Big Ten

Week 10 Big Ten previews: Dominant defenses take center stage

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Week 10 Big Ten previews: Dominant defenses take center stage

They say defense wins championships.

Well, if that's the case, the Big Ten has a pretty good shot of boasting the national champ, right?

The conference is packed with elite defenses, with six of college football's top 20 in scoring defense residing in the Big Ten: No. 1 Wisconsin, No. 2 Michigan, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 6 Iowa, No. 15 Penn State and No. 18 Northwestern. Those six teams all have top-20 total defenses, as well.

So should we expect a lot of points this weekend? Probably not for the teams going up against those defenses.

There is one head-to-head showdown between those teams, as Northwestern hosts Penn State, but mostly those defenses will have an opportunity to boost those numbers and feed on opposing offenses that haven't won a lot of games this season.

Here's a look at Week 10 in the Big Ten. As always, all games Saturday and all times Central.

Penn State at No. 21 Northwestern, 11 a.m., ESPN U

It’s been a rejuvenating past few weeks for Christian Hackenberg, who’s moved from an early season disappointment into that first-round guy all the NFL scouts are so excited about. In his past six games, Hackenberg has thrown for 1,415 yards and 12 touchdowns. Most importantly, though, he’s had no interceptions. That’s a big deal for a guy plagued by turnovers last season.

Northwestern, though, counters with its excellent defense. The Cats still rank in the top 20 in both total defense and scoring defense despite efforts that haven’t been quite as suffocating as they were earlier in the season. And the best aspect of that defense: stopping the pass. The Cats rank sixth in the country in passing defense, allowing an average 164.8 yards through the air per game.

The pick: Northwestern

[MORE BIG TEN: Which Big Ten contender has best chance to make College Football Playoff?]

Illinois at Purdue, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network

Purdue is coming off that huge win over Nebraska — a victory that might be the main reason Darrell Hazell will be back for a fourth season in 2016 — and is looking to continue the momentum. David Blough was great in that win, pitching a quartet of touchdown passes. Illinois’ defense, especially against the pass, is considerably better than Nebraska’s, however. Meaning it’ll be a different kind of day.

And the Illini hope it’ll be a different kind of day running the ball than their last three games. In three straight losses, Illinois has totaled just 138 rushing yards. But things are looking up this week. Not only is starting running back Josh Ferguson back from a three-game layoff, but the Boilermakers are the Big Ten’s worst team at defending the run, allowing 183 rushing yards per game.

The pick: Illinois

[MORE BIG TEN: Good news for Illini: Josh Ferguson listed as 'probable']

No. 9 Iowa at Indiana, 2:30 p.m., ESPN

The Hawkeyes don’t face much in the way of a challenge to its undefeated status from now until a potential showdown in the Big Ten title game. Indiana is the first of four straight games against teams with a combined 13-20 record. And while things have been great on the offensive side, it’s the defense that’s driving this team. Iowa ranks sixth in the country in total defense, allowing 287.6 total yards per game.

This road trip to Indiana, though, could be the biggest remaining threat to a perfect regular season. The Hoosiers are mighty effective on the offensive side of the ball, leading the Big Ten with 467.6 offensive yards per game. Their conference-best passing offense is one of the top 25 in the country. But Nate Sudfeld has been a bit turnover happy of late, throwing three picks in his last two games, and Iowa’s defense leads the league with 12 interceptions.

The pick: Iowa

[MORE BIG TEN: Buckeyes No. 3, five Big Ten teams in first College Football Playoff rankings]

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

For the second straight season, Dave Aranda’s defense is simply dominating for Wisconsin. One of the best in the country, the Badgers’ defense has held its last three opponents to just 30 points and just two offensive touchdowns. And now the offense has a boost, too, in the form of Corey Clement, who returned to action last weekend with three touchdowns in a win over Rutgers.

That’s all not great for Maryland, which not only is one of the least productive offensive teams in the conference but also one of the worst teams at defending the run. The Terps’ turnover train rolls on, too, unfortunately. Perry Hills pitched three more interceptions in last weekend’s loss to Iowa, including an 88-yard pick six. Make it 23 picks by Maryland quarterbacks this season. Yeesh.

The pick: Wisconsin

[MORE BIG TEN: Report: Darrell Hazell will be back as Purdue head coach in 2016]

Rutgers at No. 17 Michigan, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

The Wolverines’ three-game stretch of invulnerability is most certainly over after the wild loss to Michigan State and the near loss last weekend against Minnesota. But Michigan’s defense is still playing at a high level. Jim Harbaugh’s team ranks No. 2 in the country in both total defense and scoring defense, first in the conference in the former.

That’s obviously bad news for Rutgers, which is having trouble hitting the end zone in any fashion other than a pass to Leonte Carroo. The banged-up star wideout missed last weekend’s game, and the offense didn’t score a touchdown against Wisconsin’s amazing defense. Carroo should be back vs. the Wolverines, a team that’s allowed just four touchdown passes this season.

The pick: Michigan

[MORE BIG TEN: Could Mike Riley be on the hot seat after just one year with Huskers?]

No. 7 Michigan State at Nebraska, 6 p.m., ESPN

The Huskers are reeling, and a date with a top-10 team isn’t the best thing for a team looking to avoid its seventh loss of the season. It sounds like Tommy Armstrong should be back in action after missing last week’s loss to Purdue with a “turf-toe deal,” but there are plenty of other injuries on this team. Most troubling, though, is the continued lack of success defending the pass. The Huskers are one of the country’s worst in that category.

And that’s a big problem considering Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook is playing lights out of late, even working his way into a bit of Heisman conversation. Cook leads the Big Ten with 2,070 passing yards, and 1,093 of them have come in the last three games alone. He should feast against the atrocious Nebraska pass defense.

The pick: Michigan State

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Spartans gear right here]

Minnesota at No. 3 Ohio State, 7 p.m., ABC

All eyes will again be on the quarterback position for the Buckeyes, who will be without the suspended J.T. Barrett. It means Cardale Jones will be back in the starting spot after a week away. But Ohio State won the season’s first seven games with Jones starting — and Ezekiel Elliott will still be playing — so there probably won’t be too huge a drop off.

And while the Gophers played one of their best games of the season last weekend against Michigan, they still couldn’t pull out a win. The good news was quarterback Mitch Leidner leading a productive offensive attack against one of the country’s best defenses. Ohio State’s defense is pretty darn good, too. Will it be a repeat performance or back to the season norm and an offense that couldn’t do much? At No. 3 Ohio State, the better bet is the latter.

The pick: Ohio State

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.