Playoff, bowl hopes on the line this week
Some things to watch in the Big Ten in Week 13 of the season:
No. 3 Michigan (No. 3 CFP) at No. 2 Ohio State (No. 2 CFP). The stakes for “The Game” haven’t been this high since 2006, when Ohio State was No. 1 and Michigan was No. 2. The Buckeyes won and advanced to the national championship game, where they lost to Urban Meyer-coached Florida. Now Meyer coaches the Buckeyes, and they’re facing a Michigan team looking to lock up the East Division’s spot in the Big Ten championship game and remain on the path to the College Football Playoff. If Ohio State wins, the Buckeyes would go the Big Ten title game if Penn State loses at home to Michigan State. Ohio State has won four straight and 11 of the last 12 in the series.
No. 17 Nebraska at Iowa. The Cornhuskers’ offense has injury issues at quarterback and will be going against an Iowa defense that has allowed a combined 399 yards the last two weeks against Michigan and Illinois. Terrell Newby has done some of his best and toughest running in recent games and he’ll need to do more of the same. The Huskers’ defense will focus on stuffing Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels Jr., the Nos. 8 and 9 rushers in the Big Ten, and see if C.J. Beathard can beat its much-improved secondary.
Rutgers’ four shutout losses are the program’s most since the 1936 team was shut out six times. … Purdue’s offense ranks 28th nationally third-down conversions at 44.8 percent; its defense ranks 121st in third-down defense, yielding first downs on 49.1 percent. … Indiana has recorded 15 sacks and 52 tackles for loss over the last five games. … Maryland has started seven true freshmen, tied with South Carolina for most in the FBS. … Illinois LB Tre Watson is averaging 10.8 tackles in Big Ten games to lead the conference. He’s made 41 stops in the last three games. … Justin Jackson last week became the first Northwestern player to rush for 1,000 yards in three seasons.
Michigan State is a 13-point underdog at Penn State and, if Ohio State beats Michigan earlier in the day, would love to mess up the Nittany Lions’ opportunity to go to the Big Ten championship game. The Spartans clinched the 2015 East Division title with a 39-point win over Penn State. They haven’t had much to celebrate this year. They’re 0-3 in Big Ten road games, have had 20 different starters and fielded nine freshmen. After losing by a point to Ohio State last week, a win here would make the season for Sparty.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Minnesota LB Blake Cashman has been coming up big since early November and played his best game last week, finishing with 10 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in the win over Northwestern. Cashman began the season playing mostly on special teams. He has 19 tackles and five sacks in his last three games. The Gophers need him to keep doing what he’s been doing if they hope to upset fifth-ranked Wisconsin (No. 6 CFP).