Here’s what to watch in the Big Ten this week:
GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 19 Michigan (No. 24 CFP) at No. 5 Wisconsin (No. 5 CFP).
The West Division-champion Badgers seem to have a clear path into the College Football Playoff . Wisconsin, ranked No. 5 in the playoff rankings and in The Associated Press poll , likely will have a shot to play for a national championship if it beats No. 19 Michigan on Saturday at home, avoids getting upset at Minnesota and wins the Big Ten championship game Dec. 2 in Indianapolis. The Wolverines (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) have publicly declared themselves spoilers, aiming to ruin seasons for the Badgers (10-0, 7-0) and Ohio State. Michigan, though, has not beaten a ranked team in a true road game since winning at Notre Dame in 2006.
Wisconsin has the nation’s top-ranked defense and Michigan is No. 3 in yards allowed, just behind Alabama. Wisconsin freshman running back Jonathan Taylor is averaging 152.5 yards rushing, ranking No. 4 in major college football. Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst and linebackers Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson will lead a scheme designed to slow Taylor. The Wolverines averaged 288-plus yards rushing during its current three-game winning streak and scored 11 touchdowns on the ground. Michigan may rotate four backs against the Badgers: Karan Higdon, Chris Evans, Ty Isaac and Kareem Walker.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
The Badgers are 10-0 for the first time in school history. … Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and former Michigan coach Fielding Yost are the only coaches in conference history to win 10-plus games in their first three years in the Big Ten. If Harbaugh can help Michigan win two of its last three games, he will join the select group. … Minnesota (5-5, 2-5) needs a win to be in a bowl with first-year coach P.J. Fleck and ends the regular season on the road against Northwestern (7-3, 5-2) and Illinois. … Five Big Ten teams – Rutgers, Indiana, Purdue, Maryland and Nebraska – need to win their last two games to earn a bowl bid. … Rutgers (4-6, 3-4) plays Saturday at Indiana (4-6, 1-6) and hosts Michigan State next week. … The Hoosiers face rival Purdue on the road next week. … The Boilermakers (4-6, 2-5) under first-year coach Jeff Brohm, have to beat Iowa (6-4, 3-4) on the road and the Hoosiers to reach the postseason. … Maryland (4-6, 2-5) has to pull off two major upsets – at No. 22 Michigan State (7-3, 5-2, No. 17 CFP) and against Penn State – to play in a second straight bowl with coach D.J. Durkin. … Nebraska (4-6, 3-4) plays Saturday at No. 13 Penn State (8-2, 5-2, No. 10 CFP) and Friday, Nov. 24, at home against Iowa. The Cornhuskers need one win to avoid having their fewest victories since 1961 and perhaps two victories to help coach Mike Riley keep his job under new athletic director Bill Moos. … Hawkeyes defensive back Josh Jackson returned two interceptions for scores against the Badgers, becoming the third Big Ten player to pull off the feat. … Saquon Barkley broke a Penn State record by reaching 5,055 all-purpose yards last week against Rutgers, surpassing Larry Johnson (5,045) and Curt Warner (4,982) on the all-time list.
Illinois, a 41-point underdog at Ohio State
The eighth-ranked Buckeyes (8-2, 6-1, No. 9 CFP) may be motivated to win big for a second straight week for style points as they hold onto hopes of being a two-loss team in the College Football Playoff. They are two victories, or a win and a Michigan loss at Wisconsin, away from winning the East Division and clinching a matchup with Wisconsin for the conference title and possibly a spot in the playoff. After hosting the lowly Fighting Illini, the only Big Ten team without a conference win, Ohio State will aim to continue its dominance over Michigan. The Buckeyes won five straight and 12 of 13 against the Wolverines.
ONE FOR THE ROAD
Michigan center Patrick Kugler, a fifth-year senior, is looking forward to his first trip to Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium and laments he’ll never play in Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium. The Wolverines are playing at Wisconsin for the first time since 2009, and they haven’t played the Cornhuskers on the road since 2012.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald heard it suggested the conference should attempt to have each school play in every Big Ten stadium at least once every four years.
”I think it’s a cool idea,” he said.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Michigan QB Brandon Peters.
In his first road start against a ranked team, the redshirt freshman is going to have to make some plays through the air to give the Wolverines a chance to win. Wisconsin gave up just 66 yards of offense against Iowa, setting a school record in a Big Ten game. Peters has completed 61 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions, but he has thrown for just 329 yards in three-plus games in part because Michigan has been running the ball well lately. Against the Badgers, Peters will be forced to pass and he’ll have to connect on throws down the field to beat them.
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