Big Ten: Jemal Griffin

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
10:00
AM ET
It's an interesting weekend for the Big Ten. On one hand, we have an intra-state rivalry on tap along with a nationally televised night game at one of the best atmospheres in the country.

On the other, only one of the conference's five games is expected to be close. Four of the underdogs are picked to lose by double digits this week, and the closest game isn't exactly a hot ticket: Minnesota at Illinois.

For the first time all season, we Big Ten writers all picked the same winners. But will there be an upset? Can someone surprise in the Big Ten? Let's take a closer look at the matchups:

Noon

Minnesota (6-1) at Illinois (3-4), ESPNU: The Gophers are still fighting for respect, as they appear at No. 24 in the USA Today poll -- but they're still left out of the Associated Press' top 25. They've quietly put together a solid season, with their only loss coming against TCU, and running back David Cobb could be the most underrated player in the conference. Illinois coach Tim Beckman is fighting for his job, and he and his offensive coordinator can't even seem to agree on whether a two-quarterback system is best for the team. The Illini have a plethora of defensive problems, and they can't afford to have their offense stumble.

Maryland (5-2) at Wisconsin (4-2), BTN: Melvin Gordon is one of the most dynamic backs in all of college football, and the Terrapins are one of the worst rushing defenses in all of college football. That's not exactly a recipe for success for the Terps. That being said, Wisconsin's woes through the air have been well-documented, and it would be no surprise to see the Terps dare Wisconsin to throw. Randy Edsall needs to get his own house in order, too. Maryland has a lot of firepower on offense, but C.J. Brown needs to find more consistency for this team to hang with the Badgers. Backup Caleb Rowe is out for the season, so it's Brown or bust. And Brown has thrown three picks to zero touchdowns in the last two games.

Rutgers (5-2) at Nebraska (6-1), ESPN2: The Scarlet Knights just can't catch a break with their schedule. They were dismantled by Ohio State 56-17 on Saturday and they play Wisconsin next week. Rutgers was the surprise team of the conference in the first half of the season, but it will have to show something in this second half to retain that title. It won't be easy. Like the Buckeyes, Nebraska boasts a balanced offense -- and Ameer Abdullah is the best back the Knights have seen since ... well ... it's been years. With one Big Ten loss already, Nebraska can't afford a slip-up. But it might just have the most talented team, overall, in the West.

3:30 p.m.

Michigan (3-4) at Michigan State (6-1), ABC: Since 2008, this rivalry has basically been owned by the Spartans. Mark Dantonio's team has won five out of the last six, with the Wolverines winning only once in a 12-10 game in 2012. Michigan is coming off a bye week -- and actually won its last Big Ten game, against Penn State -- but the Spartans are on another level. If U-M can pull off this upset, maybe Brady Hoke has an outside chance to save his job and the Wolverines really have sparked a turnaround. If not, expect the same Michigan storyline that you've heard since Week 2.

8 p.m.

Ohio State (5-1) at Penn State (4-2), ABC: The Buckeyes have scored at least 50 points in four straight games, but they haven't faced a defense quite like Penn State's. On the flip side, the Nittany Lions haven't faced any offense resembling Ohio State's, either. The key to an upset here is two-fold: Penn State's weak offensive line must somehow keep one of the nation's best front fours at bay (unlikely), or Penn State's defense has to play out of its mind and force turnovers (more likely). Ohio State pounded Penn State 63-14 last season, and the Lions would like nothing more than to avenge the worst loss in program history since 1899 (a 64-5 loss to Duquesne). This game will act as a good measuring stick for both J.T. Barrett and the PSU defense.

Required reading
James Franklin opened his lengthy and entertaining introductory news conference Saturday at Penn State by thanking Vanderbilt, his previous employer.

Two days later, Vanderbilt fans are thinking Franklin has a funny way of showing his appreciation.

As Franklin hinted Saturday, he's bringing several Vanderbilt assistants with him to Penn State. Reported additions or possible additions include defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, wide receivers coach/offensive recruiting coordinator Josh Gattis, tight ends coach/special teams coordinator Charles Bankins, strength coach Dwight Galt and football chief of staff Jemal Griffin. Penn State has yet to make any official staff announcements. Shoop is a native of Oakmont, Pa., and has extensive coaching experience in the northeast as well as in Virginia (University of Virginia and William & Mary).

These likely additions aren't a surprise as Franklin said Saturday, "I am fiercely loyal as a person in general, and I'm going to be fiercely loyal to the guys that I've worked with in the past."

It's also not surprising that Franklin immediately started contacting Vanderbilt recruits about Penn State. Two of them, tight end Chance Sorrell and defensive end Lloyd Tubman, switched their pledges from Vanderbilt to Penn State on Saturday.

More could be coming, especially if you believe this story in The Tennessean, which outlines what has happened to Vanderbilt's recruiting class since Franklin left. One recruiting analyst tells the newspaper that Vanderbilt is left with only three truly solid verbal commits. Another said, "Normally, you're going to have staffs take some kids. But I don't think I've seen many cases where it seems like the entire class is trying to be taken to the next job."

Penn State fans aren't about to feel sorry for Vanderbilt. They remember what happened to the Lions' 2012 recruiting class during the extremely turbulent weeks following coach Joe Paterno's dismissal. Urban Meyer flipped several Penn State commits to Ohio State, including Noah Spence, Armani Reeves and Tommy Schutt.

PSU has 21 commits for the 2014 class, which is essentially complete. It will be interesting to see how much of a Vanderbilt flavor Franklin's first staff and first class will have at Penn State.

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