc: a rushing touchdown from a tailback. In fact, there were two. David Hood, who became the first Owls tailback to score on a run this season in last week’s rout of East Carolina, punched it in from one yard out to open the scoring in the first quarter. Ryquell Armstead weaved his way into the end zone for a 10-yard TD on the first play of the fourth quarter.

• Delvon Randall is simply a playmaker. The Owls’ leading tackler, Randall added another five stops in Saturday’s win. The junior DB also made a beautiful play along the sideline in the first quarter when he undercut an out route for an interception. It marked Randall’s third straight game with a pick. The Owls only have four interceptions this season and Randall has three of them.

• My colleague Greg Paone touched on college football’s targeting rule a couple of weeks ago (see story)We agree on pretty much all of the nuts and bolts of the rule. I’m glad it’s in place to protect players from violent and unnecessary hits. However, the more I see it called each week — and it seems like there is at least one in every game now — the more I’m starting to dislike the implementation. Temple defensive lineman Sharif Finch was ejected for targeting on Saturday when he went high on Huskies quarterback Bryant Shirreffs on a third-quarter touchdown pass. Shirreffs sold the hit by jerking his head back as he fell to the ground, but it was definitely worthy of a penalty. Was it a late hit? Yes. A bone-headed hit? Absolutely. But one worthy of Temple losing a top defensive player for the remainder of the game? I don’t think so.

• Speaking of Shirreffs, it’s easy to see why the Huskies have the best passing offense in the AAC. He didn’t show it with yardage in this tilt (just 105), but he was able to connect on three touchdowns through the air. He also added 39 yards on the ground, including a key run up the middle late in the fourth quarter.

• The Owls simply aren’t a good enough team to overcome 12 penalties for 117 yards.

• Like any other major college football game around the country, Saturday’s matchup at the Linc had scouts from NFL teams listed to attend. Of course, the Eagles were listed for several scouts in their home stadium. While the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers were also among those expected to have representatives at the game, there was only one other team labeled for more than one scout besides the Eagles — the New York Giants. At 0-5, they can certainly use all the help they can get right now.

• Temple will look to rebound when the Owls travel to play their final non-conference opponent in Army at 12 p.m. next Saturday.

Temple eyes streak, Penn looks to dethrone Columbia, Villanova on the road

usa-logan-marchi-temple.jpg
USA Today Images

Temple eyes streak, Penn looks to dethrone Columbia, Villanova on the road

Temple (3-3, 1-2 American) vs. UConn (1-4, 0-3 American)
Lincoln Financial Field, ESPNews
Noon Saturday

Last time out
Temple beat East Carolina, 34-10, last Saturday.

UConn lost to Memphis, 70-31, last Saturday.

Scouting report
Last week, quarterback Logan Marchi finally got on track with his first 300-yard game of the season against East Carolina. This week, the redshirt sophomore will face UConn, the team he initially committed to in high school under former coach Paul Pasqualoni. Marchi was then denied after a coaching change was made. The Huskies have the worst passing defense in the AAC, giving up 399.8 passing yards per game, and have allowed 19 touchdowns through the air in 2017. If Marchi can play well for a second week in a row, look for Temple’s offense to put up some points. 

Another matchup to look at is UConn’s passing attack against Temple’s defense. The Huskies’ boast the best passing offense in terms of yards in the AAC, averaging 325.8 yards per game, but have only scored nine touchdowns this year. Temple, on the other hand, allows the eighth-most passing yards in the conference (253 yards per game), but is ranked fourth in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 26 points per game. Connecticut must convert drives into touchdowns against this Owls defense if it wants to compete.

What it means
Temple’s hopes to reach the AAC championship game might not be realistic anymore but its bowl hopes are still alive. A win against UConn would put the Owls just two victories away from becoming bowl-eligible, which after their start would be good for Owl fans.

Series history
Temple holds the 12-5 series advantage over Connecticut, and is currently on a three-game win streak.

What’s next?
Temple travels to Army.

UConn hosts Tulsa. 

Penn (2-2, 0-1 Ivy) at Columbia (4-0, 1-0 Ivy)
Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium
1:30 p.m. Saturday


Last time out
Penn lost at Central Connecticut State, 42-21, Saturday.

Columbia defeated Marist, 41-17, Saturday.

Scouting report
Penn’s strength is its rushing attack. They rank second in the Ivy League averaging 204 yards per game on the ground. Karekin Brooks has 543 yards rushing and five touchdowns so far this season. Getting the ground game going will be key for the Quakers this week.

Columbia defense has been strong so far this season. The Lions rank second in the Ivy League in total defense only allowing 316 yards per game and are third in the Ivy in pass defense. The Lions allow 194.8 yards per game through the air.

Series history
This is the 96th meeting between the teams. The Quakers hold a 73-21-1 advantage and have won the last 19 editions.

What’s next?
Penn hosts Yale.

Columbia is at Dartmouth.

Villanova (4-2, 2-1 CAA) at James Madison (5-0, 2-0 CAA)
Bridgeforth Stadium
6 p.m. Saturday


Last time out

Villanova defeated Maine, 31-0, Saturday.

James Madison beat Delaware, 20-10, Saturday.

Scouting report
Villanova has allowed just 1.6 yards per carry and 52 rushing yards per game this season. The Wildcats boast a strong scoring defense as well, the best in the Colonial allowing only nine points per game.

James Madison boasts the second-best rushing offense in the CAA averaging 223 yards per game and is second in scoring defense. The Dukes allow just 10 points per game to opposing offenses. Look for this game to be defensive showdown.

Series history
This is the 26th meeting between the teams. James Madison leads the series 14-11 and won 20-7 last season.

What’s next?
Villanova hosts Elon next Saturday.

James Madison travels to William & Mary next Saturday.