Should we still concern ourselves about the Big Ten race? I suppose so. It's still early, but we already have an advantage on the road to Indianapolis that four other schools do not. Minnesota, Indiana, Northwestern, and Ohio State have already all but bowed out of the race by virtue of an 0-2 start in league play. Sure, you could argue that three of those four were not likely to be contenders anyway, but neither were we and we're 1-0. We might need some motorcycle parts to fix our engine, but we're still in it.
It is also important to keep an eye on things because of the race for bowl bids. The conference once again has eight tie-ins, and because of the nature of the BCS there is a strong chance that nine teams can go bowling because the league will get a second team in a BCS bowl. This is where the reverse comes in. Assuming we can find a way to get to six wins, we're going somewhere as long as three teams have at least seven losses. Minnesota and Indiana are already most of the way there with five, and will likely get eliminated in the next few weeks.
The message here is to keep hope alive. You never know what is going to happen, and until we are eliminated there is always reason to believe.
As ugly as things have been, one victory this week over a Penn State team that is pretty bad offensively puts us at 4-2, which is a hell of a lot better than Minnesota, Indiana, or even Northwestern's possible 2-4. While we may be playing for Detroit, a better bowl is possible by virtue of the bottom of the Big Ten simply not being that good. For example:
Northwestern, an almost certain bowl team before the season, already has three losses. A loss this week to Iowa before they play Penn State, Michigan State, or Nebraska could take them out of the bowl equation. They also still have to play Rice too, and Rice did beat us.
Conversely, Iowa might be in some trouble if they lose to Northwestern for loss #3. They still have Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska too. I also think that if we want to have any hope for a bowl we have to beat them at home.
Ohio State will possibly get loss #4 this week. I don't think they have the offense to hand with Wisconsin next week, thus putting them at 0-4 in the conference and 3-5 overall heading into their final four games. Even before the NCAA doles out a possible bowl ban, they may not qualify anyway with Penn State and Michigan left after that.
Illinois and Michigan are already eligible, with Wisconsin very likely gaining eligibility this week and Penn State needing only one more victory.
We likely won't win the conference, but we can still do some damage. It has to start this week though. We have to at least be competitive with a team that has a definite weakness. Everything else will take care of itself.
Indiana (1-5, 0-2) at Wisconsin (5-0, 1-0) Noon, ESPN2
Indiana was spotted a ten-point lead at home last week and its defense still collapsed. What are they going to do against the one of the country's best offenses? They gave up 83 to the Badgers last year. 83 points is a ridiculous number that usually isn't touched even in games against FCS foes, yet the Hoosiers gave up that many in a conference game. Pride alone dictates they don't give up 83 again, but with a better quarterback in Russell Wilson now running the show what is improvement? Is 50 points given up enough to be considered improvement?
On the other side, Indiana played a good defense in Penn State and scored only 10 points. They managed 20 last week against another good defense, but were helped out by turnovers and a special teams touchdown. I would say Wisconsin's defense is better than Illinois or Penn State. The Hoosiers had better wear their red pants in this game, because a case of the red ass from an unmerciful beating can easily happen. Wisconsin 56, Indiana 10
Michigan (6-0, 2-0) at Michigan State (4-1, 1-0) Noon, ESPN
I generally like Michigan State as a Big Ten program. They play solid football and I definitely respect their basketball program. They do suffer under the best (and cruelest) moniker in a rivalry by being called Michigan's Little Brother). Little Brother has been the Big brother of late with three straight wins over the Wolverines for the first time since the late 60's. They can make it four straight for the first time since 1959-62 with another win this weekend.
