If you're going to have delusions, delusions of grandeur is the only way to go. Yes, we can still play in this season's Rose Bowl. No, I haven't totally lost my mind, but there are a couple of football related notes before getting into this week's conference preview:
First, I don't know how many of you look at the side content here at Hammer & Rails, but you may have noticed a new feature to the right. AtheletixNation is now an official sponsor for all SBNation sites. This is nothing but a bonus because 1. I am a whore that can use the monetization, and 2. They will now provide Big Ten football video highlights every week. I am still tweaking some things with the system, but readers can control the volume and even select highlights within the window. Enjoy!
Second, I was flipping channels last night and found the United Football League on Versus. It is highly likely that this league is not going to succeed. They have just four teams. Last night's game between the New York Sentinels and the California Redwoods (which sound like discarded team names from Any Given Sunday) was played at Giants Stadium, but had probably half as many fans as the high school game I covered last week at Lafayette Central Catholic. The official attendance was listed as 10,818, but there is no way there were even 1,000 people there.
The reason I mention it is because there are a few Purdue guys kicking around in this league. The New York team features none other than our own Charles Davis at tight end. Gene Mruczkowski is also playing for the Florida Tuskers. I know these guys are just fighting for another shot at the NFL, but with the Arena League folded I guess this is better than nothing.
Week 9 in the Big Ten
New Mexico State (3-5) at #17 Ohio State (6-2) Noon, Big Ten Network
In the longest distance traveled to trick-or-treat in the history of Halloween, the New Mexico State Aggies come to the Horseshoe this weekend dressed up as a football team and will be knocking on the door of a team that's not likely to have any candy to hand out to their final out of conference foe for 2009. - Eleven Warriors
Yep, that sounds about right. Ohio State showed it has an offense last week and rediscovered the forward pass. Expect more fine tuning of this invention this week. Ohio State 45, New Mexico State 13
Indiana (4-4, 1-3) at #4 Iowa (8-0, 4-0) Noon, ESPN
This game has the potential to be very interesting. Indiana has a recent history of beating Iowa when the Hawkeyes are ranked. Iowa has played down to competition all season long and is now down to a waterboy at backup running back. It should be simple for Iowa. Don't blow one of your three remaining home games to obviously inferior competition and you are going to win at least a share of the Big Ten title.
I can see Indiana winning this though. They have a very good defensive line. The Hoosiers have a more potent offense that runs a style Iowa's excellent defense hasn't seen all year. Is it enough for me to call the upset? No. Would I be totally shocked if Indiana won? Not really. Do I want to cheer for Indiana to help Purdue's Rose Bowl chances? More on that later. Iowa 20, Indiana 10
Purdue (3-5, 2-2) at Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2) Noon, ESPN2
The 2009 road trip will be leaving Indianapolis around 5pm this evening. I've got a great hotel deal right in Madison for tonight and plenty of paper for the travel log. It should be a fun trip, as a Purdue victory would probably make more people take notice than the win over Ohio State. It would make a bowl game a very real possibility with three games left, especially with the rest of the conference being so bad. If we somehow win the last four games of the season our 6-2 conference record could be good enough for second place, or more if the pieces fall right. That would only make the losses to Northwestern and Minnesota sting even more.
I like that we're getting some respect in the media, but not a lot. It is appropriate for a team that is 3-5, but a feisty 3-5. Many people expect a closer game with Wisconsin prevailing in the end. The Wisconsin offensive line is beat up, John Clay is beat up and the offense as a whole struggled in the last two games. There are two major factors in Wisconsin's favor though. First, they had a bye last week to heal. Second, the last two games were against Iowa and Ohio State, who can beat up anyone.
