MADISON, Wis. -- For a team that has earned its reputation as reliable and boring this year, No. 5 Wisconsin sure can flip a game in a hurry.
The Badgers' undefeated season and College Football Playoff bid appeared to be in doubt in the second half of a Saturday slogfest against Michigan's talented defense. Then two touchdowns in the final 3:31 of the third quarter changed that, and propelled Wisconsin to a 24-10 vindicating victory.
Things turned on a dime at Camp Randall Stadium, more specifically a dime of a throw from quarterback Alex Hornibrook. The redshirt sophomore dropped a 51-yarder into A.J. Taylor's breadbasket to breathe life into a stale offense. Three plays later Hornibrook stepped into another pass to Taylor, this one a 24-yard dart to the end zone on third down that put the Badgers ahead for good.
Hornibrook (9-for-19, 143 yards) was far from perfect Saturday, but just like the previous 10 games, he did enough to win. Wisconsin's offense had minus-7 yards in the second half prior to that game-changing drive. His two connections with Taylor came on the heels of a three-and-out and an interception that set Michigan up to take the lead. Wolverines kicker Quinn Nordin connected from 39 yards after a Devin Bush interception, but that was the end of what was looking like a promising day for a young Michigan team that has yet to beat an opponent with a winning record.
Brandon Peters, the redshirt freshman quarterback who had provided some optimism for Michigan's offense in November, left the game on the following series. He was hit hard by Wisconsin linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel after releasing a third-down pass and needed to be carted off the field.
Peters completed 9-of-18 passes for 159 yards before leaving. He narrowly missed a touchdown pass when referees decided in the second quarter that freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones didn't touch a foot down inbounds before stepping on the sideline on an end-zone fade route. Fifth-year senior John O'Korn wasn't able to get the offense back in rhythm after coming off the bench in the fourth quarter, and his receivers didn't provide him with much help.
Wisconsin smelled blood. The offense drove 61 yards in less than two minutes -- warp speed for a team that has made it this far with its suffocating defense and its 1,000-yard rusher, Jonathan Taylor -- capped off by a creative rushing play that freshman receiver Kendric Pryor took 32 yards to the house. That surge seemed to loosen up some space for Taylor, who managed to reach 132 rushing yards despite an ineffective start.
The party had already started in Madison by the time Taylor topped the 100-yard mark. The late third-quarter surge came just in time for Camp Randall Stadium to turn into the House of Pain. With "Jump Around" playing into the final 15 minutes, Badger players danced on the field between quarters and their fans shook the stadium. They've seen enough to know that this year's Wisconsin team can close out a win.
The next jump, sliding from the College Football Playoff's on-deck circle into the top four, may not come until (and unless) the Badgers can beat Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game in early December. Knocking off a sturdy Michigan team in their final home game, though, should give the Badgers all the résumé-padding they need to secure a semifinal spot if they take care of business in Minnesota and Indianapolis in the next two weeks.
Week 12 has a little drama to the regular season’s finish, especially within the Big Ten. Wisconsin is currently ranked No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings and Ohio State is No. 9.
If the Badgers win out, it seems very likely they would make the playoff, considering Clemson and Miami are ranked No. 2 and 3 and still have to play each other in the ACC championship game. However, it won't be easy for a Wisconsin team that has dealt with injuries and still must play Michigan, Minnesota and the East Division champ in the Big Ten championship game.
This week will give us a better picture of where the Big Ten stacks up in the playoff picture. Visit our college football PickCenter page for additional information on these games and many more.
No. 24 Michigan at No. 5 Wisconsin, noon ET, Fox
Dan Murphy: The forecast in Madison on Saturday afternoon calls for footballs raining from the sky. In other words, expect lots of punts. Wisconsin ranks first among FBS team in total yards allowed this year. Michigan is sitting at third. If the Wolverines’ young athletes can force Alex Hornibrook (three interceptions last week) into some big mistakes, they’ll have a shot to play spoiler. The Badgers know that, though, and will keep it conservative. Wisconsin 17, Michigan 14
Mitch Sherman: What to make of Michigan’s recent run against the lower tier of the Big Ten? Appears the Wolverines have found something, particularly in the run game. But the Badgers are stout defensively -- among the best units nationally, in fact. If Hornibrook limits his mistakes, Michigan’s improving QB situation won’t matter. Wisconsin 21, Michigan 13
Tom VanHaaren: As noted above, Wisconsin’s defense has performed well this season. The stat I’m looking at is that Wisconsin ranks first in rush yards allowed per game, giving up an average of only 81.5 yards per game on the ground. Against Minnesota, Michigan ran the ball 37 times for 371 yards, but gained only 160 yards on 38 attempts against Maryland. If Wisconsin’s defense contains the Michigan run game, we will have to see Brandon Peters air it out more often. I think Wisconsin’s defense against Michigan’s offense decides it. Wisconsin 13, Michigan 10
Minnesota at No. 23 Northwestern, noon ET, BTN
Sherman: Don’t be fooled by the resurgence of the Gophers last week at home in a rout of Nebraska. A big difference exists between a get-well game and a feel-good win. Minnesota got the latter. QB Demry Croft won’t find the running lanes so large in Evanston against the Wildcats, who rank seventh nationally and second in the Big Ten in defending the rush. Northwestern 27, Minnesota 14
VanHaaren: Northwestern is on a five-game win streak, which includes wins over Michigan State and Iowa, so this game is going to be tough for Minnesota. As mentioned above, Minnesota likely won’t see Croft with the production he had last week against Nebraska. On top of that, the Gophers’ defense has given up 54 points over the past two games, which averages out to 27 points per game, pretty close to Northwestern’s average points scored over this five-game win streak, which is right around 29 points. Northwestern 28, Minnesota 17
Rutgers at Indiana, noon ET, BTN
Murphy: The loser of this game won’t be headed to a bowl game this season. Cole Gest looked like he could provide a bit of a spark for the Hoosiers’ absent rushing attack last week. Sorry, Rutgers fans: Your team has given you a bit more to cheer about this fall, but it’s safe to start making your holiday plans without accounting for a bowl trip. On the bright side, the Scarlet Knights have a good shot to beat the spread for the ninth time this year. Indiana 24, Rutgers 20
Illinois at No. 9 Ohio State, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
VanHaaren: Ohio State still has an outside shot at the playoff, so these games still matter for the Buckeyes, whether coach Urban Meyer wants to talk about it or not. A lot would have to happen for them to make it, but it’s not out of the question. That’s unfortunate for Illinois, because Ohio State isn’t going to let up in this game, especially as it prepares for Michigan the following week. Ohio State 48, Illinois 10
Murphy: The Buckeyes have frustrated fans with a couple anomalous duds this season when they didn’t have their “A game.” If they can muster up even a C or D performance on Senior Day at the Horseshoe, they should just be fine against the Illini. Meyer said his team would have zero discussion this week about their shot a College Football Playoff spot, but don’t be surprised if the Buckeyes take an opportunity to remind the committee how powerful its offense can be, just in case. Ohio State 52, Illinois 13
Purdue at Iowa, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN
Sherman: Unpredictable Iowa returns home for Senior Day after an anemic offensive showing last week at Wisconsin that followed the fireworks of a blowout win over Ohio State. What will it be this week? The Boilermakers, fighting to get bowl-eligible, are strong enough to push the Hawkeyes. It will be a rebound for Nathan Stanley and his weapons on offense. Iowa 31, Purdue 21
Nebraska at No. 10 Penn State, 4 p.m. ET, FS1
VanHaaren: Nebraska has been spiraling this season, and although Penn State has two losses, they can still get to a 10-win season by finishing out the season with wins. Nebraska’s run defense ranks 105th in the country, giving up 200.1 yards per game. They are also coming off a game in which Minnesota quarterback Demry Croft ran for 183 yards and running back Rodney Smith had 134 yards of his own, so this should be a game in whichSaquon Barkley and Trace McSorley can both find success on the ground. Penn State 31, Nebraska 7
Sherman: The Nittany Lions lost part of their edge three weeks ago in the second half at Ohio State and still have yet to regain it despite a rout of Rutgers last week. Here’s a chance to get completely well against a Nebraska team, likely with a backup at QB, that’s simply playing out the string for coach Mike Riley and his staff. Penn State 42, Nebraska 6
Maryland at No. 17 Michigan State, 4 p.m. ET, Fox
Murphy: The Spartans’ offensive line couldn’t handle Ohio State a week ago, but they should get a much more manageable task this Saturday against Maryland. That the Terps have managed nearly 28 points per game (fourth in the Big Ten), despite an epidemic of injuries at quarterback, is remarkable. They’ll have trouble reaching that 28-point mark against Michigan State. Michigan State 30, Maryland 21
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Normally, a 45-point blowout of a major-thorn-in-the-side rival garners a few more postgame smiles than what appeared in the Ohio State locker room Saturday afternoon.
