The ninth week of the college football season presents a pair of intriguing coaching matchups — one will be the first matchup in a new coaching rivalry, the other likely is the final meeting.
In State College, two of the most aggressive recruiters in the country will face off in the first meeting between Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Penn State’s James Franklin. The two never crossed paths at their former jobs in the SEC as Meyer left Florida a year before Franklin landed at Vanderbilt.
No doubt, the winning coach will use this game as bragging rights as both schools try to recruit Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
The other coach matchup to watch will be in East Lansing. Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio has tried to avoid overt references to the Spartans’ dominance in the series with Michigan, but it’s clear Dantonio’s program relishes the shedding of the little brother tag. That, of course, is why this may be the final Michigan-Michigan State game for Brady Hoke.
Week 9 Previews and Predictions
Big Ten Week 9 Game Power Rankings
All times Eastern. All games Saturday.
1. Ohio State at Penn State
8 p.m., ABC
In the four games since the loss to Virginia Tech, Ohio State looks every bit the dominant team the Buckeyes were expected to be with Braxton Miller at quarterback. Credit J.T. Barrett and his development. The redshirt freshman has led four consecutive 50-point performances or better, completing 71.7 percent of his passes for 9.75 yards per attempt with 17 touchdowns and an interception during that span. Penn State may be be the toughest test of the season for Barrett so far with the game on the road against an imposing front seven. Penn State is allowing two yards per carry, the best average in the country, so it will be interesting to see how Barrett fares if running back Ezekiel Elliott is not productive. While Barrett vs. the Penn State defense will be a fascinating matchup, the Ohio State defensive line vs. overmatched Penn State’s offensive line may be as big a mismatch as any this week.
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2. Michigan at Michigan State
3:30 p.m., ABC
Michigan State now has the clear upper hand in this in-state rivalry, and that doesn’t look to change this season. Michigan State has won five of the last six, with four of those wins coming by two touchdowns or more. A year ago, Michigan State sacked Michigan seven times and held the Wolverines to minus-48 rushing yards in Ann Arbor. This game could make a run at being as lopsided as Sparty’s 29-6 win in 2013. Michigan State rolled over Indiana last week for 330 rushing yards and five touchdowns despite the absence of injured starting center Jack Allen, who is expected to be back this week. For all of Michigan’s struggles this season, the Wolverines are fifth in the country in yards allowed per carry (2.73 per rush).
3. Maryland at Wisconsin
Noon, Big Ten Network
The game may feature the Big Ten’s offensive player of the year (Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon) and defensive player of the year (Maryland’s William Likely). The pair are putting up wild numbers and will have plenty of chances to flourish. Gordon has rushed for 868 yards and nine touchdowns in his last four games. This week, he’ll be matched up with the No. 13 rush defense in the Big Ten. Likely has four interceptions this season, including his second pick six of the year last week against Iowa. Likely also has three tackles for a loss and a punt return for a touchdown. Like Gordon, Likely has a fortunate matchup. Wisconsin is sticking with two quarterbacks in Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave, who have combined to complete 54.9 percent of their passes with six touchdowns and eight interceptions. Maryland’s quarterback situation also will be worth watching as C.J. Brown has been nursing a back injury all week as his backup, Caleb Rowe, was lost for the season to a torn ACL.
4. Rutgers at Nebraska
Welcome to the Big Ten, Rutgers. A week after a 56-17 loss to Ohio State in Columbus, the Scarlet Knights visit Nebraska. After that, Wisconsin visits Piscataway next week. Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah re-asserted his Heisman credentials with 146 yards and four touchdowns last week against Northwestern, but as much as Abdullah’s season deserves attention, don’t overlook the Nebraska D. The Cornhuskers are allowing 4.83 yards per play and 338.6 yards per game, both their best averages since 2010.
5. Minnesota at Illinois
Minnesota needed a 52-yard field goal in the final five minutes to complete a 39-38 comeback win against Purdue last week. The Gophers are a surprising 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten. They have to be taken seriously as Big Ten West contenders, but their schedule will get tougher into November. They may not be able to afford many slip ups against teams like Purdue and Illinois. Prolific running back David Cobb continues to be the centerpiece of the Gophers’ offense, but the passing game has at least proved to be capable in conference games. The Gophers average only 18.7 passes in Big Ten play, but they are second in the league in pass efficiency in conference games.
Big Ten Week 9 Staff Picks
Minnesota (-6 1/2) at Illinois
Maryland at Wisconsin (-11)
Rutgers at Nebraska (-17 1/2)
Michigan at Michigan State (-17 1/2)
Ohio State (-13 1/2) at Penn State