I absolutely feel we can win this game, but Wisconsin's physicality scares me. We cannot let them dominate on the ground because we will lose that battle easily. If we can build a bit of a lead and not turn the ball over I like our chances because Wisconsin is not a team that plays well from behind. The biggest factor is turnovers though. We cannot revert to Northwestern levels of turnovers. I think Wisconsin is just a little too strong physically, but I hope I am proven wrong. We also haven't won a road game in more than two years (10 straight games). For the record, I am trying to get the good karma going by watching our last bowl game right now on Big Ten Network On Demand. Wisconsin 21, Purdue 20
Michigan (5-3, 1-3) at Illinois (1-6, 0-5) 3:30 ABC
What Penn State did to Michigan last week was almost frightening. They had struggled mightily in the Big House for more than a decade only to win with prejudice. Fortunately for Michigan, they get the new Big Ten bye week to insure they get to six wins and resume their bowl streak.
Illinois is just bad. They are abysmally bad. After watching last week's game again I am convinced that we didn't beat them so much as we made fewer mistakes and outlasted them. We didn't do anything fancy on offense but they couldn't stop us from running in the first half. Defensively we had some miscues that led to two touchdowns, but for the most part we just let Illinois shoot itself in the foot. That is all you need to do to beat the Fighting Illini: wait patiently for them to beat themselves. Michigan 32, Illinois 10
#12 Penn State (7-1, 3-1) at Northwestern (5-3, 2-2) 4:30, ESPN
Of the three teams that have the best chance to win the Big Ten, Penn State is in the most trouble. Their loss to Iowa means they must have the Hawkeyes lose twice to head back to Pasadena. They don't control their own destiny like Ohio State does. Assuming the one Iowa loss comes at Ohio State, a three way tie at 7-1 between Iowa, Penn State, and Ohio State would go to Iowa. Ohio State would be eliminated because they have a non-conference loss, and Iowa would get the nod then based on the win over Penn State.
Of course, Purdue can still faintly hope for a share of that crown. All we need is two more Penn State losses, an Ohio State loss, a Northwestern loss, and three Iowa losses (in addition to Purdue winning out) for the Boilers to head to Pasadena as the worst BCS team ever.
I know it is crazy, but we get one of those required losses no matter what from this game. The only huge upsets we need in there is Iowa dropping two home games. If Northwestern can beat Penn State in Evanston (and is Northwestern really out of any game this year?) we need Indiana to shock Iowa this week, Penn State to beat Ohio State, Ohio State to beat Iowa, Wisconsin to beat Northwestern, Northwestern or Minnesota to beat Iowa, and Michigan State to beat Penn State later on.
If you're going to dream, dream big I say. Unfortunately, Penn State looks too good right now. Penn State 38, Northwestern 21
Michigan State (4-4, 3-2) at Minnesota (4-4, 2-3) 8pm Big Ten Network
When you're thinking of more realistic bowl scenarios this is the more likely game we need to pay attention to. Should we win on Saturday afternoon we probably want Minnesota to win this game. The Gophers are likely going to get to six wins anyway with games against South Dakota State and Illinois remaining. Michigan State, however, must finish with Western Michigan, us, and Penn State. If they lose this one they could play a bowl elimination game against us, as I don't expect them to beat Penn State.
The Big Ten has seven bowl slots guaranteed. I don't think we're getting a second BCS bid this year as an 8th bowl because the Alabama-Florida loser will likely take one, as will TCU (if unbeaten), Boise State (if unbeaten), and possibly a 10-2 USC if they lose to Oregon this week. That means we need to be bowl eligible ourselves and have four teams from the conference not be eligible.
Illinois will officially join that group eventually, as they won't win their last five games. Indiana, barring an upset in the next three weeks, will join them. If Michigan State loses to Minnesota they could be a third non-eligible team, thus guaranteeing us a bowl if we finish 6-6 and Penn State or Ohio State gets a second BCS nod. I don't think that will happen though. Minnesota has no passing game at all without Eric Decker. If Michigan State is smart it will stack against the run and dare Minnesota to throw. Michigan State 20, Minnesota 10