A 35-3 halftime lead at the Horseshoe against Michigan State, the second-best team in arguably the nation’s toughest division, provided more than ample time to wipe aside the joyful catharsis of rebounding from an embarrassing loss a week ago. By the time the final minutes of the 48-3 victory were ticking away, that feeling had been replaced by the thoughts of missed opportunity buzzing inside Buckeye heads.
“I think when we play well we can do that to anyone,” sophomore defensive end Nick Bosa said. “It’s not surprising, but it’s kind of annoying that we couldn’t do that every week. ... It’s tough to think about what could’ve been.”
By the time Monday morning rolled around head coach Urban Meyer had no interest in thinking about what could have been or even what might eventually be. On Monday and Tuesday this week, Meyer cut off questions about the small chance his team has of slipping back into the College Football Playoff hunt before they could reporters could finish asking them.
"There will be zero conversation about what happened before and what’s going to happen in the future," Meyer said. Zero.”
The number the Playoff committee had in mind this week was nine. That's where they stuck the Buckeyes in this week's ranking, making Auburn and Notre Dame the only two-loss teams ranked higher. It's tough to think about a team that was drubbed by the solid yet far from spectacular Iowa Hawkeyes as a College Football Playoff participant, but the question begs to be asked: Could college football deliver enough chaos in the next few weeks to force the committee to consider Ohio State?
First, what could have been: If not for giving up 55 points to Iowa, a 9-1 Ohio State team is in the driver’s seat to win the Big Ten’s East Division and take a crack at Wisconsin for a Big Ten title. That game in Indianapolis in this alternate reality likely would have been billed as a CFP quarterfinal -- win and you’re in.
Instead, Ohio State’s players did their best to push aside questions about rankings and focus instead on the clear path to a conference championship that lies in front of them. Wins over Illinois and Michigan would get them a title shot, and that was the focus in Columbus during the past week.
“I think we don’t want to look too far ahead. We don’t want to look backwards,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “We want to focus on the next two games and getting to the Big Ten championship.”
If the same team that rolled over Michigan State shows up the next three weeks, the Buckeyes will have a good shot to do just that. And then, of course, it will be hard to ignore questions about whether a conference title and wins over at least three ranked opponents (Penn State, Michigan State and, in this scenario, Wisconsin) deserves some playoff consideration.
The playoff has never invited a two-loss team to its semifinals, but the odds of that happening in year four got a lot better this weekend. There are only six Power 5 teams left standing with one or no blemishes on their record. All of them have at least one stiff test remaining.
If the committee has to select a school with multiple losses, Ohio State will prove to be an interesting test case to see how they weigh consistency against a group’s ceiling. Consistency is elusive for just about every program in college football. It’s what makes the transitive property such a flummoxing and deceiving tool when trying to evaluate the sport’s best teams. And if it ends up taking a bit of a back seat to the eye test in the committee’s nebulous “find the best four” edict, Ohio State has a shot.
The ugliest loss the playoff-makers have excused in their first three times through this process was by 14 points to an unranked team. That belonged to the 2014 Ohio State team (35-21 against Virginia Tech) that went on to win a national championship. It seems easy enough to forgive laying one egg as an anomaly. Multiple lapses in dominance start to feel like a trend, especially when the second egg is a 31-point whopper to a run-of-the-mill Big Ten team.
The committee has stuck to the idea that who you beat is more important than who beats you or how ugly a loss might be. Will we even get the chance to find out if that mentality changes when they start to evaluate teams with more than one data point in the L column?
College’s football most consistent trait -- its wild inconsistency -- makes that question hard to answer, but it sure is fun to think about. We’ll spend the coming week piecing together what we absolutely know to be true about what lies ahead, and then strap in to watch another slate of games blow it up again. This is a beautiful game.
For Meyer and his Buckeyes, they’d rather not think about what could have been or even what might still be.
“I wish I could put [my players] on a desert island,” Meyer said Saturday afternoon.
There wasn't as much movement in the Big Ten power rankings this week as there was in weeks past, mainly because there weren't many upsets.
Ohio State redeemed itself from its excruciating loss to Iowa last weekend, and Wisconsin kept its playoff hopes alive by beating Iowa by more than three touchdowns. The Badgers will represent the Big Ten West in the conference championship game, but the East is still technically up for grabs.
1. Wisconsin (Last week: 1): The Badgers are still the lone undefeated team in the conference after beating Iowa 38-14. Wisconsin sealed its berth in the Big Ten championship game and is a few wins away from potentially making the College Football Playoff. If the team can survive some of the injuries it has faced and get healthier down the stretch, the Badgers might have a shot at being one of the final four teams at the end of the season.
2. Ohio State (2): The Buckeyes redeemed themselves after an abysmal loss the week before by beating Michigan State. It was a convincing 48-3 win against a Spartans team that seemed to be hitting a stride and improving each week. The Buckeyes' staff went back to the basics and ran the ball 42 times for a total of 335 yards and four touchdowns.
