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Week 10 Preview (Disaster movie in the making)

This week could be described as the week of the apocalypse, or a disaster in the making in regards to the Big Ten. I wanted to update the blog this afternoon before tonight's Lousiville-West Virginia game so I could make a pick on it. Of course, that means we have to get to our own conference first.

It is the week of the apocalypse because the impossible could happen. Indiana could clinch a bowl bid with a win over a very beatable Minnesota team in Minneapolis. Let's put things in a little perspective here. Since the Hoosiers last went bowling, every team in the Big Ten, even Northwestern and Illinois, has been to at least 3 bowl games. In that time, Indiana has been mired at the bottom of the conference standings, really only coming close to bowl eligibility in 2001 when they missed it by one game.

But there is a renaissance of sorts in Bloomington these days, and any bowl game would be celebrated like the national title game. Much like our appearance in the 1997 Alamo Bowl, an appearance in any bowl game for the Hoosiers could propel the program into a run of at least modest success. At the very least, it will cause other people to take them seriously.

The part where we have the disaster movie in the making is our own game against Michigan State. I get the feeling this is the type of games that both teams will try and find new and inventive ways to lose. This has the potential to be a comedy off errors, the funniest of which is that the winner will be one very winnable game away from getting to a bowl themselves. I am almost glad this game will be on ESPNU, because it could be the first 0-0 seven OT game in NCAA history, or it could be about 75-72 in seven overtimes. A blowout either wouldn't be shocking either.

It is pretty sad that almost every Purdue publication is talking about how the boilers still have plenty of time to recover the season, yet they are not sure that we have much of a chance against Michigan State. The announcement this week that John l. Smith is done at the end of the season, but will still be coaching in our game, does nothing to give anyone confidence on which way to call our game. If anything it keeps things up in the air. I'll address this further when I get to my preview of our game.

Everything else this week appears to be status quo, as only Wisconsin against Penn State is the biggest game of the weekend's schedule. If both defense play they way they did against Purdue the last couple of weeks, points will be very hard to come by. This is the first game I want to talk about this week.

Penn State (6-3, 4-2) at Wisconsin (8-1, 5-1) - Wisconsin enters this game hoping for a monumental upset so they can get back in the race for the Big Ten championship. They need Ohio State or Michigan to lose, then whichever of those two that loses needs to win the battle in Columbus in two weeks. More likely, Wisconsin will be playing this game in order to secure a New Year's Day bowl in Orlando or Tampa.

Penn State is playing for the same thing, and will take a big step toward being one of those two teams playing on New Year's Day with a win. Since I have seen both teams most recently, it is tough to call this one. If this were in Happy Valley there is little question that I would be giving the Nittany Lions the edge. It is in Madison though. Both teams have stellar defenses and running games. Wisconsin looks a little shaky though after surrendering so much to Illinois last week. How can you go from shutting down Purdue to giving up 24 points at home to Illinois.

Wisconsin will also struggle as P.J. Hill is questionable to start because of a lingering neck injury from the Illinois game. Tony Hunt needs to have a big game for the Lions to have a chance. With Hill likely out though, John Stocco needs to step up.

Honestly, Wisconsin looks a little better than Penn State on paper and in person. Wisconsin was more authoritative on its offensive drives against Purdue, while Penn State struggled to move the ball through the air. I don't see Penn State getting much going on the road this week.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin 17, Penn State 7 - I don't like Penn State going on the road this week. Their offense struggled to score against us, and we're supposed to expect them to score against Wisconsin?

Ball State (3-6) at Michigan (9-0) - Once again, the 12th game has added an additional game when a Big Ten team would normally have the week off. The only difference is that Michigan might as well have the week off, as they would probably face a tougher challenge in practice than the Cardinals are likely to put up in the Big House. This is Ball State's third game against a Big Ten opponent this year, and it is a significant step up in weight class than Indiana or Purdue.

I feel for the Cardinals, I really do. They are 3-6 but could easily be 5-4 if not for blowing home games against Indiana and North Dakota State. This could almost have been the year all for Indiana 1-A school went to a bowl, but the cardinals couldn't quite do their part.

Michigan will have plenty of chances to rest their starters in this one and prepare for the Hoosiers next week. Defensively, Michigan has the best rushing defense in the country, while Ball State can't really run the ball at all. Lately the MAC has been very competitive in games against this one. Expect this game to harken back to the days when the MAC opponent took its beating and check and went home.

