Here’s what to watch in the Big Ten this week:
GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 8 Ohio State (No. 9 CFP) at Michigan
Ohio State and Michigan will have a tough time matching last year’s thriller, a 30-27 classic between storied rivals that the Buckeyes won when Curtis Samuel swept in for a 15-yard touchdown in the second overtime.
The game had huge conference championship and College Football Playoff implications. Penn State wound up meeting Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. But Ohio State got a spot in the playoffs.
The stakes aren’t quite as high this time.
Ohio State needs a Hail Mary heave to make the playoffs, something no two-loss team has done, and Michigan is out of contention. Even so, Urban Meyer’s and Jim Harbaugh’s crews should have no problem getting motivated for the 114th meeting between these teams. Ohio State can also clinch the Big Ten East title outright with a win (or losses by both Michigan State and Penn State), and the Buckeyes have a date with Wisconsin in the conference championship game.
“The more experience you have with it, you understand the excitement of it, you understand the intensity of it, you understand just how important it is,” Harbaugh said. “How immense the stage is. You come to embrace that. I would even say having experienced this, players who’ve played in it — after they’re done with their playing career their appreciation for it and their understanding of how big it is grows even more after they’ve played.”
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett vs. Michigan’s defense
Already holding just about every school passing and scoring record, Barrett has a chance to make some more Buckeyes history. At 35-6 as a starter, he would join Art Schlichter as the winningest quarterback in school history if Ohio State beats Michigan. The Buckeyes boast the Big Ten’s top offense, while the Wolverines’ defense ranks second in the conference.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Big Ten West champion Wisconsin extended its best start to 11-0 with last week’s victory over Michigan. The Badgers come into Saturday’s game at Minnesota with a school-record 14 consecutive Big Ten wins. … Northwestern, which plays struggling Illinois, has won six straight — its longest streak since a seven-game run in 1996. The Wildcats’ 25 victories in the past three years are the most for them over three seasons since the 1903-05 teams won 26. … The Wildcats’ Justin Jackson joined Wisconsin great Ron Dayne as the only Big Ten running backs with four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He is also the ninth FBS running back to do that. … Indiana’s 41-0 thumping of Rutgers last week was the Hoosiers’ first shutout in a Big Ten game since a 10-0 victory over Michigan State in 1993. … Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue each need a win to become bowl-eligible.
Minnesota opened as a 16-point underdog against Wisconsin. Manhandled 39-0 by Northwestern last week, the Gophers are going against a team eyeing big things. The Badgers (No. 5 CFP) have their sights set on a conference championship, not to mention a playoff spot.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Penn State RB Saquon Barkley
The Heisman Trophy candidate could be playing his final Big Ten game when the Nittany Lions visit Maryland. Barkley hasn’t said if he’ll forgo his senior season to enter the NFL. If his college career is winding down, he’s had a spectacular run. Barkley ranks No. 2 all-time in rushing at Penn State and is its all-time leader in rushing touchdowns.