Big Ten

Week 12 Big Ten previews: Buckeyes, Spartans in game we've been waiting for

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Week 12 Big Ten previews: Buckeyes, Spartans in game we've been waiting for

Here it is, the moment you've been waiting for.

No. 3 Ohio State hosts No. 9 Michigan State this weekend in the most anticipated game on the Big Ten schedule.

The Spartans' loss to Nebraska a few weeks back prevented this from being the most colossal of showdowns, but the stakes are still incredibly high, with both teams' Big Ten East title hopes, Big Ten title hopes and College Football Playoff hopes on the line.

A Michigan State win means all the Spartans have to do is beat Penn State in the regular-season finale, and they're into the Big Ten title game. An Ohio State win means all the Buckeyes have to do is beat Michigan in the regular-season finale, and they're into the Big Ten title game.

The schedule has done good, providing us with the most meaningful games here at season's end.

So let the fun begin.

Here's a look this weekend's games. All games on Saturday. All times Central.

Rutgers at Army, 11 a.m., CBS Sports Network

Nothing says late-season drama like a Big Ten team visiting Army, right? The battle between 3-7 Rutgers and 2-8 Army has little intrigue, especially with so many better games on the conference slate this weekend. But, to be fair, this game should be nice respite for the Knights, who have lost their last four — against Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska — by a combined 183-47 score. Yeesh. With two wins in the final two games, Rutgers would reach 5-7, which is about what was expected in the preseason.

The pick: Rutgers

[MORE BIG TEN: Three Big Ten teams in top 10 in College Football Playoff rankings]

Purdue at No. 5 Iowa, 11 a.m., ESPN 2

The Hawkeyes need just one win to officially punch their ticket to the Big Ten title game, and the Boilermakers provide a nice opportunity to do just that. This one will likely come down each team’s running capabilities (or lack thereof). Iowa has the Big Ten’s second-deadliest rushing attack, averaging 211.7 rushing yards per game, while Purdue’s rush defense is the conference’s worst, allowing 209.6 yards per game. Likewise, the Boilers have the league’s worst rush offense, gaining just 128.9 yards per game, while the Hawkeyes tout the league’s third-best run D, letting up just 104.6 a game. Bottom line: It’ll probably be a big day for the Iowa backs — again.

While this is expected to be a runaway for the Hawkeyes, it might need to be to keep them in the top five of the rankings. Sure, they allowed 35 points to Minnesota and only won by five last weekend and retained the No. 5 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings. But with undefeated Oklahoma State playing some real impressive competition the next two weeks in the Big 12, Iowa really beating up on Purdue and Nebraska could hold off the Cowboys’ charge.

The pick: Iowa

Indiana at Maryland, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network

The Hoosiers are in desperation mode over the season’s final two weeks, needing two wins to reach bowl eligibility. That looked like a near certainty after a 4-0 start that seemed to set up Indiana nicely for a run at its first bowl appearance since 2007 and just second since 1993. But that abysmal Hoosier defense has struck again, and Indiana is on a six-game losing streak. Two remaining games against Big Ten-worst Maryland and Purdue give the Hoosiers chances, but will a defense that’s allowing 511.7 total yards a game be able to buckle down long enough — or win a couple shootouts — to get to the postseason?

The Terps, meanwhile, have lost seven games in a row, so one of these long losing streaks is going to end. Maryland has been bad on both sides of the ball, so Indiana should be expected to again light up the scoreboard, but the Terps can also expect to have potentially their best offensive day of the year. That’s just how games with Indiana roll. Some good news for Maryland’s pick-happy quarterbacks? Indiana’s seven interceptions are tied for the Big Ten’s fewest. Some not so good news? Two of those have been returned for touchdowns.

The pick: Indiana

[MORE BIG TEN: Spartans' Connor Cook: 'I'm going to be ready to go' vs. Buckeyes]

Illinois at Minnesota, 11 a.m., ESPNEWS

The Illini need just one more win to reach a bowl game, but the offense just isn’t functioning properly at this point in the season. Bill Cubit has pointed to a ton of injuries on that side of the ball, and there have been a bunch. But a bigger contributor to an offense that seems to roll over and die the majority of games has been the defenses it’s played against. Illinois has lost four of its last five games, those four defenses being four of the top 15 teams in total defense in the country: Wisconsin (third), Ohio State (ninth), Penn State (13th) and Iowa (15th). Against Purdue, things were entirely different.