PREDICTION: Michigan 45, Ball State 3 - Once again, it is a pity field goal that goes to the Cardinals. It's hard to believe that this is Michigan's final home game of the year.

Indiana (5-4, 3-2) at Minnesota (3-6, 0-5) - Minnesota's hopes of going to a bowl game ride on this game. You have to also think that if the Gophers lose this one at home, they stand a chance of losing to Michigan State and Iowa as well and finishing dead last in the conference at 0-8. If they do, it will be one of the toughest 0-8 finishes in league history as they were robbed of a win against Penn State, played us close on the road, and played Michigan close enough at home that they were a touchdown called back by a penalty from making it very close in the fourth quarter. Still, they have not looked good at all in losses to Wisconsin, Ohio State, and California. The way things are going right now, the Gophers could end up facing four teams that finish the year ranked in the top 10.

Then again, they struggled to barely get past North Dakota State, who beat Ball State, whom Indiana struggled against. It seems like the Purdue loss, and especially since the Penn State loss, they have gone in the tank. They also miss both Illinois and Northwestern this year, meaning they have the toughest conference schedule out there. Minnesota has been unable to run the ball, and when they can't run the ball they are in trouble. If they lose this game, look for Glen mason to be on the hot seat.

That said, Indiana is coming into this game having won three of its last four and it is a totally different team than earlier in the year. As a Purdue fan, I honestly hope the Hoosiers win this one. I don't like our chances against Hawaii, and should we split our next two games we would need to beat Indiana to make a bowl. I don't want to be playing them with a bowl game on the line for either of us. Indiana will be dangerous enough as it is with the motivation of getting this legendary bucket they have all heard about, but none have seen. If they are playing to go to a bowl AND knock us out of one, they could be downright deadly.

Minnesota is ripe for the picking for them.

PREDICTION: Indiana 34, Minnesota 20 - Indiana is too hot right now and Minnesota is too cold. The fact that it is the Gophers' homecoming won't matter.

Northwestern (2-7 0-5) at Iowa (6-3, 2-3) - Well, the Wildcats survived the first week of their gauntlet last week and actually stayed within two touchdowns of Michigan. Either the Wolverines weren't interested or the Wildcats simply matched up fairly well. Still, they have been unable to score against anyone this year outside of the first 35 minutes against Michigan State.

Iowa is always tough at home, especially against lesser opponents. They have been so dominant at Kinnick Stadium that I challenge someone to tell me the last team other than Michigan or Ohio State to win in Iowa City. Most likely it was Iowa State, as the Hawkeyes have been dominant against everyone else in the Big Ten at home. Still the Hawkeyes have been a disappointment this year, if you can call one upset and losing to the top two teams in the country a disappointment.

Even with Drew Tate injured they shouldn't have much trouble against Northwestern, although you get the feeling the Wildcats are just itching to pull one upset this year.

PREDICTION: Iowa 31, Northwestern 10 - Only because this feels like a 31-10 type of game. Iowa will get the job done simply because it is the better team. Of course,t hat is what we thought about the Indiana game as well.

Ohio State (9-0, 5-0) at Illinois (2-7, 1-4) - Illinois has been playing very well of late, so much so that if they can simply learn how to finish a game, they will be a drastically different team next year. In of its last four games Illinois has had a second half lead on Indiana, Ohio, Penn State, and Wisconsin. In each game the Illini couldn't hang on as they lost all four. Illinois struggles with turnovers, so much so that the Illini are 10th in the league in scoring. They lead only Northwestern, who scored more than a quarter of its points in that Michigan State game.

All that said, it doesn't look good for Illinois. Since the Buckeyes have Northwestern at home next week, this is the best chance of an upset happening before the Michigan game. It's not going to happen when Ohio State has only given up the fewest points in the Big Ten by far, while scoring the most, again by far.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 38, Illinois 14 - Illinois has been getting a few punches in lately, but Ohio State is simply way to good.

Purdue (5-4, 2-3) at Michigan State (4-5, 1-4) - It's time to play the statistics game for Purdue. Through nine games this season, we have rushed for 1173 yards and 16 touchdowns. That's all with one of the best offensive lines in the country. 12 of those 16 touchdowns came in the first four games of the season, so that is only four rushing TDs in the last five games.

