BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW CAPSULE
TV: Saturday 6:30 p.m. CT, Fox
CFP rank: No. 4
Best win: vs. Michigan, 24-10
Worst loss: None
Offensive stars: Leading passer – Alex Hornibrook (2,157, 21 TDs, 13 INTs). Leading rushers – Jonathan Taylor (258-1,836, 13 TDs), Bradick Shaw 96-365, 4TDs). Leading receivers – Troy Fumagalli (38-471, 4 TDs), A.J. Taylor (21-354, 4 TDs).
Defensive stars: Ryan Connelly (71 tackles, 10 tackles for loss), T.J. Edwards (67 tackles, 11 tackles for loss).
Key team statistical rankings: Total offense – 42 (426.0; Scoring offense – 26 (34.8 ppg); Total defense – 1 (236.9 ypg); Scoring defense – 2 (12.0 ppg).
Paul Chryst on Ohio State: “We know we’re going to get Ohio State’s best. And certainly J.T. Barrett’s an unbelievable quarterback. And it’s pretty neat what he’s done throughout his whole career and certainly what he’s done this year … But you’re preparing for their whole team. And certainly our defense is preparing for their whole offense.”
CFP Rank: No. 8
Best win: vs. Penn State, 39-38
Worst loss: at Iowa, 55-24
Offensive stars: Leading passer – J.T. Barrett (2,728 yards, 33 TDs,7 INTs). Leading rushers – J.K. Dobbins (164-1,190, 7 TDs, J.T. Barrett (130-672, 9 TDs). Leading receivers – K.J. Hill (51-519, 3 TDs), Terry McLaurin (26-342, 5 TDs).
Defensive stars: Jordan Fuller (57 tackles, 2 interceptions), Jerome Baker (51 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss).
Key team statistical rankings: Total offense – 4 (529.8); Scoring offense – 5 (43.8 ppg); Total defense – 8 (291.8 ypg); Scoring defense – 20 (19.8 ppg).
Urban Meyer on Wisconsin: “I know a Paul Chryst team and I know Wisconsin football. And I have a lot of respect for just the way they do their business. I go back to my good friend Barry Alvarez. I think he’s put a template together and has hired remarkable coaches to follow that template and this might be the best of all of them. Coach Chryst does an amazing job. (He and his staff) just keep plugging. They recruit and develop players as good as anybody.”.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Big Ten Championship: Ohio State vs. Wisconsin, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, 6:30 p.m. CT, Fox
- Wisconsin (12-0, 9-0): Last Week – W, at Minnesota, 31-0. The Impact – Badgers surrendered only 114 points in nine Big Ten games, an average of only 12.6 per game. But those nine league foes also only had a combined Big Ten record of 29-52. If Paul Chryst can lead his team to the league title on Saturday, the Badgers will be seeded for the national semifinals, but they won’t necessarily deserve it.
- Ohio State (10-2, 8-1): Last Week – W. at Michigan, 31-20. The Impact – Despite re-injuring right knee after being bumped by a cameraman before Michigan game, QB J.T. Barrett said he’ll be good to go again against Wisconsin. But the way head coach Urban Meyer is fuming, the unidentified cameraman might want to skip the game in Indianapolis.
- Michigan State (9-3, 7-2): Last Week – W, at Rutgers, 40-7. The Impact – Spartans allowed 20.3 points per game, and while that was seventh best in Big Ten it ranks No. 23 nationally despite 48-3 loss to Ohio State. Spartans flipped won-loss record going from 3-9 in 2016.
4. Penn State (10-2, 7-2): Last Week – W, at Maryland, 66-3. The Impact – Nittany Lions had dreams of a championship season derailed by back-to-back losses by a combined four points. James Franklin’s team will have a shot at winning 11 games in either Cotton or Citrus bowls.
5. Northwestern (9-3, 7-2): Last Week – W, at Illinois, 42-7. The Impact – Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats closed strong, winning their last seven games after back-to-back losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. Likely going bowling in Florida, either Citrus or Outback.
6. Michigan (8-4, 5-4):Last Week – L, Ohio State, 31-20. The Impact – For Jim Harbaugh, it was another season of disappointment against the Big Ten’s high-profile teams – losing 14-10 to Michigan State, 42-13 at Penn State, 24-10 at Northwestern and 31-20 at Ohio State. Early speculation has a possible Holiday Bowl matchup against Stanford, which he coached from 2007-10.
7. Purdue (6-6, 4-5): Last Week – W, Indiana, 31-24. The Impact – Purdue will have to give Jeff Brohm a hefty raise after Boilermakers won three of four games, including beating Indiana, to become bowl eligible. Purdue is likely headed to the Music City Bowl against an SEC school.
8. Iowa (7-5, 4-5): Last Week – W, at Nebraska, 56-14. The Impact – Hawkeyes never generated consistency with pair of two-game skids in conference action, but did have stunning 55-24 win at home over Ohio State. Iowa was No. 22 in scoring defense, allowing 19.9 points per game.
9. Nebraska (4-8, 3-6): Last Week – L, Iowa, 56-14. The Impact – Cornhuskers won just one of final seven games, stealing a 25-24 win at Purdue. As expected Mike Riley was fired after loss to Iowa, one of four games in which Nebraska allowed more than 54 points, including final three.
10. Indiana (5-7, 2-7):Last Week – L, at Purdue, 31-24. The Impact – Hoosiers lost four-year hold on Old Oaken Bucket, but 42-39 setback at Maryland and 27-20 overtime loss to Michigan are the two games that will haunt Tom Allen’s memories from his first season in Bloomington. Hoosiers scored an average of 26.8 points and surrendered 25.4 points per game.
11. Minnesota (5-7, 2-7): Last Week – L, Wisconsin, 31-0. The Impact – P.J. Fleck received a one-year extension to his contract, putting him back on a 5-year plan even though Gophers failed to qualify for a bowl game for the first time since 2012. Minnesota lost four of its final five games, including being shutout in back-to-back games to close season.
12. Rutgers (4-8, 3-6): Last Week – L, Michigan State, 40-7. The Impact – Scarlet Knights were held to 14 or fewer points in six of last eight games, including pair of shutout losses. Best stretch of season resulted in three Big Ten wins in four weeks, knocking off Illinois, Purdue and Maryland.
13. Maryland (4-8, 2-7): Last Week – L, Penn State, 66-3. The Impact – A Maryland team that began the season with the fireworks of a 57-41 win at Texas ended in a four-game skid, including a 66-3 implosion at home against Penn State. As head coach D.J. Durkin summed it up, “It feels like two different seasons. That Texas game feels like it was eight years ago right now.
14. Illinois (2-10, 0-9): Last Week – L, Northwestern, 42-7. The Impact – Illini were held to 14 or fewer points in six of nine conference games, including last five. Lovie Smith’s young team lost its last 10 games but he hopes starting more freshman (16) than any other school in the country will pay off in 2018.
(All times Central; projected winner in bold caps)
WISCONSIN 27, Ohio State 23
Last Week: 7-0
Overall: 86-20 (81.1%)
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.