The conference now has the number one team in the country. That is, if you follow the Coaches and AP Polls. The Blogpoll thinks it is Oregon. The first BCS Standings when released think it is Boise State, who has played roughly the same level of schedule as Oregon, yet there would be no debate when it comes to the Ducks. Nebraska, TCU, Oklahoma, Auburn, LSU, and Michigan State also still have a chance at the title based on being undefeated at this time. And guess who, out of those teams, may be in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten after this weekend's games.
That's right, your Purdue Boilermakers.
No, I haven't completely lost it. At least not yet. The simple matter is that Purdue is one of four teams remaining without a loss in conference play. With Ohio State facing a tough road game at Wisconsin, Iowa traveling to the Denard Robinson Experience, and Michigan State hosting a surprisingly better Illinois, Purdue could be left in first place all alone by Sunday morning. Should this happen I expect Hammer & Rails Nation (and we are a Nation, since we have 977 member as of this morning and Vatican City has a population of 826) to immediately petition the Big Ten Conference to declare the rest of the season null and void, thus sending us to Pasadena. It's only fair since we would be the lone team leave unscathed in conference play.
Of course, much of this depends on a victory over last place Minnesota. Even that is not a guarantee given our recent lack of offense. Still, we have a lot to look forward to around the league this week as either we will have clear favorites emerge, or chaos will reign. I think you'll agree with me that it would be chaos with blood raining down from the sky if Purdue was in sole possession of first place after this weekend.
Illinois (3-2, 1-1) at #13 Michigan State (6-0, 2-0) Noon, ESPN
The Fighting Illini are the key team to the bowl hopes of both Indiana and Purdue. Since both the Hoosiers and Boilermakers are favored to win this week, the winner of the Bucket game would then need one more win for bowl eligibility. Before the season started, both teams looked toward Illinois for that game, so imagine my consternation last week when Illinois walked into Happy Valley and kicked Penn State's ass. Now the opposite is true, as the Illini are looking at both Indiana and Purdue thinking of their own bowl. You selfish bastards! You're not going according to the plan, Zooker!
Rightfully, Michigan State is dreaming of Pasadena already. The Spartans have the "Get out of Ohio State free" card this year. With Penn State looking bad the schedule looks downright simple the rest of the way. Even with Chris L. Rucker suspended, they get the consensus worst five teams in the league to finish the season, plus Iowa. As we have seen from Michigan State in the past (especially with the epic beat-down Drew Brees handed an undefeated #5 Spartan team in 1999) that's right around the time they crap the bed. I don't think it will be this week, but it is coming.
Prediction: Michigan State 24, Illinois 17
Arkansas State (2-4) at Indiana (3-2) Noon, ESPNU
The Hoosiers have a final non-conference patsy before the rest of the conference season begins. Indiana should win this, and suddenly two wins the rest of the way is not impossible. The hard part of Michigan and Ohio State is over. With the way Indiana plays Iowa I would not be surprised to see the Hoosiers win in Bloomington. Indiana absolutely can beat Northwestern and even Penn State. Illinois is beatable as well. Even winning at Purdue is not out of the question.
Does this mean the Hoosiers are suddenly an 8-4 threat? Of course not. They still don't have a defense. They do have the advantage of Penn State and Northwestern looking worse than originally thought, plus their historical record against Iowa. I certainly hope they have win #6 or loss #7 before they head to West Lafayette, because the potential of that offense with a bowl game on the line scares me. The Red Wolves are giving up 32 points per game, so Ben Chappell, Darius Willis, Tandon Doss, and Demarlo Belcher are going to have a field day.
Prediction: Indiana 45, Arkansas State 24
Minnesota (1-5, 0-2) at Purdue (3-2, 1-0) Noon, Big Ten Network
I am starting to wonder if Minnesota fans are secretly hoping the Golden Gophers go winless the rest of the way. They are clearly fed up with Tim Brewster and the way his team looks worse every week. I was a guest on The Daily Gopher's podcast last night and they said not to worry about talking bad about them. They have already said all the bad things they can think of.
They are optimistic about a win, but they know a bowl bid at this point would necessitate an incredible turnaround. We've been in their shoes though. We were 1-5 last year before coming within about 10 minutes of playing Indiana for a bowl game. I can't say I am supremely confident going in because the lack of a passing game still troubles me. As awesome as it would be to rush for 200 yards for a fifth straight game (and we should, since Minnesota gives up over 190 on the ground) we're going to need to throw.
This is a case of a bad offense going against a bad defense, so who will win. The Daily Gopher admitted that they have seen nothing like Ryan Kerrigan all season, but Adam Weber has three good receivers to throw to. I worry that we won't be able to score enough to keep up with an offense that is not that bad. I fear a flashback to Toledo, where we should have moved the ball easier, but didn't. Everyone has scored on Minnesota this year except for Middle Tennessee State. We have to continue to get an improved performance from the defense and I think 150 yards passing is needed.
Even then, some are giving this game true Cripple Fight potential.
Prediction: Purdue 27, Minnesota 24
#15 Iowa (4-1, 1-0) at Michigan (5-1, 1-1) 3:30pm ABC
Michigan fans are starting to have flashbacks. These aren't pleasant acid flashbacks, either. They are more like the hardcore PTSD Vietnam flashbacks. They have a close, last second win over Notre Dame to build hope. They struggle against some non-conference foes. They beat Indiana in a close contest and sit at 5-1 at the midseason. This all happened last year, and now they are staring down the barrel of Iowa, at Penn State, Illinois, at Purdue, Wisconsin, at Ohio State.
Michigan should still get the one win it needs to get back to a bowl game, but they were there last year too. Remember, they were supremely confident of getting said victory when Purdue rolled into town on November 7th. Then oceans rose, cities fell, and hell froze over as Purdue actually won in the Big House. Consequently, we sit as the most likely win left on their schedule. That game now looks like it will be a read option run fest where Rob Henry and Denard Robinson will run for a combined 4,876 yards and 54 touchdowns (approximately).
That is, if Adrian Clayborn does not lightly braise Robinson this weekend for a mild snack. Black Heart Gold Pants is ready, as this one should be fun to watch. Personally, I think Robinson gets it going again this week and Michigan springs the upset. I don't think Iowa can score enough on them.
Prediction: Michigan 30, Iowa 27
#1 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) at #18 Wisconsin (5-1, 1-1) 7pm, ESPN
Other than the game in Iowa City and the fact that Ryan Kerrigan will exercise his mastery of Terrelle Pryor again next week, this is Ohio State's biggest hurdle to an undefeated season. It doesn't feel like an Ohio State loss though. Remember, two years ago this was supposed to be the deadly night game in Madison, and Ohio State pulled it out with a ton of poise and sent Wisconsin's season into a tail spin. The Buckeyes have proven time and again that they do not fear the Night Game of Doom on the Road. They have shrugged it off in West Lafayette, Happy Valley, Bloomington, Madison, and Iowa City with relative ease.
From a Purdue perspective, I think our chances are helped if Ohio State wins. The Buckeyes are already hyped from Purdue Harbor as they call it. If the Badgers pull the upset I fear that Rob Henry will die, especially if his leg falls off according to the SBN: Chicago article above.
Prediction: Ohio State 23, Wisconsin 17