3. Penn State (4): Penn State moves back to the No. 3 spot after beating Rutgers 35-6. This is partially because Michigan State lost so badly to Ohio State, but also because the Nittany Lions have Nebraska and Maryland left as their final two games. The team should be able to finish the season 10-2 and make it to a bigger bowl game.
4. Michigan State (3): The Spartans struggled badly against Ohio State, but they were also probably catching them at a terrible time. The Buckeyes had been humiliated at Iowa and weren't going to let Michigan State come into Columbus and do the same. Michigan State's offense looked bad against Ohio State's defense, but the Spartans remain in the No. 4 spot for now.
5. Michigan (5): The Wolverines remain at No. 5 despite beating Maryland 35-10. The game was an interesting one for Michigan, which scored 28 of the 35 points in the first half, then seemed to run out of steam. Normally a strong second-half defense, Michigan gave up 10 points after halftime and 340 yards of offense for the entire game. That was against a Maryland offense that was playing its third- and fourth-string quarterbacks.
6. Northwestern (7): The Wildcats move up after beating Purdue 23-13 and moving to 7-3 on the season, 5-2 in the conference. The Northwestern losses have come to Duke, Wisconsin and Penn State. Wins over Michigan State and Iowa showed that this team has the ability to compete with some of the better teams in the division, but the losses say the Wildcats are just not at the very top of the conference.
7. Iowa (6): After a big, emotional win over Ohio State, the Hawkeyes had the daunting task of taking on Wisconsin on the road. Iowa lost 38-14 in a game that saw the offense gain only 66 total yards. Wisconsin's defense is good, but it's not 66 total yards by a team that just put up 55 points against Ohio State good.
8. Indiana (8): The Hoosiers came out with a victory against Illinois to move to 4-6 on the season. It has been a rough go for head coach Tom Allen, who seemed to be so close to jumping over that hurdle. The team just isn't quite there yet, but you can see improvements.
10. Maryland (13): The Terps took a loss to Michigan but showed some resiliency late in the second half. It's tough to deal with as many injuries as Maryland has had, but this team has kept going. Maryland played quarterback Ryan Brand, who had 136 yards passing and one touchdown, so it only makes you wonder what this offense could do with its two top options, both of whom are injured.
11. Purdue (12): The Boilermakers fell to 4-6 after losing to Northwestern 23-13. Elijah Sindelar had 376 yards passing, but he threw the ball 60 times to do it. Purdue also had only 40 rushing yards, so it was not a very balanced attack.
12. Nebraska (10): The Cornhuskers had a bad loss to Minnesota and seem to be on the way down. They finish the season with Penn State and Iowa, and there is a real shot that this team could finish 4-8. That's hard to fathom, after there was so much excitement stemming from this past offseason.
13. Rutgers (11): The Scarlet Knights suffered their sixth loss of the season, falling to Penn Sate 35-6. Rutgers had three conference wins this season, but this loss puts into perspective where it still needs to go to be more competitive in the Big Ten.
14. Illinois (14): Illinois fell to 2-8 by losing to Indiana. Quarterback Jeff George threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns, but he also had two interceptions to negate some of the progress. The Illini haven't had much to cheer for this season and need to start filling needs on the recruiting trail.
MADISON, Wis. -- As Saturday approached at Wisconsin and the injury situation progressed from bad to worse for the Badgers, coaches and players grew only more determined to make a statement against 20th-ranked Iowa.
"We don't skip a beat," outside linebacker Garret Dooley said. "No matter who's in there, the same thing is expected."
Forget the same thing. This was even better.
No. 8 Wisconsin manhandled the Hawkeyes in a defensively spectacular 38-14 victory at Camp Randall Stadium, issuing a statement to the College Football Playoff selection committee and nonbelievers who doubt the Badgers' worthiness among contenders for the coveted top four spots in the weekly rankings.
Could Wisconsin (10-0, 7-0 Big Ten) finish unbeaten and still miss the playoff? From the way things looked against the first ranked opponent on the schedule, the Badgers seemingly heard those questions.
In snapping a streak of six straight victories by the visiting team in this rivalry, Wisconsin started a season with 10 consecutive victories for the first time in school history and clinched at least a share of the Big Ten West, punching its ticket to the Dec. 2 conference-title game in Indianapolis.
Iowa (6-4, 3-4) ran just two plays in Wisconsin territory and gained 66 yards, including 25 rushing yards on 26 attempts a week after throttling Ohio State 55-24 in Iowa City.
After Jackson's first pick-six of 43 yards on the opening drive, Iowa gained 20 yards in the first half on 23 plays. Its yardage total dipped to 14 early in the third quarter before Jackson struck again with a 52-yard return that cut the Badgers' lead to 17-14.
Momentum swung back to Wisconsin -- courtesy of the defense, of course -- as linebacker Leon Jacobs scooped a fumble off the turf after a botched shotgun snap to QB Nathan Stanley. Jacobs raced 21 yards for a touchdown that provided breathing room.
And late in the third quarter, linebacker T.J. Edwards intercepted Stanley to thwart the Hawkeyes' best drive, which gained 33 yards. Another Stanley fumble recovered by Jacobs ignited the Wisconsin celebration with nearly 11 minutes to play.
"Defenses," Wisconsin coordinator Jim Leonhard said four days before the game, “don’t get weeks off.”
The Badgers apparently didn't take a minute -- let alone a day -- to recuperate after a leg injury removed linebacker Chris Orr from the lineup ahead of Saturday. Safety and leading tackler D'Cota Dixon also watched from the sideline after testing an injured hamstring in pregame drills.
Next man up.
The Badgers didn't skip a beat. Instead, they improved, paced by 157 yards on the ground by star freshman Jonathan Taylor.
It's onward to face Michigan next week in Madison as the quest continues to silence the playoff doubters.
The Big Ten needs Wisconsin to win out to avoid almost certainly missing out of the playoff for the first time in its four seasons. The Badgers’ season-defining stretch starts Saturday at home against 20th-ranked Iowa, with Michigan -- knocking on the door of the top 25 -- set to visit Camp Randall next week. It’s white-knuckle time in Madison.
A four-way tie atop the standings in the East sets the stage for November intrigue. Michigan State’s visit to Columbus, Ohio, takes center stage Saturday in a division race that figures to go the distance.
Visit our college football PickCenter page for additional information on these games and many more.
