Setting the table for an afternoon of Big Ten football. Feel free to fill up then, because it will all be gone by dinner time. Noon ET
Penn State (5-3, 2-2) at Minnesota (7-2, 3-2), ESPN2: There’s more than a Victory Bell on the line for the Gophers, as arguably the most surprising team in the league remains alive for a division title despite all the adversity that has come its way this season. Jerry Kill, the entire coaching staff and a resilient roster deserve every bit of praise that has accompanied an unexpected push into contention. And should Minnesota come up with another victory at home, it can expect many more compliments by remaining a factor in the Legends Division.
Iowa (4-5, 2-3) at Purdue (1-7, 0-4), Big Ten Network: A short, miserable October gave way to a November that didn’t start any better for the Boilermakers, who haven’t scored a touchdown since September. Granted, Purdue has only played three games in that span, but that’s still an embarrassingly long drought, and Iowa is certainly capable of extending it with a hard-nosed, aggressive defense. The Hawkeyes also need a victory to clinch a bowl bid, so they won’t be lacking for motivation.
Illinois (3-5, 0-4) at Indiana (3-5, 1-3), BTN: Both programs had designs on getting back to a bowl game before the season and encouraging starts in nonconference play, but the odds are starting to look long for each of them now. The loser this afternoon will have no margin for error from here on out, and the Hoosiers and Illini both have a date with No. 4 Ohio State coming up in the next two weeks. The winner will still have work to do, so it’s not exactly a play-in game. But there probably won’t be any need to worry about the postseason without a victory at Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska (6-2, 3-1) at Michigan (6-2, 2-2), ABC: The matchup between two of the most decorated programs in the history of college football was always tabbed as a crucial one in the Legends Division, but the stakes are certainly a bit smaller than might have been anticipated. The Wolverines are on the ropes after losing a potential head-to-head tiebreaker with first-place Michigan State with their loss in East Lansing last week, and while the Huskers survived on a Hail Mary against Northwestern, they can’t afford another loss, either, if they hope to stay in the race. Can Michigan’s offense rebound against a still suspect group of Blackshirts, or will Nebraska finally right the ship against an attack that has been prone to turnovers and has problems with their running game…
The league has three teams taking a breather on Saturday before resuming their regular-season closing stretch run. But there is still plenty of action around the conference, and these facts and figures will help set the scene for a critical weekend for a few Big Ten squads. Indiana might not play a lot of defense, but it definitely balances that out with an offense that is playing at the highest level in school history. The Hoosiers have scored at least 28 points in nine consecutive games dating back to last season, the longest stretch ever for the program. Much of that success under coach Kevin Wilson has come to the upgrades he’s made in the passing game, which has thrown for 300 yards in a game six times already this season.
Badly in need of a win to keep its hopes in the division alive, the venue would seem to indicate Michigan has a great chance of getting one this weekend. The Wolverines own the longest active home winning streak among BCS conference teams, rattling off 19 consecutive victories in the Big House. They’ve still got a long way to go to match the school record of 50, set way back from 1901 to ’07, but simply getting to 20 against Nebraska would surely be good enough in the meantime.
The Huskers may have needed what amounted to a miracle win last week against Northwestern, but with or without a Hail Mary, they’ve shown remarkable resiliency when trailing in games over the past two seasons. The latest come-from-behind victory marked the fifth time in the past two seasons Nebraska has rallied from a double-digit deficit to win.
After climbing up another rung on the all-time total offense list at Illinois last week, there’s only one guy Nathan Scheelhaase needs to catch as his prolific career winds down. Heading into the final four weeks of the regular season, the senior quarterback needs to average 357 yards per game to track down Juice Williams and his school-record 10,594 yards. Scheelhaase jumped ahead of Kurt Kittner last week with a total that was just one yard short of the average he needs to post for the rest of the season.
Iowa’s formula for success is about as straightforward as it could be this season: Win the turnover battle, win the game. The Hawkeyes are unbeaten in five outings when they have more takeaways than giveaways, and they haven’t won a game when the margin is reversed. Coincidentally, Iowa has forced exactly one more turnover than it has given away — and is one game over .500 for the season as well.
As if the Purdue offense hasn’t struggled enough, it has to overcome some bad historical mojo this weekend as well. The Boilermakers have been shut out in both of their past two outings, and in program history, they’ve put up a goose egg four times when playing on Nov. 9…