2011 Big Ten Football: Conference Play Starts

Only two non-conference games remain for Big Ten teams before the bowl season begins. We play Notre Dame this weekend and Northwestern hosts our nemesis Rice later in the year. That means we get conference games this week: five of them. Our Most Hated Rival is the only team in the league with the week off, but everyone else begins the games that really matter.

Penn State (3-1) at Indiana (1-3) Noon, ESPNU

I've seen a lot of people say that Indiana is in a better coaching situation and is moving forward despite their 1-3 start. In fact, some people feel they are better off than us. Really? They got shoved around by Ball State, choked an epic comeback away against Virginia, and were down 24-0 to one of the worst FBS teams in the country. That's ahead of us? Say what you will about Bill Lynch, but at least he didn't lose games like that (save to Southern Illinois once). Predictably, Black Shoe Diaries is pretty confident about this game. They should be too. At least Indiana didn't sell this game away like last year. Indiana can't stop anyone and can't get anything going in the first halves of games. Silas Redd will be the next running back with a big game against the Hoosiers. Penn State 31, Indiana 14

Minnesota (1-3) at Michigan (4-0) Noon, Big Ten Network

Yes, this is for the Little Brown Jug, but that thing is a myth in Minneapolis. The Golden Gophers have had it only once in the past 25 years. Minnesota fans have a lot more to worry about these days. Coach Kill was back in the hospital this week, but was back out in time to make practice today. In football matters, the fans are already calling for Max Shortell at quarterback After four games. Thing are definitely getting bad up there. They don't need Denard Robinson running wild all over them, but that is likely it this week. Michigan 38, Minnesota 17

Northwestern (2-1) at Illinois (4-0) Noon, ESPN2

Northwestern finds themselves in the same boat as us. They had two weeks off to prepare for a major rivalry game against a ranked foe. Illinois didn't look good last week, but they won. I don't think you can take away from that. They have lost games like the Western Michigan one before. In fact, they lost to Western Michigan in 2008 to cost them a bowl bid. They may play for a large Monopoly piece, but  it is their Monopoly piece, dammit! Dan Persa (Uncle Moneybags?) returns this week to make the Wildcats Persa-strong, but Illinois is the better team. Illinois 27, Northwestern 21

Michigan State (3-1) at Ohio State (3-1) 3:30pm ABC/ESPN

I took some flak on the Handsome Hour Tuesday night. J Money mocked me for saying Ohio State could start 0-4 in Big Ten play, while one of their readers said it wasn't really a limb I went out on. Everyone is feeling better about the Buckeyes after their win over Colorado, but it was still over Colorado. The Buffaloes are one of the worst road teams in America. Ohio State also lost to Miami, who looked pretty bad against Kansas State. This one could be a game between two flawed teams. MSU has trouble on the offensive line and generating a consistent running game. Ohio State struggles with the concept of the forward pass. Keshawn Martin will be back, and that will help the Spartans. Michigan State 17, Ohio State 13

Nebraska (4-0) at Wisconsin (4-0) 8pm, ABC

Welcome to the Big Ten, Cornhuskers. You get to go to Madison in week one, then face Ohio State in week 2. Good luck! This is clearly the game of the week and the newness of Nebraska to the conference makes it even bigger. I think it may merely be round one between them. Imagine this scenario: Say Wisconsin wins on Saturday, but both teams go unbeaten the rest of the way. If they rise enough on the polls and Nebraska wins the rematch in Indy, could we get a third game in the national title game? That is a dream scenario, but with these mega conferences and no payoff it could happen one day. Rex Burkhead, Montee Ball, and James White assure that there will be plenty of running in this one, while Russell Wilson provides the passing. To me, Wisconsin has looked way too good, while Nebraska's defense has been suspect. That will be the difference. Wisconsin 31, Nebraska 21

Notre Dame (2-2) at Purdue (2-1), 8pm, ESPN

I want to predict a win, I really do, but I don't see it. Notre Dame is flat out better than us. It comes down to their turnover mistakes outweighing our coaching mistakes. I saw a comment on here earlier today that coaching wins close games, and the only way Purdue likely wins is in a close game. That does not bode well. Conventional wisdom says we have to establish the ground game (when we haven't committed to it and Notre Dame's defense is tough against it) and take advantage of turnovers (we've caused three). We have a major advantage in special teams and the fact that no team has turned it over more than the Fighting Irish. That is our only hope. Notre Dame 30, Purdue 17

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