Once again, Purdue could stand in first place all by itself after this week's Big Ten action. Last week's win wasn't a surprise. We were facing a Minnesota team whose season is essentially done. This week is different. We're playing the consensus conference favorite that likely just saw its National Championship teams go away, they are a game down in the Big Ten race, and they are seeking revenge for an epic, uncharacteristic gaffe last year in West Lafayette.
Off Tackle Empire had an excellent breakdown earlier this week about the six teams left with legitimate Big Ten title hopes. This week's action sees all six of those teams playing against each other with Michigan State traveling to Northwestern, Purdue going to Ohio State, and Wisconsin going to Iowa. I realize that seeing Purdue back in Pasadena right now is highly unlikely, but if things break right this week we could take a major step towards that becoming real.
#7 Michigan State (7-0, 3-0) at Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) Noon, ESPN
One of the running subplots this year seems to be conference teams going into a bye week on a bad loss and being given two weeks to think about what they've done. Purdue did it after losing to Toledo. Penn State did it after losing at home to Illinois. Northwestern is doing it after losing to Purdue. Both of these teams have the "Get Out Of Ohio State Free" card this year, so had Northwestern beaten Purdue they could be a favorite to go to Pasadena. For Michigan State, some think they have a two game season left with this game and a trip to Iowa.
Lake The Posts has a great detailed history of the better games in the series of late. The Only Colors is going with a different tack, showing that Northwestern is a pretty weak 5-1. I tend to side with Lake the Posts here. This series is always entertaining. Northwestern has gotten their shocking loss out of the way now, and easily could finish as a 10 win team if they get this one. Michigan State almost always drops a game they shouldn't too. I'd love for that to be in late November when a 6-0 in the Big Ten Purdue team comes to town, but it's unlikely.
The Spartans are playing with a lot of confidence. Greg Jones is just about the only defensive player in the conference playing better than Ryan Kerrigan. The offense is balanced and they are just on a roll after the fake field goal against Notre Dame. I'm going to roll with them. Prediction: Michigan State 28, Northwestern 21
Penn State (3-3, 0-2) at Minnesota (1-6, 0-3) Noon, ESPNU
Penn State has been the most disappointing team in the league so far. Losing to Alabama is not bad. Neither is losing to Iowa. Losing at home to Illinois by 20? Ouch! Some Penn State fans are even questioning if the Nittany Lions can make a bowl game. Fortunately, this should be a game that Penn State can file away for a bowl game, as well as win #398 for JoePa.
Have the Golden Gophers quit on their season? They have nothing to play for now except a rivalry game against Iowa at the end of the year. It would take a string of massive upsets to qualify for a bowl game, and they now have zero margin for error. They are more concerned with coaching candidate, including a guy in the CFL, than they are with the next game. I think you should pick against Minnesota the rest of the year, as another win would be stunning at this point. Prediction: Penn State 27, Minnesota 10
Purdue (4-2, 2-0) at #10 Ohio State (6-1, 2-1) Noon, Big Ten Network
So he we are, the first place Boilers travel to the Horseshoe, where we haven't won in 22 years. It doesn't look good. Ohio State's special teams are terrible, but we're not a threat at all in either return area so we can't take advantage of it. All we have heard about is how mad the Buckeyes are and how they're out for revenge.
Well, there are two factors people forget. First, Purdue strangely plays them well, especially on defense. Terrelle Pryor has looked terrible against us thanks to Ryan Kerrigan's ownership of him. Our run defense, historically awful in the past few years, has been pretty good against them. Second, maybe Ohio State isn't that good. Wisconsin showed it last week and we showed it last year. If you pressure Pryor (and we should be able to) he is not a good quarterback. They are a team that cannot play from behind. If you give them a lead, they are great. If you get them behind in the second half, they panic. Marshall, Ohio, and Eastern Michigan were never going to challenge them. Miami handed them four interceptions. Indiana doesn't have a defense. Illinois and Wisconsin, however, frustrated them, just as we can.
I know that an upset is highly unlikely, but it is not impossible. Kerrigan and Kawann Short can dominate this game and give us a chance. Rob Henry has to make the passing game a threat, and he needs to connect on a deep ball to O.J. Ross or Cortez Smith. If we don't turn the ball over and can keep moving the ball on the ground we have a chance, and that is all we need. Unfortunately, I am also a realist. Any Purdue win would be a major surprise. Prediction: Ohio State 30, Purdue 17
Indiana (4-2, 0-2) at Illinois (3-3, 1-2) Noon, Big Ten Network
While Wisconsin-Iowa is the best game of the week, this one is probably the most interesting. The Hoosiers need to squeeze two wins out of their remaining six games for a bowl bid and this is a chance to get one of them. The Fighting Illini are still a mystery team. Are they really that good to beat Penn State by 20 in Happy Valley, or is Penn State that bad. The other two wins are over Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois. A bowl game is far from a certainty for them either, as I wouldn't trust a late season road trip across the country to Fresno State as a win. They are basically playing double elimination games at home with IU this week and Purdue next week.
While Indiana's defense is bad, Illinois' passing game is worse. This is a heavy rushing attack, which means IU can sell out against the run. It is hard to judge the Illini defense because it has played well in wins and not well in losses. Joe at Hail to the Orange notes that Illinois has been awful in the second half of games. That is interesting, because Indiana's tendency last year was to fall apart after building a first half lead.
Meanwhile, we might be starting to see the real Indiana. The Illini were their only conference win, and historically the Hoosiers have struggled in Champaign with one victory (on a last second field goal) in the last 30 years. Anytime a team like Illinois dominates you in their home stadium you have a reason to cry. Prediction: Illinois 31, Indiana 30
#13 Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1) at Iowa (5-1, 2-0) 3:30pm, ABC
Wisconsin probably has more to play for here, as a loss would knock them out of the Big Ten race since they have already dropped a game to Michigan State. Our new Most Hated Rival in Iowa has given up only 17 points at home this year. In four games, that is damned impressive. Now they get successive home games against Wisconsin and Michigan State that will go a long way towards deciding the Big Ten. Selfishly, I want a Wisconsin win since we need one Iowa loss to give us control of our Pasadena dreams.
Ricky Stanzi has thrown 13 touchdowns against just two interceptions, but one of those picks cost the Hawkeyes dearly at Arizona. Is he a better QB, or are a series of Jay Valai interceptions possible? It will also be interesting to see how well the Hawkeye defense handles the rumbling John Clay.
This should be a good one, but I can't pick against Iowa at home. Prediction: Iowa 20, Wisconsin 17