Here's a look around the Saturday schedule in the Big Ten:
No. 12 Michigan State at No. 13 Ohio State, Noon ET, Fox
Tom VanHaaren: A Michigan State team ranked higher than Ohio State, yet an underdog in this game, seems about right for the Spartans, doesn’t it? Part of me wants to pick Michigan State, but I think that Iowa's win over Ohio State was probably the worst thing that could happen to Michigan State when it comes to this game. It was an embarrassing loss for the Buckeyes and I imagine they will come into this game with a lot of motivation to put Michigan State away. Ohio State 34, Michigan State 21
Dan Murphy: Spartans coach Mark Dantonio chuckled a little bit this week when a reporter pointed out to him that the Buckeyes were favored by more than two touchdowns in Columbus this weekend. Michigan State, of course, is plenty familiar with playing the role of underdog. Quarterback Brian Lewerke and an emerging group of receivers give the Spartans enough firepower to make things close, but Ohio State hasn't lost two weeks in a row since Urban Meyer was hired after the 2011 season. That won't change now. Ohio State 31, Michigan State 24
Mitch Sherman: Lewerke has thrown for 845 yards the past two weeks, while J.T. Barrett was intercepted four times last week at Iowa. These aren’t the paths on which we expected these quarterbacks to enter. The same applies overall to the Spartans and Buckeyes, who have split the past six games in this series. Ohio State 28, Michigan State 20
Rutgers at No. 14 Penn State, Noon ET, BTN
Murphy: The Nittany Lions are in circle-the-wagons mode this week, and Rutgers is in the unfortunate position of being in front of those wheels. The Scarlet Knights have made steady improvement this season. This week will make it clear how much further they have to go to close the gap and be competitive with the best teams in their division. Penn State 42, Rutgers 17
VanHaaren: Rutgers has had a much-improved season, but Penn State is coming off of two losses by a combined four points against Ohio State and Michigan State. The Penn State offense is likely going to be able to put up some good numbers against a Rutgers defense that is allowing an average of 393.9 yards per game. Penn State 31, Rutgers 21
Nebraska at Minnesota, Noon ET, FS1
Sherman: The Gophers are enduring the expected ups and downs of a team in transition, according to coach P.J. Fleck, who attempted to explain it this week with a poorly drawn graph. And what is Nebraska’s trajectory? Easier to draw, for sure, as the ship in Lincoln continues to sink with the Cornhuskers and coach Mike Riley aboard. Minnesota 24, Nebraska 21
Indiana at Illinois, Noon ET, BTN
Murphy: Neither team has a conference win yet, but the Hoosiers are still hanging on to a chance to reach a bowl game if they can rally for three straight winnable games in November. Illinois' young team needs to find some reason for optimism this month. In a matchup between the league's worst rushing offense and the league's worst rushing defense, let's give the edge to the guys with the ball in their hands. Indiana 28, Illinois 13
No. 28 Iowa at No. 8 Wisconsin, 3:30 ET, ABC
Sherman: The visiting team has won six straight games in this series, with three games by four points or fewer. The Hawkeyes and Badgers know each other so well that a close game looks like a near certainty. Bidding for the first 10-0 start in school history, Wisconsin must overcome key injuries to receiver Quintez Cephus and linebacker Chris Orr. Wisconsin 21, Iowa 17
Murphy: Wisconsin has a chance to earn some schedule credibility this weekend, but the Badgers will have to find a way to slow down Iowa QB Nathan Stanley, who has thrown 22 touchdown passes and only four interceptions this season. Iowa has allowed only 12 sacks all season. Wisconsin should be able to put a bit more pressure on Stanley than most teams have and keep its perfect record intact. Wisconsin 24, Iowa 13
VanHaaren: Wisconsin has been dealing with injuries all season and it will be no different against Iowa. Safety D’Cota Dixon is questionable and leading receiver Cephus is out with a leg injury. Those are two big contributors for the Badgers and Iowa is coming off of an unbelievable win against Ohio State. I’m torn on this one because I feel like I have no idea which Iowa team is going to show up. I’m going to go with my gut and say Wisconsin pulls out the win. Wisconsin 21, Iowa 17
Michigan at Maryland, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN
VanHaaren: Michigan seems to have found a stride on offense with Brandon Peters at quarterback. The offensive line is starting to create opportunities for the running backs, who had 391 yards rushing against Minnesota. Maryland’s run defense is ranked 77th in the country, giving up 174.8 yards per game, and the Terps are as thin as possible at quarterback. If Michigan is able to run the ball well again and get Peters into a rhythm, it might be a long day for Maryland. Michigan 34, Maryland 17
Purdue at No. 25 Northwestern, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Sherman: The Wildcats have taken clear control of second place in the West behind Wisconsin with four straight wins, including the past three in overtime. Nine wins in the regular season appears realistic. Meanwhile, the Boilermakers must win Saturday or next week at Iowa to stay in the running for bowl eligibility. Northwestern 31, Purdue 14
The Buckeyes were No. 1 in the same category, with a 2,150-yard edge on its foes.
In total offense, Iowa ranked 103rd, averaging 345.9 yards -- one spot ahead of Oregon State and three behind Kansas, solid picks as the two worst teams in the Power 5.
And somehow, Iowa hung 487 on Ohio State. Numbers, you see, cannot make sense of that scene in Iowa City.
Throw out logic, too, in times like these. Because logically speaking, the Buckeyes, after a thrilling win over Penn State a week earlier, should have trucked into Iowa City with a full tank of momentum and energy. Iowa, meanwhile, had lost three of five Big Ten games.
History does no better. Ohio State had won five straight over the Hawkeyes and 13 of the past 14 meetings.
So what happened Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium? The college football world, still abuzz over Nate Stanley's five touchdown throws, wants to know. The Hawkeyes, almost a week later, wish they knew -- and how to make it happen again.
"Everything came together," Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell said. "If all three phases are good, games like that can happen."
Iowa debuted this week at No. 20 in the College Football Playoff rankings as it prepares to head to Camp Randall Stadium to face No. 8 Wisconsin on Saturday (3:30 p.m ET, ABC). Coach Paul Chryst's team is vying to complete the first 10-0 start in school history and to secure its spot in the Big Ten championship game.
But a frightening reality awaited the Badgers when they viewed the film of Iowa from last week. The jersey numbers and names looked familiar. The level of play did not.
Wisconsin had no solid explanation for it, either.
"It's fun to watch as a coach to see teams do that," Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said. "But obviously, it's not the team you want to play a week later."
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz does not search for higher meaning in a performance like his team's against Ohio State.
"Maybe I'm an optimist," Ferentz said, "but I've always believed in our people. And the people we have on the field right now, the people coaching them and what we're asking them to do, I believe in that."
Don't be shocked, the Hawkeyes said in the days after their 31-point win. No, the Hawkeyes didn't see it coming, Ferentz said on Tuesday. But good execution still counts for something.
It's a better explanation than he offered Saturday.
"I thought we blocked for the first time like you need to if you're going to be on the varsity," Ferentz said after the game.
What is this, "Friday Night Lights?"
His initial reaction, no doubt, relates directly to the youth on Iowa's offensive line. The Hawkeyes have turned to a pair of freshmen at tackle. Because of injuries to seniors Ike Boettger and Boone Myers, left tackle Alaric Jackson has started every game this season. And Tristan Wirfs has started the past four on the right side, the first true freshman tackle to start even once in Ferentz's 19 seasons at Iowa.
