What to watch in the Big Ten this week:
GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 5 Penn State at No. 13 Minnesota
The Nittany Lions (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten, No. 4 CFP) and Gophers (8-0, 5-0, No. 17) play in what Minnesota coach PJ Fleck is calling one of the biggest games in program history. The last time two top-15 teams in The Associated Press poll met in Minneapolis was 1961, when the fifth-ranked Gophers beat No. 1 Michigan State 13-0. This is a prove-it game for the Gophers. They’ve beaten only one FBS team that currently has a winning record. Penn State has beaten two ranked opponents and is angling for a playoff spot. Oh, and the teams will be battling for the Governor’s Victory Bell.
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor vs. Iowa defense
The No. 16 Badgers (6-2, 3-2, No. 13) are the only team to have run for 200 yards against the Hawkeyes twice since 2017, and Taylor is looking to bounce back after Ohio State held him under 100 for only the seventh time in 35 career games. Taylor is rushing for 126 yards per game to ranked fifth in the nation and second in the Big Ten and went over 100 yards in his last two games against Iowa. The No. 18 Hawkeyes (6-2, 3-2, No. 18) are the only team that hasn’t allowed a run over 20 yards.
FACTS AND FIGURES
Ohio State (vs. Maryland) is allowing a nation-low 3.59 yards per play and has allowed just five plays of 30 yards or longer. … Maryland is ninth in the nation with 12 runs of at least 30 yards, but only four have come in the last four games. … Penn State has won 12 straight against Big Ten West opponents. … Aidan O’Connell will be the third quarterback to start for Purdue (at Northwestern). O’Connell is a walk-on who was the Boilermakers’ fourth-stringer last year. … Northwestern will be trying to break a 13-quarter touchdown drought, second-longest in the nation behind Akron (16). … Michigan State (vs. Illinois) has lost three straight games, its longest skid since it dropped seven in a row in 2016. … Iowa-Wisconsin matches the nation’s Nos. 3 and 4 teams in scoring defense. The Hawkeyes allow 10.1 points per game and the Badgers 11.4.
Illinois, 15-point underdog at Michigan State
Illinois (5-4, 3-3) is going for a fourth straight Big Ten win for the first time since 2001. Here’s why the Illini can win: They have a nation-leading 22 takeaways and the Spartans (4-4, 2-3) have turned the ball over nine times in their last three games. This is the first of three opportunities for the Illini to pick up a sixth win, which would make them bowl eligible for the first time since 2014.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan
He’s 12-2 as a starter, the best record by a Gophers quarterback since 1975, and he’s one of the nation’s most efficient passers and has a terrific stable of receivers. But the sophomore has never been in a game with such high stakes, so how he handles the atmosphere is key. Morgan has been helped by the three-pronged rushing attack of Rodney Smith, Mohamed Ibrahim and Shannon Brooks, but Penn State is allowing an FBS-best 1.99 yards per carry.