Each week, Land of 10 will check some of the top story lines, matchups and players to watch in The Forecast. Big games, potential upsets, important questions: This is the place for all of that looking ahead to the weekend in the Big Ten.
The B1G One
No. 2 Ohio State at Penn State
The Buckeyes just continue to win away from home with Urban Meyer in charge. Could Penn State give Meyer his first loss in a true road game at Ohio State?
The Nittany Lions have played better in their two most recent games after having been embarrassed by Michigan. They had a bye week to rest, prepare and possibly get some players healthy. Two starting linebackers, Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell, returned to practice and should at least see some playing time.
Ohio State is coming off a physical, stressful overtime win at Wisconsin. It is a White Out game at Beaver Stadium, and Penn State took the eventual national champions from Columbus to overtime two years ago in this same situation.
Penn State’s biggest problems against a team with talent like Ohio State’s are still going to be on both lines. The Buckeyes should control the line of scrimmage on offense and defense, unless the frenzied crowd – and maybe some rain and whatever else – helps the Nittany Lions outperform what would normally be expected.
Ohio State has had two straight games, against Indiana and Wisconsin, where it wasn’t a rout. Maybe Penn State finds some things to use from those two game films, but it’s also possible that Meyer now has his team’s full attention after a smashing start to the season.
This will be a fun spectacle, and it will look great on everyone’s televisions. This is a big test for the Nittany Lions, and possibly the last tough road test for Ohio State, depending on whether Michigan State can rebound after a rough start.
Iowa (+4) vs. Wisconsin
The Badgers have defeated two teams that were ranked in the top 10 when they played, and just took No. 2 Ohio State to overtime this past week. They are also expected to get linebacker Vince Biegel back in the lineup.
Wisconsin’s schedule has been a brutal slog, with games against LSU, Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State. The Badgers also still have a showdown with undefeated Nebraska coming up next. At some point, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them not play at max performance because of the grueling road to this point.
Meanwhile, Iowa dropped a couple of unexpected games early in the season to North Dakota State and Northwestern, but the defense has rebounded and the Hawkeyes will be at home. This is an elimination game in the West Division as well.
Wisconsin isn’t going to win the West with three conference losses, and Iowa isn’t likely to do so with at least two losses to division rivals.
Make or Break
Wisconsin at Iowa
Both of these teams began the season as contenders to win the West, and it would take a lot of carnage and help from others for the loser of this game to reach Indianapolis. Maybe we do see something wacky like a four-way tie at 6-3 atop the West, but Nebraska is really going to have to slump for that to happen.
The Badgers are still on track for a fantastic season, considering the schedule. It would feel like a lot of work for nothing if they have three conference losses before November. It looked quite dire for the Hawkeyes’ attempt to repeat as West champs, but this is a chance to reset the narrative about this season.
Best Individual Matchup
Northwestern RB Justin Jackson vs. Indiana LB Tegray Scales
Jackson leads the Big Ten with 698 rushing yards. He hung 171 yards on Iowa two weeks ago and 188 on Michigan State last week. Northwestern’s offense has exploded the past couple of weeks, and Jackson’s been a big part of that.
Scales is third in the conference with 57 tackles. He has hit double-digits in tackles in four straight games. Indiana’s defense is much improved this season, and Scales is one of the leaders.
Next Man Up
Rutgers QB Gio Rescigno
New coach Chris Ash tried to stick with Chris Laviano as long as he could, but the embattled junior has completed 11 of 32 passes for 101 yards in the past three games combined. He was replaced in each of those games.
The Scarlet Knights have actually played four different quarterbacks, but Rescigno is the only reserve to find any success. He completed 10 of 18 passes for 120 yards in relief of Laviano this past week against Illinois.
Obviously, the Scarlet Knights need … something different from the quarterback position. They’ve scored 14 points in the past four games. Do-it-all star Janarion Grant was lost for the season during the first game of this stretch.
How far down does this Michigan State spiral go?
The Spartans have lost four straight games. Losses to Indiana and Northwestern have reset the power structure in the conference. Third place in the East Division is now wide open.
If Michigan State doesn’t win this game, finding four more wins on the schedule to qualify for a bowl game looks difficult.
Michigan is up next as well, so the swoon could reach six games. Counting the 38-0 rout by Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals last season, the Spartans have lost five straight for the first time since 1993-94. They haven’t lost five in a row in the same season since 1991.
Maryland won four straight in impressive fashion to start the season, but the Terps have lost to Penn State by 24 and Minnesota by 21 in successive games. Starting quarterback Perry Hills could miss a second straight week with a shoulder injury.
Either of these teams could actually finish third in the East. Winning this one would be a big step towards having a chance at that.
How many Michigan running backs will score touchdowns against Illinois?
The Wolverines have scored 300 points in six games, and are second in the nation in scoring offense. Louisville, with one-man touchdown machine Lamar Jackson, is first. Michigan has taken a by-committee approach.
Five different running backs have at least two touchdowns for Michigan, and Drake Johnson will become the sixth man in the rotation this week. Fullback Khalid Hill leads the team with eight scores. There should be plenty of touchdowns to go around against the Illini.
Who is the most underrated team in the Big Ten?
The answer to this on Sunday is likely to be to the winner of the Indiana-Northwestern game.
Indiana would move to 4-3 with a win and 2-2 in the conference. The Hoosiers could be 4-2 right now with losses only to top-10 teams (Nebraska and Ohio State) were it not for a rash of turnovers against Wake Forest. They have games coming against Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State that could set up a run for third place in the East and the possibility of eight wins.
Northwestern would move to 4-3 and 3-1 in conference play. The Wildcats would officially be a factor in the West division race again after a terrible start to the season. At the time, Northwestern’s 1-3 start looked very underwhelming, but a one-point loss to undefeated Western Michigan hardly looks like a bad defeat now.
The Wildcats already have wins at Michigan State and Iowa, and a win here could position Northwestern to still have a shot at winning the West when Wisconsin comes to town in early November.