Last season we ran more of an option attack; first with a mobile quarterback, then with the quarterback we currently have who ran that style well. We played 11 games and ran for 2054 yards and 31 touchdowns. Granted, we ran quite a bit in the last two games against Indiana and Illinois, but not for almost 900 more yards and 15 more touchdowns.

My point is this: We have essentially the exact same team back offensively that we did last year. We scored 41 touchdowns as a team and kicked eight more field goals. Thus far we have scored 30 total TDs and have kicked the same number of field goals. What is the difference? WE'RE NOT RUNNING THE BALL!!!!! It's not a matter of not executing the running plays we have called, but the fact that we have stepped away from what was successful last year.

Offense last season was not a problem. Even with Kyle Orton, who is now in the NFL, we didn't turn the keys over to him passing-wise until later in his junior season after he had started for almost three years. So why in God's name did we open up the playbook with an even younger quarterback in Painter? What we did last year was working, and the numbers don't lie. The defense was the problem last year, not the offense. If we had this year's defense with last year's team (which we do from an offensive standpoint) we probably pull out at least one more game last year.

With the ways the defense is improving, it's a no brainer. I have been screaming all year to go back to the option offense so we can keep the defense off the field and go with what works. Had we done that the last two games, we probably don't give up fourth quarter touchdowns with a tired defense, we don't give up 400+ yards because we have the ball more, and we likely win one if not both games.

(Quick sidebar, I'm watching the Lousiville-West Virginia game right now. Is it not interesting to see Lousiville to continue to go for the throat and score, isntead of getting conservative and sitting on a 10 point lead. It's like 1997 Joe Tiller vs. 2004 Joe Tiller)

So why not go back to the option game a little more and let the passing game develop. I don't care if we have a "talented" receiving corps, they aren't exactly catching the ball with reckless abandon. Part of our problem has been those receivers dropping catchable passes. We also would get Bryant involved with more touches in space, which is where he is dangerous. I'm not even a football coach, and I have never played a down of organized football in my life, but I can see this.

With all that being said, I have no idea what is going to happen Saturday. If we execute the above gameplan, we can win handily. As we all know though, Michigan State is about as predictable as a Florida election. We have the potential for a cancer boy game with the sudden resignation of John L. Smith, but it's not like he was a great coach or had his players playing that great for him in the first place. Drew Stanton is approaching Brady Quinn levels of overhyped-ness. Has a supposed great quarterback ever done less in his career as a team?

Michigan State also has a bunch of injuries, and has only really played one good half of a football in its last six games. On paper, Purdue should win in a romp. As we know though, this is not played on paper. If the good Michigan State shows up, and our offense from the past few weeks shows up, Michigan State wins in a rout. I have seen this week though where Michigan State fans felt they had a better chance of winning if Smith was fired altogether. He's that bad of a coach.

PREDICTION: Purdue 28, Michigan State 24 - With apologies to Penn State fans that read this blog last week, I predicted big points and we got shutout. Purdue needs this win and has played better as a whole this season than Michigan State. It's our last statement game, as the season will be over with a loss to a bad team like this. Still, this prediction is a shot in the dark. NOTHING would surprise me in this game.

NATIONAL GAMES OF THE WEEK: I was hoping to get this posted before the Louisville-West Virginia game tonight, but it's 30-14 in the 3rd quarter right now and Louisville is rolling like they did against Miami. I thought something like this would happen, but I can't pick a game already in the third quarter.

So I will look elsewhere for a couple of games to pick. One that stands out is LSU at Tennessee. Our friends in South Bend need one loss teams in front of them to be knocked off, so they will be pulling for the Tigers in this one. Still, LSU is a different team on the road this year, and hasn't been able to get it done at Auburn or Florida this year. Tennessee may be the best team that won't even get a chance to play for their conference championship this year. Tennessee 21, LSU 17.

My second game is Boston College at Wake Forest. We need to pay attention to this one because our best likely bowl is the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, meaning we would play the #4 ACC team. The loser of this game would be a strong candidate to face in that game. Wake Forest is a fourth quarter collapse from being undefeated and they don't even have their starting running back or quarterback due to early season injuries. The winner will likely go to the ACC title game, and has a shot at playing in the BCS. Wake Forest's colors are black and gold, so will they choke like us with a chance to make a statement and break through? Wake Forest 24, Boston College 23.

NEXT UP: Michigan State game reactions sometime Saturday night.