It has been a little too dry around here. Things have been bogged down way too much with in depth research and analysis. The days of the Family Guy power rankings and such seem too far in the past, so that is why I want to spice things up a bit. Next week's power rankings will return with a better theme, while this week's Big Ten games (plus Purdue-Notre Dame) should give us all a better idea of how things will shake out.
Since this is the first week of conference play it means there are fewer games to cover. The matchups are quite intriguing though, as the three I's of the conference each have games against the elite after non-conference play. All three want to show that they belong at the top, but all three are pretty hefty underdogs in each game. Here is how this week's games look:
We need another moment like this
Minnesota (2-1) at Northwestern (2-1) Noon, Big Ten Network
If Purdue is going to make a bowl game (and with the Big Ten being weak I will not give up on this) Each of these two teams is a must-win. Neither has looked great so far and both have a non-conference blemish coloring the record. Minnesota's loss is loads better than Northwestern's. Minnesota played top 10 Cal to a close game. They were even tied 21-21 after three quarters. Northwestern, meanwhile, dropped a road game to one of the worst BCS programs of the past 5 years.
This game will be an exercise in seeing who recovers more. They even have Syracuse as a common opponent. Does Minnesota's OT win at Syracuse overcome the home field advantage that Northwestern has? Northwestern had an abysmal rushing performance last week, but Minnesota got dominated by the nation's best running back. Honestly, these teams are just about even with each other. I don't see a single factor that makes one team stand head and shoulders above the rest. Minnesota has issues with turnovers, but Northwestern does not have much of a pass defense. How do you call this game?
In the end, I will go with the home team, Northwestern normally does a good job of shaking off bad losses, and I think that happens in a close one here. That, and Mike Kafka is still racking up rushing yards from last year's game. Northwestern 34, Minnesota 31
Indiana (3-0) at #23 Michigan (3-0) Noon, ESPN2
Indiana? Undefeated? In football? If you can say that after this week, the Hoosiers will make a bowl game. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, they have fared no better in Ann Arbor than we have over the years. Their last victory at the Big House came in 1967. Consequently, it was the last time Indiana won a Big Ten Championship in football. I guess that means a Hoosier win tomorrow puts them in the driver's seat for the title.
Much like Minnesota-Northwestern, Indiana and Michigan have a common opponent in Western Michigan. The Wolverines dominated their game with the Broncos, while Indiana took advantage of a late fumble in the red zone to escape with a close win. Much has been made of Indiana's defensive line being able to keep it in games. Indiana was the beneficiary of Akron's backup QB throwing four interceptions last week. They will have to stop a Michigan running game that is finally working well. Though both teams are 3-0, no one is giving Indiana a realistic shot in this one simply because of history. Until proven wrong, I am picking Michigan every time. An Indiana win, however, will make them the surprise team in the conference. Michigan 31, Indiana 10
Michigan State (1-2) at Wisconsin (3-0) Noon, ESPN
Bucky's 5th Quarter Preview (not posted yet)
This is already a must win for a Michigan State team that is in severe danger of seeing its season unravel. The Spartans have only themselves to blame for not being 3-0. They couldn't recover an onside kick and Kirk Cousins overthrew a wide open receiver that would have beaten Notre Dame. A loss at Wisconsin could mean a John L. Smith-esque spiral with Michigan, Illinois, Northwestern, and Iowa to follow. Michigan State looks like our 2002 team at the moment. They are good, but they cannot close games out.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, looks to be getting better every week. Scott Tolzien has given the Badgers a long term (by Wisconsin Standards) answer at quarterback. Their running game is working like the Wisconsin running games of old. They just seem like the much sharper team at the moment. Camp Randall is still one of the better home field advantages in this conference as well. The Spartans are just a little too disjointed for my tastes to pick them here. Wisconsin 24, Michigan State 17
Illinois (1-1) at #13 Ohio State (2-1) 3:30 ABC
I think people have forgotten about the Fighting Illini. They got drilled in the opener, then no one paid attention to their beaten of a 1-AA opponent. Last week's bye probably helped them from a health standpoint, but this is still a football team with some issues. The offense seems to have regressed to, "Let Juice run around and do something," levels. The supposedly improved defense got torched by Missouri and will now be missing its best player for the rest of the year. Arrelious Benn, maybe the offense's best player, is also banged up.
