This week is one final big serving of cupcakes for all, as only a few MAC teams during bye weeks litter the schedule the rest of the way. With Notre Dame struggling it is also the last chance for someone from the conference to make a national statement with Ohio State going to Washington. With an aside to the pillow fight in Ann Arbor that is my choice for the Big Ten game of the week.
BIG TEN GAME OF THE WEEK:
#10 Ohio State (2-0) at Washington (2-0) 3:30pm
I am very interested in watching this game as it could me the return to the national consciousness of the Huskies. For a team that was one of the nation's best in the 90's and the early part of this decade they have fallen on hard times. Their last bowl game was the 2002 Sun Bowl in which they lost to Purdue. While I am a fan of the Big Ten part of me would love the delicious irony of Ty Willingham, who was apparently the worst coach in the history of football when he was fired from Notre Dame, being 3-0 (with two wins against ranked teams, no less) while Charlie "The offensive genius" Weis being 0-3 and unable score at all.
Much of the story will be Ohio State's defense against the Washington offense, but what about the Ohio State offense? They could barely move the ball last week against Akron, and now they have to cross three time zones and play in a raucous environment against a much better Washington defense? This will be a very low scoring game and I haven't been too impressed by the Buckeye offense yet. I think they have the ability to go out there and get the win, but it will not be as easy as many predicted coming into the season. Washington knows they can pull an upset too as they just ended the longest D-1A winning streak in the country, and they still have shots against Cal, USC, Oregon, and Hawaii this season.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 13, Washington 10
Buffalo (1-1) at #12 Penn State (2-0) 12pm
Maybe if it were the Buffalo Bills coming to Happy Valley to play I would give them a chance, but this is the MAC cellar-dwelling Buffalo Bulls. Long the laughingstock of Division 1-A, the Bulls have yet to do anything of note, and this is a chance for them to make a name for themselves.
It's not going to happen.
The only way Buffalo has a chance is if Penn State heads to Ann Arbor a week early. Even then I think I would still pick the Nittany Lions. I have trouble picking a team that has only a blowout win over Temple as a win this year. In its other game Buffalo got drilled by Rutgers. This could be a game where Penn State keeps the score low and brings just enough to the table to win comfortably, or they could just flatten a clearly inferior team. Either way I don't expect them to struggle. Penn State has only given up 10 points so far, and seven of those came on a long interception return for a touchdown. The defense has hardly had to break a sweat and won't need to this week either.
PREDICTION: Penn State 45, Buffalo 7
Pittsburgh (2-0) at Michigan State (2-0) 12pm
The state of Michigan has produced both surprises in the Big Ten so far. While the Spartans were expected to be 2-0 so far, they have looked very impressive in doing so and are playing much better than their neighbors to the southeast. Neither team has really played anyone yet, with the Spartan win over Bowling Green being the best win of the four. Eastern Michigan and Grambling State as Pitt's opponents don't exactly strike fear into the hearts of men.
What's most impressive about Michigan State is its running game. While I thought it was going to be good I didn't realize exactly how good it was going to be. The Spartans can start thinking seriously about a bowl game if they win this one, and maybe even more. I'm not ready to go quite so overboard as to have them in one of the New Year's Day games like ESPN's projections, but they are looking much better than my original prediction of dead last. Pittsburgh is suffering from some injuries this week to their best run-stoppers as well. That means Jehuu Caulcrick and Javon Ringer have to be salivating at the prospect of a big day in East Lansing.
PREDICTION: Michigan State 24, Pittsburgh 14
The Citadel (2-0) at #7 Wisconsin (2-0) 12pm
You've got to be kidding me, right? The Citadel is hardly Appalachian State and Wisconsin has at least shown they know what defense is to this point. Hopefully the Badgers have recovered from their Vegas hangover for the return to Camp Randall against the Bulldogs. Yes the Citadel is 2-0, but against Charleston Southern and Webber. I didn't even know those two universities existed, let alone had football teams.
Translation: Wisconsin gets to try out a lot of new guys and fine tune its offense for the Big Ten opener against Iowa next week.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 59, The Citadel 3
Illinois (1-1) at Syracuse (0-2) 12pm
14 penalties and seven turnovers. Those are two glaring numbers for Illinois through two games as they nearly beat a fringe top 25 team, then came home and struggled to put away a 1-AA team. Fortunately for the Illini Syracuse has done little right at all. My eyes are burning though at the thought of all the Orange in the stands at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. The schedule says this is a battle between two top conferences, but it is like watching the DaVinci Code, which produced a whole lot of suck for so many big names in it.
Illinois actually lost to the Orange in Champaign last season, and they need to win this game if they want to have any shot at breaking through to a bowl game this year. Conversely Syracuse's season is probably already done unless they can turn things around drastically here. Illinois has a ton of talent, but much like Notre Dame it has not developed any consistency whatsoever yet. Still they are the much better team here and they are showing some serious promise on defense behind J Leman. Juice Williams should also have a field day against a bad Syracuse defense. Honestly Syracuse may be the worst BCS conference school at the moment.
