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Congratulations to Steve (h0ward) for winning this week's Hammer & Rails Pick 'Em and the $10 gift certificate from Gameday Depot. IF this is you, please drop me an e-mail so I can get you the proper information for your profile.
There's another $10 gift certificate up for grabs this week and a $50 gift certificate for the entire season, so keep playing.
This week's top ten and the season top ten are below the jump. You can view the full standings at the Yahoo! group page.
In the meantime, the first week of Big Ten action is in the books, complete with the Nebraska Cornhuskers receiving their opening hazing in conference play. There are only six games this week with our own not really being a game so much as a slaughter. At least the rest of the league was rather competitive. Northwestern and Illinois had quite a bit of fireworks over a giant monopoly. Ohio State set the game of football back a century. Penn State and Indiana engaged in football-like substance, while we might have been able to successfully pick out a football in a lineup.
Michigan 58, Minnesota 0
Surely we can beat the Golden Gophers and crow about being in a first place tie for the Division lead for one week, right? Minnesota is a dropped fourth down pass from being winless, lost badly to an FCS team, and Just got drilled by a team that was as one-dimensional offensively as any other int he first few weeks. Things are bad in Minneapolis. So bad that The Daily Gopher called for the program to just be shut down in one of the best reaction posts ever. Can you blame them? Even then, a loss to Minnesota would be an even bigger step back and possibly worse than the Rice loss because of how bad the Gophers have looked thus far.
Penn State 16, Indiana 10
I watched a good portion of this game and it was painful. Penn State absolutely cannot throw the football and the running game has Silas Redd and that's about it. The defense is good, but not an iron wall. Indiana had a little success on the ground, but I know we will likely abandon the run despite it being our strength. I feel confident we can beat the Nittany Lions in two weeks if we prepare correctly and make the right game plan, but just saying that means coach Hope and Co. will do the exact opposite. Penn State can't throw, so we'll likely spend the game with seven defensive backs on the field because we refuse to exploit a weakness. I mean come on! This team's offense made Indiana's defense look good! Black Shoe Diaries is naturally concerned, but they won't worry about us actually trying to game plan for their weaknesses.
Illinois 38, Northwestern 35
In the most exciting game of the week A.J. Jenkins proved why he is one of the best receivers in the conference, Treyvon Green and Mike Trumpy proved that you can run on the Fighting Illini (meaning Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers will likely be benched entirely in three weeks), and both teams had wild swings of momentum. Illinois is another team that we can beat if we see the improvement that we all know is possible, but it would mean a competent coaching staff was in charge. Even their own fans didn't believe yesterday's comeback was possible. Northwestern now wonders if Dan Persa will ever be healthy after leaving with another injury yesterday.
Michigan State 10, Ohio State 7
This was a great game for the Michigan State defense, as very few teams go into the Horseshoe and completely shut down the Buckeyes. The Spartans gave the league a blueprint that can be repeated week after week: They keyed on the running game and really got after Braston Miller. They forced Ohio State to pass, and even with the suspended players returning next week I question is OSU will get much better in that aspect. Yeah, they get DeVier Posey, but they need someone to throw him the ball successfully. Ohio State is another team that I think we can beat mostly because their offense is awful by their own admission, and they easily could lose the next three and be totally demoralized by the time they come to Purdue. Of course, we won't plan correctly anyway.
Wisconsin 48, Nebraska 17
Yep, the Badgers are terrifying. Their defense will hold you to 20 or less and most teams will struggle to hold them under 30. We're going to get absolutely drilled when we go to Madison. Montee Ball was the latest Big Ten player to "Pull off the Bundy" of four touchdowns in one game. No team in the conference looks good enough to beat Wisconsin. Nebraska fans at least take solace that the loss was not a divisional loss, so they can still easily make it to Indianapolis.
Notre Dame 38, Purdue 10
The question I faced last night was, "Did we lose to a good team?" The answer is yes. Notre Dame does a lot of things very well. Are they an unbeatable juggernaut? Absolutely not. They are a flawed team that will make mistakes. The turnover bug was cured this week, but mostly because Josh Johnson dropped a sure interception that would have gone a long way the other way and might have changed the game. The Fighting Irish still struggle on special teams and in the red zone. Their second TD drive was a bailout as we got called for a horsecrap celebration penalty on a third down incompletion. They made plenty of mistakes last night that, if taken advantage of, would have at least made it a competitive game. Instead, we gave them more than enough room to recover from said mistakes.
The most glaring thing to take away from this game is that despite having talented players, we are in no way, shape, or form able to put them into a position to succeed. We had two weeks to prepare for a team that did have some weaknesses, but did nothing to take advantage of them. Worse yet, we never once tried to play to our strengths. Ralph Bolden is a dynamic runner and a difference makers. he showed what he could do two years ago, but coach Hope continues to act as if he is not healthy this year. He didn't get his first touch until well into the second quarter and had just six on the night. Six touches. For possibly our best offensive threat. Yes, Notre Dame was strong against the run, but we didn't even try to establish it.
Defensively we got no pressure at all on Tommy Rees, we chose to concentrate on covering Theo Reddick (WTF?!?!) instead of Micheal Floyd, only the best receiver in college football, and we got gashed ont he ground when we've been strong against the run. I thought Ricardo Allen might be able to handle him one on one, but when it was obvious he couldn't we never tried to adjust.
Coach Hope said Caleb TerBush played better at quarterback and is still the starter, but complained about him not playing more. Well, Danny, as head coach, don't you make that decision? Even then, Robert Marve got us moving when TerBush wasn't.
I am not even going to comment on the penalty issues. Just as we fixed one thing (the rash of turnovers the last two years) something else happens.
Do we win last night if we make the right choices and everything goes perfectly? Probably not because ND played very well, but at least we don't flat out embarrass ourselves. I simply do not understand why things can appear to be so simple, but we won't adjust to them. Minnesota and Indiana can be run on and we have very good running backs, but I have zero faith we'll commit to the running game. We needed to commit to the run and keep the ball out of ND's hands last night, but instead we made unsuccessful passes and let our defense wilt under their pressure. Penn State and Ohio State can't through and we've been good against the run against everyone not named Cierre Wood, but I sense career days coming from their quarterbacks.
This season could still be saved. I can make an argument for winning each of our next three games for a solid Big Ten start more because of what the opposition has done than anything we have done, but I have zero confidence the coaching staff will do what is necessary to win more than one.