Athlon Sports previews every contest, identifies the most pivotal players and picks every Big Ten game.
It will be hard to match the dramatics and excitement of last weekend for the Big Ten. A Hail Mary in Lincoln, overtime comeback in Happy Valley, in-state domination in East Lansing and a back-and-forth final minute in Bloomington made the Big Ten the most entertaining conference in the nation in Week 10.
So what can the league do as an encore presentation this week? How about a historic and critical showdown in Ann Arbor? An unusual and physical non-conference game in Madison? And the next chapter of a potentially magic storybook season in Minneapolis?
Ohio State, Northwestern and Michigan State are off this weekend.
Big Ten Week 11 Game Power Rankings:
1. Nebraska (+7) at Michigan (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
The luster has worn off what many thought could be the biggest Legends Division game of the season thanks to two losses by Michigan over the last three games. Nebraska still controls its own destiny in the division, however, after a Hail Mary saved the day against Northwestern last weekend. Taylor Martinez is once again unlikely to play and that could spell disaster for the Huskers on the road. The Wolverines are a different team in The Big House, averaging 46.6 points per game in Ann Arbor versus just 23.3 on the road. This includes a running game that averages twice as many yards at home (189.2) than on the road (97.7) — which also spells doom for a Black Shirts defense that has allowed 516 yards rushing the last two weeks. No matter where they play, the Maize and Blue have been excellent against the run, and with either Ron Kellogg III or Tommy Armstrong under center, Nebraska will need its running game this weekend more than ever.
2. BYU (+7.5) at Wisconsin (3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Wisconsin has hosted one non-conference game in November since 2006 (Cal Poly, 2008), so a visit from BYU this late in the year is unusual to say the least. This will be a much tougher test than the upset-minded Mustangs, however, as the Cougars bring a physical defense and play-making quarterback to Madtown. Quarterback Taysom Hill is sixth nationally in total offense, passing for 252.4 yards and rushing for 105.1 per game. Chris Borland is expected back in the lineup and will be charged with chasing down the dual threat. Quarterback Joel Stave will have to provide balance as the Cougars' front seven, led by star linebacker Kyle Van Noy, will be geared up to stop the explosive Badgers running game. This is a fantastic matchup of strengths between two excellent coaches who know a lot about each other. Bronco Mendenhall and Gary Andersen met four times when Andersen was at Utah State, with BYU taking three out of four from the Aggies.
3. Penn State (+2.5) at Minnesota (Noon, ESPN2)
The Golden Gophers haven’t gotten enough attention for what they have accomplished over the last month. After getting crushed by Iowa and Michigan, the Gophers have won three straight as more than a touchdown underdog. Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson is coming off the best game of his career and returns home with a chance to stay in the Legends Division race on the back of a potent rushing attack. Penn State also has a young quarterback and powerful running game as Christian Hackenberg came through in the clutch and Bill Belton rushed for over 200 yards last week. The Nittany Lions have yet to win a true road game this year and should be prepared for a physical matchup in the Twin Cities. In a bizarre twist, this 12-game series has featured three four-game winning streaks, the most recent one belonging to PSU, who has won four straight since 2004. A win gives Minnesota eight wins for the first time since 2003.
4. Illinois (+10) at Indiana (3:30 p.m., BTN)
The Hoosiers have been stuck on three wins since Oct. 5 and the Illini have been at three wins since September. The combined seven-game losing streak has to come to an end this weekend as each team has few chances at victory the rest of the season. Both teams played well last weekend but lost in heart-breaking fashion. These are the worst two defenses in the league so both Nathan Scheelhaase and Nate Sudfeld should find success under center. Much like last weekend, whichever team has the ball last will get its long-awaited fourth win of the season.
5. Iowa (-15) at Purdue (Noon, BTN)
Kirk Ferentz desperately needs to get to a bowl game and there will be no better chance for Iowa to get bowl eligible than against the Big Ten’s worst team. The Hawkeyes have struggled on offense for the better part of a month, topping 305 yards of offense just once in the last four games and being held to 17 points or fewer three times during that span. Having said that, it shouldn't take much to top the Boilermakers. Purdue has been outscored 114-7 over its last three games, including back-to-back shutouts in the last two.
Big Ten Week 11 Pivotal Players
Listen to Athlon Sports writers Braden Gall and David Fox discuss the exciting Week 10 in the Big Ten and preview the huge slate of action for Week 11 in this week's Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast.
The team leader in sacks and tackles for a loss needs to come up big against an excellent Nebraska rushing attack and inexperienced quarterback. He could singlehandedly disrupt the Huskers passing attack and will be asked to clog up lanes and take on blockers so his talented linebackers are free to make plays against Ameer Abdullah, Imani Cross and Terrell Newby. Clark didn’t register a single tackle against Nebraska last season.
2. Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
Marcus Trotter played very well in place of Borland last weekend in Iowa City, but there is no replacement for one of the best players in school history. And with an explosive, dual-threat quarterback coming to town, Badgers fans better hope Borland’s hamstring is fully healthy. BYU’s Taysom Hill is 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, has 953 yards of total offense in his last two games and is coming off a bye week. This will be a difficult challenge for the stingy Badgers defense.
3. Joel Stave, QB, Wisconsin
The Cougars boast an excellent front seven designed to play physical ball and stop the run. It should match up fairly well with Wisconsin’s power rushing attack. It has allowed just four rushing scores all season on the ground, so Stave will have to be efficient and productive in the passing game. Stave has at least two touchdown passes in four straight games and will need to find Jared Abbrederis and Jacob Pedersen to stretch the field.
4. Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The Gophers' nose tackle has had an excellent season thus far. He leads his team in tackles for a loss (9.0) and has clogged up the middle of the offensive line all season. But he is playing his best football over the last few weeks and that has coincided with the Gophers' three-game winning streak. The Nittany Lions are coming off one of their best rushing performances of the season after rushing for 250 yards and two scores against Illinois. Hageman will need to be big in the middle once again for Tracy Claeys and Co.
5. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Certainly, Bill O’Brien will look to run the football against Minnesota, but he must get efficient play from his quarterback as well. Hackenberg has yet to win on the road because he has made some poor decisions against Indiana and Ohio State. Playing within the offense and making the right read will be critical this weekend for this Nittany Lion.
Big Ten Week 11 Prediction Grid:
|Game||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Nebraska (+7) at Michigan||Michigan, 38-28||Nebraska, 34-31||Michigan, 34-27||Michigan, 35-21|
|BYU (+7.5) at Wisconsin||Wisconsin, 34-28||Wisconsin, 38-28||Wisconsin, 27-24||BYU, 28-24|
|Penn St (+2.5) at Minnesota||Minn., 31-28||Minn., 24-20||Minn., 30-27||Minn., 27-21|
|Illinois (+10) at Indiana||Indiana, 42-35||Indiana, 41-34||Indiana, 41-34||Indiana, 42-28|
|Iowa (-15) at Purdue||Iowa, 38-13||Iowa, 30-10||Iowa, 34-13||Iowa, 31-7|