Welcome to the spotlight, Ohio State and Nebraska.
Just as Michigan State bows out of the playoff race and the national top 10, Ohio State and Nebraska takes the Spartans’ place at least in terms of being the face of the Big Ten down the stretch.
Certainly, both teams have work to do to be considered legitimate playoff contenders, and both probably need help from teams in the top seven of Tuesday’s rankings.
Saturday will be a chance for both to continue to build their case as factors on the national scene.
Nebraska faces perhaps its top challenger for the Big Ten West division when it visits Wisconsin while Ohio State tries to follow its landmark win over Michigan State with a road win over a newly ranked Minnesota team.
The Big Ten needs Nebraska and Ohio State to reach the league title game as one-loss squads for its playoff hopes to remain alive. This will be one of the key weeks for the Cornhuskers and Buckeyes to achieve that goal.
Week 12 Previews and Predictions:
Big Ten Week 12 Game Power Rankings
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
1. Nebraska at Wisconsin
3:30 p.m., ABC
The Big Ten West won’t necessarily be won Saturday, but the winner will be the clear frontrunner. Both Nebraska and Wisconsin finish with Minnesota and Iowa. Those stakes, though, seems secondary compared to the showdown between Heisman-contending tailbacks — and friends — Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah. Combined, they’ve rushed for 2,751 yards and 36 touchdowns. Both Nebraska and Wisconsin, though, have emerging stars in the front seven. Cornhuskers defensive end Randy Gregory is one of the nation’s stop pass rushers, and Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has compared his rising star defensive tackle Maliek Collins to LSU’s Glenn Dorsey. At the same time, Wisconsin outside linebacker Vince Biegel has recorded 10 tackles for a loss in the last five games.
Listen to the Week 12 predictions podcast:
2. Ohio State at Minnesota
What should we make of Minnesota? The Gophers needed a second-half comeback to beat Purdue 39-38 at home and a week later lost 28-24 to an Illinois team down to its second-string quarterback. So, naturally, Minnesota went on to beat Iowa 51-14 with an uncharacteristically effective passing attack. Minnesota may need that kind of balance from Mitch Leidner for any shot of an upset of the Buckeyes, but the run game could help neutralize the impact of Big Ten sack leader Joey Bosa. Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett is an emerging star, but Minnesota has done a good job of limiting explosive pass plays. The Gophers lead the Big Ten in fewest yards per pass attempt (5.5) and fewest passing plays of 30 yards or more (four).
3. Michigan State at Maryland
8 p.m., Big Ten Network
Michigan State is in a rare spot compared to the last two seasons — the Spartans don’t have a clear carrot in front of them. The Spartans are coming off their first Big Ten loss since 2012 and have seen their playoff hopes evaporate with the 49-37 loss to Ohio State. Maryland is a solid team, but Oregon and Ohio State needed at least 490 total yards and 46 points to beat Michigan State this season. Maryland hasn’t hit either of those marks against an FBS team this season. Making matters worse, the Terrapins will be without receiver Stefon Diggs, who is out with a lacerated kidney.
4. Temple at Penn State
Penn State is 37-0-1 against Temple since the Owls’ last win in the series in 1941, but the margin is getting closer. The last three Penn State wins have come by an average margin of eight points. The average Penn State win from 1977-2009 was by more than four touchdowns. The book on Penn State this season remains unchanged from September — the defense plays lights out, the offensive line and run game are a mess, and quarterback Christian Hackenberg is frustrated. Get ready for another low-scoring slog for Penn State: Temple is seventh in the American in yards per play and fifth in yards allowed per play.
5. Iowa at Illinois
Noon, Big Ten Network
How much worse could it get for Iowa this season? The Hawkeyes have already lost to Iowa State (winless in the Big 12), Maryland and Minnesota in a rout. Just a reminder: Illinois beat Minnesota, a team that drubbed Iowa by 37 last week. Illinois returns quarterback Wes Lunt this week after the Oklahoma State transfer missed the last three games with a broke bone in his leg. Lunt has completed 66.5 percent of his passes this season with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.
6. Northwestern at Notre Dame
3:30 p.m., NBC
Northwestern likes to claim it is Chicago’s Big Ten team while Notre Dame may be the most popular team in the area. Chicago may want to disown both after recent games. Northwestern is coming off its fourth consecutive loss, the latest an avert-your-eyes 10-9 effort against Michigan. Only Penn State has given up more sacks in the Big Ten than Northwestern’s 3.2 per game. Notre Dame, meanwhile, continues to be turnover-prone as quarterback Everett Golson coughed up the ball five times in a 55-31 loss to Arizona State.
7. Indiana at Rutgers
3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
After a run of three ranked teams — at Ohio State, at Nebraska and Wisconsin — Rutgers has a more manageable opponent this week against Indiana. And it’s an important one for the Scarlet Knights, looking to become bowl eligible in their final home game before visiting Michigan State and Maryland. Indiana’s offense has fallen apart since the season-ending injury to Nate Sudfeld. The Hoosiers have passed for 103 yards — total — in the last three games.
Big Ten Week 12 Staff Picks
Temple at Penn State (-11)
Iowa (-5 1/2) at Illinois
Ohio State (-12) at Minnesota
Nebraska at Wisconsin (-6)
Northwestern at Notre Dame (-18)
Indiana at Rutgers (-7 1/2)
Michigan St (-12) at Maryland