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Big Ten Week 9 Preview

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Everyone has been talking bowl bids this week, especially since there can be nine or ten teams from the conference eligible for only seven or eight spots depending on how the BCS unfolds. In reality on Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State hold out hope for the BCS without something even crazier happening. According to this article (thanks again to Lake the Posts), any Big Ten team not going to one of the seven Big Ten bowl games has to have seven wins and not just six. For teams that are already at six wins they now get a shot to get that seventh win beginning this week as a safety measure, with three other chances along the line. Everyone else like Indiana, Michigan State, Illinois, and Northwestern are suddenly in the boat of likely needing two wins to feel secure they are going somewhere after November 17th.

Of these three Illinois is probably the safest, as their win over Indiana will likely put them in a Big Ten bowl. The same could be said for Michigan State, but they also lost to Northwestern. The Wildcats finish with Indiana and Illinois in the conference so they can do the most remaining damage. Indiana, having already lost to both Michigan State and Illinois is in serious trouble if they can't get past the Wildcats, even if they get to six wins by beating Ball State. None of these four play each other this weekend, but all four have an excellent chance to move ahead of already bowl eligible teams except for Illinois.

Remember, this is a conference that many are saying is the worst BCS conference in the land.

So who gets left out right now if there are only seven spots, but nine teams? Well, at the moment you would have to put Indiana as one of the two left out because they have yet to beat one of the other teams. If they get to the seven wins needed for an extra bowl then they will have a win over either Wisconsin, Purdue, or Northwestern, improving their profile (plus not having been to a bowl in 14 years could mean more ticket sales). The next would be Michigan State, who even if they beat Iowa this week could only end up at 6-6 with a tough remaining schedule. Will the Motor City Bowl then save them by taking a team so close by? If Northwestern, Michigan State, and Indiana all finished at 6-6 the Spartans would likely get that last Motor City bowl spot because of proximity even though Northwestern won head-to-head.

The biggest game in this scenario may be on November 10th when Indiana and Northwestern play. Both may already be at six wins (Indiana over Ball State and Northwestern over Iowa) with the winner guaranteeing a post-season spot, while the loser would have to win a rivalry game to get in.

Of course this is all speculation at this point, and could all be blown to hell if the four teams closest to eligibility lose this weekend.

BIG TEN GAME OF THE WEEK:

#1 Ohio State (8-0, 4-0) at #25 Penn State (6-2, 3-2) 8pm

Penn State will get its seventh insurance win when they face Temple in two weeks as a worst case scenario, but facing the Buckeyes in Happy Valley gives them a chance to all but lock up a New Year's Day bowl game with a win. If they beat the Buckeyes this weekend I have a hard time seeing them losing to Purdue, Temple, or Michigan State to end the season, and the Rose Bowl is even a distant possibility at that point with a lot of help.

You have to think though that Ohio State is not really afraid of Anthony Morelli and the Penn State offense. Ohio State already completely shut down better overall offenses in Purdue and Minnesota, so what do they have to fear about Penn State's? Not a whole lot, that's what. Penn State has as stuttering of a running game as Purdue has with a worse passing game. It's not that I don't have confidence in the Penn State defense to take it to Ohio State. I don't have confidence in the Penn State offense to score enough.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 20, Penn State 10

Northwestern (5-3, 2-2) at Purdue (6-2, 2-2) 12pm

I actually think this game will be quite fun because both teams need it for that seventh win. Lake the Posts assured me that if the Purdue offense is moving we will score more than 50 points. Statistically Northwestern is ranked ahead of Minnesota, Toledo, and Central Michigan as defenses we have faced, but not much better and we did score at least 45 points in each of those games. Northwestern is also ranked 117th in kickoff return defense when we have already returned two kicks for touchdowns this year. This bodes well, because even if they score we can get it right back.

Northwestern can pass the ball very well, but they have struggled to run the ball with consistency. They get a huge boost in that department with Tyrell Sutton retuning to start this week and the sudden development of Omar Conteh as a quality backup. Where we should be concerned is if their defense plays as well as they did against Michigan, where if not for a sudden bout of turnovers the Wildcats would have probably beaten the Wolverines. Where Purdue has a solid edge is the ability to stop the run. Purdue has stopped the run decently this year, while Northwestern hasn't. This game could easily be an offensive shootout where the last team with the ball wins.

PREDICTION: Purdue 45, Northwestern 35

Indiana (5-3, 2-3) at Wisconsin (6-2, 2-2) 12pm

In an almost identical matchup to the one above both teams need this game, but with Minnesota remaining on Wisconsin's schedule they probably need it a little less. It is looking more and more like Indiana is going to need to get seven wins to get a bowl because of their previous losses. Even six wins is not a guarantee at this point because of the difficulty of Indiana's remaining schedule. The old bugaboo of stopping the run is starting to come back and haunt the Hoosiers, and they will find no one harder to stop on their remaining schedule than P.J. Hill.

