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Week 7 (and on the road again)

We already know the obvious. Ohio State and Michigan will be playing in a few weeks for the Big Ten Championship. In the meantime, the other nine teams will play out the string in order to get to whatever secondary bowl they can get to. That means my beloved Boilers will be back on the road for the third straight week this week, this time traveling to Northwestern. As part of the birthday extravaganza for me, we will be heading northward in search of cheap tickets and a 5-2 record. I can think of worse things to do, that’s for sure.

Simply put, this is a must win game for the Boilers, much like the Minnesota game. It has been a few weeks since we’ve had a game that has been on the "win at any cost" list, and we haven’t exactly done much to give ourselves a cushion should we blow it. All the signs are there for an easy game, but any Purdue fan knows that the Boilers rarely make things easy.

Unless we’re playing Indiana, that is.

First though, let’s look around the rest of the conference for this week’s games:

Minnesota (2-4, 0-3) at Wisconsin (5-1, 2-1) – With a win the Badgers will become the third team from the Big Ten to lock up a postseason trip, and that is not a bad thing under a first year head coach. Of course, they had about as smooth of a transition as is possible, with Bret Bielema simply trading up to a different headset and knowing he was doing so a year in advance.

The Badgers are 5-1, but they haven’t exactly beaten anyone yet in wins over Bowling Green, Western Illinois, San Diego State, Indiana, and Northwestern. That’s one win over a 1-AA team, and two over teams that lost to 1-AA teams. They did manage to hang around with Michigan, and have been very convincing the past two weeks in crushing IU and Northwestern. This would be Wisconsin’s best win to date, and that is saying a lot as the Gophers would be 2-5 with a Badger win.

Minnesota seems a bit like a team that Purdue had last year. They were poised to have a fairly decent season, only to lose a very close game on the road that put them on a stretch where they can’t seem to turn things around. When you add to the fact that they have a struggling kicker and a coach that has a penchant for some boneheaded decisions, and you’re going to lose more close games than win them.

The Gophers did manage to stay with Michigan though. They lost by 14 and had a long TD pass called back because of a hold that would have made things very interesting in the second half. They were robbed against Penn State and by all rights did more to lose the Purdue game than Purdue did to win it. They need this one to have hope for a bowl.

This game is for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, a trophy that has caused numerous heart attacks in mothers everywhere the past few seasons by each team’s tendency to run across the field, grab it, and run around with it after winning it back. The most memorable was probably Minnesota winning it a few years ago on a last second field goal, where the kicker immediately ran over to the bench, not even waiting for the ball to split the uprights, to grab the axe.

PREDCITION: Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 24 – It’s a hard luck season for the Gophers. If they can get this one, bowl hopes are revived, but it will be too tough on the road and the Badgers are playing too well.

Purdue (4-2, 1-1) at Northwestern (2-4, 0-2) – I am going to this game, and it will be my first visit to Northwestern. This does not bode well for my Boilermakers. I have seen us play in four other Big Ten venues, and my first visit to each was a Boilermaker loss, all in heartbreaking fashion. 2001 Indiana, 2002 Illinois, 2003 Ohio State, and 2005 Minnesota; all losses, the last three of them being in overtime. If it wasn't for wins at Cincinnati in 2001, Illinois in 2004, and Indiana in 2003 and 2005 I would think I was truly cursed when I saw them on the road.

This is the only possible Big Ten where neither team is named after a state. I am sure that is good for some sort of bragging rights. For some reason, and this is a valid beef for teams like Michigan and Ohio State, the Wildcats are grouped as the second team, along with IU, that Purdue will never have rotate off the Big Ten schedule. Since Purdue has a combined 15-3 record against those two since the arrival of Joe Tiller, It’s no wonder they have put together a long bowl streak.

It also shows that much of what Tiller has done has been a result of taking care of business against teams that Purdue should beat. That’s what this weekend needs to be. I would argue that aside from 2000 and 2003, Purdue has been just a team that has been able to beat teams it should and pull the occasional upset. Last year they could not even do that.

Regardless, northwestern is up next on the schedule, and if there is ever a week for the defense to get on track, this is it. It couldn’t get much worse than last week, and in most defensive categories we are ranked at the bottom of the entire NCAA. Northwestern, however, probably has a worse and less experienced offense than Indiana State did. They are down to a third string, redshirt freshman at quarterback that has done next to nothing in the passing game so far. Their one consistent offensive weapon, Tyrell Sutton, hasn’t done a lot yet, but we know that with our defense he is probably in line for a career day.

Defensively Northwestern has been better than its offense, but that is not saying much. I am concerned that they easily handled a team, Miami of Ohio that is winless and took us to overtime. Still, they got pushed around at home by New Hampshire. New Hampshire is the #1 ranked team in division 1-AA, but they are far from a Big Ten caliber team. They also struggled with Eastern Michigan, who would challenge Temple for being the worst team in Division 1-A. Statistically they don’t look too bad because of those two wins and only giving up nine points combined in them, but the best defense in Chicago still easily resides at Soldier Field.

Northwestern will be playing for a bowl that in all likelihood goes down with a loss on Saturday, so that can be motivation for them. The Boilers have struggled with the Wildcats of late also, losing the last two. It did take an extremely windy day and injury to Kyle Orton two years ago and two controversial calls that both went against Purdue last year that caused a 10-point shift.
It is time for a statement from this Purdue team. A win and the bowl hopes are very much alive, as is the hope for a 9 or 10 win season. A loss would suddenly mean a three game losing streak, with the potential of it easily reaching six again before all is said and done. 5-2 and coming home also looks a whole lot better, putting us right where many expected us to be after seven games. What Purdue needs to do is go out and win this game with authority against an obviously inferior opponent.

