Phil Harrison

Harrison: Big Ten Final Thoughts Before Week Five

Every Friday Phil Harrison gets you ready for all the action heading into the weekend of Big Ten play with thoughts and musings that can change the world in the heartland, one step at a time.

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Big Ten Week 5 Game Previews and Fearless Predictions

Northwestern at Iowa

– Which Northwestern team will step off the bus Saturday? Scratch that. Which Iowa team will walk into Kinnick Stadium? If you are a betting man, stay far, far away from these two teams because they are about as hard to figure out as the meaning of life, or how the pyramids were built.

– Don’t forget that Northwestern has had Iowa’s number in Iowa City through some of the recent years. Would it surprise you one bit if the Wildcats sucked wind against two less-than-stellar opponents only to knock off the Hawkeyes on the road? It is, after all, what Northwestern does. That and graduate really smart people.

– This is the do more with less bowl. How many times have we heard similar comparisons between Ferentz and Fitzgerald on what they can get out of what comes to campus annually in Evanston and Iowa City?

Rutgers at Ohio State

– What are the chances that Rutgers head coach Chris Ash uses all of his knowledge gleaned from Urban Meyer to provide more than a stiff-wind resistance to Ohio State? Probably about the same chances of a hurricane coming off the Great Lakes this weekend to make Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany think about re-scheduling week five.

– Did you know the Scarlet Knights lead the nation in red zone defense? That’s a shocking true story. Did you also know it’s the most likely stat to go up in smoke Saturday? Ohio State is likely to put up a 50 spot or more against Rutgers.

– Very quietly, Mike Weber is doing a solid job of replacing Ezekiel Elliott in Ohio State’s backfield. He’s averaging 117 yards per game and is second in the Big Ten in rushing, just behind his counterpart in this one, Rutgers running back Robert Martin. That’ll likely evaporate at approximately 3PM Saturday as well.

Purdue at Maryland

– There are still six unblemished teams rockin’ it in the Big Ten, and believe it or not, the Maryland Terrapins are at that table wearing the big boy pants. There’s a good chance D.J. Durkin gets his squad to 4-0 Saturday, but there are teams ahead that are going to administer a super-wedgie on the back-loaded schedule.

– If Darrell Hazell has any shot at being in West Lafayette as a football coach after this season, he’s desperately needs a win here. There’s not a whole lot of victories left on the schedule to get bowl-eligible, and that’s likely what it’s going to take.

– David Blough has been an interception party machine so far this year for Purdue. As he goes, so too do the chances of anything good coming of this season. He was better against Nevada last week, but he has to find a way to be more consistent under center. That or add some strobe lights and karaoke to the mix.

Minnesota at Penn State

– Okay James Franklin, show a faint heartbeat, a pulse, eye-flickering … anything that displays any signs of life for this floundering Penn State program. Franklin has yet to beat Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State, and hasn’t had a win against a top 25 team since he was at Vanderbilt. Wouldn’t Les Miles would look good in those Plane Jane colors, eating grass and dialing up some unbelievable plays under that hat?

– Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys may be forever linked to Jerry Kill unless he can elevate the program beyond your above average bowl team. That’s going to be hard to do at a place where winter and hunting are cousins.

– Is anyone else waiting for Trace McSorley to show the dual part of the label dual-threat quarterback? He’s had some good moments throwing the ball, but 32 yards on 41 carries is just a wee-bit better than going backwards. In the dark.

Illinois at Nebraska

– Do we really think Lovie Smith is the answer at Illinois? It’s clear the new Illini administration believed they out-kicked their coverage by bringing his NFL swagger to the sidelines, but the college game is just so much different than the NFL. He’s certainly got that quiet confidence, but lacks the personality some of the rock-star college coaches have to pull in recruits.

– Last year was anything but a banner year for Nebraska and head coach Mike Riley, but 2016 has been a different story. Nebraska may be the pleasant surprise of the Big Ten so far, and it doesn’t appear to be smoke and mirrors. With the schedule ahead of them, there is a legitimate chance the ‘Huskers could be undefeated at 7-0 when they head to Madison.

– Is anyone playing better than Tommy Gunn right now? Armstrong has cut down on the mistakes that have plagued him his career in Lincoln, and is making big plays when his team needs him most.

Michigan State at Indiana

– The Spartans pulled an Axl Rose and forgot to show up to the concert last week against Nebraska, but head coach Mark Dantonio did his own David Blane by disappearing right before our eyes at the tail end of the game. I guess when you are disappointed, it’s time to make a quick exit. Here it is in case you missed it:

– Where is the offense in Bloomington? Everyone knows Kevin Wilson bought his college football team without the optional defensive package, but we’ve never questioned his ability to scheme up some offense. So far this year though, the offense is still trying to find its groove. The way Indiana wins is by outscoring folks, but even that’s not happening this year.

– So maybe Michigan State really will miss Connor Cook under center. Nothing against Tyler O’Connor, but the quarterback was unable to steady the ship and instead steered it further onto the rocks last week when adversity struck. True to his Irish surname, last week was more like bangers and mash than a pint of Guiness.

Wisconsin at Michigan

And the big one is here. The Badgers versus the Wolverines should be Big Ten football at its finest, but it’s just one of a few big, big games that are sure to be a part of the schedule this year. Wisconsin is without its big play linebacker Vince Biegel, but the defense is more than him. The winner becomes the main challenger to Ohio State’s title chances … at least this week.

– What will Jim Harbaugh do this week? Luckily his team is making more news on the field than he is off of it (barely), but he’s just not winning at camera close ups, or sound-bytes, or pressers. But Twitter is another story. He always kills it there.

– We’re about to see just how good Michigan is. This is finally a real test, or so we think. Yeah, both the LSU and Notre Dame wins don’t look as good as they did at the time for the Badgers, but that defense is the real deal. The running game has been inconsistent for the Wolverines so far, but they might need three yards and a cloud of khakis early and often to win this one.


Phil Harrison is the lead Big Ten writer for Catch his analysis and opinion all-season long.