We’re approaching the halfway point of the 2015 college football season and a point where we can feel confident identifying what will be the good, the bad and the ugly in the Big Ten this year.
Four league teams have a chance to tick bowl eligibility off the to-do list this weekend while maintaining a perfect record. That’s something no other conference can claim in the second week of October. On the other end of the spectrum, it’s put up or shut up time for a few teams in the West if they hope to remain in the hunt for a division title this fall.
The top two scoring defenses in the country (Northwestern and Michigan) meet at the Big House this Saturday, but there should be plenty of points elsewhere in the league. Let’s take a look at what you should be looking forward to in Week 6:
A chance to dominate: Big Ten standard-bearers Ohio State and Michigan State didn’t inspire a ton of confidence in one-score victories over Indiana and Purdue, respectively, last weekend. The two heavyweights get another chance to show they can still put a licking on a lesser opponent this Saturday when they face struggling newcomers Maryland and Rutgers. The Terps lead the nation in interceptions thrown. The Scarlet Knights lead the nation in suspensions. The two playoff contenders should a get chance to blow off some steam this week -- appointment viewing for traditionalists mad about expansion.
A blue #M00N?: The first to 10 points won last year’s Northwestern-Michigan meeting after their scoreless first half inspired a lunar hashtag, and that might be enough again in 2015. This time around more praise will fall on the stellar defenses of these two ranked teams rather than scorn on the offenses that are improved, but still finding their way. The Wildcats could be 6-0 and favorites in the West with a quality win on the road. Michigan might even be favorites to knock off Michigan State if they can get their fifth straight win under Jim Harbaugh.
West Division eliminator: Wisconsin and Nebraska are both coming off heartbreaking losses, but this week could be a backbreaker for one of these teams. They meet in Lincoln and the loser of this game drops to 0-2 in Big Ten play, a hole that will likely be too deep to crawl out of this year. Paul Chryst and Mike Riley, both first-year coaches, are in need of a win to help fans forget about the success had by the men they replaced.
Hawkeyes try to stay perfect: No. 22 Iowa is one of 20 unbeaten teams remaining in college football. The Hawkeyes host Illinois this week, a team that has only allowed three rushing touchdowns so far this season. Iowa's Jordan Canzeri (eight touchdowns on 89 carries this season) will do his best to add to that total and keep his team’s record spotless through the midway point of the season for the first time since 2009.
Penn State gets a test: The Nittany Lions will get a chance to prove themselves after four straight unconvincing victories. That probably sounds familiar for this week’s opponent, Indiana (also 4-1), which acquitted itself well in a similar test last week despite losing to Ohio State. Penn State’s winning streak belies some of the offensive struggles they’ve had since losing to Temple in the season opener. Their league-worst 329 offensive yards per game will have a hard time standing up against the Hoosiers, especially if Jordan Howard and Nate Sudfeld return from ankle injuries they suffered on Saturday.