Here’s what to watch in the Big Ten this week:
Game of the Week
No. 2 Penn State at No. 6 Ohio State.
The Buckeyes have had this one circled on their calendars since Grant Haley — he of the 60-yard blocked field goal return — and an unranked Penn State beat them 24-21 in Happy Valley last year when they were ranked second. Ohio State has amassed 500 total yards in five straight games and is coming off an open date. Penn State has won 16 of its last 17 and is in the middle of what could be the season-defining three-game stretch of Michigan-Ohio State-Michigan State. The winner stays atop the Big Ten East and in strong position for the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett vs. Penn State pass defense.
Barrett accounted for seven touchdowns in a 56-14 win at Nebraska and is completing 72 percent of his passes for 1,351 yards, 18 touchdowns and no interceptions during the Buckeyes’ five-game win streak. Penn State leads the nation in pass efficiency defense, having allowed 5.2 yards per attempt, three touchdowns and 168 yards a game with nine interceptions.
Inside the numbers
Two of the eight remaining unbeaten teams in the Bowl Subdivision are from the Big Ten. Penn State is 7-0 for the first time since 2008 and Wisconsin is 7-0 for the first time since 2004. ... Wisconsin has won 10 straight Big Ten games, the longest conference win streak in program history. ... Illinois’ 1.83 forced fumbles per game is tied for the FBS lead. ... Rutgers visits Michigan looking for a third consecutive conference win for the first time since 2012, when it was in the Big East. ... Michigan has averaged just 299.3 yards while losing two of its last three games, its worst stretch since averaging 261 while losing three of its last four in 2016. ... Michigan State has not allowed an offensive touchdown in three of its seven games. ... Since giving up 375 yards rushing through the first two games, Northwestern has allowed just 474 yards over the last five. ... Minnesota’s 19-point defensive average is its lowest through seven games since the 2008 team allowed 18.7. ... Maryland is on track to play the toughest schedule in the country. Its opponents have a combined record of 49-20 (.710). ... Seven Indiana defensive linemen have recorded at least one sack.
Nebraska, 5-point underdog at Purdue.
The Cornhuskers have been the biggest disappointment in the Big Ten and are desperate for a win after getting hammered by Wisconsin and Ohio State in back-to-back games. Motivation shouldn’t be a problem. They lost 55-45 at Purdue in 2015, the Boilermakers’ only FBS win that season. Purdue has improved under Jeff Brohm but you can’t dismiss last week’s loss at Rutgers. This is a huge game for teams scrapping to get bowl eligible.
Player to watch
Iowa LB Josey Jewell.
The Hawkeyes’ star defender is coming off a shoulder injury that kept him out of last week’s overtime loss to Northwestern and ended his streak of 37 consecutive starts. One of the top tacklers in the nation, Jewell will be needed against a Minnesota rushing attack that is third in the Big Ten at 188 yards a game and features what Gophers coach P.J. Fleck calls a “three-headed monster” in RBs Kobe McCrary, Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith.