Two important Big Ten games Saturday will ease the logjam atop the conference’s East Division.
Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State all are 2-0 in league play. By Saturday night, two of those teams will be tied for third place.
Top-ranked Ohio State hosts the Nittany Lions under the lights, and No. 7 Michigan State faces the 12th-ranked Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
It’s time for some separation at the top.
“Obviously this weekend clears it up a little bit in terms of who’s the front-runner, at least,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday.
Ohio State has been the top dog in the conference for quite a while, but at this point in the season the Buckeyes have some company. Ohio State and Michigan State, at 6-0 overall, are already bowl eligible. Michigan (5-1) and Penn State (5-1) are only a victory away.
Only one of the four can earn a berth in the Big Ten title game, and Saturday’s results will help clarify the competition for that prize.
“Two are going to lose, two are going to win,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “The teams that win keep moving forward.”
And what of those that don’t?
“The teams that lose, you’re not out of it,” Meyer said. “I was in the SEC East (as coach of Florida) … and that was a real rugged conference. This side of our conference right now is every bit of that. You can see it every Saturday.”
For Ohio State and Michigan State, success this season is merely a continuation of last year. Michigan, under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh, is having a bounce-back season after going 5-7 last year and the Nittany Lions have already matched their 2014 win total in the conference.
Michigan always views its in-state game against Michigan State as significant, but Harbaugh isn’t ready to label the matchup as pivotal to his team’s chances of winning the East.
“The clarity, when the dust clears on Saturday night, I don’t know about that,” he said.
There’s a big game Saturday in the West Division, too. Iowa (6-0, 2-0) the only unbeaten team in that half of the league, travels to Northwestern (5-1, 1-1). The Wildcats are coming off a 38-0 loss to Michigan, but Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz isn’t sure that’s a good thing.
“Historically, when Northwestern has experienced any disappointment - small scale or big scale - they rebound strong,” Ferentz said. “That’s what good teams and good programs do.”
- Maryland interim coach Mike Locksley is scrutinizing every bit of the program during the bye week that follows head coach Randy Edsall’s dismissal on Sunday. “With the change, things have been a whirlwind,” Locksley said. “We’re using this time to self-evaluate where we are offensively, defensively, special teams.” Locksley’s first game comes on Oct. 24 against Penn State in Baltimore.
- Nebraska, which travels to Minnesota on Saturday, has lost four games by a total of 10 points. Coach Mike Riley said he couldn’t remember ever being around a team that’s had that so many close defeats in so short a time. But he insisted his players have “maintained a good ethic about them,” adding, “I’m proud of that because it’s a mental game for our team right now as far being able to overcome that stuff and get ready to play again.”
- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald probably wanted to burn the game film of his team’s loss to Michigan. Instead, he made his players watch it. “You teach from the mistakes that we made,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve got a good football team. We’ve just got to execute and play better.”
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