Ohio State looked like the Buckeyes of old last week, thoroughly demolishing a weaker opponent. That does not change the fact that Illinois is the only unranked opponent that has won in Columbus since. 2001. Buckeye fans remember that, too. I think this will be an easy win for the Buckeyes, as Illinois is just not a good football team in my mind. Ohio State 23, Illinois 10
Iowa (3-0) at #5 Penn State (3-0) 8pm, ABC
The obvious angle to play up in this one is Iowa's last second victory in Iowa City last year. It cost the Nittany Lions an undefeated season and a chance to play Florida or Oklahoma (probably Florida) for the national title. Honestly, I kind of like Iowa in this one. Penn State has yet to be seriously tested. Iowa, however, has had to sweat a couple of games out. The Hawkeyes have responded very well to the near miss against Northern Iowa and have played like they should play.
It is still a night game in Happy Valley though. Wasn't Ohio State in 2007 the last time the Nittany Lions dropped one of those games? How about the last time Penn State lost one of these games to someone other than Ohio State? Penn state's defense has only given up 20 points so far. Iowa's offense hasn't shown enough that they can manage a whole lot more. Expect Daryl Clark to keep churning out 250 yard, 3 touchdown performances while Evan Royster looks to get fully on track. Penn State 24, Iowa 10
Notre Dame (2-1) at Purdue (1-2)
My world is upside down this morning as those previews are more positive on Purdue than I am at the moment.
Don't dare call this a rivalry, as J Money points out this morning. Honestly, I hate the Notre Dame game and I wish we had the stones to tell them where to stick the Shillelagh. If it wasn't for Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan, and USC playing them every year their schedule would be even more of a joke. At least we give them true road games, even if we have been a mediocre program since 2004. That right there makes it a rivalry because Notre Dame will still go on the road to play us. If they don't need us (and many ND fans certainly think this way) then we don't need them. I am tired of caring about this game. I am tired of the disrespect they give us. I just want them gone so I don't have to pay them an ounce of attention anymore.
I have mixed feelings about what is going to happen tomorrow night. Armando Allen may not play, Clausen is banged up, and Michael Floyd is out. These certainly help us, but they give Irish fans ready-made excuses should the unthinkable (in their minds) happen. If you want a bold statement from me I will give you one. If Notre Dame loses to Purdue they will struggle to make any bowl game. If Purdue is good enough to beat them, then Washington, USC, Boston College, Navy, Pittsburgh, and maybe Stanford are good enough to beat them. We're 10th on their opponent poll anyway, so of course we have no chance.
I think there is a lot going in our favor. I think we can come out and play pissed off after last week. I think Clausen being limited is a major factor. I think if Allen does not play that will be a huge plus. I think even the weather, if it is raining, will help us because they rely more on their passing game. I think we have the ability to move on what has been a suspect defense the last two weeks. Unfortunately, I still have the stink of last week lingering.
I am as positive towards Purdue football as anyone. That being said, last week was the absolute worst effort we have turned in since the Jim Colletto era. Yes, we have had some awful games (2005 Notre Dame and the Champs Sports Bowl against Maryland come to mind), but at least in those we lost to pretty good teams. Even the 2003 loss to Bowling Green and 1997 loss to Toledo came against very good (read, top 25 caliber) MAC teams. Northern Illinois is good, but they may be the fourth or fifth best team in their own division. Last week we flat out sucked. There is no other way to describe it. I am convinced that if we had played to our ability we win last week by at least two touchdowns. Last week's effort finally killed the positivity and optimism I have promoted for years since The Fumble. It was rock bottom, and only a win over the Irish this week will get me believing again soon.
It is because of last week's effort that I can't pick us this week. I can't get excited by the hype. I can't get excited that we have a lot going in our favor. I can't see how we can flip a switch and suddenly everything is fixed. I can't see how we will suddenly understand that we maybe, just maybe, should cover the slant route over the middle with an inside receiver. If Notre Dame is as good as they think they are (and they do have legitimate talent) they should have their way with us. Purdue would have to show me tomorrow night that we have finally fixed things that have been glaring weaknesses for years.
Notre Dame won't have to worry about double coverage on Golden Tate because we're not smart enough to do that. They won't have to worry about Kyle Rudolph over the middle because we're not smart enough to actually cover an inside receiver/tight end over the middle (especially on third and long). As long as the Irish do those two things until we prove we can stop them they will be fine. Notre Dame 41, Purdue 20
One more for good measure