Some things to watch in the Big Ten this week:
Game of the week
Iowa at Michigan State. The first full weekend of conference play kicks off with one of the league’s most competitive series. Both teams need wins after losing for the first time last weekend and, as usual, they look almost identical. The Spartans are scoring 27.0 points and allowing 20.7 per game. The Hawkeyes are scoring 29.5 points and yielding 19.8 after losing to defending Big Ten champion Penn State on the final play last week. Historically, this series has been every bit as close. Coach Kirk Ferentz is 7-7 against the Spartans in his current job while Mark Dantonio is 4-4 against the Hawkeyes. They haven’t met since the 2015 Big Ten title game. Who has the edge? It’s anybody’s guess.
Maryland rushing offense vs. Minnesota run defense. One of the big early-season surprises so far has been Maryland’s ability to run. Through three weeks, the Terrapins are No. 3 in the conference — behind only Wisconsin and Ohio State — at 224 yards per game. With their top two quarterbacks out for the season, it’s a pretty good bet they’ll run even more this week. The problem: Minnesota has the league’s best rushing defense (59.0 yards per game, 2.8 yards per carry). Those numbers came against Buffalo, Oregon State and Middle Tennessee, so this might be their best test so far.
Inside the numbers
Maryland will start its third quarterback in four games. … Minnesota (8.0 points) and No. 4 Penn State (8.3) are No. 1 and No. 2 nationally in scoring defense. … Indiana’s J-Shun Harris II has scored on a punt return in two straight games. … Iowa’s Nate Stanley leads the conference with 12 TD passes while Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke threw for a career-high 396 yards against Notre Dame last week. … No. 11 Ohio State’s defensive coordinator Greg Schiano returns to Rutgers, where he served as head coach for 11 seasons. Rutgers coach Chris Ash is the former co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State … Nebraska has scored at least 39 points in each of its last three home games against Illinois. … No. 10 Wisconsin has outscored its opponents 130-30 this season. … Northwestern RB Justin Jackson needs 109 yards rushing to break Damien Anderson’s school career record (4,485). … No. 8 Michigan and Purdue have byes.
Nebraska opened the week as an 8 1/2 -point favorite against Illinois. By Wednesday night, the line was down to six. The biggest reason is that the Cornhuskers haven’t been terribly impressive this season — beating Arkansas State 43-36 at home, losing at Oregon and at home to Northern Illinois before beating Rutgers 27-17 last week. Illinois (2-1) hasn’t been competitive in its last three trips to Lincoln, but this may be the school’s best chance to pull an upset.
Player to watch
Penn State RB Saquon Barkley leads the nation in all-purpose yards (253.3) after setting a school record with 358 yards in last week’s win at Iowa. This week, he faces a Hoosiers defense that allows a league-worst 196.3 yards per game rushing, No. 102 in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Coach Tom Allen insisted this week his defense is farther ahead of where it was last year, when it finished in the Top 50, but it could be challenging to prove it this weekend.