Mitch Sherman, ESPN Staff Writer 392d

Big Ten Week 8 picks: Can Michigan contain Saquon Barkley, Penn State?

The second half of the season is underway as the Big Ten division races take shape. With sixth-ranked Ohio State and Nebraska off this week and headed in opposite directions, key games in the East and West are set for State College, Pennsylvania, and Evanston, Illinois.

Can any team stand in the way of No. 5 Wisconsin’s bid to reach the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis? It looks unlikely, but Iowa faces a must-win game at Northwestern to get back in the conversation. Same story with No. 19 Michigan, as the league’s top defense meets a huge test at second-ranked Penn State, which features and Heisman Trophy front-runner Saquon Barkley.

Visit our college football PickCenter page for additional information on these games and many more. Here’s a deeper look at the Big Ten slate for Saturday.

Iowa at Northwestern, noon ET, ESPN2

Dan Murphy: Neither of these teams has been particularly consistent this season, which makes this game a bit of a toss-up. Will Akrum Wadley or Justin Jackson have the bigger day on the ground? Northwestern's Jackson seemed to find his stride in a record-setting outing last weekend, so let's go with him and the Wildcats in a close one. Northwestern 28, Iowa 21

Mitch Sherman: What to make of the Wildcats’ apparent improvement? After two losses to superior teams, Northwestern rebounded with a nice performance at Maryland last week. Iowa is two scores from an unbeaten mark and one score from a 3-3 record. Saturday presents an opportunity for both teams to set a positive course for the final month. Iowa 30, Northwestern 21

Tom VanHaaren: I think I’m .500 picking an Iowa game this season. It has been hit-or-miss with this team and it seems this game is much of the same. You could put Northwestern in the same boat, so picking this game is tough. Northwestern is ranked 65th in offensive yards per game; Iowa is sitting at No. 100. The Wildcats' defense is ranked 59th in yards given up per game and Iowa is at No. 70. Iowa, I’m picking you, just because I think your last two losses have been close and you beat Illinois convincingly. Don’t mess this up for me. Iowa 27-21

Purdue at Rutgers, noon ET, BTN

Sherman: On the heels of a breakthrough win at Illinois, the Scarlet Knights entertain Purdue, which has experienced multiple breakthrough moments in this first season under Jeff Brohm. Despite the progress, Rutgers remains a bad offensive team -- and especially bad at throwing the ball. The Boilermakers will find more room to operate in Piscataway than last week in Madison. Purdue 31, Rutgers 17

Murphy: A year ago, this would have been a battle for the basement. But this fall, Purdue has a shot to move into a tie for second place in the Big Ten West and pick up its fourth victory of the year. As exciting as the offense has been for the Boilermakers, the strides they've taken on defense will shine brightest against Rutgers. Purdue 33, Rutgers 16

Maryland at Wisconsin, noon ET, Fox

VanHaaren: Wisconsin had a rough game against Purdue, but Maryland is just so beaten-up right now. The run attack from freshman Jonathan Taylor is going to be too much for Maryland, and Wisconsin will likely take this game. The what-ifs for this Maryland team are unfortunate, because it seemed that both Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill could lead this team at quarterback. Losing both of them is too much. Wisconsin 27, Maryland 17

Indiana at Michigan State, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Sherman: Welcome to the Big Ten Defensive Struggle of the Week, almost surely every Saturday to involve a team from the state of Michigan. The Hoosiers have improved dramatically at defending the pass, which isn’t the Spartans’ specialty to start with. Or is it? Brian Lewerke’s QBR ranks second in the Big Ten to J.T. Barrett. Michigan State 27, Indiana 14

VanHaaren: The Hoosiers came up short against Michigan in overtime and are probably catching the Spartans at a bad time. Or a good time, if you’re a Michigan State fan. The Spartans have beaten Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota consecutively, and the defense is ranked 19th in the country in touchdowns allowed. I deleted this prediction twice, because I feel that Indiana could pull this off. But Michigan State seems to have something going, so I’m going with the Spartans. Michigan State 31, Indiana 21

Illinois at Minnesota, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN

Murphy: The Gophers get a chance to break a streak of three straight conference losses. Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks have been relatively quiet through the first half of the season. Don't be surprised if both top 100 yards on the ground against Illinois' defense. Minnesota 35, Illinois 17

Michigan at Penn State, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC

VanHaaren: This game should be fun to watch, because it’s going to be good on good: Penn State’s offense against Michigan’s defense. Not a lot of people are talking about the Nittany Lions’ defense, which is leading the country in points against (9.0). Michigan’s offense is having issues, and while the defense has been able to stop teams in the past, there will be no margin for error here. Michigan has gotten the best of Penn State the last three meetings, but I think the Nittany Lions will pull it off this time around, tripping up Michigan’s offense. Penn State 20, Michigan 17

Sherman: That 49-10 beatdown by the Wolverines came less than 13 months ago. Might as well be 13 years, with as far as the Nittany Lions have progressed, flipping the script ahead of Saturday night. Regardless, even an offensively challenged Michigan team presents Penn State with its toughest test of the year. Few teams stop the run better. Penn State 24, Michigan 17

Murphy: Explosive plays and turnovers usually serve as the determining factors in low-scoring games. Two of the country's best defenses should keep the points down. Penn State ranks second nationally in turnover margin, and then there's that Barkley guy, who should give them the edge in creating big plays as well. Penn State 21, Michigan 13

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