Youth has been served elsewhere for Iowa, from the sophomore Stanley at quarterback to his dynamic pair of tight ends, sophomore Noah Fant and freshman T.J. Hockenson, both of whom caught two touchdowns against Ohio State.
Maybe Iowa is just coming of age.
"No one had any faith in us besides the guys in this building," junior linebacker Ben Niemann said.
Stanley said the performance was a "wake-up call," serving as an indicator of the level for which Iowa should strive each week. After the trip to Wisconsin, Purdue and Nebraska remain on the schedule. A nine-win regular season remains within reach.
First, the Hawkeyes wouldn't mind wrecking the last Big Ten hope for the College Football Playoff. They bumped Ohio State from contention. Why not Wisconsin, too?
"We would love the opportunity to do that, I guess," Niemann said. "It sounds bad, but we want to win every game."
Including the game Saturday. Especially Saturday, some might say.
Easy explanation there, in contrast to the method of victory over Ohio State. Iowa and Wisconsin are fierce rivals. The programs are likely more similar than any two others in the Big Ten. And the visiting team has won six straight games in the series.
"We've been playing Iowa for years," Wisconsin linebacker Garret Dooley said, "and each team knows what the other is going to bring to the table. You know what you're going to get from them. And they know that. But they think that they can still just run it down your throats."
In other words, no surprises this week.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Emmett Lippe has managed the ushers in Spartan Stadium's Sideline Club -- a small section with seatbacks instead of bleachers directly behind the visiting team bench -- for each of the past 35 football seasons at Michigan State. He's never had a day at the office quite like the one he witnessed this weekend.
Lippe's crew of six in that section for Saturday's 27-24 win against No. 7 Penn State comprised mostly veterans who count their time as ushers in decades rather than years. One, Jack Cook, worked his first day at the stadium in 1952 back when Boy Scouts were employed to show Spartan fans to their seats. He was filling in as a substitute this week, picking a heck of a time to end his six-and-a-half-decade leave of absence.
At 3:45 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, the men sat huddled in folding chairs at the mouth of the stream of rain that was flowing through their section's gate and into the stadium concourse. They traded stories about previous bad-weather games while trying in vain to stay warm and kill time by shooting the bull.
"And we're just about out of bull," Lippe said.
It had been two and a half hours since lightning bolts in the area prompted Michigan State to stop play and clear the stadium midway through the second quarter of a noon game. The delay would officially last 3 hours and 22 minutes. At best guess, some 10,000 or so soggy folks returned to their seats or respective sidelines after the wait, and their patience would soon be rewarded.
Felton Davis was waking up from a nap around the time Lippe and his guys were running out of bull. The junior wide receiver said he was sleeping for more than half of the time he and his teammates spent waiting for the skies to clear. It took an accidental kick from fellow receiver Darrell Stewart who was lounging next to him to wake him up again.
"I went to sleep for like two hours," Davis said. "I actually was pretty tired."
Some players headed to the training room for treatment. Some players watched movies. Others saw the start of Ohio State's game at Iowa and other afternoon games on the televisions in their locker room.
Linebacker Joe Bachie decided to take a shower. Head coach Mark Dantonio happened to be checking up on players nearby when he saw someone emerging from the bathroom in his towel. Dantonio shot him a confused look.
"Just gotta be fresh, coach," Bachie said.
Michigan State's coaching staff talked strategy for the first 30 minutes of the break before running out of things to rehash. By then Dantonio had more or less dried out, as had the small prayer card he stuffed in his pocket before kickoff -- Psalm 91, which reads in part: "You will trample the great lion."
The Lions, leading 14-7 when play was stopped, weren't yet trampled. But they were getting hungry.
Penn State's staff handed out pizzas and chicken sandwiches in the visitors' locker room. Some of the running backs got their hands on a bag of small candies and used them to test Saquon Barkley's mouth-eye coordination. The team's Twitter account shared some video evidence of their star gobbling up tosses from his teammates standing several feet away, but has since deleted it.
The players found room to spread out and relax by taking over part of a separate room where head coach James Franklin would sit for a postgame news conference several hours later. Franklin, a meticulous preparer, has binders full of protocol for every imaginable scenario and contingency plan. He told reporters he'll need to add a new one to his collection this week.
"I'll talk to sports scientists. I'll talk to other coaches," Franklin said. "I'll go through every detail of what happened today and we will make sure that we have the best plan possible."
Dantonio said dealing with a weather delay in Minnesota this season and a travel issue last week on their way to Northwestern helped prepare the Spartans to roll with an unusual situation. He said his team was excited to retake the field when finally given the chance because "this was different."
The long line of storms heading in East Lansing's direction veered south and east, at last allowing the teams to return to the field about 4:30 p.m. Gates to the stadium re-opened at 4:05 p.m. and the fans waiting in classroom buildings and the hockey rink across the street filtered back inside. The concession stands had run out of hot chocolate in the second quarter, but had time for a much-appreciated reload during the break.
Many had left for home by then, but the hearty fans who remained reaped the benefits. Justin Kolarik, a 2003 Michigan State grad, slipped into the first chair in the first row behind Penn State's bench with his 6-year-old son, Lucas, next to him. A 35-year veteran from the ushering staff decided to break his rules and allowed the Kolariks to help themselves to an upgraded view.
They were on their feet minutes later when Davis, who needed no time at all to shake off the cobwebs of his nap, hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass with a diving catch to tie the game before halftime. Yes, the players all then filed back into the locker room again for halftime.
The three-hour wait meant the late afternoon games had more or less caught up with the events unfolding in East Lansing by the time the second half started. As the day wore on, some players managed to keep tabs on the games they had started watching in the locker room. Midway through the fourth quarter, Barkley leaned over to Michigan State linebacker Chris Frey while they caught their breath between plays and provided an update.
"Ohio State is losing. They're down big," Barkley told Frey. "We're playing for a championship right now."
Barkley couldn't shake free from Frey or the rest of the Spartans linebackers through the rest of the fourth quarter. That kept the score low, and put Michigan State in a position to kick a game-winning field goal as the clock struck 7:02 p.m.
A full seven hours after kickoff, Dantonio stood on the sideline next to redshirt freshman Matt Coghlin. The baby-faced rookie whose teammates call him McMuffin had missed two field goals the previous week in a triple overtime loss to Northwestern. He told Coghlin this was a moment he'd been dreaming of and then pressed a damp, small prayer card into the kicker's hand and sent him on.
Frey and Bachie locked arms with teammates on the sideline. Davis wasn't watching. He said he knew the kick would be good, and he was right. For the second time in a month, the Spartans knocked off a top 10 team in the rain.
Coghlin, generously listed at 188 pounds, saw his teammates sprinting toward him to celebrate and instinct kicked in.
"I wasn't really thinking about the celebration," he said. "I was just running away because I didn't want to get trampled."
