Saturday, October 20, 2012
Previewing the Big Ten afternoon games
By Adam Rittenberg
Let's take a quick look at the three games kicking off at 3:30 p.m. ET:
Nebraska (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) at Northwestern (6-1, 2-1), ABC regional/ESPN2: Nebraska makes its first trip to Evanston since 1931, when Al Capone was on hand to see the Wildcats defeat the Huskers 19-7. The Huskers aim to avenge last year's loss to Northwestern in Lincoln and put themselves back in the Legends Division chase before next week's home showdown against Michigan. A Northwestern victory, meanwhile, would really validate the Wildcats as contenders to win the division and reach the Big Ten title game. The game pairs the Big Ten's top rushing offense (Nebraska at 292 ypg) against the league's No. 4 rushing offense (Northwestern at 229.9 ypg). Northwestern has the stronger rush defense, while Nebraska boasts the stronger pass attack with quarterback Taylor Martinez and big-play receiver Kenny Bell. Nebraska is 4-1 after open weeks under coach Bo Pelini and will have top running back Rex Burkhead (knee) at or near full strength. Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who went 10-for-10 passing last week, recorded 115 pass yards, 57 rush yards, 57 receiving yards and three touchdowns last year against Nebraska.
Michigan State (4-3, 1-2) at Michigan (4-2, 2-0), Big Ten Network: The 105th meeting between the in-state rivals has major implications for both. Michigan has looked dominant since Big Ten play began and can affirm itself as the team to beat in the Legends Division with a win, but the Wolverines have dropped four straight against the Spartans. Michigan State never has won five straight against Michigan but likely needs to if it wants to stay afloat in the division. Michigan hasn't lost a home game under second-year coach Brady Hoke and can record its 900th all-time victory. The game features several key individual matchups, none more intriguing than Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan and Michigan State defensive end William Gholston, who aren't exactly fans of one another. Keep an eye on rushing totals, as the team with more rush yards has won this game in 39 of the past 42 meetings. The Spartans are 21-2 when outrushing their opponents since 2010. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson leads the Big Ten in both rushing (134 ypg) and total offense (317.5 ypg), and he ranks second nationally in yards per completion (15.96). But Robinson has struggled against the two elite defenses he has faced this season (Alabama and Notre Dame), and he'll face another in Michigan State (seventh nationally in total defense).
Indiana (2-4) at Navy (3-3), CBS Sports Network: The Big Ten's regular-season nonconference slate mercifully comes to an end at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, where Indiana makes its first-ever trip after recording home wins against Navy in both 1985 and 1986. Indiana has looked good for stretches in each of its first three Big Ten contests, but it hasn't put it all together and hope to do so against a Navy team that is back on track after a 1-3 start. Navy surrendered 84 points in losses to Notre Dame and Penn State the first two weeks but since has settled down, allowing an average of just 12.3 points in its past four games. The Mids rank 14th nationally in rushing offense (233.3 ypg) but have scored just nine rush touchdowns. They still pose a test for an Indiana defense rated 109th nationally against the run (221.2 ypg). Hoosiers quarterbacks Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld both have looked strong in relief of Tre Roberson, combining for 1,510 pass yards, 12 touchdowns and one interception on 222 pass attempts (better than 62 percent completions). Navy is 26-42-3 all time against Big Ten teams with its last win coming in 1979 (Illinois).