Does schedule count for more than we think in college football? I think the answer is yes, and because the schools themselves control it to a degree (unlike the NFL), we’re likely to learn who is good at using the system.
Schedule strength is obviously the key, and while the conference schedule isn’t perfectly controllable, Michigan is offering an object lesson. This MLive article details what Michigan got out of its bye week. To me, being able to place the week off is key.
There’s no way to predict injuries, but there is a point in the season that you can predict where injuries could be mounting and slot in an extra week of healing and preparation. I’ll be curious to see if this variant of the college season can be brought to parity. And if not, who consistently will have the advantage.
That said, there’s some key injuries to look at around the Big Ten, so let’s get to it:
Jordan Westerkamp, WR, Nebraska
Nebraska continues to win without its top wide receiver and will have to do it again this week against Purdue. But for Jordan Westerkamp, there’s some question about whether his back injury will clear up for the next two games, key battles against Wisconsin and Ohio State. There hasn’t been much progress made with his back, and there’s even some question about whether he’ll be able to play this season. Sources I spoke with said that, while the team’s medical staff believes it can get Westerkamp into games, they’re just not confident that his back can hold up to big hits. It’s a huge loss for a team that’s established itself as one of the best in the country. The focus now is on getting him ready for next week. If it’s possible, Westerkamp will give it a shot.
Perry Hills, QB, Maryland
The season is halfway over, but for Perry Hills, it probably has seemed longer. He’s been fighting a shoulder injury for much of the season. He’s been able to play, and play reasonably well at times, but the injury that occurred against Central Florida continues to get exacerbated by almost any big hit. Hills missed last week, but the matchup Saturday with Michigan State could pivot the season. Hills will be tested in warmups, but even if he plays, the Spartans will blitz and try to test the strength and durability of the shoulder early. It’s unclear how it will hold up, but any shot the Terps have rest on that shoulder.
Markell Jones, RB, Purdue
Gerad Parker is hoping to do more than just confound spell check. Purdue’s interim coach will take on a tough Nebraska team that does have some injuries that could leave them vulnerable, including Westerkamp. If so, one of Parker’s key recruits is going to have to perform above and beyond. Markell Jones has struggled with a shoulder injury, leaving him unable to use his power over the last couple weeks. If the medical staff has been able to get it stable and pain free, he has a chance to play spoiler in a game that the Huskers could be overlooking.