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Big Ten Week 14 Preview and Predictions

Melvin Gordon

Melvin Gordon

One rivalry will determine a piece of the Big Ten championship, and unless you’ve been living under a rock this season, you know it’s not the usual game.

Michigan-Ohio State is the undercard in the Big Ten this week to Minnesota and Wisconsin. The longest-lived rivalry in major college football has been for the Slab of Bacon and Paul Bunyan’s Axe, but for the first time it’s for a trip to the Big Ten title game.

For all of the rivalry’s longevity, the two teams have been both ranked at kickoff only twice since 1962, the last time the rivalry was played with both teams in Big Ten championship contention.

It’s the most important game in the Big Ten this week — and not just for the Big Ten, TCU is pulling for the Gophers, too — but it’s not the only one with major implications.

Ohio State still has a playoff spot it would like to claim. Michigan, Illinois and Northwestern are all looking to be bowl eligible. And Nebraska and Iowa are looking for a win that will keep fans of their coaches’ backs.

Week 14 Previews and Predictions:
ACC|Big 12 |Pac-12|SEC

Big Ten Week 14 Game Power Rankings
All times Eastern

1. Minnesota at Wisconsin
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
The contest for Paul Bunyan’s Axe has rarely been this important on the Big Ten stage. The winner will claim the Big Ten West and face Ohio State in the conference title game, making this the most important Minnesota-Wisconsin game since 1962. That season, both teams were ranked in the top five, and Wisconsin claimed the Big Ten title with a 14-9 win in the season finale. In this year’s meeting, what should be a showdown of two great running backs has diminished a bit. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is coming off a 200-yard game against Iowa, tying him with Badgers great Ron Dayne for the Big Ten single-season record last week. Gordon is 519 yards short of Barry Sanders’ national record from 1988. On the other side, though, Minnesota running back David Cobb is “very questionable,” coach Jerry Kill says. Cobb has rushed for 1,430 yards and 12 touchdowns this season in Minnesota’s tricky ground game. Quarterback Mitch Leidner rushed for 110 yards while passing for 135 to fill some of the void left by Cobb late in last week’s win over Nebraska.

2. Michigan at Ohio State
Saturday, noon, ABC
That Virginia Tech loss in Week 2 continues to be an anchor for Ohio State’s playoff hopes even though the Buckeyes were ranked sixth in the most recent release from the selection committee. The Buckeyes haven’t helped their case, either, in the last two games. Ohio State allowed Minnesota to rush for 218 yards and Indiana to run for 281, plus three touchdowns apiece. Both the Gophers and Hoosiers have effective running games, but the production (6.2 yards allowed per carry) is cause for concern. The Buckeyes have also turned the ball over eight times in the last three games, finishing on the wrong side of the turnover margin in each game. Michigan is a wounded team, but the Wolverines have been effective on the ground in the last three games (207.7 yards per game, 5.4 yards per carry). The Wolverines have high stakes in this game, too. A loss means no postseason for Michigan. The same program that reached a bowl game every year from 1975-2007 (and would have made more in the 70s if not for Big Ten rules) is in danger of missing the postseason for the third time in seven seasons.

3. Michigan State at Penn State
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
Michigan State’s Big Ten and playoff hopes evaporated several weeks ago, but the Spartans still have plenty of goals for the final game of the regular season. A spot in a major New Year’s Bowl (the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange or Peach) remains at stake as well as a fourth 10-win season in the last five years. Penn State is still looking to clinch a winning season after missing an opportunity against Illinois in a 16-14 loss last week. The Nittany Lions’ offensive line has been able to patch together a run game during the last three weeks, but quarterback Christian Hackenberg is still running for his life. This week, he’ll face a Michigan State defense that is tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks. Also of note: Spartans senior Tony Lippett is slated to be Michigan State’s first two-way starter since 1968 when he opens the game at receiver and cornerback.

4. Nebraska at Iowa
Friday, noon, ABC

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The enthusiasm game for this game probably isn’t very high. Nebraska’s deflating loss to Minnesota last week puts the Cornhuskers a game away from Bo Pelini’s traditional four losses. A season that started 8-1 for Nebraska is in danger of ending on a three-game losing streak before the bowl game. Iowa’s season has been even more of a letdown with three losses in the last five games. What the future holds for either of these coaches — Pelini and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz — isn’t clear, but certainly one fanbase will be howling by Friday afternoon. On the field, though, this game will feature one intriguing matchup in the trenches between Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory and Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff. NFL scouts will be closely attuned to that pairing.

5. Illinois at Northwestern
Saturday, noon, ESPNU
This seemed unthinkable at one point this season, but the winner of this game goes to a bowl game. Illinois stole wins over Penn State and Minnesota to put the Illini into bowl contention. Northwestern defeated Wisconsin on Oct. 4 and defeated Notre Dame in double overtime two weeks ago. The Wildcats, though, might be in dire straits as quarterback Trevor Siemian left last week’s game against Purdue with a torn ACL. Junior Zach Oliver will start against Illinois, but freshman Matt Alviti is expected to play, too.

6. Rutgers at Maryland
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU
This isn’t a good game in a weekend of great games, but let’s stop to note that both of the Big Ten newcomers are enjoying successful seasons. Both are bowl eligible. Maryland (7-4) is 5-1 on the road and scored Big Ten wins over Iowa, Penn State and Michigan. Rutgers has been outclassed by the better Big Ten teams it has faced this season, but the Scarlet Knights are at least bowl eligible. Both teams will enjoy at least one beneficial matchup: Maryland and Rutgers are among the worst teams in the league in both sides of the run game.

7. Purdue at Indiana
Saturday, noon, Big Ten Network
The Battle for the Old Oaken Bucket will have to take the place for a bowl game for Purdue and Indiana ... again. Purdue will look to get its offense back on track. The Boilermakers looked like they had their quarterback of the future in Austin Appleby back in early October, but he’s throw six interception in his last four games. On the other sideline, Indiana running back Tevin Coleman is putting the finishing touches of a fantastic season — one that could be his last with the Hoosiers. Coleman is 94 yards of 2,000. If he’s able to hit that threshold, it will mark only the third time a conference has had two 2,000-yard rushers in the same season. UCF’s Kevin Smith and Tulane’s Matt Forte did it Conference USA in 2007. Iowa State’s Troy Davis and Texas Tech’s Byron Harnspard did it in the Big 12 in 1996.

Big Ten Week 14 Athlon Staff Picks

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David Fox

Braden Gall

Steven Lassan

Mitch Light

Nebraska at Iowa (-1)

Iowa 24-21

Neb 30-27

Iowa 27-24

Iowa 24-20

Illinois at Northwestern (-8)

Ill. 21-14

NW 30-21

NW 27-20

NW 17-14

Purdue at Indiana (-2 1/2)

Purdue 34-31

IU 34-31

IU 34-31

IU 34-30

Michigan at Ohio State (-20)

OSU 42-21

OSU 27-14

OSU 38-17

OSU 34-20

Michigan St (-13 1/2) at Penn St

MSU 21-14

MSU 34-3

MSU 27-10

MSU 20-10

Minnesota at Wisconsin (-13 1/2)

Wisc 31-14

Wisc 40-27

Wisc 30-20

Wisc 30-15

Rutgers at Maryland (-8 1/2)

Md 31-13

Md 34-27

Md 34-17

Md 27-13

Last Week

4-3

4-3

4-3

4-3

Season

75-30

75-30

78-27

72-34