He had done the trampling. And as Coghlin laid out and slid across the rain-drenched turf when his teammates finally caught up to him near midfield, Lippe checked his section to make sure a well-rewarded crowd was staying where they should.
Then, hopefully, Lippe and his crew allowed themselves at least a second to soak in the moment. No matter how long you've been showing up on game day, college football always finds a new story to tell.
Thanks to a lengthy weather delay in East Lansing, chaos descended on the top of the Big Ten East's Division in unison this weekend.
Four teams now have at least a glimmer of hope to land in Indianapolis from that group as we head down the homestretch. Meanwhile, Wisconsin continues its steady march toward another crown out West. The Big Ten might have hurt its standing in the College Football Playoff conversation, but these next few weeks are looking pretty interesting for the top third of our power rankings.
1. Wisconsin (Last week: 3): There is something to be said -- and by that we mean a whole lot to be said -- about being consistent enough to fend off the weirdness that attacks college football each week. The Badgers have won nine straight games. With the possible exception of a late scare from Purdue, they have won all of them comfortably. Knock Wisconsin's schedule if you'd like, but in a land prone to uneven waves of excitement, the steady, boring man is king.
2. Ohio State (1): The Buckeyes drop only one spot after imploding at Iowa. The College Football Playoff hopes may be dead, but Ohio State is still very much in control of its path to a Big Ten championship. The talent to get there and win is obvious on this team, but the Buckeyes aren't immune to laying an egg in a tough environment.
3. Michigan State (6): Brian Lewerke may be the hottest quarterback in the country right now. He's thrown for 845 yards in his past two outings, including 400 in rainy weather Saturday against a once-formidable Penn State defense. The Spartans have their groove back as they head to Columbus this week with a chance to take control of one of the toughest divisions in the sport.
4. Penn State (2): The Nittany Lions are through the toughest part of their schedule, but not without a significant amount of damage. Saquon Barkley looked human against tough defenses at Ohio State and Michigan State in the past two weeks. A secondary that was recently among the nation's best in the stat column has been roasted in the past two weeks. A 10-win season is still attainable for Penn State, but hoisting trophies looks like a long shot at best this year.
5. Michigan (4): The running game shined this weekend at the Big House while quarterback Brandon Peters made his starting debut. The Wolverines ran for 371 yards and showed they can overpower most teams when they commit to the run. Top-10 opponents Wisconsin and Ohio State remain, but those give Jim Harbaugh's crew a chance to jump right back in the mix if things break the right way.
6. Iowa (7): Kinnick Stadium is dark and full of terrors. The giant slayers in Iowa City have only one loss at home this season -- a two-pointer against Penn State. Quarterback Nathan Stanley, fresh off a five-touchdown performance against Ohio State, is quietly putting together a heck of a season for a Hawkeyes team that has a chance to take down another Playoff contender if it can bring its current mojo on the road to Wisconsin this week.
7. Northwestern (5): The Cardiac Cats have played in overtime in each of the past three weeks and won all three games. Northwestern has won four straight overall and has once again made serious improvements from September until November. A manageable slate ahead should put the team in position for a good bowl spot in December.
8. Indiana (11): The Hoosiers move upward this week despite their fourth straight loss. They've been competitive in at least some part of all four of those games but are still searching for their first Big Ten win this year. The defense and the passing game have been promising through much of the year. The league's worst rushing attack (113.6 yards per game) needs to improve if Indiana is going to beat anyone in the East.
9. Minnesota (10): The Gophers have made two trips to the end zone in the past two weeks -- both losses -- while looking physically overpowered on defense. P.J. Fleck now has to win two of three against Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin to avoid missing a bowl in his first season.
10. Nebraska (9): Did you hear that Scott Frost's UCF team put up 615 yards of offense to keep its undefeated record alive this weekend? It seems inevitable that 4-5 Nebraska will be shopping for new coaches this offseason. On the bright side, there will be good options available for the Cornhuskers.
11. Rutgers (13): The Scarlet Knights may not be rewarded with a bowl trip this season, but they've made great strides in coach Chris Ash's second season. Historic blowouts have given way to a 3-3 conference record and a roster that is starting to believe it can compete in conference games.
12. Purdue (12): David Blough is most likely done for the season after leaving Saturday's win over Illinois with a leg injury. That should make it difficult for the Boilermakers to end the season on the same high note on which the year began. Coach Jeff Brohm said it would take time to turn things around in West Lafayette, and that's proving to be correct.
13. Maryland (8): It's hard to know what to make of Maryland this year. The injury-plagued Terps are 4-5 and staring down a stretch of three of the league's best teams. They've jumped around our power rankings all season and may have reached a nadir this week after losing to Rutgers on the road.
14. Illinois (14): The Illini remain outclassed in the trenches against all conference competition this year. They suffered their seventh consecutive loss this weekend and look to be comfortably situated at the bottom of the Big Ten for the foreseeable future.
The Buckeyes aren't going to the College Football Playoff this season. Not after a stunning 55-24 loss on Saturday at Iowa, a loss that included the most points allowed by an Urban Meyer-coached Ohio State team.
Not even the CFP committee, which in its three-year history has vaulted the Buckeyes over another Power 5 champion on the final week in 2014 and picked Ohio State when it failed to play for the Big Ten title last season, can save Meyer this time.
Iowa blitzed the sixth-ranked Buckeyes (7-2, 5-1 Big Ten), scoring on Amani Hooker's pick-six of J.T. Barrett on the first play from scrimmage, then running away from Ohio State in the second half behind a storm of offense from QB Nathan Stanley and his tight ends, who caught four touchdowns.
Stanley threw for 226 of Iowa's 244 passing yards, and the Hawkeyes rushed for 243.
Barrett was intercepted four times for the first time in his career, topping the three thrown against Virginia Tech in 2014, his second college start. Ohio State lost for just the second time in 21 November games and 28 road games under Meyer, its sixth-year coach.
As night fell at Kinnick Stadium, the black-clad crowd whipped itself into a frenzy. Iowa (6-3, 3-3) dominated the second half, holding the Buckeyes scoreless until the game had long since been decided and holding them to 123 yards in the final two quarters.
When it ended, Iowa fans rushed the field in celebration.
The signature moment came late in the third quarter, as Iowa, up by two touchdowns, lined up for a field goal on fourth-and-3 from the Ohio State 20. The Hawkeyes shifted into a bizarre formation that featured six men lined up wide to the left.
Stanley hit T.J. Hockenson in the end zone on the next play. Just like that, the rout was on.
Ohio State, a week after coming back from 18 points down to beat Penn State, had no miracle rally in store on Saturday.
The visit to Iowa began on an extra-ominous note for Ohio State and Barrett. The senior QB, who completed 16 straight throws and a school-record 33 passes last week, threw into tight coverage to open the game. Hooker sprinted 30 yards to give the Hawkeyes a lead after eight seconds.
