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Big Ten Week 5 Preview (We want the stick!)

I want to begin with a thank you to Drew Brees for his gift of $2 million for the Drew and Brittany Brees Student-Athlete Academic Center. Drew is universally loved by all Purdue fans, and we cannot thank him enough for his gift to Purdue athletics. I was fortunate enough to be a student in the three years he was our starting quarterback and he is a class individual in every sense of the word. I doubt he will read this blog, but Drew, thank you for all you have done for Purdue. It has been an honor to watch you play for us and thank you for continuing to give Purdue a good name in New Orleans.

I love that this is going to be my last triple football weekend of the year. In addition to covering a game on Friday at the RCA Dome (and the strong possibility of meeting Peyton Manning as a result), and the Purdue game on Saturday I have tickets to the Colts game on Sunday. By far the most important game is Saturday though, as Purdue has the rare opportunity to blow out Notre Dame. I have welcomed the well-wishers from other schools that have come over to the Purdue message boards lately asking us to completely annihilate the Irish. It’s nice to see that Purdue fans are not the only ones that despise the Domers.

This week also means a break from the Big Ten schedule while everyone else in the conference moves forward with critical games. No less than three of the five conference games should be pretty close contests with bowl positioning coming into play for the first time. The programs at Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan State have their first chances to seriously surprise someone, but two of them must do so on the road where recent history has not been kind to them. The first of those games is this week’s Big Ten Game of the Week.

Big Ten Game of the Week

#23 Michigan State (4-0, 0-0) at #9 Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0) 3:30pm
Welcome to the real part of the season, Michigan State. The Spartan’s non-conference slate has not been that bad as Bowling Green has a win over Minnesota to its credit and Pittsburgh and Notre Dame are at least name programs. Michigan State was really only tested by Pittsburgh, and the jury is out on them and how good they are. Both of these teams play very similar styles of offense concentrating on their ground games. Both teams also rely on their defenses, but at the moment Michigan State’s is playing better. I really don’t trust Wisconsin’s defense after it struggled with the Citadel. At least Appalachian State was the #1 team in 1-AA when they scored all those points against Michigan.

I think Michigan State has an excellent chance to win this game, and if they do they have a really great chance to go on a bit of a run in the Big Ten. This is also Wisconsin’s chance to win a prove it game, as they have yet to be very impressive in any game so far. While last week’s Purdue-Minnesota game featured both teams flying up and down the field in the second half, this week the game between Wisconsin and Michigan State should be a throwback to the slug-it-out days of the old Big Ten.

Something needs to be said about Michigan State end Jonal Saint-Dic, who has been one of the most dominant defensive ends in the country so far. He has six sacks and five forced fumbles while the Michigan State defense has been one of the best at getting to the quarterback. Can they contain the run though against P.J. Hill? I honestly like Wisconsin in this game for two reasons: first they are at home, and second they have done just enough to win every game so far and are becoming very good at pulling out the close ones. I also went with them officially on the Big Ten Blogger Pick ‘em contest.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin 14, Michigan State 10

Indiana (3-1, 0-1) at Iowa (2-2, 0-1) 12pm

Indiana is not going to get a better chance this year to pull off a win no one was going to give them before the season got underway. They have last year’s offensive performance in Bloomington to remember, plus Iowa is down to playing a peanut vendor and a parking attendant at wide receiver to handcuff the Hawkeye offense. Iowa also has the added motivation of remembering the Indiana game sent them into the tank last season after a dominating win over Purdue. Ironically right now I think Iowa needs this game more than the Hoosiers, as they can’t afford to fall to 2-3 and 0-2 in the Big Ten with Penn State and Purdue coming up.

Iowa has the better defense, but I seriously question if they can score enough to beat the Hoosiers if the passing game is shut down. It’s the worst possible scenario as they have a developing quarterback and almost no one with experience to throw to. They do have Albert Young and Damian Sims though, and they can move the ball on the ground.

James Hardy has made the Iowa secondary his personal playground the past two years, going for 307 yards and four touchdowns in the last two games against Iowa. Would you also believe Indiana has won four of its last seven against Iowa? If the Hoosiers are going to get to a bowl this year they could really use this game as a big step towards one, especially with Minnesota at home next week. Even the pink locker room isn’t pulling me away from picking Indiana here. I simply don’t think Iowa can score enough to beat a good team.

PREDICTION: Indiana 21, Iowa 10

#19 Penn State (3-1, 0-1) at Illinois (3-1, 1-0) 12pm

I’m really tempted to pick Illinois here, but I am willing to give Penn State one more chance this season. They had better turn in a better offensive performance this week though, as Illinois’ defense may be better than Michigan’s. I still don’t understand why Penn State, with a pretty good selection of receivers, didn’t throw the ball all day against a Michigan defense that was susceptible to the pass. Penn State is better than this, and they know it.
Both teams are flawed, as Illinois doesn’t have a passing game to speak of, but it can run the ball. Rashard Mendenhall is having quite a season and Illinois seems to have even gotten over its turnover issues a bit. This is the biggest home game in Champaign in years and the Illini need to take advantage. Indiana has a more explosive offense than Penn State and Illinois was able to shut it down. The Illini specialize in run defense, and last week Penn State had had horrible week passing, so how will they score?