Minnesota’s defense isn’t elite like those mentioned above, but it’s still pretty good, ranking 31st in the country. It’s about the same as Illinois’ defense, which has also been good, ranking 36th in the FBS in total defense. Both these teams have had their offensive struggles this season, but the bad news for the Illini is that their struggles have come recently. The Gophers have proven quite capable on offense in recent weeks, scoring 35 points last week against Iowa and turning in respectable performances against Ohio State and MIchigan before that.

The pick: Minnesota

No. 12 Michigan at Penn State, 11 a.m., ABC

Michigan’s defense still ranks second in the country, allowing 268.7 total yards a game, but it’s not turning in the incredibly dominant performances it was earlier in the season. The Wolverines gave up a total of 14 points during a five-game winning streak. Then came the fluky ending against Michigan State, a game in which Michigan gave up 27 points, and that was followed by opposing point totals of 26, 16 and 41. That last one is probably an outlier against that ridiculous Indiana offense. The Wolverines could definitely get back to dominance this weekend, as Penn State ranks 12th in the conference in total offense.

The key will be whether Penn State can stop Michigan’s suddenly quite prolific offense. Against two bad defenses in Rutgers and Indiana, the Wolverines combined to score 97 points. Jake Rudock threw six touchdown passes last weekend alone. The Lions’ defense is a different animal, for sure, but the Wolverines have done a pretty good job scoring all season, scoring at least 28 points in all but two games, their two losses. Penn State’s offense just hasn’t been reliable on a week-to-week basis, particularly when going up against good defenses.

Plus, Michigan needs a win to stay alive in the Big Ten East race, a division crown possible with a win and an Ohio State win over Michigan State, setting up a division title game the following weekend between the Wolverines and Buckeyes.

The pick: Michigan

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

No. 20 Northwestern at No. 25 Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

With Iowa undefeated, only unexpected college-football madness would end in the Hawkeyes not winning the Big Ten West title. So that means this matchup of two ranked teams is for a shot at a 10-win regular season and a more glamorous bowl game. Both the Wildcats and Badgers sit at 8-2, and while two more wins for Wisconsin would mean the seventh double-digit win season in the last 11, two more wins for Northwestern would mean just the fourth double-digit win season in program history.

Both teams boast elite defenses, with Wisconsin ranking third in the country in total defense and Northwestern ranking 18th. The Cats excel at running the ball, and Justin Jackson has gone over 100 yards in each of the last two games after a three-game slump. But, of course, the Badgers are great at stopping opposing rushing attacks. Wisconsin, behind Joel Stave, is perhaps somewhat surprisingly adept at throwing the ball, boasting the fourth-best pass offense in the Big Ten. Northwestern, though, has an excellent secondary and strong pass defense.

So something’s got to give, right? Or it will just be a lot of punting and someone will score a defensive touchdown to win.

The pick: Wisconsin

No. 9 Michigan State at No. 3 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m., ABC

It’s time to see if the Big Ten’s game of the year can live up to the hype. Last season, as good as the Spartans were, the Buckeyes still won fairly easily. This season, Ohio State returns most of the same players who engineered that victory, plus the scene shifts to Columbus, plus Michigan State is not playing anywhere near as well as it did last year, at least not on a consistent basis.

Connor Cook’s shoulder injury might be fine, if you believe the quarterback and his head coach, but even with Cook, the conference’s best QB, at full strength, it’s going to be tough to do much against one of the nation’s top 10 passing defenses. The Buckeyes’ strong secondary ranks eighth in the FBS, allowing just 171.6 passing yards per game. Cook is obviously an experienced and winning quarterback, averaging 248.2 passing yards per game, and he did have success against Michigan, which ranks higher than Ohio State does in passing defense.

The difference will probably be on the other side of the ball, where J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott carved up the Spartans’ defense a season ago. That defense isn’t playing nearly up to the level it has in past seasons, injuries and inexperience taking their toll. Michigan State ranks ninth in the Big Ten in total defense, 11th in pass defense. Though Michigan State is better at stopping the run, Elliott is running wild on a weekly basis, averaging 142.5 rushing yards a game and scoring 16 touchdowns this season. Barrett has accounted for multiple touchdowns in each of the last four games he’s played in.

The stakes are as high as they can be. If Ohio State wins, the Buckeyes remain undefeated and likely will play Michigan for a trip to the Big Ten title game the following weekend. If Michigan State wins, the Spartans will just need a win over Penn State in the regular-season finale to lock up a Big Ten title game appearance.

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.