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Big Ten Preview week 4

The Canes are on tonight in the Off the Track bungalow, so I apologize if I am a bit distracted. It's also the beginning of the Big Ten conference season this week and we have two really good games that will set a couple of teams back in an early deficit. I'm excited for two reasons: 1. since there are now only six games a week I can write a little bit more about each game, and 2. we can start gaining some separation because we have those good games this week. Both Michigan and Iowa were entertaining dreams of a Big Ten title this season, and a disappointing non-conference season can be forgotten with a win on Saturday.

In a surprising move this week we have quite a few late games with three of the six starting at 3:30 in the afternoon and both the Wisconsin-Iowa and Purdue-Minnesota game starting after 8pm. Personally I like this, as I am really tired of noon kickoffs. Plus it leaves my last free Saturday of the season available to do something else for at least a few hours. It's a toss-up for game of the week honors this week, but I believe I made a worthy choice.


GAME OF THE WEEK:


Iowa (2-1) at #7 Wisconsin (3-0) 8pm Saturday


Say what you will about the Iowa offense, the Iowa defense has been stellar so far. Through three games the Hawkeyes have allowed only six field goals and no touchdowns. That doesn't amount to much though as it has been a week of fuming and cursing coming from the direction of Iowa City after losing to a terrible Iowa State team. The Hawkeyes have a solid run defense, but they will be facing one of the conference's best running backs in P.J. Hill who has been a touchdown machine so far with six touchdowns, including five against the Citadel last week. To quite the band Drowning Pool, "Something's got to give."


Wisconsin's defense has played well so far, but they were pretty bad last week against the Citadel. Do the Bulldogs have a better offense than Iowa though? Right now, the answer is probably a yes. If Iowa couldn't move the ball against Iowa State last week they will have trouble moving the ball against a living, breathing Big Ten defense this week. I tend to think Wisconsin's struggles are more of an aberration and a team merely going through the motions that past two weeks and doing just enough to win. This one has all the makings of a defensive struggle.


Iowa has to find a passing game, plain and simple. They cannot rely on Albert Young and Damian Sims all season long because otherwise teams will key on them and dare Jake Christensen to beat them through the air. Both of these teams are very similar in that they have good but inexperienced quarterbacks, good defensive lines, and good running games. Tyler Donovan already has a win last year over Iowa and the Wisconsin receivers are light years better than Iowa's at the moment. That will be the difference.


PREDICTION: Wisconsin 20, Iowa 10


Illinois (2-1) at Indiana (3-0) 12pm Saturday


While there are better games this week, this one may be one of the most interesting as the winner will suddenly have a very, very good chance of getting to a bowl game. Both teams have the longest active bowl streaks in the conference, and fan bases that would gladly flock to Detroit to face the MAC in the Motor City Bowl if it meant a 13th game. Illinois still has games against Northwestern, Minnesota, and Ball State it can easily win, so they need this game. Ironically, since Indiana still has those same opponents left they can probably afford a loss here. A win all but assures Indiana of a bowl bid barring a complete collapse.


Neither team has really beaten anyone of note yet, but who has in the Big Ten? Other than the first half against Missouri Illinois has played fairly well on defense, but as usual turnovers have been a problem. The Illini have yet to develop much of a passing game, but Juice Williams has been quite successful running the ball, as has Rashard Mendenhall. It's pretty bad when the backup quarterback who has played only one game has more passing yards than the starter who has played in all three, although was limited in one.


On the other side of the ball is Kellen Lewis, as this could be quite the game to watch dynamic rushing quarterbacks. Lewis, however, has been the only real rushing threat for the Hoosiers and has racked up more than 300 yards on the ground. He's playing better than Williams right now because he's proving to be a dual threat both running and passing, while Williams has only been a threat running. Illinois has the better defense, but Indiana has the more dynamic and balanced offense.


PREDICTION: Indiana 38, Illinois 31


Michigan State (3-0) at Notre Dame (0-3) 3:30pm Saturday


I really, really hope Michigan State wins this game in a rout because I have an article already planned for Sunday night in preparation for our game with them. Some choice words were said to me about predicting Notre Dame could possibly start 1-7, and I was giving them only this game in that scenario. We still need to our jobs next week, but this week it is Michigan State's turn.


Michigan State has won five in a row in South Bend, and no one has ever won six in a row. Notre Dame has been unable to stop the run and Michigan State has a two-headed monster by the names of Jehuu Caulcrick and Javon Ringer to run the ball right at them. Notre Dame has given up 23 sacks, while Michigan State is tied for the lead in the country with 17 sacks. This is starting to look like the only question will be if Notre Dame can finally score an offensive touchdown. I hope so, because I don't want that pressure on our own defense.


