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Monday, October 25, 2021
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B1G Outlook: Is the state of Michigan for real?

Rutgers vs. No. 19 Michigan

#Rankgers is gaining traction, and for a good reason. Two commanding wins over Temple and Delaware and an underrated victory at Syracuse has the Scarlet Knights 3-0 for the first time since 2012, a great start to season two under coach Greg Schiano. Rutgers hasn't looked phenomenal this season, but also hasn't done anything wrong. The Knights have yet to turn the ball over while forcing eight turnovers on defense, for the second-highest turnover margin in the FBS. 

The clean football doesn't stop there either for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers has committed the third-fewest amount of penalties this season while playing one more game than the two teams in front of them. Rutgers will have to keep the neat and tidy play going if they hope to pull off the upset over Michigan in Ann Arbor. 

With Michigan, it's still not yet certain exactly how good the Wolverines are. Two of their three wins are over non-Power Five programs, but both of those teams — Western Michigan and Northern Illinois — have defeated a Power Five team in their own right. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has received criticism from the Michigan faithful during his tenure at the school, but his squad this year has looked closer to what people expect a Michigan Wolverine football team is supposed to look like. 

With Ohio State losing to Oregon and all-in-all looking less than spectacular this season, the Big Ten East looks more open than ever. If this Michigan team continues to play at the level it has now that conference play has started, the Wolverines just might be in the running to secure their first Big Ten title since 2004. Like Rutgers, Michigan has been stellar in the turnover battle, keeping the ball to themselves on offense while forcing three turnovers on the defensive side of the ball. This game between two undefeated teams could easily come down to which team makes the one mistake that leads to their first turnover and their subsequent first loss.

Prediction: Michigan 38, Rutgers 14 

Nebraska vs. No. 20 Michigan State

A lot has been said of this Michigan State team this season. For a team that started this year just hoping to crack a .500 record and sneak into a bowl game, coach Mel Tucker's squad has already exceeded expectations. Early upset victories at Northwestern and Miami, and an easy win over Youngstown State in East Lansing, have the Spartans already halfway to being bowl eligible and ranked for the first time since midway through the 2019 season. 

Tucker, who played football for Wisconsin under Barry Alvarez, set out to turn around a Michigan State team that had been on a downward trend since finishing 12-2 in 2015. Since then, Sparty has won exactly half of their games — 29 of 58 — and 10 of those came in the 2017 season. So a win at home as a ranked for the first time in two years would do wonders for the Spartans' resurgence as a threat in the Big Ten East. And looking ahead, if Michigan State can pull out a win over Nebraska, it's very likely MSU could be 6-0 going into their Week 7 matchup at Indiana.

Though the win might look easy for Michigan State on paper, don't underestimate this Nebraska team. The Cornhuskers opened up the 2021 season with a relatively disappointing 30-22 loss at Illinois but have looked like a much-improved team since, despite only sitting 2-2 heading into this week. Nebraska breezed by Fordham, 52-7, and Buffalo, 28-3, in their next two games for the team's first consecutive victories — admittedly against two pretty weak opponents — since 2019. The Huskers stayed with No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman last week, holding the Sooners, who were averaging 58 points per game heading into the Nebraska matchup, to just 23 points. 

For Nebraska and coach Scott Frost, it's put up or shut up time. Frost came to Lincoln, Nebraska from UCF after leading the Knights to an undefeated season and was supposed to lead the Cornhuskers back to the level the team saw in the 90s when they were a force to be reckoned with. Instead, after three consecutive seasons finishing with just three wins each, Frost, who was born and raised in Nebraska, and played his last two collegiate seasons as the Huskers starting quarterback, is now on the hot seat and needs to start producing wins soon if he wants to keep his job in Lincoln.

Prediction: Michigan State 34, Nebraska 17

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