Complete Big Ten preview for 2018.
The Big Ten heads into the 2018 college football season with five candidates to reach the playoff. After winning the conference championship last year, Ohio State is the favorite in the Big Ten to win the league title once again. However, rival Michigan and division foes Penn State and Michigan State aren’t far behind. In the West, Wisconsin is a clear favorite over Iowa, Northwestern and Purdue. The Badgers face a tougher schedule than they had in 2017, but coach Paul Chryst’s program has the returning talent to push Ohio State or any of the teams from the East in the Big Ten Championship.
Saquon Barkley is someone else’s problem now, but opponents should still be wary of this offense, especially if Trace McSorley displays the kind of accuracy he showed while completing all 12 of his third-down passing attempts vs. Washington in the Fiesta Bowl. Penn State is going to get its points. But can a graduation-depleted defense stop opponents from getting theirs? That’s what will determine whether this team earns its third consecutive New Year’s Six bowl berth.
OSU ended last season with a win over That Team Up North and a defeat of USC in the Rose Bowl, but the 55–24 setback at Iowa still can’t be explained. Plus, the late-season momentum was offset by the loss of a multitude of key players, QB J.T. Barrett atop the list. The Buckeyes will march onward with a new quarterback, a roster loaded with hungry talent and a defense that still plans to come after people.
This is a pivotal season for coach Jim Harbaugh, whose struggles against his three main rivals are well documented. His fourth Michigan team will once again be outstanding on defense. If the offense, a trouble spot in recent years, shows any improvement, this team can compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff — even against a difficult schedule that includes the usual suspects from the Big Ten East as well as Notre Dame (on the road) and Wisconsin (the top team from West). However, if the quarterback play remains an issue and the offensive line doesn’t progress, it will be more of the same in Ann Arbor.
Head coach Tom Allen landed Indiana’s best recruiting class in years and has upgraded the program’s athleticism. But depending on freshmen to win against Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State is not a winning formula. With questions at quarterback, the offensive line and across the defense, the ceiling for this team could be six wins.
Coach DJ Durkin’s endless enthusiasm was tested last year. Injuries crippled a promising team that upset Texas in the opener. The Terrapins got pounded by the Big Ten’s biggest bullies. Now there’s a second straight top-30 recruiting class in tow, five new coaches, a new state-of-the-art indoor practice/sports medicine facility in New Cole Field House, and a whole new offense with some healthy quarterbacks. Big Ten foes may not have to “Fear the Turtle” just yet, but they’ll have to start paying attention.
Michigan State bounced back from a 3–9 season to reach double-digit wins for the sixth time in eight years. With 19 returning starters from a team that went 10–3, the Spartans are a dangerous contender in one of the best divisions in college football and will continue to be a problem for Penn State and Michigan. A return to the College Football Playoff for the first time since 2015 is unlikely but not impossible. No one is expecting Michigan State to leapfrog Ohio State, but that’s the way coach Mark Dantonio likes it.
A bowl game is the hope for coach Chris Ash’s third season — a goal he is not shying away from. But if bowl eligibility does happen, it will likely be achieved early. Six of the first seven opponents Rutgers faces were a combined 20-52 last season, including three that lost 10 games or more. The closing five-game stretch of Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State — a combined 52-14 last year — isn’t conducive to making bowl headway. In the end, it all comes down to offensive improvement and the play at quarterback for this team.
The defense has been the star for the first three years of the Paul Chryst era, a stretch that includes 34 wins. Now, the Badgers might have to light up the scoreboard if they’re going to make a run at the Big Ten title. A light non-conference schedule should give the defense a chance to grow, but that group needs to be ready for a Big Ten slate that includes road games against five bowl teams from a year ago.
There is a lot to like but also a lot to question about this Iowa team. QB Nate Stanley and TE Noah Fant both have star potential, the defensive ends might be the best in the Big Ten as a group and the kicking game is solid. On the other hand, the top two running backs have to be replaced, along with all three starting linebackers and an All-America cornerback.
One of Iowa’s biggest strengths might be its schedule, which doesn’t include games against Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State – three of the Big 4 from the Big Ten East.
Nebraska has been largely absent from the national discussion since 2001, and the Cornhuskers haven’t won a conference championship since 1999. Without overstating things, coach Scott Frost and staff were miracle workers at UCF, taking a program from 0-12 the season before they arrived to 13-0, including a Peach Bowl victory against Auburn, last year, their second in Orlando.
Whether they can work such magic in two seasons again is uncertain. Nebraska had better than 4-8 talent a year ago, and much of it returns. New systems are in place all the way around, causing growing pains, and the schedule is daunting. But the Cornhuskers will be up-tempo, aggressive, physical — and competitive.
For the third time in four seasons, Minnesota figures to enter November still in search of an elusive sixth win — and bowl eligibility. A year ago, in coach P.J. Fleck’s first season at Minnesota, the Gophers lacked depth and talent and finished at 5-7, including 2-7 in the Big Ten. It marked the first time Minnesota had missed a bowl since 2011.
“The outside people are going to say, “What about your wins?”” Fleck said during the spring. “Again, I’m not worried about all that. I’m not worried one bit about any of the wins and losses. I’m worried about developing this football team.”
Fleck, who took Western Michigan from 1-11 to 8-5 in Year 2 in Kalamazoo, received a one-year rollover contract extension at Minnesota during last season and now has five years remaining to build the program in his image.
With 27 wins in the last three seasons and a new lakefront facility, Northwestern clearly has momentum. Keeping it likely depends on QB Clayton Thorson, who, if healthy, can take the Wildcats a long way. But his uncertain status and key losses at running back, safety and defensive tackle increase the degree of difficulty. Northwestern needs line play to excel and for its star power on defense to shine again. Although the schedule is tough, Northwestern misses both Ohio State and Penn State and gets almost all of its marquee opponents at home.