I keep saying it, but someone is going to figure out Michigan very soon. It really is a testament to just how good Denard Robinson is when he is their offense, he turns the ball over 2-3 times per game, yet they are still unbeaten. They are going to fall some time, and since this is the first time Michigan is facing a really good team on the road I think this will be the week. Michigan State 27, Michigan 24
Purdue (3-2, 1-0) at Penn State (5-1, 2-0) Noon, Big Ten Network
I want to believe we can win this game. I want to believe that our offense can muster enough against a pretty stout defense. I want to believe that we will stack up against Silas Redd and force one of two mediocre at best quarterbacks to beat us. I want to believe that Ricardo Allen will have a better day against Derek Moye. I want to believe that we can overcome a homecoming crowd of 100,000+. I want to believe that I am driving east this weekend for something more than a reason to check another Big Ten Stadium off my list. I want to believe the Danny Hope that took a team out to Oregon two years ago and scared the bejesus out of the eventual Pac-10 champion is still there.
To me, this offense is more talented than that offense of two years ago, but it is being reigned in by a ridiculous two-quarterback system that we used last year even when everyone was healthy. It is being reigned in by a lack of identity too. We have all the ingredients for a power running game, but instead of loading up with tight ends and fullbacks (and who says Brandon Cottom can't be a great blocking fullback with Jared Crank) we run up the middle out of the shotgun. We have playmakers, but all we run are screens and rollout passes instead of anything deep or over the middle. How do we know Caleb TerBush can't throw deep when we haven't even tried? We continue to run plays like the bubble screen when we don't block well enough for it with our receivers. We also don't block well enough on rollouts to give us many options.
In my mind the talent is there to pull off an upset. Ralph Bolden, Akeem Shavers, Reggie Pegram, and Akeem Hunt give us four running backs with different talents that are capable of having a big day. Let's forget this shotgun crap and pound the damn football with Cottom as a fullback and Crosby Wright, Patrick Bade, and Justin Sinz knocking people over as extra blockers. Run the ball, run the clock on the ground if we get a lead with a special teams touchdown or Rico Island pick six, and force them to throw to someone other than Derek Moye. It's not a difficult game plan.
Unfortunately, I don't think our coaching staff is smart enough to do any of that. If we get blown out by an offense that has done very little it is a complete indictment of the coaching staff. Penn State 20, Purdue 7
Ohio State (3-3, 0-2) at Illinois (6-0, 2-0) 3:30pm, ABC
What to do with the Buckeyes when they are run by Joe Bauserman? If Braxton Miller cannot go for an extended period of time it is clear that Ohio State is more than screwed. All teams have to do then is stop Carlos Hyde and wait for the defense to cave like it did last week. Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead went crazy on them last week. Nathan Scheelhaase is a better passer and A.J. Jenkins is better than anything Michigan State or Nebraska has thrown at this secondary. You cannot single cover him.
The Fighting Illini have some serious moxie. Sure, they are capable of tripping over themselves. They didn't look good against Western Michigan and Jenkins saved their ass against Northwestern by finding the Mario Star and going into super-happy-slappy mode the last two weeks (my name for Super Mario Bros. invincibility). Illinois is a pretty good team that could actually challenge Wisconsin in our division. Ohio State with Bauserman is pretty bad. They might even be lose to Indiana or Purdue bad. The Hoosiers are going to shock someone and hopefully we show we can beat bad quarterbacks this week. Illinois 30, Ohio State 17
Northwestern (2-3, 0-2) at Iowa (3-2, 0-1) 7pm Big Ten Network
I feel like I am required to use blogging memes and call this justNorthwestern vs. Our Most Hated Rival. I'm not sure how long the propaganda of Black Heart Gold Pants has been on the internets, but I am pretty sure they don't got back to 2003. Northwestern was off of Iowa's schedule in 2003 and 2004, and since then the Wildcats have won five of six against the Hawkeyes. In the last two games Iowa has been ranked in the top 15 only to crap themselves at the sight of Purple.
The truth is that the loser of this game can officially hit the panic button on the remainder of the season. If the Wildcats hit four losses I don't see them beating Michigan State, Penn State, or Nebraska. the same is true for Iowa with a rough second half. it may bee too early for a bowl elimination game, but it is never too early for a "send the fanbase into a panic" game. In that regard, I have to go with the team that has been hot lately in this series. Northwestern 20, Iowa 17