The B storylines of the Big Ten are just starting to heat up.
The A storyline seems to be the same since the second week of the season: This is a league whose College Football Playoff hopes are continually hanging by the thread.
The other stories, though, may be more interesting. Chief among them Melvin Gordon’s chase for history, both as a realistic candidate to break Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record and a running back who could win the Heisman.
The other story is the November round robin to determine the Big Ten West. Ohio State should wrap up the East official this week against Indiana even if the Buckeyes’ division title seemed inevitable after a win over Michigan State on Nov. 8.
After the win over Nebraska last week, Wisconsin can clinch the West with a win over Iowa and a Minnesota loss, but the possibility remains that Wisconsin and Minnesota will face each other in the finale with the division on the line.
Week 13 Previews and Predictions:
Big Ten Week 13 Game Power Rankings
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
1. Wisconsin at Iowa
3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
All eyes are on the Melvin Gordon show as the Wisconsin running back makes a run at the Heisman and Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record. Thanks to last week’s record-breaking 408-yard rushing effort, Gordon can pass Sanders even if he falls below his season average of 191 yards per game. Of course, that’s assuming Wisconsin reaches the Big Ten title game. The Badgers can clinch the West division with a win over Iowa and a Minnesota loss to Nebraska. Perhaps lost watching Gordon is the play of the Wisconsin defense. In the last four games, the Badgers have allowed 181 yards per game and three yards per play. Two opponents in that span (Rutgers and Nebraska) have passed for fewer than 100 yards and three (Maryland, Rutgers and Purdue) have rushed for fewer than 100 yards. Iowa will find out which version of its offense will show up — the balanced efforts against Northwestern and Illinois or the inept passing game against Minnesota.
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2. Minnesota at Nebraska
Nebraska is in an interesting spot. One week has unraveled many of the goals this season. This time last week, Nebraska still had a chance the Big Ten title game, and if the one-loss Cornhuskers could beat Wisconsin and potentially Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, Nebraska could at least make a case for the playoff. Melvin Gordon ended those plans in a 59-24 loss. The division is gone and probably a major bowl game. Nebraska hopes to have running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive end Randy Gregory, who were both injured during the course of the Wisconsin loss, back healthy this week. Even so, facing the run-oriented Gophers might not be a welcome sight after the Cornhuskers gave up 581 total rushing yards a week ago. Despite a loss to Ohio State, Minnesota has a chance to win the Big Ten West with a win in Lincoln setting up a winner-take-all game against Wisconsin next week.
3. Maryland at Michigan
3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
For all the tumult this season, Michigan is still hoping for a bowl game. The Wolverines are 5-5 with a finale against Ohio State, meaning Michigan may need to win this one play in the postseason. Meanwhile, the problems continue for Brady Hoke, who may be coaching in his final home game in Ann Arbor. Defensive end Frank Clark, a player chosen in the preseason to represent Michigan at media day, was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and was dismissed. Michigan will have to hope an off week and Maryland’s lackluster defense will put the Wolverines into a good position Saturday. Maryland, meanwhile, has been a better team away from College Park. The Terrapins are 4-1 on the road compared to 2-3 at home.
4. Indiana at Ohio State
Big Ten, Big Ten Network
Before Ohio State improved its stock to No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday, Urban Meyer was already touting his team’s improvement from the Virginia Tech loss in Columbus to a team that has won back-to-back conference games over ranked teams on the road (Michigan State and Minnesota). “There’s no question this is the most improved team from Game 1 to Game 10 that I’ve ever been around,” Meyer said. That improvement has made the College Football Playoff a possibility and has made redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett a viable candidate to go to New York has a Heisman finalist. This week, Ohio State need only to flex its muscles like it can against Indiana. The Buckeyes need only look at TCU, which beat its conference bottom-feeder Kansas by 4, to learn that wins alone aren’t enough for the selection committee. Ohio State can clinch the Big Ten East with a win or a Michigan State loss.
5. Rutgers at Michigan State
Noon, Big Ten Network
With two games left against Rutgers and at Penn State, Michigan State is looking to secure a spot in a major bowl — i.e., the Cotton, Fiesta, Peach or Orange. Rutgers is a bowl team but has been outclasssed by the upper tier of the Big Ten, losing by a combined score of 135-41 to Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. Most important for Michigan State is to get Connor Cook into a groove before he faces Penn State’s defense in the finale. Throw out a start against Indiana, and Cook is completing only 49.4 percent of his passes in October and November.
6. Penn State at Illinois
Penn State has corrected its course after a four-game losing streak and gained bowl eligibility thanks to back-to-back wins over Indiana and Temple. A win over Illinois would clinch not only a winning season for James Franklin in his first year at Penn State but also a winning regular season in all three years under NCAA sanctions (Penn State finishes the season at Michigan State). In the modeset two-game win streak, Penn State has enjoyed a revival of its run game. After failing to run for 100 yards in six of the first eight games, Penn State ran for 162 against Indiana and 254 against Temple. The Nittany Lions also didn’t allow a sack against the Owls. Time may be ticking on Illinois coach Tim Beckman, but his rosy evaluations of the season are true on one front: Illinois still has a shot at a bowl game. Illinois (4-6) finishes with Penn State and Northwestern but hasn’t won back-to-back Big Ten games since 2011.
7. Northwestern at Purdue
Northwestern will find out in a hurry how much the comeback win at Notre Dame helped turn the season. The Wildcats ended a four-game losing streak and scored only seven points fewer in a single game (43 points against Notre Dame) than they had in the previous four games combined (50). The upset in South Bend puts Northwestern (4-6) in bowl contention with its final two games against Purdue and Illinois. The Wildcats were an improved team against Notre Dame — Justin Jackson returned to form at running back, and Trevor Siemian passed for 284 yards and was sacked only twice. But Northwestern also got gifts from Notre Dame in the form of three second-half fumbles. Earlier in the season, Purdue started to look like a tougher out than the Boilermakers were a year ago, but Darrell Hazell’s team is exiting a brutal stretch of losses against Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Minnesota.
Week 13 Big Ten Staff Picks
Northwestern (-1.5) at Purdue
Penn State at Illinois (-6.5)
Indiana at Ohio State (-34.5)
Minnesota at Nebraska (-10.5)
Rutgers at Michigan State (-22.5)
Wisconsin (-10) at Iowa
Maryland at Michigan (-5)