Coach Lovie Smith’s teams are 5-19 overall and just 2-16 in the Big Ten, including an unprecedented 0-9 in 2017. He has a six-year deal, so the administration is giving him time. The fans want to see some progress and some excitement. The schedule is challenging, with an early game against South Florida in Chicago, visits from Penn State and Iowa and trips to Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern.
During the past two decades, the third year has been a charm for Illinois coaches. Ron Turner, Ron Zook and Tim Beckman earned bowl bids in their third seasons. If offensive coordinator Rod Smith continues to have a golden touch with quarterbacks, like he did at Arizona, the offense will improve. Enough to bump the win total to six? Probably not.
Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Coach Jeff Brohm exceeded those expectations by leading Purdue to its first bowl win since 2011. Veteran defensive leaders keyed the turnaround last year. Now, with so many of those players gone, the pressure is on the offense. Purdue could take a step back in Year 2 before it takes two steps forward in Year 3.
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Wolverines and Wildcats face off in the Alamodome for the national title
Villanova is one win away from its second national championship in three seasons, but its final hurdle appears to be a daunting one. Michigan owns the longest winning streak in the nation at 14 games and will attempt to upset the Wildcats when the teams square off Monday in San Antonio in the NCAA Tournament title game.
Villanova was a good 3-point shooting team in 2015-16 when it won the national championship (highlighted, of course, by Kris Jenkins’ championship-clinching 3-pointer at the buzzer), but the Big East champions have taken it to a new level this season. The Wildcats set a Final Four record with 18 3-pointers in Saturday’s semifinal victory over Kansas and have made at least 13 3-pointers in four of their five wins in this event. “It’s our best offensive team. We’ve had some good ones. This is definitely our best,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose squad hopes to hand Michigan its first loss since Feb. 6. The Wolverines defeated upstart Loyola Chicago on Saturday, rallying from a 10-point second-half deficit to move to the brink of their first title since 1989.
TV: 9:20 p.m. ET, TBS
ABOUT MICHIGAN (33-7): The Wolverines won their final six regular-season games, followed by a 3-for-3 run in the Big Ten Tournament and a smooth surge through the first five games of the Big Dance, although they have yet to defeat a team seeded higher than No. 6 in this event. They have given up more than 63 points only once in this tournament and harassed Loyola into 1-of-10 3-point shooting and 17 turnovers, while Moritz Wagner (24 points, 15 rebounds) handled the bulk of the burden offensively. Charles Matthews added 17 points, but fellow starting guards Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Zavier Simpson combined for seven points on 2-of-17 shooting and must be better against the Wildcats’ talented backcourt.
ABOUT VILLANOVA (35-4): With Wooden Award finalist Jalen Brunson leading the way, the Wildcats are the top scoring team in the nation (86.8 points), which provides a nice contrast with the Wolverines, who are eighth nationally in points allowed (62.9). Brunson had 18 points against Kansas, second on the team to Eric Paschall, who recorded 24 points on 10-of-11 shooting (4-of-5 3-pointers), while Omari Spellman chipped in 15 points and 13 rebounds and Donte DiVincenzo had 15 points off the bench. Mikal Bridges, potentially the top NBA prospect in this year’s Final Four, had 10 points against the Jayhawks and is capable of erupting from 3-point range, as the junior has drained multiple 3s in 13 of the last 14 games.
1. Aside from the Elite Eight, when he shot 0-of-7 from the arc against Florida State, Wagner is 9-of-15 from 3-point range in the NCAA Tournament.
2. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, Villanova is the fifth team to win its first five games by double digits. The only team in that group to lose the championship game was North Carolina (against Villanova) two years ago.
3. Villanova defeated Michigan en route to winning the 1985 national championship and won the last matchup in 2014, but this will be only the fourth meeting.
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Do the Aggies have another upset in them?
It’s been a pretty good NCAA Tournament for Michigan so far with two wins while getting to watch rival Michigan State fall to Syracuse as an upset. The Wolverines knocked off Montana and got a miracle long-range shot from freshman Jordan Poole to beat Houston. They have now won 11 straight games and have dispelled any issues with the long layoff after the early Big Ten Tournament.
Texas A&M meanwhile had to beat Providence and North Carolina to get here. The Aggies looked like the team they were back in November as they outmuscled the Tar Heels last time out, soundly beating the defending national champions by 21 points in Charlotte.
West Region: No. 7 Texas A&M (22-12) vs. No. 3 Michigan Wolverines (30-7)
Time: 7:37 p.m. ET (Thursday)
Where: Staples Center (Los Angeles)
Keys for Texas A&M
Crash the boards like the Aggies have been in this tournament. They grab 34 percent of their offensive rebound opportunities and they are the bigger team in this matchup. Texas A&M took advantage of its size differential against North Carolina, out-rebounding the Tar Heels 50-34. Going into that game, North Carolina was one of the nation’s top teams on the glass, enjoying a rebounding margin of nearly 10 per game (9.8).
Michigan forward Moritz Wagner, the team’s leading rebounder (7.1 rpg), has been in a bit of foul trouble in a few games this season so he will need to be able to stay on the court or the Aggies could really have their way in the paint and on the boards. Robert Williams and Tyler Davis have the advantage down low over both Wagner and John Teske. But the Texas A&M big men also have to be aware of the Wolverines’ shooters, like Duncan Robinson, and guard all way out to the 3-point line at times. In the first two games, the Aggies have held opponents to 12 of 51 (23.5 percent) shooting from beyond the arc.
Keys for Michigan
Continue the great defense that the Wolverines played in Wichita, holding Montana and Houston to under 35 percent shooting from the field. Texas A&M has been hot as of late, especially from behind the 3-point line. After shooting 31.1 percent from the arc during the regular season, the Aggies made 10 of 24 attempts (41.7 percent) in the victory over the Tar Heels. Zavier Simpson has to be able to keep TJ Starks in check, as the Texas A&M guard poured in 21 points against North Carolina. He has had a high usage rate this season so Simpson will be busy. Finally, stay out of foul trouble. Wagner did not play that much last game and that can’t keep happening if the rest of the offense continues to slump.
