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Big Ten & SEC Week 8 Preview: No. 2 Penn State Seeks Redemption vs. Michigan

In the eighth week of the college football season, members of the Florida Citrus Sports Team Selection Committee are making visits throughout Big Ten and SEC country, meeting with fans across both conferences in advance of the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Here are a few of the games our representatives will be taking in this week:

No. 19 Michigan (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) at No. 2 Penn State (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) – 7:30 p.m. on ABC

Undefeated Penn State hosts Michigan at Beaver Stadium for the 21st meeting between the programs on Saturday.

The Wolverines fell two spots but remained in the AP Top 20 after edging Indiana in a 27-20 overtime win last week. Michigan’s offense remains balanced this season as they have averaged 167.8 yards rushing and 218 yards passing per game. Led by backup quarterback John O’Korn (45-of-82, 563 yards) in their last two contests, Michigan has gained more than 400 yards of total offense on three different occasions this season and is first in the Big Ten and tenth in the nation in red zone offense (94.4 percent). The Wolverines rank in the top eight in nine defensive categories in the NCAA and lead the nation in total defense (223.8 yards), third down defense (20.5 percent) and pass efficiency defense (88.85 rating.) Michigan also leads the Big Ten in seven defensive categories and has held all six of its opponents to their fewest yards of the season.

Penn State moved up to the No. 2 spot in both the AP and Coaches poll after a bye last week, earning the Nittany Lions their highest AP ranking since 1999. Their 6-0 start is the program’s best since 2009, when the team started 9-0, and leaves them as one of eight undefeated FBS teams, including two in the Big Ten (Wisconsin). The Nittany Lions offense ranks 33rd in the nation and is led by running back Saquon Barkley, who is No. 1 nationally all-purpose yards per game (217.0) and career all-purpose yards per game among active players (145.5). The team has also seen strong play from Trace McSorley, the Big Ten leader in passing yards per game (266.2). The defense stands at No. 9 in the nation and also ranks in the top five in scoring defense (1st) and red zone defense (4th).

Saturday’s game will mark the first matchup between Top 25 teams in Beaver Stadium since No. 12 Penn State faced No. 19 Nebraska on Nov. 12, 2011. Michigan leads the overall series 13-7 and also holds a 6-4 advantage in State College. The Wolverines have won the last three games against the Lions, including last season’s 49-10 victory at Michigan Stadium to open the Big Ten season. The last night game between Penn State and Michigan at Beaver Stadium went into four overtimes, with the Nittany Lions prevailing 43-40. The game this season figures to be a defensive struggle, as Penn State leads the nation in scoring defense while Michigan leads in total defense.

Indiana (3-3, 0-3 Big Ten) at No. 18 Michigan State (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten) – 3:30 p.m. on ABC

The Old Brass Spittoon trophy is on the line for the Hoosiers and Spartans as Indiana heads to East Lansing.

Indiana took No. 17 Michigan to overtime last week in a 27-20 loss, their third to a Top 20 team from the Big Ten (Ohio State, Penn State). The Hoosiers finished with 278 yards of total offense on the nation’s No. 1-ranked defense and held them to just 58 passing yards. Freshman quarterback Peyton Ramsey took the starting role over senior Richard Lagow in the Hoosiers’ last two games and is averaging 135.8 yards per game with a 62.3 percent completion rate. Overall, Indiana’s offense has been scoring an average of 28.0 points per game and ranks fifth in the conference in passing offense and sixth in total offense. Their defense, which has been allowing 180.8 yards per game, is fourth in the Big Ten and 18th in the nation in passing yards allowed.

Michigan State defeated Minnesota for the fifth time straight last week, improving their perfect Big Ten record to 3-0. LJ Scott recorded career highs in both carries (25) and rushing yards (194) and became the first Spartan to record a 100-yard rushing game this season. Scott leads MSU in rushing yards with 408 yards on 83 carries and ranks fifth in the Big Ten at 81.6 yards per game. Quarterback Brian Lewerke is third in the Big Ten in total offense with 249.2 yards per game (196.2 passing and 53.0 rushing). Lewerke led the Spartans in rushing through their first five games of the season and still leads all Big Ten quarterbacks in rushing. The defense also ranks among Big Ten leaders in several different categories including second in total defense (263.8 yards per game), second in first downs defense (83), third in rushing defense (93.3 yards per game) and third in passing defense (170.5 yards per game).

