The two current favorites to win the Big Ten, Michigan and Ohio State, are both on bye weeks right now. It seems like this slate of games isn’t the best one. Nebraska will face FCS Bethune-Cookman, and while the Huskers are struggling, an upset isn’t something you should bet on. Purdue faces Michigan State after defeating the Buckeyes, but both teams are unranked and aren’t considered to be in the hunt for the conference title.
But there are important games. You just have to look past the teams that are near the top of the polls.
Wisconsin faces Northwestern for the lead in the Big Ten West, but the Badgers will enter as the favorites and only one of the teams in this game is ranked. However, there is one matchup between ranked teams, and that’s Penn State versus Iowa. Of all the games nationally this weekend, it’s the one that shouldn’t be overlooked, because it will definitely change the trajectory for both teams and maybe even a few others, regardless of who wins.
Iowa is in a four way race with Wisconsin, Purdue, and Northwestern, all three teams possessing one loss this season. Northwestern is in the lead by virtue of playing one more game than Wisconsin, but if they lose and Iowa defeats Penn State, it would put Iowa on even footing with Wisconsin and Northwestern behind both teams after gaining their second loss in the conference. If Northwestern and Iowa both win, the Wildcats stay in first place and Iowa would be right behind them.
Purdue is also in the equation but they would need a win against Michigan State to stay in the hunt for now, and despite their win over the second ranked team in the country, Michigan State shouldn’t be written off. They’re less of a mistake prone team than Ohio State is this season and they played Michigan close for much of the game last week.
Of course, Iowa jumping ahead of Purdue and Wisconsin assumes that they beat Penn State, which wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable but also isn’t a given. The Nittany Lions managed to string together two straight losses fairly recently, around the same time they pulled it off last season. They also didn’t do as much as they could have against Indiana, and Iowa was one of the teams that gave them trouble last year. Could the Hawkeyes actually get the win here? It’s pretty reasonable to predict that they will, given Penn State’s past three outings.
Penn State is already out of the chase for the conference title, but which bowl game they go to this year will depend on what they do with the rest of the season and they need to win out to salvage things and get into a good bowl. There will likely be more challenges directed at James Franklin’s job if they lose here, meaning there’s a lot on the line for both teams. Penn State wants to get to a good bowl, and Iowa can move up in a race that, right now, involves four teams.
Only one team will get what they want from this game… But either way, the result will influence an entire division.