Honestly Notre Dame will have to play drastically better to have a shot in this game, but if they do the talk and arrogance will return. Michigan State shouldn't feel threatened by the Irish offense, and they need to just the ball down their throats when they have it. I don't think this Michigan State team will self-destruct like it did in last season's game. Notre Dame has done so little right so far that they shouldn't have much to worry about anyway.


PREDICTION: Michigan State 31, Notre Dame 10


#10 Penn State (3-0) at Michigan (1-2) 3:30pm Saturday


Now we get to find out what Michigan is really made of. If they can defend their home turf against a team that has been the most complete in the conference so far then they can still salvage the season by winning the Big Ten. If they go belly up and lose big like they did against Oregon Michigan's long bowl streak will be in jeopardy. If the Wolverines stumble to a 1-3 start with all four games at home what are they going to do when they finally get on the road? If there ever was a must win for Michigan this is it.


I think Penn State will be fine if they simply don't panic. I would key on Mike Hart and dare Michigan to beat me through the air if I were the Nittany Lions. Michigan also has not stopped an offense with a pulse so far. Penn state has the receivers to do some serious damage against a still bad Michigan secondary, but it will be up to Anthony Morelli to get the ball to them.


I can't believe that Penn State has had so much trouble with Michigan over the years, losing eight in a row to the Wolverines. Penn State remembers the last visit to Ann Arbor as well, as they were one second away from a perfect season that year because of the Michigan game. Right now the Wolverines need to convince me they are turning things around. Until that happens I'm going with their opponent.


PREDICTION: Penn State 27, Michigan 20


Northwestern (2-1) at #9 Ohio State (3-0) 3:30pm Saturday


Are we seriously expecting a team that just lost to Duke, the first 1-A team in three years to do so, to have a chance of beating a team playing at home that was in last year's national title game? For crying out loud Northwestern's quarterback threw for 368 yards last week and netted just 14 points against the worst team in America for the past five years. Even if the Wildcats get Tyrell Sutton back they don't stand much of a chance in this game.


Ohio State should be able to laze their way through this game and fine tune their offense, because the defense will likely be its rock-solid self. Unless Ohio State's offense just completely craps the bed and turns the ball over four or five times the Buckeyes should have an easy time of it.


PREDICTION: Ohio State 35, Northwestern 10


Purdue (3-0) at Minnesota (1-2) 9pm Saturday


CFN seems to think we still don't have any kind of a defense and that we'll give up 40 points in this game, but still score nearly 60 in another shootout in the Metrodome reminiscent of the 1994 59-56 game. I don't think it will be quite that dramatic, but this will be the best test for our defense yet. Minnesota has been a team that has done little early, but they have enough of an offense to score points late. If our defense really is appreciably better and we can contain their spread option attack this one will be over early. If not, it will simply be over late.


Purdue will win this game going away if it simply does not turn the ball over, because Minnesota's defense has been so bad against mediocre defenses that they will likely get torched as long as the first team offense is on the field for the Boilers. Minnesota will need to play perfect as well and not turn the ball over. With all due respect to the gophers, whom are one of my favorite Big ten teams other than Purdue, they are not going to go from turning the ball over seven times to lowly Florida Atlantic to playing a perfect game on both side of the ball against Purdue.


I am pretty sure Purdue is going to win, but I want to see how well our defense plays. If we can hold the Gophers like we have Toledo and Central Michigan then we might just have a bit of a defense to go with a tremendous offense> That will make us all the more dangerous later in the season.


PREDICTION: Purdue 55, Minnesota 24


NATIONAL GAMES OF THE WEEK:


#14 South Carolina (3-0) at #2 LSU (3-0)


Have I been asleep? How on earth did South Carolina get into the top 15? They have one good win at Georgia and two wins over cupcakes and they are the #14 team in the nation? What? Well, I guess this is their chance to prove they have earned their ranking, and they will certainly move up even more if they pull off the massive upset here. Right now 28 teams still have a legit shot at the national title, as those are the number of unbeaten teams in the six BCS conferences. South Carolina eliminates one of the top contenders and becomes one themselves with an upset. I don't think so. LSU 38, South Carolina 20


#22 Georgia (2-1) at #16 Alabama (3-0)


It must be judgment week in the SEC this week as there are a ton of good games, including the two games with two ranked teams facing each other. I still think Alabama is one of the more overrated teams America, but I think Georgia is more overrated. Maybe it's just the bitterness of losing two bowl games against them in overtime. I don't know. Alabama 17, Georgia 13


Last week: 9-4


Season record: 31-5