The fifth week of football for Big Ten Conference fans shouldn't be a breathless jaunt into painful results as the fourth week proved to be. Regardless on which side of the Penn State-Iowa game one was on, neither fan base is willing to go through that roller-coaster of emotions for a second straight week. Some perennial powers played a little too close to the chest (Michigan and Nebraska) while other came off their highs of early season success (Maryland and Michigan State). Week five will tell separate the contenders from you know, not good teams. A date between two Big Ten West Contenders, a rematch of one of the all-time great Big Ten Championships and a gimmicky Friday Night showdown that might get a coach fired all highlight the last football weekend of September.
Let's Get This Out of the Way
This week's game of the week won't hold the billing that Iowa-Penn State had last week, nor should it hold up to the same dramatics. Northwestern will travel just north of the state border to Madison to take on Wisconsin for a late-morning kick-off.
Undoubtedly, the nation's eyes will be upon college football's response to the NFL's response to Donald Trump's "SOBs" comments. Northwestern, a team traditionally out in front of social issues, will take the field in locked arms prior to the start of Saturday's game , according to the Chicago Tribune. Though Fitzgerald is quoted in the article criticizing Donald's Trumps words as divisive, the act of interlocked arms has shown to be one marginal meaning as NFL teams have placed it as more of a symbol of unity than as one of protest. The decision, Fitzgerald said, was decided on by the team. There will be no opportunity for kneeling in this game as the national anthem will be played about 10 minutes before both teams leave their locker rooms.
Oh yeah, the game will showcase two of the premier running backs in the conference. Saquon Barkley has transcended mentioning as a premier running back in the conference so Jonathan Taylor and Justin Jackson will have to do. Taylor is averaging 146 ypg rushing along with five touchdowns. Jackson has rushed for 4,437 yards in his career and is only 108 shy of becoming Northwestern's all-time leading rusher.
The key to this game will come down to the each team's offensive line units. Pat Fitzgerald at the beginning of the season mentioned that more consistent offensive line play would be the key to greater success than a six win season of 2016. This year they're already given up seven sacks in three games - hardly against Big Ten level defenses either. If Northwestern is to have a chance of upsetting Wisconsin they'll have to do a better job of protecting quarterback Clayton Thorson.
Going, Going Back, Back, to Indy
Michigan State beat Iowa in a punch-out of a Big Ten Championship in 2015 that can be marked as one of the most most crushing losses in
my Iowa fans' recent memory. Both teams never recovered - Iowa lost 16-45 to Stanford in the Rose Bowl while Michigan State was buried 38-0 to Alabama in the College Football Playoff. For these reasons, the 2015 Big Ten Championship game falls into the crevasses of the greatest games in college football this decades.
The Spartans and Hawkeyes will meet for the first time since that chilly December night in Indianapolis this Saturday in East Lansing. Iowa, of course, is reeling from a walk-off loss to Penn State last week while Michigan State is licking its wounds from a 38-18 drubbing in the Battle for the Megaphone.
The question remains for both teams: how good are they? For Michigan State, are they better than three wins from a year ago? Sure looks like it if you look at the team stats. They boast a meaty 220 ypg rushing while only allowing 121. They've only allowed 132 yards through the air per game, which is the best in the conference. BUT, something just doesn't feel right. The Spartans failed to be convincing in their opening season wins against Bowling Green and Western Michigan.
Iowa will have to recover from having
our their hearts broken a week ago. Nathan Stanley has proven to be a adequate quarterback which is a welcome surprise to Iowa fans. Stanley has thrown for 846 yards and 12 touchdowns to go against only one interception. If Iowa fails to get Akrum Wadley going, it'll be a tall task for Stanley to lead a charge against a stout Michigan State secondary. Linebacker Josey Jewell will be tasked with stopping Michigan State running back LJ Scott this week after being matched up with Saquon Barkley last week. He managed 16 tackles, two pass break-ups, and interception and a fumble recovery.
Friday Night's All Right for Getting Fired
Two things are certain about Nebraska traveling to Champaign Friday night to take on the Illini: Friday night Big Ten games are dumb and Mike Riley will be fired if Nebraska loses.
First, Friday night games. When the Big Ten broke news last November that they'd be implementing six Friday night games per season due to their new TV deal it was met with expected disdain. High school associations from Wisconsin and Michigan got out in front and expressed disappointment (both Wisconsin and Michigan State have Friday night games this year). The big issue here is that it affects recruiting as many recruits make their official visits on college game days. Thing is, high school football players are a little busy on Friday nights.
Also, attendances across college football not just the Big Ten have floundered over the years with various alternatives taking precedent over overpriced tickets - see Iowa last week. For students, why go to a game on a Friday night when you can black out in front of a flat screen at your local watering hole? Did you accidentally drink someones chew spit? Doesn't matter,baby. Life isn't about crippling debt yet.
Lastly, this one is simple. Mike Riley will get fired in Champaign if they lose Friday. They beat Rutgers by 10 last week. Rarely will this blog mention Rutgers football and for good reason: they're bad. Nebraska has already lost to Northern Illinois, a barb in Riley's job security. A little Dekalb humor *swish*. Any self-respecting program that prides itself in National Championships as a measuring stick cannot lose to TWO Illinois schools.
- Michigan and Purdue are both off this week but that doesn't mean the heat has died down from last week's meeting in West Lafayette. Jim Harbaugh complained about the locker room situation. He has a thing for not liking opposing locker rooms.
- Penn State plays host to Indiana, Ohio State travels to Rutgers. I don't foresee any world-changers here.
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