Big Ten

Week 9 Big Ten previews: Harbaugh looks to take back Little Brown Jug

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Week 9 Big Ten previews: Harbaugh looks to take back Little Brown Jug

Last season, Minnesota won the Little Brown Jug for just the second time since 1987.

But this season is looking a lot different than last season.

Michigan is playing at a terrific level, boasting the nation's best defense. Minnesota is one of the worst Power 5 teams when it comes to scoring points.

Jim Harbaugh has things turned around in a hurry in Ann Arbor. Jerry Kill's sudden retirement due to health concerns means a period of uncertainty in the Twin Cities.

It sure looks like Michigan is primed to reclaim the Little Brown Jug, but that's why they play the games, right? It'll surely be an emotional weekend for Minnesota in the wake of Kill's retirement.

Here's a look at all the Big Ten games this weekend. As always, all games are on Saturday and all times are Central.

Illinois at Penn State, 11 a.m., ESPN 2

The Illini offense is struggling, and that’s not a good sign going up against a fearsome Nittany Lions defense. With a long list of injuries, Illinois hasn’t been able to do what it wants behind Wes Lunt. The receiving corps is depleted, same goes for the group of tight ends, and starting running back Josh Ferguson will miss his third straight game with a shoulder injury. The team has barely amassed 100 combined rushing yards over the past two games without Ferguson.

Meanwhile, save a run in with the No. 1 team in the country, the Penn State defense has continued the great performance it had last season. The Lions rank 22nd in the country with 318.6 total yards allowed per game. The fun stat going around the Internet for this matchup: Penn State leads the country with 31 sacks, while Illinois leads the Big Ten with just eight sacks allowed. The old “something’s got to give” line certainly applies. But with Carl Nassib, Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson, the Lions have the upper hand in star power.

The pick: Penn State

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini running back Josh Ferguson to miss third straight game]

Nebraska at Purdue, 11 a.m., ESPN U

No Tommy Armstrong for Nebraska is a huge problem. Or it would be if the opponent was anyone but Purdue. Armstrong has what head coach Mike Riley is calling a “turf-toe deal” that will keep the quarterback out of this weekend’s game, a huge loss considering the guy is practically a three-year starter and the second-leading passer in the Big Ten. It also means Ryker Fyfe will get the first start of his collegiate career. Not exactly the situation the Huskers want to be as they attempt to avoid loss No. 6.

But if any game is the one where you have to lose your starting quarterback, the game against Purdue would be it. The Boilermakers are getting run over on an almost weekly basis at this point and can’t seem to do much of anything on the offensive side of the ball. The Huskers have one of the better run defenses in the conference, but they also have the worst pass defense. What it means is David Blough will have to do all the heavy lifting if the Boilers are going to win, and Blough has more interceptions than touchdowns this season. In the battle of the inexperienced quarterbacks, Nebraska has an advantage running the ball and stopping the run.

The pick: Nebraska

[MORE BIG TEN: Struggling Huskers will be without QB Tommy Armstrong vs. Purdue]

Rutgers at Wisconsin, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network

The injuries are getting serious on the offensive side of the ball for the Badgers. They lost center Dan Voltz for the season last weekend, and wide receiver Robert Wheelwright is sidelined, too. Running back Corey Clement still might not be ready to return to the field as he continues to recover from sports hernia surgery. But at least Joel Stave is expected back after getting knocked out of last week’s game. Still, it’s not pretty, and wide receiver Alex Erickson might have to do much of the heavy lifting.

Thankfully for Wisconsin, it still boasts one of the best defenses in the country, ranking eighth in the country, allowing just 279.9 yards per game. Surprisingly, though, Rutgers ranks fourth in the Big Ten in total offense, averaging 426.6 total yards per game. Chris Laviano has been silently putting together a nice season at quarterback, boasting the second-highest QB rating in the conference. When Leonte Carroo is on the field, those two can hook up in a hurry, and it doesn’t take many plays for the score to explode. But shootouts haven’t been all that common an occurrence, especially against great defenses.

The pick: Wisconsin

[MORE BIG TEN: Joel Stave goes through concussion protocol, cleared to practice]

Maryland at No. 10 Iowa, 2:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN 2

Undefeated Iowa is looking to stay undefeated, and though the Hawkeyes are banged up, the Terps don’t seem to provide too much of a threat. Now, this matchup went Maryland’s way last season, but that was last season, which has proved to be so much different for this year’s Iowa team. The Hawkeyes will be without Jordan Canzeri this weekend, meaning the run game will rely on Akrum Wadley and Derrick Mitchell, but the team’s Nos. 3 and 4 backs combined for 283 yards and five touchdowns in Iowa’s last game vs. Northwestern.

Maryland showed some fight in last weekend’s one-point loss to Penn State, the first game after the Randy Edsall Era came to a close. But despite success against a really good Penn State defense — the 30 points were the most the Lions have surrendered all season — quarterback Perry Hills still had five turnovers, including three interceptions. Iowa not only boasts the No. 12 defense in the country (294.3 yards allowed per game) but also leads the Big Ten in interceptions with nine. Could be a long day for Hills, one of three Maryland QBs to combine for 20 picks this season.

The pick: Iowa

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

No. 15 Michigan at Minnesota, 6 p.m., ESPN

It’s a tough week for Minnesota, as just days after Jerry Kill announced his retirement due to health concerns at an emotional press conference, the Gophers will have to line up against the country’s best defense. The effect of Kill’s retirement remains to be seen, as this is the type of thing that can either emotionally wreck a team or cause them to rally and perform above expectations. That’ll be tough to do with the No. 110 scoring offense in the country, averaging just 20.4 points per game. Only four Power 5 teams are scoring fewer.

Plus, Michigan, as mentioned, has the country’s best defense. The Wolverines are allowing just 210.6 yards per game and a ridiculous 9.3 points per game. That’s a tough task for a team with a strong offense, but the Gophers don’t have a strong offense. Michigan’s offense, meanwhile, is functioning well, as it’s put up at least 28 points in all five of its wins this season. In the wake of the Kill news, Minnesota will surely be the sympathetic rooting choice of many impartial observers, but the way Michigan’s playing this season, it looks like Jim Harbaugh will win his first Little Brown Jug as the head coach in Ann Arbor.

The pick: Michigan

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.