Saturday Big Ten Games to Watch
The Gophers may not be playing this weekend, but you can still get your college football fix by watching these notable Big Ten conference match-ups. The result of these games will allow us to gauge how competitive the West division will be moving forward for the Gophers.
1. #11 Michigan at #13 Wisconsin - 11AM CT Fox
This is by far the most exciting match-up this weekend being both teams are ranked so closely to one another. Wisconsin is definitely the favorite at this point to win the West, but this game will definitely show if they are truly the front-runner.
The Badgers have yet to allow a point this season winning by a combined score 110-0 after just two games. The offense has also been hot with Running back Jonathan Taylor rushing for 237 yards on 35 carries, averaging almost 7 yards per carry. On top of that, the Badgers are averaging over 517 total yards in their first two games. In comparison, Michigan is only averaging about 396 yards offensively, and is allowing about 272 yards per game.
Wisconsin's defense has only allowed just over 100 yards per game.
Michigan's defense has struggled at times in their first two games allowing 21 points to both Army and Middle Tennessee State, two teams the Wolverines should have "blown out" based on the basic hype surrounding Jim Harbaugh and Michigan football. They also allowed 7 turnovers for 28 points in two games this season. If that turnover trend continues, Michigan will have a bad, bad day.
The Wolverines need to tighten up on defense, or else Taylor and the Badgers will run all over their defense. However, Wisconsin will have to stop Michigan running back Zach Charbonnet who has accumulated 190 yards through two games.
Being it is in Madison, the Badgers are definitely the favorites. They have the chance to prove their dominance early in the conference season by beating a ranked Michigan squad. And on the other side, the Wolverines are trying to prove themselves being worthy enough to not only win the Big Ten, but to make the College Football Playoff. It is a big game for both teams.
2. Michigan State at Northwestern - 11AM CT ABC
This game is definitely no Michigan-Wisconsin match-up, but it is certainly an interesting game to watch as a Minnesota fan. If the Gophers have any hope of winning the West, they will have to eventually, more than likely, defeat Wisconsin, but before doing so, they will need to get passed Northwestern.
This game will allow fans to see how good, or bad, the Wildcats truly are. Based on the Wildcats start to the season, it has been difficult to determine how good they are being they lost 17-7 on the road to a solid Stanford team, but then struggled at home against UNLV in a game they won 30-14. Michigan State will be a good test to gauge how they will fair in the Big Ten.
Michigan State's first three games had extreme highs and lows, winning their first two games handily by defeating Tulsa 28-7 and Western Michigan 51-17. But then their game against Arizona State showed trouble for the Spartans as they lost 10-7 after a 12-man penalty at the end of the game negated a game-tying field goal. How Pathetic!
The Spartans do have the advantage over the Wildcats on paper when looking at total yards offensively and defensively and scoring per game. But after last week's game, the Spartans are vulnerable and have just as many unanswered questions as the Wildcats. It raises the question: how much of an impact will Northwestern have in conference play? It is hard to say. Hopefully this game will shed more light on the answer.
3. Nebraska at Illinois - 7PM CT BTN
You may be asking, "Why the hell is he writing about Nebraska and Illinois as a game to watch?" I know, both teams have struggled to start the year and suffered bad losses. But they are two teams that are in the West division along with the Gophers. And Minnesota will need to play and ultimately surpass these teams in the standings to compete for the West.
Both teams are 2-1 to start the year, but the one loss both teams suffered should not be considered a "good" loss. Illinois had an embarrassing performance last week against Eastern Michigan out of the MAC, losing 34-31 at home. The "fighting" Illini gave up 480 total yards defensively and were even down by 14 in the fourth quarter. A late comeback fell short after EMU hit a game-winning field goal as time expired.
As for the Cornhuskers, they lost to the Colorado Buffaloes in overtime in a game they lead 17-0 at the half. Colorado is a higher quality opponent than an Eastern Michigan team out of a smaller conference, however, the Huskers completely collapsed, allowing three turnovers throughout the game and having poor pass defense.
Despite the bad losses, both schools will be fighting to start 1-0 in conference play. With Scott Frost in his second year for Nebraska and Lovie Smith in his fourth season for Illinois, these teams have high expectations entering the 2019 season and definitely want to improve on abysmal seasons from the previous year.
Even though this is not the most exciting match-up this weekend, the quarterback play will be fun to watch. Adrian Martinez for Nebraska has already thrown for over 700 yards this season, and Illinois' Brandon Peters has thrown for 687 yards with a whopping 9 touchdowns in three games.
This game will bring more light to how difficult these two schools will be down the stretch for the Gophers.
These three key Big Ten games will be interesting to watch to see how good, or difficult, the West division will be down the stretch for Minnesota. Winning the West and earning a trip to the Big Ten championship seems like a bit of a stretch, but it can be done with the ability to know the teams inside and out.
The Gophers have a much-needed BYE this weekend, and will take on the Purdue Boilermakers in West Lafayette a week from Saturday on September 28th to open conference play.