Points will be at a premium in this one. These two teams have similar strengths and weaknesses and the key could be who will start the fastest. As I said above, it’s imperative for Wagner to stay on the court and help battle Texas A&M’s bigs. I think in the end, we may see another upset from the Aggies, who are in better form right now than the Wolverines.
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March Madness Round 64 Preview
Montana vs. Michigan
Third-seeded Michigan looks to continue its winning ways when it faces No. 14 seed Montana in the first round of the West regional on Thursday in Wichita, Kan. The Wolverines have ripped off nine consecutive wins, including four victories in four days in New York City to claim their second Big Ten tournament title in as many years, and hope a 10-day layoff doesn’t rob them of their momentum as they strive to advance to the second round of March Madness for the fourth time in their last five appearances.
“We got back to the gym to be competitive and get motivated for a really tough tournament,” Michigan forward Moritz Wagner told reporters. “We’ve been doing a great job and I don’t think this team needs a lot of help to be hungry.” Michigan is 11-4 in the NCAA Tournament since 2013 and hopes to make another deep run by taming the Grizzlies in the first-ever matchup between the teams. Montana went 16-2 in Big Sky Conference play before winning three straight in the conference tournament, including an 82-65 triumph over Eastern Washington in the final, to punch its Big Dance ticket for the first time since 2013. The Grizzlies have dropped 11 of their last 14 meetings with teams currently in the Big Ten and hope to notch their first win in the tournament since knocking off Nevada 87-79 in 2006.
TV: 9:50 p.m. ET, TBS
ABOUT MONTANA (26-7): Michael Oguine was named the Big Sky tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after averaging 21 points and five rebounds in wins against North Dakota, Northern Colorado and Eastern Washington. Oguine scored 15 of his team-leading 21 points in the second half while Ahmaad Rorie added 15 points and five assists to help the Grizzlies overcome a 10-point halftime deficit to win the conference tournament title. “We have a senior (Fabijan Krslovic) who has given his all to the program,” Rorie told reporters. “We didn’t want to play in the NIT as we wanted to get him in the tournament.”
ABOUT MICHIGAN (28-7): Wagner was named the MVP of the Big Ten tournament after averaging 15.7 points and 6.5 rebounds over four games at Madison Square Garden. Wagner scored 17 points while Muhammad-Ali-Abdur Rahkman, who was also named to the Big Ten All-Tournament team, added 15 points and four assists as the Wolverines knocked off Purdue 75-66 in the title game to avenge two regular-season losses to the Boilermakers. Starting forward Isaiah Livers suffered an ankle sprain early in the first half against the Boilermakers, but practiced during the week and is expected to be available Thursday.
1. Michigan has held seven of its last eight opponents to fewer than 67 points.
2. Montana is 15-0 when scoring 80 or more points this season.
3. The winner will play Houston or San Diego State in the second round Saturday.
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Northwestern at Michigan
No. 25 Michigan looks to get back into the win column when it hosts Northwestern on Monday. The Wolverines have dropped two of their last three games, including a 92-88 setback to third-ranked Purdue on Thursday to fall out of the race for the Big Ten title, and hope to string together some victories down the stretch to solidify a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan is 11-1 at home this season, with its lone loss coming to the Boilermakers (70-69) on Jan. 9, and aim to continue their dominance in Ann Arbor by knocking off the Wildcats for the seventh consecutive time at Crisler Center. Northwestern has won back-to-back games for the first time since December following a 77-69 victory against Minnesota on Tuesday. The Wildcats snapped a three-game road losing streak and swept the season series with the Gophers in the process as they hope to ride the momentum to their first victory in Ann Arbor since 2010. “I feel like in the last two weeks we’re starting to play good basketball,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins told reporters. “The resiliency of our group, the sense of urgency and the way we’ve approached everything I’m really pleased where our team is at right now.”
TV: 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
ABOUT NORTHWESTERN (13-9, 4-5 Big Ten): Vic Law scored 18 points and pulled down a career-high 13 rebounds to register his second double-double of the season in the win against Minnesota. Bryant McIntosh added 18 points and three assists against the Gophers to become the fourth player in Big Ten history to notch at least 1,600 points and 650 assists in his career. Scottie Lindsey tallied 15 points while Dererk Pardon contributed 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots to help the Wildcats beat the Gophers for the fourth consecutive time in Minneapolis.
ABOUT MICHIGAN (17-6, 6-4): Senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman buried six 3-pointers en route to a career-high 26 points in the loss to Purdue. Zavier Simpson matched his career high with 16 points and dished out five assists while Moritz Wagner scored 15 points as the Wolverines fell to the Boilermakers for the second time this season despite shooting a sizzling 60 percent from the floor. “We’ve played some really good teams and (Purdue) twice, tough and that means we can play with a lot of people,” Michigan coach John Beilein told reporters. “But playing with them wasn’t why we’re here, trying to win was why we were here.”
1. Four of the last five meetings between Michigan and Northwestern have been decided by four points or fewer.
2. Simpson has dished out at least five assists in seven of his last eight games.
3. Lindsey is 12-of-62 from 3-point range over his last 10 contests.
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Michigan at Purdue
Third-ranked Purdue looks to stay on track for its second straight Big Ten regular-season title when it hosts No. 25 Michigan on Thursday. The Boilermakers have won 15 consecutive games, including an 87-64 victory against Iowa on Saturday, to remain undefeated in conference play and hope to move to 9-0 in the Big Ten for the first time in program history by sweeping the season series with the Wolverines following a 70-69 triumph on Jan. 9.
Purdue has won its last three games overall by an average margin of 28.3 points, and hopes to extend its home winning streak to 13 with another dominant showing. Michigan bounced back from its worst performance of the season against Nebraska with a 62-47 win over Rutgers on Sunday. The Wolverines finished a stretch of eight games in 22 days with six wins, but hit the 70-point plateau just once in their last five contests and hope to rediscover their shooting touch against a Purdue squad that has held three straight opponents to 50 or fewer points. “I’ve never seen anybody just annihilate people like Purdue is doing right now,” Michigan coach John Beilein told reporters. “The way Purdue is playing we have quite a challenge.”