Again, I am really, really tempted to go with Illinois here, but the Ron Zook factor and the fact that Penn State has to know they are they better team has me leaning toward the Nittany Lions. I’ll go with Indiana over Iowa because they took them out last season, but Illinois needs to prove they can beat someone other than who they have beaten before I can pick them over someone Penn State.

PREDICTION: Penn State 24, Illinois 20

Michigan (2-2, 1-0) at Northwestern (2-2, 0-1) 12pm

This game has two teams with identical records heading in opposite directions. On paper Michigan should have no trouble heading into the Purdue game at 4-2 and 2-0 in the conference, but Northwestern has a history of being feisty at home. Of course, they were at home two weeks ago when they lost to Duke. I would like to think Northwestern has the ability to spread the field and pull off the upset, as I still think Michigan is vulnerable this way, but without Tyrell Sutton the Wildcats will struggle.

Chad Henne may be back, but do Michigan fans really want him back after Ryan Mallett has led them to back-to-back wins so far? He hasn’t lit the world on fire with his numbers, but he has limited his mistakes and gotten the job done. Honestly without Sutton in the lineup I don’t think Northwestern has much of a shot.

PREDICTION: Michigan 34, Northwestern 14

Notre Dame (0-4) at #25 Purdue (4-0, 1-0) 12pm

I have been waiting for this game for months knowing Notre Dame had a shot at being winless. When I wrote my Notre Dame preview back in July I got bombarded with personal attacks from Notre Dame fans. I recognize I went a little overboard, admitted my mistake, fixed things, and still got ripped by them. Where is Gerry now with his team being 0-4? Shoot, they couldn’t even pull off the one win I was giving them. I am also wondering where is the Notre Dame fan that followed me around to other boards trashing my journalistic integrity and generally calling me an idiot. Because of them, I hope we beat the living snot out of the Irish on Saturday.

It’s fun to read the Notre Dame media grasping at straws. On Goldandblack.com yesterday Don Criqui was comparing Jimmy Clausen to Notre Dame, while coach Weis was in the Star this morning about how his team feels like it can win this game. Oh how the mighty have fallen when Notre Dame goes from counting our game as a win to merely thinking they have a chance (and that thinking is looked upon as improvement. If our defense struggles to stop Jimmy Montana then we are in serious trouble, but I won’t be concerned if we get up big in this one and give up a few garbage yards and points. Where is the jealousy of not getting Mr. Clausen and his four Heismans now when lesser recruits have actually won a game?

Even Brady Quinn was able to throw for a bunch of yards in his first ever start back in 2003 at Ross-Ade. Clausen has shown the ability to complete the swing pass… and that’s about it. We are facing the fourth ranked pass defense in the nation, but only because other teams have been able to run the ball at will against Notre Dame. They have had no need to pass with a big lead by halftime, and the other teams have run the ball to kill the clock. I also like how we’re a soft 4-0, but at least all four of the teams we have beaten have won a game. What can the Irish say to that? I know it could be a close game because Purdue history tells me we have a habit of keeping games close when we shouldn’t. We should be able to crush this team, and I hope we will because even if Notre Dame loses by 14 points all the Irish fans will be talking about how close they made it by beating the spread.

This is going to be sweet.

PREDICTION: Purdue 52, Notre Dame 24

#8 Ohio State (4-0, 1-0) at Minnesota (1-3, 0-1) 8pm

This game intrigues me because statistically Minnesota has the second best offense in the conference at the moment and I want to see how well they move the ball in a night home game against the Buckeyes before we play them next week. If Minnesota moves the ball well and gets a few scores it will first of all make our defensive effort in the second half not look so bad, and secondly it will show that we can probably move the ball better when Ohio State comes to town. By the time this game starts our game will be long over so it will be a good scouting mission for us.

I don’t expect the Ohio State offense to have a ton of trouble because their line is possibly playing better than our own at the moment and Minnesota’s defense is nearly non-existent against the pass. Chris Wells has yet to have a breakout game yet either, but he has still gone for 424 yards and three scores. Unfortunately in Purdue’s case facing an offense like Minnesota’s just before our game because it gives their defense a peak at what ours can do. Of course, Minnesota has only been able to do what it has done so far when it falls behind by three touchdowns. Ohio State should have no trouble and we should have a 5-0 vs. 5-0 game next week at Ross-Ade

PREDICTION: Ohio State 45, Minnesota 21

NATIONAL GAMES OF THE WEEK:

#6 California (4-0) at #12 Oregon (4-0)

This is just me really daydreaming a bit, but imagine this scenario: Purdue stays hot this year, wins the Big Ten and gets to the Rose Bowl. Oregon comes through to win the Pac-10 and the two face off in the Rose Bowl. Suddenly there is a very intriguing non-conference home game for us facing the Ducks at the beginning of next season that could be College GameDay worthy. It is of course a wild daydream at this point, but an Oregon win this week and a Purdue win over Ohio State next week suddenly moves us a step closer. Oregon 27, California 24

#5 West Virginia (4-0) at #18 South Florida (3-0)

I’ll have an eye on this one tonight as South Florida is an emerging program and a win would suddenly vault them into dark horse status for the national title. They know they can beat West Virginia too after last season, and everyone is pumped up for the biggest home game in school history. Shoot, this school didn’t even have a team ten years ago! I think West Virginia is the better team, but South Florida is playing with a ton of confidence right now. I’m going to go with them to pull another not-so-shocking upset. South Florida 31, West Virginia 30

Last week: 5-3, Season Record: 36-8