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Big Ten & SEC Week 11 Preview: Northwestern looks to clinch division

In the 11th 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’s a look at some of the most highly-anticipated games on the schedule this week:

Northwestern (5-4, 5-1 Big Ten) at No. 16 Iowa (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) – 3:30 p.m. on FOX

The Big Ten West-leading Northwestern Wildcats travel to Iowa City this weekend to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Wildcats have won four of their last five and enter the contest on a six-game road win streak. The Hawkeyes have lost two in a row, but are 4-1 at Kinnick Stadium this season.

The Wildcats are a perfect 3-0 against division foes this season and have won nine-straight contest with West Division teams. The Wildcats can clinch the first division title in program history with a win combined with losses by Wisconsin and Purdue.

Senior quarterback Clayton Thorson is on the brink of multiple Northwestern career passing records. Thorson is already the program’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns and needs just 13 completions, 31 attempts and 820 passing yards to pass Brett Basanez (2002-05) in those three categories.

Thorson will be tested, however, by an Iowa defense that ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (18.6), rushing defense (86.2), and total defense (283.7). Iowa’s rushing defense ranks fifth in the country and its total defense ranks eighth.

On the other sideline, Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley has 17 touchdown passes on the season, good for second in the Big Ten. In 2017, Stanley threw 26 touchdown passes, one shy of tying Chuck Long (1985) for most in a single season in school history.

If Iowa wins on Saturday, Kirk Ferentz will become the fifth coach in conference history to win 150 games as a member of the Big Ten. The top five also includes Woody Hayes (202), Amos Alonza Stagg (199), Bo Schembechler (194) and Joe Paterno (162).

No. 18 Mississippi State (6-3, 2-3 SEC) at No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC) – 3:30 p.m. on CBS

Alabama and Mississippi State will meet for the 103rd time on Saturday. The Crimson Tide lead the all-time series, 82-17-3, and have won the last 10 meetings between the schools. The Tide have played more games against the Bulldogs than any other opponent, and the series, which began in 1896, is the fifth-oldest in Alabama history.

Alabama has lost just one game to a team ranked outside the Top 15 in the Associated Press poll since the start of the 2008 season (No. 19 South Carolina in 2010). No other team in the nation has lost fewer than 10 games to teams outside the Top 15 in that same time frame.

The Alabama offense, led by Heisman hopeful Tua Tagovailoa, ranks first in the nation in scoring offense, putting up an average 51.3 points per game, and ranks third in the nation in passing yards per completion (17.77).

Alabama’s high-powered offense will need to be at the top of its game when they face a stout Mississippi State defense on Saturday. The Bulldogs defensive unit has allowed the fewest touchdowns in the nation (9), and ranks second in the nation in scoring defense (12.3 points per game) behind only UAB (12.1).

Mississippi State has allowed just two touchdowns in opponents’ last 51 possessions dating back to the third quarter of the Florida game.

South Carolina (5-3, 4-3 SEC) at No. 11 Florida (6-3, 4-3 Big Ten) – 12 p.m. on ESPN

Continuing a series that dates back to 1911, the Gators will host the South Carolina Gamecocks in an SEC East showdown on Saturday.

The Gamecocks have won five of the last eight gridiron battles with the Gators after winning just four of the first 30 meetings between the two schools. This will be the final conference matchup of the 2018 season for both squads.

Carolina will be looking to knock off a ranked opponent for the first time since a 24-21 win over No. 18 Tennessee on Oct. 29, 2016. Since that time, the Gamecocks have dropped eight straight games against ranked taems.

The Gamecocks offense relies on four junior running backs: Rico Dowdle, A.J. Turner, Ty’Son Williams, and Mon Denson. Carolina is averaging 4.6 yards per rush and the Gamecocks are 18-3 when rushing for 100 yards or more under Will Muschamp, including a 13-1 mark when rushing for more than 150 yards.

The Gators’ defense will look to control the game against the Gamecocks rushing attack. The Gators’ 18 takeaways are tied for 16th nationally, and they have scored 50 points off those turnovers, already ahead of the 44 points off turnovers they had in 2017.

Florida’s first year coach Dan Mullen is one of three first year coaches with Top-25 teams (Josh Heupel at UCF and Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State).

Wisconsin (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) at No. 14 Penn State (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) – 12 p.m. on ABC

This Saturday, Penn State hosts a rematch of the 2016 Big Ten Championship Game when Wisconsin visits Beaver Stadium. Penn State has won the last three matchups between the teams, including a come-from-behind win in that 2016 game to advance to the Rose Bowl.

The Nittany Lions are led by quarterback Trace McSorley, who recently became the 14th quarterback in Big Ten history to surpass 9,000 career passing yards. Penn State will rely on McSorely and running back Miles Sanders to pace a rushing attack that is averaging 207.9 yards a game.

The Penn State running game will look to keep pace with Wisconsin, which ranks 4th nationally in rushing at 273.0 yards per game, trailing only triple-option attacks from Georgia Tech (377.0 yards per game), Army (306.6) and Navy (287.4). The Badgers ground game is led by running back Jonathan Taylor, who leads the country with 1,363 rushing yards.

Other Big Ten and SEC games being played this week.

Vanderbilt (4-5, 1-4 SEC) at Missouri (5-4, 1-4 SEC) – 12 p.m. on SEC
Ole Miss (5-4, 1-4 SEC) at No. 20 Texas A&M (5-4, 3-3 SEC) – 12 p.m. on CBS
Maryland (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten) at Indiana (4-5, 1-5 Big Ten) – 12 p.m. on BTN
Illinois (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten) at Nebraska (2-7, 1-5 Big Ten) – 12 p.m. on BTN
No. 10 Ohio State (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten) at Michigan State (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) – 12 p.m. on FOX
No. 9 Kentucky (7-2, 5-2 SEC) at Tennessee (4-5, 1-4 SEC) – 3:30 p.m. on SEC
Purdue (5-4, 4-2 Big Ten) at Minnesota (4-5, 1-5 Big Ten) – 3:30 p.m. on ESPN2
No. 5 Michigan (6-0, 8-1 Big Ten) at Rutgers (1-8, 0-6 Big Ten) – 3:30 p.m. on BTN
Auburn (6-3, 3-3 SEC) at No. 6 Georgia (8-1, 6-1 SEC) – 7 p.m. on ESPN
No. 3 LSU (7-2, 4-2 SEC) at Arkansas (2-7, 0-5 SEC) – 7:30 p.m. on SEC

 Click here to check out previews of games from earlier this season.

For a breakdown of the latest CFP poll and what it means for the Citrus Bowl and Camping World Bowl, click here.

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