With only 5 days until the first official installment of the College Football Playoff rankings are released, no conference has more at stake than the Big Ten—Wisconsin must continue its undefeated season for a spot in the top four, Michigan State is climbing the ladder after a disappointing 2016 season, and one of the best games of the season bears enormous playoff implications as the Nittany Lions travel to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes. Here’s what’s happening in week 9.
#5 Wisconsin at Illinois
Wisconsin has been shredded for their weak strength of schedule as they’ve risen in the AP poll, and the criticism is warranted—should Michigan continue their subpar play, it’s possible that Wisconsin will not play a ranked opponent until the Big Ten Championship game—but as Lee Corso proclaimed on ESPN’s College GameDay last week, there is no way a 13-0 Big Ten Champion will be left out of the playoff, regardless of schedule. Unfortunately for the Illini, they are just another victim on the Badger’s quest for perfection. Wisconsin hands Illinois its 6th straight loss.
Prediction: Wisconsin 38, Illinois 7
Rutgers at Michigan
Believe it or not, Rutgers is actually the hotter team coming into this matchup—of course, expect nothing less than a convincing Michigan win in the Big House, but it’s nice to see that the Scarlett Knights are not the bottom-dwellers of the Big Ten this season. These next few weeks are critical for Jim Harbaugh to build confidence in senior quarterback John O’Korn, who has thrown one touchdown in four starts—a stat that won’t cut it when the Wolverines end the season against the Badgers and Buckeyes.
Prediction: Michigan 28, Rutgers 10
#2 Penn State at #6 Ohio State
We have been given a gift on Saturday—a top-ten college football matchup followed by Game 4 of the World Series. While Game 4 won’t decide the series, the winner of this game will almost certainly decide the East representative in the Big Ten Championship. Take your pick—the Buckeyes have the homefield advantage (and it is an advantage—under Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes are 37-3 at home), and the more talent-filled team, but Penn State has a prolific offense led by Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley. James Franklin has done a tremendous job rebuilding Penn State, they get the win in a big-time statement game.
Prediction: Penn State 31, Ohio State 30
#16 Michigan State at Northwestern
This is a trap game for Michigan State—Northwestern is a sneaky good team even if they don’t always show it on the field—after a tough couple of weeks against Wisconsin and Penn State, the Wildcats have rebounded nicely with wins over Maryland and Iowa. For Michigan State, an early-season loss to Notre Dame brought flashbacks of “here we go again”, but the Spartans have cast out the demons, winning through the number one total defense in the Big Ten. MSU takes this one, setting up a matchup next week with Penn State that could propel them into playoff talks, or put an end to their Big Ten Championship hopes.
Prediction: Michigan State 23, Northwestern 17
Indiana at Maryland
The Hoosiers have had a rough go-around in the Big Ten thus far, going 0-4—but in their defense, the schedule given to them was beyond crazy—their four losses have come to Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, and Michigan State, with Wisconsin still to come. This gauntlet doesn’t make for a positive record, but Indiana will be more than prepared headed into Maryland, where they finally get in the win column against a team fighting hard with their third-string quarterback.
Prediction: Indiana 21, Maryland 17
Minnesota at Iowa
The official “save your season” game of the week—both teams showed promise at the beginning of the season, but have since fallen off the map and, barring a crazy Wisconsin meltdown, a chance at the Big Ten West crown. Preseason first team All-American linebacker Josey Jewell will be back for the Hawkeyes, and games at Kinnick Stadium are always entertaining (I really thought Iowa was going to take down the mighty Nittany Lions a few weeks back). Iowa in a barnburner.
Prediction: Iowa 20, Minnesota 16
Nebraska at Purdue
The Big Ten West is really, really bad—many figured Wisconsin would win the division fairly easily, but most expected Nebraska and Northwestern to at least put up a fight—I think this is the moment the fight starts. It’s unlikely that Nebraska can win the division having already lost to the Badgers, but a win over the Boilermakers separates the Cornhuskers from the rest of the lowly pack. Tanner Lee will lead Nebraska into West Lafayette for a win and save head coach Mike Riley’s job in the process.
Prediction: Nebraska 35, Purdue 24