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
ABOUT MICHIGAN (17-5, 6-3 Big Ten): Moritz Wagner led the way with 16 points to go along with six rebounds in the win against Rutgers after being held to a season-low two points in the 72-52 loss to Nebraska in his previous game. Duncan Robinson provided a spark off the bench as he drained four 3-pointers en route to 12 points against the Scarlet Knights to move within three 3-point field goals of passing Stu Douglass (205) for seventh place on the Wolverines’ all-time list. Charles Matthews added 10 points while Zavier Simpson contributed 10 points, a career-high eight rebounds and four assists to help the Wolverines improve to 10-0 all-time against Rutgers.
ABOUT PURDUE (19-2, 8-0): Sophomore guard Carsen Edwards was named the Co-Big Ten Player of the Week after averaging 21.5 points and 5.5 assists in the wins over Iowa and Wisconsin (78-50). Edwards scored 22 points and dished out eight assists while Vincent Edwards added 19 points as the Boilermakers set a single-game record with 20 3-pointers in the victory against the Hawkeyes. “We try to find guys in rhythm, in transition shooting those 3s,” Purdue coach Matt Painter told reporters. “Good decision making leads to pretty good shots and a pretty good percentage from the field.”
1. Purdue has won 10 consecutive Big Ten regular-season games dating back to last year.
2. Michigan G Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman is ranked second nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (5.38).
3. The Boilermakers have made 10 or more 3-pointers in four straight games.
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ACC Games of the Week
Saturday lives for College Football and FanPicks has your fantasy football fix. If you are a fan of the Big Ten conference, then you’re in luck because we got the Big Ten Games of the Weeks contest. Only Big Tens matchups are allowed. With 6 games in line, there will be no shortage of draft picks. Check out all of the Big Ten Saturday games preview below and join the action for cash prize!!! >>>Click here to join the game<<<
Iowa Hawkeyes vs Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern looks to build on its first Big Ten win when it hosts Iowa on Saturday (Noon ET on ESPN2) The Wildcats kicked off conference play with losses to No. 5 Wisconsin (33-24) and second-ranked Penn State (31-7) before rebounding with a 37-21 road victory against Maryland, and they hope to notch back-to-back wins for the first time this season by knocking off the Hawkeyes for the second time in as many years.
The Hawkeyes hope to have ironed out a few wrinkles on offense during their bye week after beginning Big Ten play 1-2 for the first time since 2013. Iowa is averaging 24.7 points per game in conference action, but achieved its highest total of the season in the 45-16 win over Illinois on October 7 and looks to climb back into the race for first place in the West Division.
ABOUT IOWA (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten)
Nate Stanley threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns while Wadley rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Illini to finish with over 100 yards for the 12th time in his career. Running back James Butler practiced for the first time since suffering an elbow injury in the win against North Texas on Sept. 16, but likely needs another week to recuperate. Senior linebacker Josey Jewell continues to lead the defense and has 70 tackles, including 7.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks and an interception in six games.
ABOUT NORTHWESTERN (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten)
Senior running back Justin Jackson racked up a season-high 171 yards and two touchdowns in the win against Maryland to break the Wildcats’ all-time rushing record previously held by Damien Anderson (4,485). Jackson needs 38 more yards to move past Anthony Davis (4,676) into eighth place on the Big Ten’s career rushing list. Charlie Kuhbander was named the Big Ten’s Special Teams Player of the Week after becoming the first freshman in Northwestern history to kick three field goals in a single game.
Purdue Boilermakers vs Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Two improving teams with bowl aspirations must put this one in the win column to reach their goal when Purdue visits Rutgers for Big Ten matchup on Saturday afternoon (Noon ET on Big Ten Network). Purdue attempts to even its league record after playing No. 5 Wisconsin tough in a 17-9 loss last week and starts a stretch of four straight games against teams at .500 or worse while the Scarlet Knights are coming off an important victory at Illinois.
The Boilermakers lean on a defense that has forced 15 turnovers, including nine fumble recoveries (tied for second in the country), and has allowed just 20 total points in two road games – none in the second half. Rutgers rushed for 274 yards and rolled to a 35-24 victory over the Illini to snap a 16-game Big Ten losing streak last week.
ABOUT PURDUE (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten)
Coach Jeff Brohm told reporters he will keep using two quarterbacks even though sophomore Elijah Sindelar (52.9 completion percentage) has gotten most of the snaps of late while junior David Blough (68.9) did not attempt a pass last week. Sophomore running back Tario Fuller (foot) is expected to miss his fourth straight game after rushing for 261 yards in the first three contests. Senior linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley had 12 of his team-high 46 tackles against Wisconsin and sophomore linebacker Markus Bailey boasts 41 (career-high 10 solo tackles last week) to go along with three sacks.
ABOUT RUTGERS (2-4, 1-2 Big Ten)
Junior Giovanni Rescigno replaced senior Kyle Bolin (three TD passes, six interceptions) at quarterback last week and threw for 89 yards while running for 41, but suffered an apparent knee injury and is considered day-to-day. Senior Gus Edwards rushed for a season-high 91 yards with two scores and freshman Raheem Blackshear gained 87 yards on just six carries, including a touchdown, against Illinois. Whoever is under center will be looking for top targets senior wide receiver Janarion Grant (15 catches, 162 yards, one TD) and junior tight end Jerome Washington (16, 141, one).
Maryland Terrapins vs Wisconsin Badgers
Top 10 teams seem to fall every weekend, but No. 5 Wisconsin just keeps rolling along on its way to the Big Ten championship game. The Badgers will try to stay undefeated and knock off another conference opponent when they host Maryland on Saturday (Noon ET on FOX).
Wisconsin, which does not have to face fellow top-10 teams Ohio State or Penn State in the regular season and gets No. 19 Michigan at home on Nov. 18, overcame three turnovers and leaned on the defense while fighting off Purdue 17-9 last week. The Terrapins have allowed 99 combined points in back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Northwestern and are surrendering an average of 36.5 points – 115th out of 130 FBS teams.
