Some things to watch in the Big Ten this week:
GAME OF THE WEEK
Ohio State at Nebraska. The good news for the Cornhuskers is that they get to play a night game in Lincoln for a second straight week. The bad news is that they have to face another Top 10 team. The ninth-ranked Buckeyes have outclassed their last two Big Ten foes, Rutgers and Maryland, by a combined 118-14. They’re averaging about 283 yards rushing in that span, having scored nine touchdowns on the ground. A wins allows Ohio State to keep pace with fellow heavyweight Penn State atop the East Division with a showdown against the Nittany Lions looming in two weeks, following a Buckeyes bye. Nebraska needs to make a stand, especially after getting pounded by No. 7 Wisconsin’s rushing attack in the second half of a 38-17 loss to drop the Huskers to 3-3. Third-year coach Mike Riley’s status is in question after the man who hired him, athletic director Shawn Eichorst, was fired last month. An upset would do wonders for job security. Another blowout loss will keep the rumor mill churning.
“Best” might be it pushing it here, but the Rutgers-Illinois game pits two young teams each seeking their first conference win in similar situations in terms of roster makeup. The Scarlet Knights have debuted 41 players this season, including 35 players making their collegiate debut and six transfers. They had a respectable showing in their Big Ten opener last month at Nebraska. But few teams in college football are as young and inexperienced as Illinois. Coach Lovie Smith’s squad has started 13 true freshmen, more than any other team in the country. If nothing else, this might be the best chance all year for either team to pick up a Big Ten win.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
With a career-high 249 yards last week against Nebraska, Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor became the second true freshman in program history with multiple 200-yard rushing games (Ron Dayne, 1996). … Taylor’s 249 yards were most by a Badger on road since 2014 (Melvin Gordon, 259 yards at Northwestern). … Indiana’s 27-0 win over Charleston Southern was Hoosiers’ first shutout since beating Michigan State 10-0 on Oct. 30, 1993. … Michigan State forced five turnovers against Michigan, the Spartans’ highest total in two seasons. … Maryland running back Ty Johnson’s 100-yard kick return for a touchdown against Ohio State last week was first in Big Ten since another Terp, Will Likely, accomplished the feat against Iowa on Oct. 31, 2015. … Penn State QB Trace McSorley extended his school-record streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 21 after throwing for a score last week against Northwestern.
Nebraska, 21-point underdog against Ohio State.
How things have changed in Lincoln. But after getting run over by Wisconsin last week, confidence is low in the Cornhuskers. Nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg said it will be important for team leaders to step up and help players get ready emotionally after a physically taxing loss to the Badgers. It’s hard to think that Nebraska will put up two straight duds under the lights at home. Still, an already tough season is about get a little more challenging.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The rejuvenated Boilermakers rank 36th in scoring defense, 52nd in pass defense, 57th in total defense and 66th in rushing defense. But it’s one thing to limit Minnesota to three points at home in the second half to pull away for a 14-point win. Now try that at rowdy Camp Randall Stadium against Wisconsin. The Boilermakers face a tall task in trying to slow down the Badgers’ running game. They’re best shot at an upset is to force turnovers and stop the Badgers in third-and-long situations. Even then, Purdue needs to keep the pressure up all four quarters because Wisconsin has been dominant in the second half, when they have outscored opponents 119-21 this season.