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The Big Ten East is loaded for the first time in years, and this weekend, the top teams have some great matchups. On Saturday, the eyes of the nation will be focused on Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City when 4thranked Penn State travels west to take on the 3rd ranked Hawkeyes in an AP top 5 matchup. A win would be huge for both teams, but does one team need it more?
In another cross-division contest, 9th ranked Michigan heads west to Nebraska. Yes, the Cornhuskers suffered an opening season loss to a struggling Illinois team, but they have been playing good football the past few weeks. Is there an upset looming in the heartland?
Last week against Rutgers, Ohio State appeared to return to their 2019 form. Was that a mirage, or are the Buckeyes ready to claim their fifth consecutive conference crown?
Penn State @ Iowa (-1.5)
It’s been over 60 years since a Big Ten conference matchup between two AP top 5 teams was played that didn’t include Michigan or Ohio State. Both Iowa and Penn State have their eyes set, not just on the Big Ten title, but potentially the College Football Playoff. Neither team has ever made the Playoff, though Penn State did win the Big Ten in 2016.
Iowa grabbed national attention after the shellacking they delivered to Maryland last Friday night. The Hawkeye defense was able to force a ridiculous number of turnovers and with a 34-3 score at half, the game was essentially over. QB Spencer Petras has been efficient over the last few weeks, but still hasn’t been called upon to make plays in critical moments of a big game. It’s been the Iowa defense who have produced big plays galore, and they will need to keep producing them.
The Penn State Nittany Lions are the most battle-tested team in the country. Not only did they have a conference road win up in Madison, an extremely hostile environment, to open the season, but they also overcame a few questionable calls to defeat the ranked Auburn Tigers in Happy Valley. Against Auburn, QB Sean Clifford played one of his best games in a Penn State uniform, however he was forced to due to their inability to run the football. Iowa does a great job of stopping the run, and this game will fall on Clifford’s shoulders. In the past, that would’ve been a bad thing… But not this year. Penn State wins outright in Iowa City.
Michigan @ Nebraska (+3.5)
Last week, a 5th ranked Iowa team was only a field goal favorite traveling to an undefeated, but unranked Maryland. The line seemed low for that game, and ultimately, it wasn’t even close. But what do the wise guys in the desert think they know this week when the 9th ranked Wolverines travel to Lincoln, NE and are only favored by 3.5 points over the Huskers? Last week against Wisconsin, Michigan pulled away late, but weren’t able to run the football like they did early in the season. Despite QB Cade McNamara’s increased production, the Wolverines were held to 112 yards rushing for the second week in a row. Normally, that wouldn’t be an issue, but Jim Harbaugh has built this team to run the football. When they can’t, it’s a problem.
Though they are 1-2 in their last 3 games, the Cornhuskers are playing their best football of the year. A one-possession loss to 6th ranked Oklahoma and a hard fought OT loss to 11th ranked Michigan State were tough, but last week they destroyed Northwestern. With the Husker defense yielding only 122 yards/game on the ground, it should be a tall order for the Wolverines to get their running game on track. However, the straw that stirs this Nebraska cocktail is QB Adrian Martinez. When he is on, the Huskers can play with anyone. But when he turns the football over — it’s all bad. Martinez leads Nebraska in both rushing and passing and has been playing good football the last 3 weeks. The Huskers keep this one close, so take the points, but Michigan pulls out a tight one.
Maryland @ Ohio State (-20.5)
Last week couldn’t have been more different for Maryland and Ohio State. Maryland was playing 4th ranked Iowa in primetime on Friday night and poised to jump into the top 25 with a big victory. That victory never materialized, and the game was essentially over by halftime. Conversely, Ohio State had their injured quarterbacking returning and were facing a tough and physical Rutgers team who nearly upset Michigan. The two-touchdown spread was the smallest it’s been since Rutgers joined the Big Ten. However, Ohio state was up 14-0 before fans could sit down and were firmly in control at the half to the tune of 45-6.
Which Ohio State team will show up on Saturday? Will it be the team that dominated Rutgers in every facet, or the team that was struggling through the first 3 weeks of the season? QB CJ Stroud looked impeccable after a week off. He was poised in the pocket, ran when it was required and was incredibly accurate with his arm. However, the challenge against the Terps will be on defense. The linebackers were immensely improved against Rutgers and will need to continue their progress. The emergence of freshman DT Tyleik Williams has made everyone’s job much easier, as he now has taken up residence in backfield. The young secondary has been improving every week, and the improved QB pressure has helped. Look for Maryland QB Taulia Tagovailoa to continue his interception woes as the Buckeyes cruise. Lay the nearly 3 touchdowns