ABOUT MARYLAND (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten)
Terrapins running back Ty Johnson rushed for at least 124 yards in three of the first four games but was limited to 57 yards on 12 carries at Ohio State and slumped to a season-low 20 yards on 10 carries against Northwestern. The offensive star for Maryland is junior wide receiver D.J. Moore, who caught 12 passes for 210 yards and a pair of scores against the Wildcats to bring his total on the season to seven TDs.
ABOUT WISCONSIN (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten)
The Maryland defense is surrendering an average of 174.3 yards on the ground and this week has to go up against Badgers freshman star Jonathan Taylor, who is on the verge of a 1,000-yard season. Taylor upped his total to 986 yards with 219 on 30 carries last week – his third 200-plus game of the season – and scored at least one touchdown in each of the first six contests.
Indiana Hoosiers vs Michigan State Spartans
No. 19 Michigan State returns home Saturday looking to build on a pair of big road wins when it faces an Indiana squad still looking for its first victory in Big Ten play (3:30 p.m. ET on ABC). The Spartans have won three straight, including triumphs at Michigan and Minnesota the last two weeks, while the Hoosiers are coming off a tough overtime loss to the Wolverines and face their fourth straight nationally ranked conference foe.
Michigan State’s running game got a big boost last week with the re-emergence of junior LJ Scott, who recorded career highs in carries (25) and rushing yards (194) after sitting out the previous game with an undisclosed injury. The Spartans also are powered by one of the top defenses in the country, ranking in the nation’s top 10 in total defense (fifth, 263.8 yards per game) and rushing defense (eighth, 93.3). Indiana’s offense has been solid, with redshirt freshman Peyton Ramsey (815 passing yards, seven touchdowns) set for his third career start under center. Coach Tom Allen has been pleased with the play of the team’s defense, which has held its last two opponents (Charleston Southern and Michigan) under 100 yards passing.
ABOUT INDIANA (3-3, 0-3 Big Ten)
The feeling around the Hoosiers these days is one of confidence – despite the overtime loss to Michigan – because of the presence of Ramsey in the lineup. Indiana was down 10 points with less than four minutes to play against the Wolverines’ vaunted defense, but Ramsey was able to lead them to overtime and nearly a victory, even with a knee brace he had to put on in the second quarter after being injured. While senior Richard Lagow provides experience, as he led Indiana to a win over Michigan State last season, many around the program believe Ramsey provides the intangibles that can guide a good team to greatness.
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten)
Even though Indiana has played very good pass defense the last two weeks, quarterback Brian Lewerke likely will be happy to see the Hoosiers because it will mean playing in some better weather. Lewerke hasn’t been able to get into a groove over the last two weeks, throwing for a total of 214 yards, and Michigan State has kept the ball on the ground because of rainy conditions in both Ann Arbor and Minneapolis. But Lewerke has a plethora of receivers from which to choose and is itching to throw the ball more, and the Spartans’ coaches likely will try to open it up to keep Indiana from stacking the line against the run.
Minnesota Golden Gophers vs Illinois Illini
Minnesota and Illinois boast two of the youngest rosters in FBS, but while the former has given its fan base reason for hope by playing its Big Ten rivals close so far, the latter has not. The Golden Gophers attempt to end a three-game losing streak and give first-year coach P.J. Fleck his first conference win Saturday when they host the Fighting Illini (3:30 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network) in a battle of the only two winless teams during West Division action.
Fleck led his charges through an undefeated run in non-conference action before losing late to Maryland in the conference opener and giving up two touchdowns in the final 1:17 en route to a 14-point setback at Purdue two weeks ago. Minnesota continued to show its resolve in last week’s 30-27 defeat at No. 19 Michigan State, as the Gophers scored two late touchdowns to threaten the Spartans after trailing by as many as 17 midway through the fourth quarter. The same has not been true for Illinois, which is coming off a 35-24 home loss to a Rutgers team that had dropped its previous 16 straight Big Ten contests. The Illini have dropped six straight conference tilts by an average of 26 points and are 2-10 in Big Ten play overall under second-year head coach Lovie Smith.
ABOUT ILLINOIS (2-4, 0-3 Big Ten)
Ricky Smalling continues to be one of the few bright spots for the worst scoring offense in the conference (18.8 points), as he leads the league in yards per catch (19.4) while becoming the sixth player in program history to have a 100-yard receiving game as a true freshman last week after posting 111 yards. Sophomore quarterback Jeff George, Jr. threw for a career-high 308 passing yards against Rutgers and has the offense averaging 420 yards in his first two starts, but he has thrown at least two interceptions in all three games in which he has played. Smith announced leading rusher Mike Epstein will likely miss the rest of the season with a foot injury after the true freshman did not suit up last weekend.
ABOUT MINNESOTA (3-3, 0-3 Big Ten)
Sophomore receiver Tyler Johnson almost singlehandedly brought the Gophers back versus the Spartans, doubling his season total for receiving touchdowns with three fourth-quarter scores, allowing him to finish with a career-high eight catches for 106 yards. Fleck pulled struggling senior quarterback Conor Rhoda in the middle of the second quarter and replaced him with sophomore Demry Croft, who connected with Johnson on all three TD throws – the first of his career – and compiled 194 total yards. Although the duo was held to 51 rushing yards on 17 carries against Michigan State, junior running backs Rodney Smith (73.7) and Shannon Brooks (64.4) comprise one of the most productive running back tandems in the conference, ranking eighth and 14th in the Big Ten, respectively.
Michigan Wolverines vs Penn State Nittany Lions
No. 2 Penn State begins the most difficult portion of its schedule Saturday night when it hosts a Michigan team looking to prove it belongs among the Big Ten elites (7:30 p.m. ET on ABC). The 15th-ranked Wolverines are enduring a sluggish stretch that includes a home loss to Michigan State and an overtime win against East Division doormat Indiana, and they hope to hang around against a dominant Nittany Lions crew that’s coming off a bye week.