So long to Barrett's streak of 190 throws without an interception. So long to his stretch of 22 touchdown passes without a pick, the second longest in the FBS during a single season in the past decade.
Still, the Buckeyes answered with a six-play, 80-yard march to tie it. As the pace remained quick throughout the first half, indicators appeared to favor Ohio State, which averaged 46.3 points -- second nationally -- coming in, far exceeding Iowa's 25 points per game.
But Iowa broke a 17-17 tie with an 89-yard drive late in the first half, capped by Stanley's 25-yard strike to tight end Noah Fant. Then a disjointed possession for the Buckeyes was thwarted, as cornerback Joshua Jackson intercepted Barrett. Iowa cashed the turnover into another Stanley-to-Fant touchdown.
Suddenly it was 31-17, the most points allowed by Ohio State in a first half since Florida scored 34 in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game en route to a national title. Meyer coached that Gators team.
A clear path remains for Ohio State to win the Big Ten title. As for the playoff, it will require chaos unseen in the first three years of this system. And even that likely wouldn't do it.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Lightning strikes extended Penn State's postseason dreams by a few hours on the first Saturday of November. But ultimately, not even Mother Nature could save the Nittany Lions from the tail end of a three-game East Division maelstrom.
When the storm settled, No. 7 Penn State had given away a fourth-quarter lead in heartbreaking fashion for the second week in a row. A week after J.T. Barrett's perfect final quarter derailed a perfect season, Michigan State's Matt Coghlin added his name to Spartans lore with a 34-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Nittany Lions 27-24.
Penn State's chances to win back-to-back Big Ten titles are now on life support, and Saquon Barkley's Heisman hopes might have flatlined.
Barkley rushed for zero yards on six attempts in the first half, and for maybe the first time all season, he was held at bay on kick returns and in the passing attack. The Spartans came into Saturday's game allowing fewer than 90 rushing yards per game, and once again, they rendered that part of an opponent's offense inconsequential. Barkley had 14 carries for 63 yards, caught three passes for 33 yards and recorded two kick returns for 15 yards.
Coach James Franklin, who has helped pull Penn State back into the national conversation the past two seasons, has now had 10 opportunities to beat a ranked opponent on the road in his head-coaching career. His teams have lost all 10 of them.
Meanwhile, don't look now, but the Spartans, who were all but written off as also-rans in a crowded division coming into the season, are 7-2 with only one loss in conference play. They travel to Columbus next weekend for a game against Ohio State. The winner of that game will move into the driver's seat of the Big Ten East race as the championship game in Indianapolis grows larger on the horizon.
Michigan State sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke established himself as a modern-day mailman with a career day. It might take twice as long as it should, but through rain and stormy skies, he's going to deliver. The first-year starter threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns despite the unfriendly conditions.
Junior Felton Davis remained Lewerke's top target Saturday, raking in a career-high 12 catches for 181 yards and a score. Davis' best catch of the game came just minutes after both teams returned to the field.
Lewerke faked two handoffs before setting his feet and firing to the front corner of the end zone at Spartan Stadium. Davis left his feet and hauled in a pass that, at the time, tied the game midway through the second quarter. It also brought a depleted and soggy crowd back to its feet and made that long, cold wait a little easier to justify.
The delay officially lasted 3 hours, 22 minutes. In that time, administrators from both schools peered at radar screens showing a long string of thunderstorms rolling through central Michigan. Penn State's forecast remains gloomy. For Michigan State, as Coghlin slid belly-first across a rain-slicked field and his teammates rushed to meet him, skies and opportunities opened up in grand fashion as Saturday afternoon became Saturday night.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It was time for Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters to play and for the Wolverines' offense to move forward. Peters replaced starter John O'Korn in the game against Rutgers, leading the offense on four scoring drives, and gave a glimpse of what Michigan is hoping can be the future of its offense.
It took seven games for Peters to see meaningful action, but he made the most of the opportunity and showed that he is ready to take the reins.
“You always look at it as a process ... for a couple weeks now we felt that he was ready and it’s time,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Like a bird leaving the nest, kids leaving the house and going off on their own. It was time.”
Harbaugh said it was always the plan, going into that game, to play Peters, but O’Korn left him little choice after throwing an interception and stalling out multiple drives through the first and second quarters. What was supposed to be a game to help get the offense back on track was actually a game that helped get the offense a new start.
O’Korn started his season out on a promising foot when he replaced injured Wilton Speight against Purdue, going 18-for-26 for 270 yards and a touchdown, but he never picked up on his start and stalled from there. The clamoring for Peters grew louder and louder, and when he went in the game in the second quarter, the Michigan crowd let out the loudest cheer of the day, as if to exhale a sigh of relief.
And relief was provided when Peters dropped back and completed a 15-yard pass to tight end Tyrone Wheatley Jr. for a first down, eventually completing his first three passes for a total of 37 yards. The drive was capped off by a touchdown run from Karan Higdon to put Michigan up 14-7 and they never looked back from there.
“He did better than everybody thought, too, yeah,” Harbaugh said. “Every drive he was moving the team. Touchdown on the two-minute drill, 80-yard drive, or 75-yard drive to start his first series in football, starting quarterback in college. I would think that would be very good for his confidence and build on it; we look to build on that.”
Peters has been building toward this moment since training camp, when Harbaugh noted a change in Peters’ communication and volume of his voice. Commanding the huddle and being loud was something Harbaugh had preached to Peters that needed to get better, even saying in a radio interview on 97.1 The Ticket that Peters had gone to some professionals on campus to work on his voice.
That aspect improved and his teammates started to take notice of the changes in the former ESPN 300 quarterback.
“From spring ball to now, two completely different quarterbacks,” defensive end Rashan Gary said of Peters. “You see it in practice, he’s talking more, checking down more. It’s crazy to see, not seeing too much in spring ball to now and you’re checking things down, making good passes. It’s unbelievable.”
Peters is going to have to talk a whole lot more as it looks like he’s going to play a whole lot more. It seems likely Peters will be the starter going forward, beginning this week against Minnesota.
The performance was against Rutgers, a defense that ranks 69 in total defense, but Peters seemed to spark the offense, giving it the life it needed. It was only one game, but it gave some hope that this season isn’t over and that -- if Peters can continue to build on his start -- Harbaugh might have found his quarterback of the future.
He hasn’t proven it yet, though, and while there were flashes of what Harbaugh had hoped to see out of his quarterback, there is still work to be done. Harbaugh isn’t 100 percent confident to say that Peters is the starting quarterback outright, but another good performance this weekend and Peters can cement his spot as the first-string quarterback for this season and beyond.
“I just showed what I had today and it’s in the hand of the coaches,” Peters said. “I’d love to be the starting QB, that’s always been my goal since I got here, but it’s in the hand of the coaches. I know they’ll do whatever they feel is right for the team.”
The Big Ten landed three teams in the top 10 of this year's initial College Football Playoff poll. All three have interesting tests this weekend.
