This week will probably lock up the bowl season for the conference. Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Iowa, Northwestern, and Penn State are already eligible. Illinois playing at home against last place Minnesota, thus they should clinch a bowl bid, giving us eight teams. That leaves only Indiana and Purdue on the outside looking in with the Golden Gophers. Each team needs one more win before facing each other with a possible bowl bid on the line. As mentioned in the preview yesterday, the Big Ten has eight bowl commitments, but a second BCS team from the conference (which is likely) would open the door for Purdue or Indiana to get in. Purdue has the best chance with home games against Michigan and the Hoosiers, while Indiana must win twice in hostile environments.
Everything else, then is for bowl positioning this week. Yes, a Purdue win over Michigan would technically put them ahead of the Wolverines for the #7 slot, but the Little Caesar's Bowl would likely much rather have Michigan sell out Ford Field than Purdue. That would put the Boilermakers in Dallas with two more wins. I'm fine with that. At least it would be a new destination. Plus, it would be a non-MAC opponent, so we may not crap ourselves. I currently lack confidence when it comes to making my NCAA Football Picks if we're facing a MAC team, and that is sad.
#13 Iowa (7-2, 4-1) at Northwestern (6-3, 2-3) Noon, ESPN
The Hawkeyes are back in just Northwestern mode, while the Wildcats haven't pulled off their major upset of the season. That makes this one rather ripe. Iowa did everything last week except say, "Please, Indiana. Here is the game and a possible bowl bid. Take it," but Demarlo Belcher said no thanks with his dropped pass in the end zone. Iowa can hold any number of cards for a trip to Pasadena with wins in the next two weeks, but the loss at Arizona could be their undoing in a multiple-team tie scenario since OSU, MSU, and Wisconsin did not drop a non-conference game.
This Northwestern team is due. They politely conceded to JoePa's 400th win last week after taking a big lead, so the football gods will smile upon them this week. That, and they own Northwestern, except for when the conceded to Iowa in 2000 and allowed us a mulligan on our most recent trip to Pasadena when we lost to Michigan State the same day. Prediction: Northwestern 20, Iowa 17
Indiana (4-5, 0-5) at #7 Wisconsin (8-1, 4-1) Noon, ESPN2
Last week was Wisconsin's week to slip up, but they righted things at halftime, gave the ball to Montee Ball, and told him to run behind a superior line. It was also Indiana's week for an upset, but they blew the game in the way that only Indiana football can. I almost feel sorry for Indiana football. These kids try, but they can never put it together. Here they had a perfect non-conference record (albeit against teams that Warren Central could beat) but it doesn't look like they will squeeze out two conference wins.
The goal of a BCS bowl is in sight for the Badgers. All they need to do is not screw up. I think they saw what can happen if they aren't totally focused even against bad teams last week. Purdue pushed them for more than three quarters, but they didn't lose focus. That will pay off in this game. Prediction: Wisconsin 35, Indiana 21
Minnesota (1-9, 0-6) at Illinois (5-4, 3-3) Noon, Big Ten Network
Illinois has had an incredible gift of playing possibly the four worst defenses in the league in a row. Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, and Minnesota might be able to field a solid unit if you could piece together the best players from each. Ryan Kerrigan is by far the best player among those 44 starters. Can you name the second best though?
...Go on, I'll wait...
That's what I thought. Nathan Scheelhaase is a good player, but he hasn't exactly faced the 1985 Bears these past few weeks. He'll have another good week as the death march that is Golden Gopher football continues. This is not a harbinger of doom, at least this week. Prediction: Illinois 45, Minnesota 17
Michigan (6-3, 2-3) at Purdue (4-5, 2-3) Noon, Big Ten Network
Here it is: Purdue's biggest game of the season. Win it, and we can get to a bowl game because I think the Bucket Game will become a "No effing way" type of game for the seniors like Kerrigan. Lose, and we're probably done. Normally I would be terrified of facing a player like Denard Robinson, but I know their defense is awful. Sean Robinson, Justin Siller, or Rob Henry can move the ball against the Wolverines. Hell, the Betty White/Abe Vigoda combo could probably catch a few balls. As long as the Michigan defense is on the field and our offense doesn't make any dumb mistakes we'll have a chance.
That leaves it in the hands of our defense, where I think we have an edge. We normally handle running quarterbacks well. Look at last year, when we contained Oregon and Ohio State. Robinson has not had to face anyone like Kawann Short and Kerrigan this year. He'll get his yards because you don't stop a player like him, you only slow him down. The rain and real grass surface can help there too. If the same Purdue team that came out fired up last week shows up, especially on defense, I really like our chances. We haven't even run the wheel route yet that worked so well last season. Prediction: Purdue 38, Michigan 35
Penn State (6-3, 3-2) at #9 Ohio State (8-1, 4-1) 3:30pm, ABC
Amazingly, Penn State can control their own destiny for the Rose Bowl with Matt McGloin at quarterback if they win this game. Sure, it would be in the "All Hell breaks loose" category, but they still play Michigan State and don't play Wisconsin. All they would need is another Iowa loss in addition to Northwestern, and that can come next week when the Buckeyes go to Iowa City.
Ohio State doesn't lose games like this though. I don't think the Nittany Lions have enough firepower to hang with Ohio State in a night game in the ‘shoe. JoePa will have to wait until next week against Indiana to get win #401. Prediction: Ohio State 31, Penn State 17.