Penn State is coming off back-to-back routs of Indiana and Northwestern, but faces a daunting three-week run that also includes visits to No. 6 Ohio State and No. 19 Michigan State. The Nittany Lions have won 14 straight regular-season games since a 49-10 loss at Ann Arbor a year ago in which the Wolverines posted a 515-191 advantage in total yards – including 326-70 on the ground
ABOUT MICHIGAN (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten)
The Wolverines rank 11th in the Big Ten in passing offense and senior John O’Korn has struggled since taking over the starting job from the injured Wilton Speight. O’Korn has zero touchdowns, three interceptions and a completion percentage of 47.3 over the last two weeks. Michigan’s top three rushers – Ty Isaac, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans – combined for 211 yards and four TDs in last year’s rout of Penn State.
ABOUT PENN STATE (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten)
Stars like running back Saquon Barkley (Big Ten-leading 1,302 all-purpose yards) and quarterback Trace McSorley (Big Ten-leading 266.2 passing yards per game) get most of the headlines, but the Nittany Lions’ defense is gaining more credit with every week and tops the country with an average of nine points allowed. Linebacker Jason Cabinda leads the way with 40 tackles and defensive end Shaka Toney has three of the team’s 17 sacks and two of its nine forced fumbles.
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NCAA Football 2017 Season
Big Ten East Preview
The Big Ten East had a top-heavy 2016 season, as three teams finished inside of the top 10. Ohio State earned a CFB Playoff spot. Penn State fell just short of reaching the top four after defeating Wisconsin in the conference title game. Michigan rounds out the top three in the East. The new season of fantasy college football kicks off Saturday August 26 at FanPicks.
Jim Harbaugh is demanding enough as a coach to push a team to more wins than its talent and/or experience level typically produce. He’s proven this on numerous occasions. But he’ll be kicking himself for not getting more out of a supremely talented 2016 group.
Now, he’ll have to circle the wagons and live with growing pains — especially on offense — throughout 2017 as he’ll have one of the youngest squads Michigan’s had in some time. This team does get Ohio State at home, but a road trip to an improved Penn State squad won’t be easy. Neither will a season-opening game against Florida in Texas.
If Michigan can speed up its development process this offseason, it has the talent to grab double-digit wins. If not, it’s young enough to be staring an 8–4 year in the face.
Penn St. Nittany Lions
Penn State appears to have the potential, particularly on offense, to approach or maybe even surpass last year’s stunning 11–3 finish. RB Saquon Barkley and QB Trace McSorley are the headliners, but the supporting cast, especially the offensive line, has made major strides, and those players are now versed in the intricacies of coordinator Joe Moorhead’s offensive system.
On defense, the losses are more significant, but there. Luckily, the Lions have an abundance of young talent. So while they may not have re-established themselves as perennial powers, they’re trending up.
Ohio St. Buckeyes
Last year’s Buckeyes deserve credit for growing up quickly, finding playmakers on each side of the ball and advancing all the way to the College Football Playoff. However, a bad taste remains from the goose egg Clemson fed the Buckeyes and the fact that Urban Meyer’s men didn’t get to play for the Big Ten championship. Therefore, there is emotional fuel for 2017. What remains to be seen is if the line can hold up, the receiving corps can develop and new defensive heroes can emerge.
Michigan St. Spartans
It’s doubtful that Michigan State will be able to rise up from last year’s disastrous 3–9 season to replicate something similar to the Spartans’ 2015 trek to the College Football Playoff or their top-five finishes of 2013 and ’14. A landing somewhere between those two extremes is more likely, as head coach Mark Dantonio tries to work past off-field problems and rekindle the discipline and toughness that helped him put Michigan State in the national picture.
The beginning of a new bowl streak is likely in 2017, as the rebuilding process takes shape with a number of intriguing young playmakers on the roster. However, Michigan State doesn’t have the proven depth or senior leadership of the championship-level teams Dantonio fielded earlier this decade.
The offense made Indiana competitive in nearly every game the last two seasons. With a new scheme, unproven running backs and several holes on the offensive line, the Hoosiers need quarterback Richard Lagow to stop throwing interceptions while developing a solid running back. But the defense is formidable, faster and confident. Indiana should be able to hold its spot ahead of Maryland and Rutgers in the rugged Big Ten East.
If the Terps could ever match head coach DJ Durkin’s enthusiasm level with experience and talent on the field, Maryland might contend in the Big Ten’s scary East Division. Despite a largely uplifting debut (double the wins from 2015 and a bowl appearance) for Durkin in College Park, the still young and inexperienced Terrapins aren’t quite there yet. They still have depth issues, they’re unproven at key spots, and they’re just not as talented as division rivals like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. Durkin won’t let them want for want-to, though, and with more of his players around, Maryland should be worth watching.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Improvement is the goal after a historically bad season — maybe doubling the win total from two to four. Having Washington on the schedule along with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Nebraska is daunting, but getting Purdue and Illinois as crossover conference games helps. The addition of defensive coordinator Jerry Kill should have a significant impact as well. No bowl is in the offing, but neither is being shut out a combined 224–0 by Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State, as was the case last season.
Michigan Wolverines vs Ohio State Buckeyes Preview
Second-ranked Ohio State hosts No. 3 Michigan on Saturday with major playoff implications on the line in the 113th edition of the storied rivalry (Enter Contest). The Buckeyes have dominated the series over the last decade. They’ve won 11 of the last 12 meetings, including seven straight games in Columbus. This team can send a clear message to the College Football Playoff committee by beating their bitter rival for the fifth straight time overall.
Ohio State has the most difficult path to the Big Ten championship game out of the three remaining teams in contention. The Buckeyes must beat the Wolverines and hope No. 7 Penn State falls to Michigan State, but they could still earn a berth in the CFP for the second time in three years with another win against Michigan. The Wolverines are in control of their own destiny and could claim the Big Ten East title by earning their first win in Columbus since a 38-26 victory on November 18, 2000.