The dust has hardly had time to settle from an instant classic in Columbus last weekend. No. 6 Ohio State has to head to Iowa's Kinnick Stadium, where many a postseason dream has gone to die. Penn State needs to rebound from a heartbreaking loss and prepare for a tough Michigan State team, the Nittany Lions' third consecutive divisional opponent. And No. 9 Wisconsin has an early start and an under-the-radar, tricky challenge at Indiana. Will all three take a step in the right direction this Saturday?
Visit our college football PickCenter page for additional information on these games and many more.
No. 7 Penn State at No. 24 Michigan State, Noon ET, Fox
Tom VanHaaren: I don't see Penn State coming out flat in this game after a tough loss to Ohio State on a national stage. They have a lot to play for still, and you never know what can happen late in the season, so the Nittany Lions are going to need this win over Michigan State. The Spartans are coming off a loss to Northwestern, and this Penn State defense is likely going to make it difficult for quarterback Brian Lewerke and the Michigan State offense to do enough to win. Penn State 27, Michigan State 17
Mitch Sherman: If a win last year over Ohio State triggered Penn State's surge to prominence, could a loss this year signal the Nittany Lions' demise? Don't count on it. The schedule turned difficult a week earlier than expected for the Spartans, who now hit a brutal two-week stretch, kicked off against an angry PSU squad. The Spartans have won eight of their past 13 games over opponents ranked in the top 10. Nevertheless, the Land Grant Trophy will not change hands. Penn State 31, Michigan State 20
Dan Murphy: The Spartans have yet to face an offense with the type of speed and options that Penn State will bring to East Lansing this weekend. They have made big strides on defense since giving up 35 second-half points to the Nittany Lions in a loss a year ago, but not enough to slow down Saquon Barkley. It's not yet time to pull the plug on playoff hopes in Happy Valley. Penn State 34, Michigan State 21
No. 9 Wisconsin at Indiana, Noon ET, ABC
Murphy: Is this the week? Can the Hoosiers finally get over the hump and beat a top-10 team after pushing so many of them to the brink only to fall short? Wisconsin stars Jonathan Taylor, Quintez Cephus and D'Cota Dixon were all listed as questionable as they work through injuries this week. Even if they all play Saturday, the Badgers aren't at full strength. A sleepy noon start dooms Wisconsin this week and lowers a big blow on the West Division's credibility. Indiana 24, Wisconsin 21
Illinois at Purdue, Noon ET, BTN
Sherman: Purdue lost the past two weeks by a total of three points and has dropped its past three games by 11. Are the Boilermakers regressing after a hot start, or are these the expected growing pains of an improving program that does not yet understand how to finish victories? Yes to both. As for Illinois, it's just losing, a trend that likely won't end this year if it can't shake the struggles this week. Purdue 28, Illinois 14
No. 6 Ohio State at Iowa, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
VanHaaren: The Buckeyes are rolling right now, and this offense has kicked it into another gear. As it stands now, Ohio State is No. 2 among all FBS programs in total offense, putting up 571.3 yards per game. Sitting outside the top four in the College Football Playoff rankings, Ohio State also has a lot to play toward to ensure they have a spot at the end of the season. Ohio State 31, Iowa 13
Sherman: Iowa has won three of its past four home games against top-five teams, with the lone loss to Penn State in September, a 21-19 classic decided on the final play. That said, I just don't see the Hawkeyes hanging with the Buckeyes, which rank second nationally in scoring and have won 19 of 20 in November under coach Urban Meyer. J.T. Barrett hasn't thrown an interception since Week 2. He'll stay hot this week. Ohio State 31, Iowa 10
Murphy: Strange things happen when it gets dark at Kinnick Stadium, but these Hawkeyes aren't built to hang with Ohio State. K.J. Hill continues to shine in the horizontal-focused passing attack that Barrett is conducting like a maestro in recent weeks. The Buckeyes will try to make it hard for the playoff committee to keep them on the outside looking in. Ohio State 41, Iowa 20
Northwestern at Nebraska, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN
Sherman: Whose “N” looks better? It's a question that rages endlessly in the Big Ten West. (Actually, no one cares.) But this year, it's the purple version -- at least of late as the Wildcats have resurrected their season with three straight wins. Overtime victories against Iowa and Michigan State the past two weeks solidified Northwestern as the second-best team in the division as a strong run defense has helped to forge an identity for this group. Northwestern 27, Nebraska 21
Maryland at Rutgers, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN
Murphy: The Terps' offense seems to have regained some of its footing last week ahead of the Eastern expansion game in New Jersey. A third conference win is on the line for Rutgers, but it's hard to see the Scarlet Knights keeping both D.J. Moore and Ty Johnson bottled up for a full four quarters. Those two will break enough big plays for a comfortable Maryland victory. Maryland 28, Rutgers 17
Minnesota at Michigan, 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox
VanHaaren: The Wolverines made the switch to Brandon Peters at quarterback against Rutgers, and it looks as though Peters has given that offense a spark. The Gophers, meanwhile, have struggled in conference play with their only win coming against Illinois. The passing game isn't there for Minnesota, and Michigan's defense is going to swarm to the ball to shut down the run. Michigan 30, Minnesota 14
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Who's in line to co-star with Dwayne Johnson in the Hollywood star's next buddy comedy? How about Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio?
The coach and The Rock have been testing out their chemistry on social media this week after the movie star interrupted Dantonio's postgame news conference this past weekend. Dantonio managed to smile while recounting his team's triple overtime loss at Northwestern when a reporter's cell phone on the dais in front of him started to ring.
Someone's grandmother was calling to say hello, and the ringtone was a version of "You're Welcome," a song written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and sung by Johnson in the animated movie "Moana."
"Always time for a smile," said Dantonio, who isn't exactly known for his toothy grins.
Johnson and Miranda both appreciated their chance to lighten the mood after the Spartans' suffered their first Big Ten loss of the season.
What can I sayyyyy except https://t.co/qx476tFSQK
— Lin-Unwell Mirandead (@Lin_Manuel) October 30, 2017
LOVE THIS. I've played for coaches who remain bad ass and stoic thru ANYTHING. Coach Mark knows damn well he wants to bring into song! =><ţ https://t.co/zuJ4rZlCZl
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) October 30, 2017
— Mark Dantonio (@DantonioMark) October 31, 2017
Dantonio said his daughters were excited to see the Rock giving dad a shout on Twitter. He said to make sure "hit him back" Tuesday morning.
He did want to set the record straight that the song wasn't his own ring tone, but it's apparently a tune that has stuck with him. Dantonio was thinking of the Rock even while giving a detailed breakdown of offensive line play Tuesday.
"Then there's just the aspect of you've got to win, you've got to beat the guy in front of you," he said. "Like a board drill, you basically have to get your guy off (dramatic pause) the rock, if I can use that word. Just thought I'd throw it out there in case he's watching."
No rim shot followed, but the former defensive lineman from Miami should appreciate the reference.