This is Indiana's most difficult game left, and Wisconsin is always tough at home. If Indiana doesn't get past Northwestern in two weeks they will find themselves looking up at three teams they don't need to be looking up at. Even the win over Ball State isn't a guarantee anymore. Since Wisconsin's defense has struggled to slow teams down Indiana has enough offensive firepower to stay with them. This could easily be another fun shootout to keep track of on Saturday.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin 38, Indiana 31

Ball State (5-3) at Illinois (5-3, 3-2) 12pm

I am very curious about this game because it just has the feeling of a Ron Zook special. By Ron Zook special I mean it could end up being a game where Illinois does everything in its power to blow it and Ball State takes advantage of it. The Illinois fans will certainly take the Cardinals lightly and expect a win, but Ball State showed earlier in the year they can play with just about anyone. Nate Davis is developing into quite a quarterback, and you can bet the Cardinals, who are the closest team to being bowl eligible out of the MAC, are looking for a shocking win to wake everyone up.

Unfortunately for Ball State it cannot stop the run. They rank 110th against the run and give up more than 214 yards a game. Illinois does like to run just a little bit. Now all they need to do is settle on a quarterback, as Ron Zook seems to be writing a book on how to undermine a quarterback's confidence by constantly switching between Eddie McGee and the Juice. If you can't trust Illinois to simply field a punt in a close game how can you trust them to respond if a team hangs around much longer than expected? Illinois will likely win this, but do not be surprised at all if Ball State springs the upset.

PREDICTION: Illinois 31, Ball State 21

Michigan State (5-3, 1-3) at Iowa (3-5, 1-4) 12pm

If the Hawkeyes can manage to win this game you could have a case of two teams headed in opposite directions. Michigan State has a difficult finish, while Iowa has Northwestern, Minnesota, and Western Michigan to close out. All that being said I don't think Iowa can do it. I mean come on, they managed only six points against our defense and we gave up 19 to Notre Dame. All Michigan State has to do is be patient with the running game and pound away until the Iowa defense gets tired.

This was before hearing about the Michigan State robbery charges this week, and one has to wonder how those will affect the team. All three players will still play, and that is good news since SirDarien Adams is really beginning to come into his own at linebacker. Jehuu Caulcrick and Javon Ringer should be able to find room to move if Jaycen Taylor and Kory Sheets were able to combines for 138 on the ground against Iowa. As long as Michigan State doesn't revert to late-season Michigan State they should be fine.

Michigan State 20, Iowa 10

Minnesota (1-7, 0-4) at Michigan (6-2, 4-0) 12pm

The battle for the Little Brown Jug will go down as the first time in a season when both teams lost to a 1-AA team. Sure, they were good 1-AA teams that could play for the national title if North Dakota State were eligible, but they are 1-AA teams no less. The difference is that Michigan has certainly turned things around and they are only getting better and better. Minnesota is already looking toward next year with a promising offense, but almost no defense.

It is that promising offense that could keep Minnesota alive in this one if Michigan is apathetic. Michigan should be smart and rest Henne and Hart for bigger battles ahead. They should have plenty of talent to get the job done without them. Minnesota hasn't stopped anyone yet and they have the official worst defense in the country, so this one will probably be quick and merciful.

Michigan 41, Minnesota 14

NATIONAL GAMES OF THE WEEK:

In looking forward to next season I am interested in the #12 USC at #5 Oregon game. I'm not sure how much we will learn about the Ducks before they come to Ross-Ade next season because they will be breaking in a new quarterback by then, but this year Dennis Dixon has them in the thick of the national title race. As Michigan continues to improve the win in the Big House looks better and better for the Ducks. Meanwhile USC has already struggled with Arizona and Stanford this year. No team with that much talent should struggle with teams that bad. The game is at Autzen Stadium, so I am giving the edge to the Ducks. Oregon 27, USC 24

The second game of national significance is #9 Kansas at Texas A&M. I know it's a game where only one team is ranked, but since we are projected to go in the Alamo Bowl to Insight Bowl range we could end up playing one of these teams in the post-season. Kansas remains as one of the five unbeaten teams in the country, but their best win is over Kansas State. Texas A&M is a sham in every sense of the words, as since I watched them against Miami earlier this season they looked terrible. They didn't even bother to show up in a nationally televised Thursday night game, and therefore we might have a chance to beat them if we played them in a bowl game. Kansas 24, Texas A&M 16

LAST WEEK: 7-1 SEASON RECORD: 59-17