Michigan’s quarterback situation is still murky. Starter Wilton Speight, who missed the 20-10 win against Indiana with a shoulder injury, and John O’Korn have split the first-team reps in practice this week. O’Korn struggled mightily in his first career start for Michigan last weekend. Fortunately, the Wolverines boast one of the top defenses in the country and defensive coordinator Don Brown hopes to put the clamps on an Ohio State offense that has scored 42 points in each of the last three games in the series. Brown has a stellar track record of stopping spread running attacks.
ABOUT MICHIGAN (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten)
O’Korn, who made 16 starts with Houston before transferring to Ann Arbor after his sophomore season, finished 7-of-16 for 59 yards against Indiana. It was the lowest passing output by a Michigan quarterback since 2001. De’Veon Smith was named the Big Ten’s co-offensive Player of the Week. He racked up a career-high 158 yards to go along with two touchdowns on Senior Day. The Wolverines lead the nation in scoring defense (10.9) and total defense (245.6).
ABOUT OHIO STATE (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten)
Mike Weber, who was once committed to the Wolverines before choosing the Buckeyes on signing day, ran for 111 yards in the 17-16 win against Michigan State. He became the third freshman in program history to rush for 1,000 yards. Quarterback J.T. Barrett was held to 86 passing yards against the Spartans but added 105 on the ground for his second 100-yard rushing game of the season. Senior center Pat Elflein was named a finalist for the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation’s most outstanding interior lineman. The Buckeyes are 18-1 in the month of November under Urban Meyer. Ohio State has won the last four meetings in Columbus by an average of 21 points.
Michigan Wolverines 2016-17 Preview
For a program returning its entire starting lineup, the Michigan Wolverines hardly resembles itself. Three undergraduates transferred over the summer. Two mainstay assistants landed head coaching jobs. Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert, the final remnants of the Wolverines’ 2013 Final Four team, departed. Amid all that change, though, the bricks and mortar of last year’s NCAA Tournament team remain in place. Holding it all up is John Beilein, the 10th-year coach. (Enter Contest)
Forwards Zak Irvin and Duncan Robinson will own playing time at the 3 and 4 positions. They will shoot and shoot often. More difficult: They’ll also need to defend and rebound. Irvin seemed poised to come into his own as a junior, but instead spent the season rebounding from back surgery. As a senior, he’ll again be asked to do everything, but Beilein will try to lighten his playing time in hopes of improving his sometimes wayward shooting percentages. Irvin’s importance is paramount, and he must shake some inconsistencies. Robinson will again be one of the most feared 3-point shooters in the country, but the question is if he can get open consistently and expand his game.
The Division III transfer had trouble in league play, shooting 35.2 percent on 3s, while also being a defensive liability. Depth will be an issue following the transfers of Aubrey Dawkins (UCF) and Kameron Chatman (Detroit). That leaves freshman Ibi Watson and sophomore D.J. Wilson. Watson is a 6’5″ wire hanger who can offer length, defense and shooting touch, but he is unproven. Wilson is moving from center to the wing and has much to prove after looking lost a year ago. At center, Mark Donnal emerged to average 10.6 points and 5.0 rebounds in Big Ten play last year. While Donnal enters the year as the odds-on starter, German sophomore Moritz Wagner might have as high of a ceiling as anyone on the roster. He’ll push Donnal for the job. Freshmen centers Jon Teske and Austin Davis are both in the picture, but one, likely Davis, will redshirt.
Like Irvin, Derrick Walton Jr. needs to put all the pieces together as a senior. The Detroit native was expected to be the Wolverines’ next star point guard after Trey Burke. Instead, he’s produced a solid, though slightly underwhelming, first three seasons. Now Walton is the veteran and incoming freshman Xavier Simpson is the heir apparent. Last year’s Ohio Mr. Basketball, Simpson is a crafty and quick natural leader. He’ll push Walton for minutes and often share the backcourt with him, sliding Walton to the 2 spot where he can thrive as a step-in shooter. Regardless of Simpson’s emergence, though, Walton must answer the bell offensively. After shooting 33.3 and 36.6 percent on 2-point shots as a sophomore and junior, respectively, Walton will need to be a more confident overall scorer. Already the Wolverines’ best rebounder — regardless of position — and a reliable passer, Walton needs to take a final step.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman will start at shooting guard. After filling in for the oft-injured LeVert as a freshman and sophomore, the job is all his. Abdur-Rahkman has a nose for the rim and is the Wolverines’ most aggressive scorer. He’ll work off ball screens this year and must respond by being a facilitator. Watson could see playing time at shooting guard, but more often than not, Beilein will use a three-man rotation at the two guard spots.
Xavier Simpson will see immediate time at point guard and has drawn comparisons by John Beilein to another playmaker from Ohio: Trey Burke. Ibi Watson is long and athletic and can guard both the 2 and the 3. Despite needing to add weight, he’ll get time. Either Austin Davis or Jon Teske will redshirt, while the other will add depth at center.
After years of staff stability, Beilein replaces assistants Bacari Alexander (Detroit) and LaVall Jordan (Milwaukee) with former Wright State coach Billy Donlon and former Oakland assistant Saddi Washington. An influx of new ideas might be a good thing. On the roster, transfers wiped out Beilein’s depth and left him with a dangerously shallow rotation. His options, however, are proven and experienced. The Michigan Wolverines have some nice pieces, but much will have to go right, notably major defensive improvements, for this group to threaten the top of the Big Ten. A return to the NCAA Tournament, though, is not out of the question.
Michigan Wolverines vs Southern Methodist Mustangs
Michigan got a first-hand look last year at how good of a fit Tim Jankovich could be if he ever took over for Larry Brown at Southern Methodist, which handed the Wolverines their most lopsided loss of the 2015-16 campaign. The Mustangs look to remain perfect under Jankovich on Friday when they square off against Michigan in the championship game of the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden (Enter Contest).
