We are four games into the Big Ten conference schedule, and the standings are looking exactly like we thought they would at this time of the season… or not. Because of the COVID Pandemic, things have been shuffled around more than usual and teams have suffered either canceled games and or games where they didn’t have key players in the lineup for COVID issues. And then you have some teams, not naming any names yet, who just flat out stink.
To say the Big Ten has been anything short of entertaining football through a month of action would be selling the conference short. We’ve seen plenty of upsets, some games that were extremely hard to watch, and some games that featured little to no defense. However, here we are, with four games left in the shortened season, and some big-name programs have a lot of work left to do if they are to get to where they want to go.
Before I break down the upcoming week, let’s take a look at the standings first.
In the Big Ten East, Indiana leads the division with a perfect 4-0 record. Behind them is Ohio State at 3-0 and Maryland at 2-1. As for the state of Michigan, you know it’s been a rough season for both the Wolverines and Spartans when they are tied with Rutgers in the standings at 1-3. Below them, having an even worse go of it is Penn State, who checks in at 0-4.
In the Big Ten West, the only surprise would be Northwestern leading the division with a perfect 4-0 record. Wisconsin is right behind them but has played only two games (and won both). Below them is where you’ll find Purdue (1-2), Iowa (2-2), Nebraska (1-2), Illinois (1-3) and Minnesota (1-3).
Key Games of the Week
No. 9 Indiana at No. 3 Ohio State. (-20)
This game at Ohio Stadium will likely go a long way in determining who will finish atop the East Division. Indiana’s remaining schedule after Ohio State is extremely manageable for this team, with Maryland, Wisconsin and Purdue on deck to finish out the season. If the Hoosiers can play a perfect 60 minutes of road football and upset the No. 3-ranked Buckeyes, not only will it provide another wrinkle in the College Football Playoff picture, but it will give them a two-game lead with just three games left to play. The Hoosiers are winning games in large part due to their offense, as they’ve scored 36,37,38, and 24 points in their four wins. The defense has also played well over the last three weeks, not giving up more than 21 points, including pitching a shutout last week against Michigan State. They are getting great QB play from Michael Penix, who has thrown for 1,070 yards and nine touchdowns to just three interceptions. They’ve also gotten good production out of running back Stevie Scott. Scott has rushed for 317 yards and five scores in four contests. If the Hoosiers are going to pull off the upset, they are going to need both guys to go above and beyond their current production in order to keep up with the high-powered Buckeyes’ offense.
Ohio State comes into this game off a mini bye week as their game last Saturday against Maryland was canceled due to COVID concerns at College Park. Ohio State has been as advertised this year, posting a 3-0 record having outscored their opponents 139-69. They are getting tremendous production out of the quarterback position by potential top-three draft pick Justin Fields. Fields has thrown for 908 yards and 11 touchdowns with no interceptions. He’s also rushed for 57 yards and added two scores on the ground. He’s got enough talent to give opposing defenses fits with both his arm and legs. And with the production he’s getting around him, the Buckeyes are going to be hard to stop. His go-to receiver is Garrett Wilson. Wilson has caught 24 balls for 344 yards and two touchdowns. Ohio State has everything to play for in this one as an upset loss would likely push them out of the CFP top four, whereas a win would allow them to move up a spot based on what happens elsewhere.
No. 10 Wisconsin at No. 19 Northwestern (+7.5)
The other key game of the week takes place at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois, when the 10th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers take on the No. 19-ranked Northwestern Wildcats. Similar to the above game, this game will likely determine the Big Ten West champion as Wisconsin and Northwestern have been the two best teams in the conference so far this season. It’s not going out on a limb to say we expected the Badgers to be highly ranked and own a perfect record, but with two games played (compared to four by most of the league), the Badgers have some catching up to do. They dominated Michigan last week as they put up 49 points in a 49-11 win. Many thought the three-week layoff would affect them and they would come out rusty, but they put that notion to bed really quick. The offense was efficient under Graham Mertz, and the defense was its usual smothering self. Now they take on a Northwestern team that has played tremendous football through four weeks of play. The Wildcats have ridden a dominant defense to four wins, as they’ve given up just 56 points, for an average of 14 points per game. The offense is doing just enough to win football games. And if I were a betting man, which I am, I’d say this game is going to be a defense battle – which is why the total is set 45.5.