Michigan State is Indiana’s fourth ranked opponent in its first seven games, which is a Big Ten high. Saturday will mark the 64th meeting between the programs, as the Spartans own the all-time record 45-16-2, including a 24-6-1 record in games played in East Lansing. Last season, the Hoosiers had their first victory in the series since 2006, snapping MSU’s seven-game winning streak. The Spittoon has been awarded to the winner of the Indiana-Michigan State game since the trophy’s inception in 1950, 28 years after the programs’ first meeting. It comes from one of Michigan’s earliest trading posts and is said to have been around when both institutions were founded (Indiana in 1820, Michigan State in 1855).

Kentucky (5-1, 2-1 SEC) at Mississippi State (4-2, 1-2 SEC) – 4:00 p.m. on SEC Network

Kentucky travels to Mississippi State this weekend seeking bowl eligibility. For just the fifth time in the past 40 years, the Wildcats are 5-1 through six games and in the race for the SEC Eastern Division crown.

Allowing just 97.2 yards per game, the Cats rank 10th nationally in rushing defense and have a turnover margin of +8, putting them second in the SEC and seventh nationally in that category. Josh Allen and Denzil Ware contribute largely to the defensive success, as they make up one of the SEC’s top pass rushing duos. Allen is tops in the SEC and third in the nation in sacks with 6.5 on the season. The Cats’ offense, meanwhile, includes the No. 5 rusher in the SEC, Benny Snell Jr. (87.2 yards per game) and quarterback Stephen Johnson II, who has completed 99 of 155 passes for 1,238 yards this season.

Mississippi State will host Kentucky for their Homecoming game at Davis Wade Stadium. The Bulldogs hold an all-time record of 54-21-3 in Homecoming games and have won seven straight.

Last week, MSU dominated BYU 35-10 while racking up 35 first downs, the most in the Dan Mullen era. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald had his 10th 100-yard rushing game, surpassing Dak Prescott (2012-15) in the school’s rankings. MSU’s offense is one of four Power 5/Independent programs (Alabama, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech) who have a quarterback-running back duo averaging over 70.0 yards per game rushing. Fitzgerald has an average of 74.3, while Aeris Williams is putting up 87.2, helping the Bulldogs to a No. 14 national ranking in rushing offense. The defense also ranks in the Top 10 nationally in three different categories: total defense (8th), passing defense (4th), and first down defense (1st).

The Wildcats and the Bulldogs have split 44 all-time meetings at 22-apiece, however, in Starkville, the Bulldogs owns a 12-7 record. The Cats were victorious last season in Lexington which snapped a seven-game overall winning streak for MSU. The 40-38 Kentucky victory marked the highest- scoring game in series history. This will be the 29th consecutive year the programs will meet, as Mississippi State has remained Kentucky’s permanent SEC West opponent in the league’s rotating schedule. The last time Kentucky was victorious against the Bulldogs in Starkville was in 2008.

Here are the rest of the Big Ten and SEC games our selection committee members will attend:

Maryland (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) at No. 5 Wisconsin (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) – 12:00 p.m. on FOX
Iowa (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) at Northwestern (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) – 12:00 p.m. on ESPN2
Tennessee (3-3, 0-3 SEC) at No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0 SEC) – 3:30 p.m. on CBS

Other Big Ten and SEC games being played this week:

Purdue (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) at Rutgers (2-4, 1-2 Big Ten) – 12:00 p.m. on BTN
Idaho (2-4, 1-2 Sun Belt) at Missouri (1-5, 0-4 SEC) – 12:00 p.m. on SEC Network
Illinois (2-4, 0-3 Big Ten) at Minnesota (3-3, 0-3 Big Ten) – 3:30 p.m. on BTN
No. 24 LSU (5-2, 2-1 SEC) at Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2 SEC) – 7:15 p.m. on ESPN
No. 21 Auburn (5-2, 3-1 SEC) at Arkansas (2-4, 0-3 SEC) – 7:30 p.m. on SEC Network

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