Jankovich served as the interim coach at the beginning of last season while Brown was serving a NCAA-imposed nine-game suspension, leading SMU to exactly half of its wins during a program-record 18-0 start. One of those victories was an 82-58 rout at home against Michigan. SMU improved to 12-0 in two seasons under Jankovich with Thursday’s 76-67 semifinal win over Pittsburgh, holding the Panthers 29 points below their 96-point average entering the contest. The Wolverines earned their spot in the title game with Thursday’s 79-61 victory over Marquette, leading by as many as 29 points in the second half.
ABOUT MICHIGAN (3-0)
One game after posting career highs of 14 boards and five blocks in a win over IUPUI, 6-10 junior forward D.J. Wilson (8.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.7 blocks) continued to show he might be coming into his own, recording his first career double-double in his first career start Thursday with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Leading scorer Zak Irvin (14 points, 5.7 rebounds) led Michigan offensively for the second straight contest with 16 points, but the Wolverines placed five players in double figures and received 29 points from their bench.
ABOUT SMU (3-0)
American Athletic Conference Player of the Week Semi Ojeleye (22.7 points, nine rebounds) continued to play up to that title against the Panthers, scoring 20 of his career-high 24 points in the second half as the Mustangs outscored Pitt 45-34 to rally from a halftime deficit. Preseason all-conference second-team selection Shake Milton (13 points, 4.6 assists) finished with 14 points and has scored in double figures in each of SMU’s first three contests. Sterling Brown (10.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists) enjoyed another well-rounded performance against the Panthers with nine points, six boards and three assists, but he was ejected late following his second technical foul after emphatically applauding in the face of Pitt forward Jamel Artis after his defense resulted in a traveling violation. Southern Methodist has won both of the previous meetings, including last year’s rout in Dallas and a 62-51 triumph in Ann Arbor the previous.
Michigan Wolverines vs Marquette Golden Eagles
Michigan faces its stiffest test of the season when it travels to New York City to tangle with Marquette in the semifinals of the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden on Thursday (Enter Contest). The Wolverines opened the season with a 76-58 victory against Howard before knocking off IUPUI 77-65 in the regional portion of the tournament. They hope to improve to 5-1 in games played in the Big Apple under John Beilein.
Marquette followed up its impressive 95-71 road win against Vanderbilt by brushing aside Howard 81-49 to improve to 93-7 in home openers. The Golden Eagles are 6-13 all-time against the Wolverines, but won the most recent matchup 79-65 in 2009. The winner will advance to the 2K Classic final against either Pittsburgh or SMU on Friday.
ABOUT MICHIGAN (2-0)
The emergence of junior forward D.J. Wilson continues to be one of the major storylines of the young season for the Wolverines as he registered seven points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in the win against IUPUI. Zak Irvin scored 15 points to lead four players in double figures, along with Derrick Walton Jr. (13), Mo Wagner (13) and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12). Irvin needs two more 3-pointers to move into seventh place on Michigan’s all-time list. Three players inked letters of intent during the early signing period, including shooting guard Jordan Poole and forward Isaiah Livers. The Wolverines are 50-1 under coach John Beilein when scoring 80 or more points.
ABOUT MARQUETTE (2-0)
Katin Reinhardt and Jajuan Johnson each scored 14 points while Haanif Cheatham filled up the stat sheet with 12 points, seven rebounds and a career-high six assists in the win against Howard. Johnson looks poised for a breakout senior season as he’s averaging 17.5 points and 3.5 steals in his first two games after putting up 10.2 points per contest in 2015-16. Sam Hauser, who was named the Big East Freshman of the Week after scoring 14 points against Vanderbilt, went 3-of-4 from 3-point range en route to 10 points against the Bison. Marquette is 32-9 in regular-season tournaments since 2004-05.
College Football Playoffs picture shakeup
Here is a rundown of the huge upset that affects the College Football Playoffs picture (Enter Contests).
Pittsburgh vs Clemson
Blewitt didn’t blow it. Pittsburgh kicker Chris Blewitt kicked a 48-yard field goal with six seconds remaining as the Panthers stunned No. 2 Clemson 43-42 Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, knocking the Tigers from the ranks of the unbeaten and damaging their hopes for a return trip to the College Football Playoff. Pittsburgh stuffed Clemson running back Wayne Gallman for a one-yard loss on a fourth-and-1 play at the Pittsburgh 35-yard line with less than a minute to play and quickly drove 34 yards in six plays to set up Blewitt for the winning score.
Michigan vs Iowa
On a stunning Saturday in college football, the carnage continued inside Kinnick Stadium. Freshman kicker Keith Duncan connected on a 33-yard field goal as time expired to lift Iowa to a stunning 14-13 upset of No. 3 Michigan The heavily favored Wolverines (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) were dealt a blow to their College Football Playoff chances, but will likely still qualify if they win their remaining games. Michigan gave Iowa life when quarterback Wilton Speight threw an interception to freshman cornerback Manny Rugamba, who was filling in place of an injured Greg Mabin. Iowa gave it right back when a deep ball from quarterback C.J. Beathard intended for wide receiver Jerminic Smith was picked off by Michigan cornerback Channing Stribling.
It appeared Michigan would then salt away the win, but the Hawkeyes forced a three-and-out, and the Wolverines’ Grant Perry was called for a face mask during a Desmond King punt return. It gave Iowa the ball at Michigan’s 36-yard line. Iowa (6-4, 4-3) had converted only 3 of 15 third down attempts, but it got a fourth when Beathard ran up the middle on a quarterback draw for eight yards to move the chains and set up Duncan.
USC vs Washington
Redshirt freshman Sam Darnold threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns as unranked USC upset the fourth-ranked Washington Huskies 26-13 on Saturday to further cloud the playoff picture. The Trojans (7-3 overall, 6-2 in the Pac-12 South) jumped out to an 11-point halftime lead and held on for their sixth consecutive win, while Washington (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12 North) is the third unbeaten team to lose Saturday. Only Alabama remains with a perfect records this year.