Penn State and Michigan State each suffered high-scoring disappointments last Saturday.
James Franklin’s Nittany Lions entered their game at Ohio State still unbeaten and ranked second in the nation, having mostly breezed past their Big Ten competition. But all their momentum came to a halt after J.T. Barrett rallied the Buckeyes in the final seconds for a 39-38 upset at Ohio Stadium.
Meanwhile, Mark Dantonio’s Spartans lost a 39-31 three overtime thriller at Northwestern when Brian Leweke was intercepted in the end zone. He had thrown four touchdown passes prior to his only interception of the game.
Those losses elevated Ohio State (7-1, 5-0) into the driver’s seat in the Big Ten East division. Penn State (7-1, 4-1) and Michigan State (6-2, 4-1) are tied for second in the East.
If the No. 24-ranked Spartans prevail Saturday, they’ll get their shot at the Buckeyes next week.
Saturday’s game appears to be the last big challenge for the No. 7 Nittany Lion. They finish the regular season with home games against Rutgers and Nebraska and then travel to Maryland.
Meanwhile, Ohio State faces several tough tests, starting Saturday at Iowa, next week at home against the Spartans and a Nov. 25 date at Michigan.
Lewerke set a Michigan State single-game passing record with 445 yards against Northwestern. The redshirt sophomore has passed for 1,807 yards this season for 14 touchdowns, completing nearly 62 percent of his passes. He’s also rushed for nearly 400 yards.
Penn State’s star is Heisman fronterunner Saquon Barkley, who is averaging just over 100 yards per game while also leading the Nittany Lions in receiving and starring on special teams. But quarterback Trace McSorley has passed for more than 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns while rushing for more than 300 yards and another eight touchdowns.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
All times Central
Wisconsin at Indiana, 11 a.m. CT, ABC
Penn State at Michigan State, 11 a.m. CT, FOX
Illinois at Purdue, 11 a.m. CT, BTN
Maryland at Rutgers, 2:30 p.m. CT, BTN
Ohio State at Iowa, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Northwestern at Nebraska, 2:30 p.m., BTN
Minnesota at Michigan, 6:30 p.m., FOX
1. Ohio State (7-1, 5-0): Last Week – W, Penn State, 39-38. The Impact – J. T. Barrett shut up critics with best game of career, passing for 328 yards and four touchdowns – three in fourth quarter in upset of Penn State – and ran for 95 yards. He’s back in Heisman race and Buckeyes are still unbeaten in Big Ten.
2. Wisconsin (8-0, 5-0): Last Week – W, at Illinois, 24-10. The Impact – Badgers may be without freshman running sensation Jonathan Taylor for at least a week after he injured his left leg. Indiana’s defense, especially at home, is good enough to possibly cash in.
3. Penn State (7-1, 4-1):Last Week – L, at Ohio State, 39-38. The Impact – Saquon Barkley returned opening kickoff 97 yards and scored on 36 yard run, but he struggled to rush for 44 yards on 21 carries against Buckeyes. Nittany Lions will need some breaks to get back in Big Ten race.
4. Michigan State (6-2, 4-1): Last Week – L, at Northwestern, 39-31. The Impact – Brian Lewerke passed for 445 yards and four touchdowns but his one interception came in overtime and in the end zone to seal Spartans’ defeat.
5. Iowa (5-3, 2-3): Last Week – W, Minnesota, 17-10. The Impact – With Ohio State and Wisconsin next up on schedule, Hawkeyes may be doomed to losing Big Ten record but will still become bowl eligible with win over either Purdue or Nebraska.
6. Northwestern (5-3, 3-2): Last Week – W, Michigan State, 39-31. The Impact – Justin Jackson had 41 yards rushing, 51 yards receiving and 12 yards passing with TDs running and throwing. Wildcats have won three in a row.
7. Michigan (6-2, 3-2): Last Week – W, Rutgers, 35-14. The Impact – Redshirt freshman Brandon Peters led three TD drives after replacing mistake-prone starter John O’Korn. Jim Harbaugh: “It was time – like a bird leaving the nest.”
8. Nebraska (4-4, 3-2): Last Week – W, at Purdue, 25-24. The Impact – Tanner Lee’s two TD passes came in final four minutes, including game-winning throw with 14 seconds left to Stanley Morgan Jr., at Purdue. Lee finished with 431 yards passing.
9. Purdue (3-5, 1-4): Last Week – L, Nebraska, 25-24. The Impact – Having lost four of five games, Boilermakers now need to win three of four if they are going to check off a bowl appearance in Jeff Brohm’s first season.
10. Maryland (4-4, 2-3): Last Week – W, Indiana, 42-39. The Impact – Darnell Savage blocked a punt, then scooped and scored. He also set up a first quarter touchdown with an interception, Other than that, Terps didn’t have much to celebrate except an ugly win.
11. Minnesota (4-4, 1-4): Last Week – L, at Iowa, 17-10. The Impact – Gophers have lost four of five and will have tough time finding two more wins over last month of season to qualify for bowl game.
12. Rutgers (3-5, 2-3): Last Week – L, at Michigan, 35-14. The Impact –N.J. Gov. Chris Christie was in the stands at the Big House. Scarlet Knights could have used his size on offensive line after being held to 94 yards rushing.
13. Indiana (3-5, 0-5): Last Week – L, at Maryland, 42-39. The Impact – Peyton Ramsey and Richard Lagow combined for 410 yards passing and five touchdowns, but Hoosiers were done in by special teams miscues, including blocked punt return for score.
14. Illinois (2-6, 0-5): Last Week – L, Wisconsin, 24-10. The Impact – Illini are proving true the statement that if you have two quarterbacks, you really don’t have one. But against Purdue, they might not need much offense. In five league games, Illini has averaged 14.6 points compared to Boilers’ 17.2.
(Projected winners in bold caps)
WISCONSIN at Indiana
PENN STATE at Michigan State
Illinois at PURDUE
Maryland at RUTGERS
OHIO STATE at Iowa
NORTHWESTERN at Nebraska
Minnesota at MICHIGAN
Last Week: 5-2
Overall: 55-16 (77.4)
Note: Each week during the college football season, I’ll be updating how things are unfolding in the Big Ten by Wednesday, the SEC by Thursday and ACC by Friday. I covered teams in each of the conferences during my 41 years as a sports journalist and I’m not ready to give it up in retirement.