PREDICTION: Illinois 24, Syracuse 7
Akron (1-1) at Indiana (2-0) 12pm
The Hoosiers are staring at 3-0 with another easy home game before opening the conference season at home against Illinois. This week they get an Akron team that has beaten Army and if it had been able to move the ball at all last week against Ohio State could have put a serious scare into the Buckeyes. The zips seriously managed only three first downs against Ohio State, and if not for an early safety they would have been shut out entirely. While seeing part of this game in the stadium club last week it wasn't as if Akron had bad field position either. They had the ball at midfield several times off of punts and turnovers and still couldn't do anything. Indiana's defense is easier, but Akron has to manage something if they're going to win this.
Indiana didn't play all that well in the second half last week but still won comfortably. What does this mean about them? Being 3-0 would be a huge confidence boost as well as they would be halfway to a bowl game and have several good shots to get the other three wins. At the same time though the Akron defense played very well last week, well enough to win if it had any offense behind it. Indiana's offense will get pushed for the first time this year, and it still needs to develop more of a running game. Right now if you take away the pass you stop IU.
PREDICTION: Indiana 31, Akron 14
Central Michigan (1-1) at Purdue (2-0) 12pm
Central Michigan scares the hell out of me. Our defense has showed marked improvement so far, but Central Michigan has enough offensive pop that they can beat us in our own house if we're not fully awake. They gave up a ton of points to Kansas and Toledo, but we're still going to need to be firing on all cylinders and build an early lead against them. I have been impressed so far by our defense, but this week they will actually be tested. Toledo could run the ball, but they had almost no passing game. Eastern Illinois could throw a little, but didn't have much of a running game and went away from it after the Panthers fell behind early.
The Chippewas can do both with a good bit of efficiency though. Quarterback Dan LeFevour can both run and throw the ball and Ontario Sneed ran for 168 yards and three touchdowns last week. Central Michigan has struggled to even understand the concept of the forward pass defensively, let alone stop it. As long as Painter stays untouched in the pocket like he has the last two games he should have all day to pick them apart. Purdue will need to control the tempo and keep the ball away from this powerful offense much like it did against Toledo. If the Boilers do that we will have an easy time. If not, The Chippewas could leave West Lafayette much like Bowling Green did in 2003.
PREDICTION: Purdue 48, Central Michigan 28
Minnesota (1-1) at Florida Atlantic (1-1) 12pm
This is a strange road game as the Owls are rather new to football period, let alone Division 1-A. It also won't be played in their home stadium as it will be down the road at Dolphin Stadium in Miami. Florida Atlantic opened the season with a split by beating Middle Tennessee State before losing to Oklahoma State. Minnesota has struggled more than almost anyone in the Big Ten so far, but at least their games have been exciting. The Gophers two largest problems are inconsistency in stopping the pass and in its quarterback play.
Unfortunately those are the two areas where it costs the most to be struggling. Plus this game is being played at noon in South Florida. Just sitting in the stands for a day baseball game in that stadium is one of the most challenging things I have ever done. Its construction allows for no breeze whatsoever and it just catches all of the south Florida sun and humidity. The Gophers will certainly be glad to be back inside the Dome next week after that. If Adam Weber can finally put it all together for a full game though Minnesota should have little trouble.
PREDICTION: Minnesota 28, Florida Atlantic 21
Iowa (2-0) at Iowa State (0-2) 12:30pm
Speaking of the worst teams in a BCS conference right now, Iowa goes from one in Syracuse to another in Iowa State. The Cyclones have been beaten by Kent State and Northern Iowa so far. Those aren't even respectable losses. While Iowa hasn't really played anyone yet, they've at least won the games. For whatever reason they always struggle against the Cyclones though.
Iowa has surrendered a grand total of three points so far and I don't expect them to have much trouble this week.
PREDICTION: Iowa 31, Iowa State 7
Notre Dame (0-2) at Michigan (0-2) 3:30pm
Did you know both Notre Dame and Michigan are 0-2 going into this game? I honestly had no idea and I really wish ESPN would inform the people of this tragedy. Seriously though, I know and I don't care. The loser of this game faces the distinct possibility, even probability of missing a bowl game. Michigan would have a better shot of recovering and making a bowl, but it's not guarantee if they lose.
You have two highly touted true freshmen going against two really, really bad defenses. The edge goes to Michigan though as they have a living, breathing running game behind Mike Hart. This is a kid that is giving it his all and I can see him personally willing Michigan to a win in this game. I also give the edge to Michigan because at least their offense has done something so far even its defense hasn't. Notre Dame has looked horrible on both sides of the ball and needs to get things going here in some form or they will likely start 0-8.
PREDICTION: Michigan 14, Notre Dame 10
Duke (0-2) at Northwestern (2-0) 8pm
Apparently Stanford and Vanderbilt were busy this week otherwise the Big Ten would be facing the worst teams in each of the other five BCS conferences. At least this is a night game by the lake for the Wildcat faithful. I can't make too much fun though, since both are excellent academic institutions one of the guys playing in this game will probably be my boss in about 10 years.
Duke is just horrendously, comically bad in football. They're respectable in most other sports, but not football. Maybe the teams should just compare SAT scores to make things even.
Northwestern 24, Duke 7
NATIONAL GAMES OF THE WEEK:
I don't have a lot of space as I have already gone over the 2300 word mark so we're going to skimp on the in depth analysis (HA!) and go straight to the predictions of two of the best national games of the week. I'm going for a big upset in both.
#14 Nebraska 31, #1 USC 30. Kentucky 45, #9 Louisville 42.
Last Week: 12-1
Season record 22-4