PREDICTION: Purdue 45, Northwestern 21 - If Purdue can’t stop this offense, then we simply cannot stop anyone and we had better hope we can just outscore everyone else. This is seriously the worst offense we will face, and if we can’t get 4-5 stops against them it’s time to start looking for a new defensive coaching staff. Look for Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor to each have a big day.

Iowa (5-1, 2-1) at Indiana (3-3, 1-1) – it is very strange to look at the conference standings this week and see Indiana as high as 7th place. It is stranger still knowing that they got last week’s conference win on the road. The last time the Hoosiers walked out of an opposing Big Ten venue with a win was in 2001 at Michigan State. It’s harder still to believe that this IU team should, by all purposes, be 5-1 right now. Last week they actually showed that they do indeed have an offense that can score against a first string defense.

That being said, it was still Illinois. Even if the Cubs and Royals play each other someone has to stumble to a win. Iowa is a significant step up in weight class. If the Hawkeyes can hold Purdue to 17 points, what are they going to IU’s poor popgun attack?

The Hoosiers haven’t exactly "Defended the Rock" with much force lately. When Southern Illinois and Connecticut come in and push you around at home, Iowa certainly doesn’t fear the place. Maybe IU should go to pink locker rooms like Iowa does.

This one should not be a contest. The good news for Indiana is that Marcus Thigpen, who already has three kickoff returns for TD’s, should have plenty of chances to get #4. Maybe IU should line up in return formation on every play.

It’s hard to judge is Iowa will have an easier time this week against Indiana’s defense than it did against Purdue defense. I guess since Indiana has actually held a team under 20 points, I’d have to give them the edge there.

PREDICTION: Iowa 48, Indiana 7 – I’ll give Thigpen one big return that gets Indiana on the board. It’s nice to see they have an All-American again.

Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) at Michigan State (3-3, 0-2) – The only chance the Spartans have in this one is if Ohio State gets lost and ends up in Ann Arbor. I’m tired of hearing about How Drew Stanton has one last shot to prove he’s a big game quarterback and all that. He’s as much of a head case as the rest of the Spartans. With no running back and missing his best receiver, he doesn’t stand a chance.

And it is not like Ohio State actually fears playing away from Columbus. They almost play better on the road, as evidenced by the cold, efficient beatings of Texas and Iowa. This one is a mismatch that’s probably not even worthy of further review.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 38, Michigan State 10 – Hopefully someone can get the Michigan State athletic director the East Lansing want ads line, because he’ll soon be placing an ad for a new coach.

Ohio (3-3) at Illinois (2-4) – I love the twelfth game on the college football schedule, because it means that for the time being, we have these odd non-conference games that each Big Ten school had to cram into its bye week. This week it’s the Ohio Bobcats of the MAC coming to Champaign.

I don’t know much about the Bobcats, other than the fact they are coached by former Nebraska coach Frank Solich. Apparently Garrett Wolfe and Northern Illinois have an aversion to all things Ohio, as the Huskies’ only loss, other than Ohio State, was to Ohio. The Bobcats also own victories over Tennessee-Martin and Western Michigan. They also have lost to Rutgers and Missouri, two of the remaining nine undefeated teams.

That being said, Illinois lost almost all the respect it had gained by losing at the last second to Indiana last week. It’s pretty sad when you’re a bad Big Ten team and you still had not lost to Indiana in 27 years in your home stadium.

PREDICTION: Ohio 24, Illinois 21 – I need one wild upset this week, and since my Purdue-Iowa pick didn’t work out last week, I’ll go with this one. A big boost to the MAC!

Michigan (6-0, 3-0) at Penn State (4-2, 2-1) – Michigan has been on a revenge tour this year, paying back all the teams that beat them last year. So far Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Minnesota have paid the price, but this week the tables are turned. Michigan was Penn State’s only loss last year, and that was on the last play touchdown pass to Mario Manningham.
Manningham won’t be playing this week, but I don’t think it will mater. Michigan is back to being Michigan, and they face a much stiffer test next week at home against Iowa. Penn State’s offense isn’t quite there, and look for Michigan to gang up on Tony Hunt and dare Morelli to throw on them. Michigan has already proved they can play well on the road to by crushing Notre Dame in South Bend.

This one could be close, because the Nittany Lions are always tough to beat in Happy Valley. If the defense can keep the Wolverines in check, they have a puncher’s chance.

PREDCITION: Michigan 28, Penn State 21 – Michigan is playing too well right now. Only a resurgent Iowa stands between them and a date in Columbus in a few weeks.

NATIONAL PICKS: Last week was a brutal 6-3 week, as I missed my big upset and got burned by Indiana. This week there are several big games to choose one.

Florida at Auburn is the latest elimination game in the SEC. Up until last week I would have gone with the Tigers, but they really screwed the pooch with the loss to Arkansas. Florida is playing too well right now, too. Florida 17, Auburn 10

For my second and final game I’ll go with Missouri at Texas A&M. This is an interesting game because the Aggies are nearly unbeaten themselves. With a win Missouri can begin to seriously think about running the table. Texas A&M (What the hell is an Aggie, anyway?) has a perceived advantage at home, but has that really mattered lately? Missouri 27, Texas A&M 24.

NEXT UP: Post game reaction late Saturday night or Sunday afternoon, depending on when we get home from Chicago.