After this week we will know a lot more about Michigan State and Illinois, as they take their turns at battling the only two unbeaten teams in conference play. The conference's seven teams sitting at five wins also each have a shot to clinch bowl eligibility this week, but four of those 5-2 teams play each other in the form of Penn State at Indiana and Michigan at Illinois. I would consider both of those home teams winning upsets if they happened, and it would make for an even murkier bowl picture.
BIG TEN GAME OF THE WEEK:
#25 Michigan (5-2, 3-0) at Illinois (5-2, 2-1) 8pm Saturday
A Michigan win here would most likely end the Big Ten race for anyone but Michigan or Ohio State, forcing everyone else to have that game crammed down their throats once again at the end of the season. A Wolverine win coupled with a Buckeye win would give both a two game lead over everyone else in the conference with four games, and in some cases three conference games left to play. The Wolverines played their most complete game of the season last week, but benefitted from Purdue pretty much rolling over and playing dead.
Michigan got 28 points off of turnovers last week, and Illinois is a team that has struggled with turnover issues for some time. I am very cool on the Illini after a pretty inexcusable loss last week at Iowa, and they are not in good shape if they have decided to go with a quarterback shuffled after standing behind Juice Williams earlier in the year. Michigan is good enough to stop their running game, and unlike Dennis Dixon Juice Williams cannot pass his way out of trouble if he can't run. Clearly if you stop Illinois from running they are mortal, that is why I give Michigan an edge.
PREDICTION: Michigan 24, Illinois 20
Northwestern (4-3, 2-2) vs. Eastern Michigan (2-5) at Ford Field 7pm Friday
This is a very strange midseason out of conference Friday night road game for the Wildcats and one they simply must have if they are to go bowling this year. IN an astonishing turn of events there may be room yet for someone like Northwestern to get into a bowl because Conference USA could easily fall short of its six bowl commitments, opening the door for the Cats if they get to six wins. Some projections even have this as a preview of their bowl game, placing the Cats in the Motor City Bowl. I am sure their dream is to go to Detroit the day after Christmas.
Will C.J. Bacher cool off? I hope for Purdue's sake he gets the rest of it out of his system this week because that offense coming to West Lafayette for homecoming scares the bejesus out of me and I don't even know what a bejesus is. Even though they lost to Duke and Eastern gave Michigan a decent game I don't expect the Wildcats to have too much trouble. Since they are averse to playing defense however…
PREDICTION: Northwestern 38, Eastern Michigan 21
Penn State (5-2, 2-2) at Indiana (5-2, 2-2) noon Saturday
Well Indiana, you have everyone's attention and it is homecoming, time to prove you really belong at the big boy table in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers get a nationally televised game against a name team in Bloomington and chance number to get the elusive sixth win they have been searching for since 1994. With Wisconsin coming up on the road next week this is probably Indiana's best shot to beat one of the better teams in the conference, and they have the offense to do it if the defense can come to play.
Unfortunately Indiana is fresh off of giving up 52 points to Michigan State while Penn State had a very impressive dominant win over Wisconsin last week. Indiana has the horses to pull off the win especially if they continue to get into the backfield. Under pressure Anthony Morelli is as shaky as Britney's career at the moment, and for whatever reason Indiana leads the nation in sacks at 32. If they can force Morelli to start chucking the ball with reckless abandon Penn State will go down and the Hoosiers will have a critical win for their bowl hopes. Penn State is the better team, but Morelli is the X factor in a negative way.
PREDICTION: Penn State 24, Indiana 23
Iowa (3-4, 1-3) at Purdue (5-2, 1-2)
Even though Iowa is a bit down at the moment this is a must win for the Boilermakers. We need to stop this losing streak at two games or things will get a whole lot worse before they get better. Right now I am scared of an Iowa defense that just held a pretty good Illinois offense to six points and an explosive and unpredictable Northwestern offense next week. If Purdue loses this game they could find themselves easily at 5-5 facing good Michigan State and Indiana teams just to get to a bowl game.
Iowa still cannot score this year, and I have actually been quite pleased with the play of Purdue's defense even in the last two losses. Against Michigan four times they were given a short field to defend because of turnovers and three of those times Mike Hart or Marion Manningham simply made a great play for a score. The rest of the time the defense was exhausted from the offense not helping them out. I am confident that if the offense wakes up and can get 3-4 scoring drives together this week it will be more than enough, as Iowa has only gotten to 20 points once.
PREDICTION: Purdue 24, Iowa 14
North Dakota State (6-0) at Minnesota (1-5, 0-3)
Is this a measure of how good North Dakota State is becoming, or just how bad Minnesota is this season? The Bison are one of the best teams in Division 1-AA and because of their provisional status from moving up from Division II they aren't even eligible for the 1-AA playoffs. Currently North Dakota State is ranked #2 in the 1-AA poll, They've scored at least 28 points in every game, and they already own a 30 point win over Central Michigan. Considering that the Chips are one of the better teams in the MAC and the Gophers have already struggled with lesser teams from that conference means Goldy is in trouble.
Minnesota barely got past North Dakota State last season on a 10-9 score, and the Bison are already a better team from last year. Minnesota is clearly worse than in the past, but they have been competitive at least by getting to overtime in three of six games so far. How weird would it be if they didn't have overtime like in the old days and Minnesota was sitting at 0-3-3 as a record? This is a rarity, but I am going with the Division 1-AA team over a big Ten team at home.
North Dakota State 31, Minnesota 30
Northern Illinois (1-5) at Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2)
Wisconsin comes in very angry after a two game road trip in the league led to a pair of losses. Northern Illinois comes in to Madison having barely beaten Idaho and with a loss to 1-AA Southern Illinois. It's time for Wisconsin to play with a little bit of pride for once and simply dominate a team. They did not do so against UNLV or The Citadel and got away with it. They've struggled the past two weeks against Penn State and Illinois, but they are a little banged up offensively. It's time for them to tune up before a big bowl push against Indiana next week.
This is the easiest game of the week to pick.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 37, Northern Illinois 10
Michigan State (5-2, 1-2) at #1 Ohio State (7-0, 3-0)
If this game was being played in East Lansing there might be a modicum of concern. Michigan State got things going in a positive direction in a big way last week by dominating Indiana early and often. That showed a surprising amount of fortitude for a team that has had a habit of reeling off long losing streaks in recent seasons. Asking them to go into Columbus and beat the number one team in the country is an awful lot to ask at this early juncture, but the Spartans impressed me enough last week to give me the impression it was at least possible.
Conventional wisdom says that Ohio State's defense will dominate once again against an offense that leans toward the one-dimensional. I happen to think Michigan State has a puncher's chance though. They've played with more emotion the past few weeks than most teams in the conference, and really only lost a pair of shootouts because the defense couldn't get a key stop against Northwestern and Wisconsin. Ohio State should win, but don't be surprised if Michigan State makes them sweat a bit for it. If Ohio State wins in a walk we know they are the real deal.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 20, Michigan State 10
NATIONAL GAMES OF THE WEEK:
Can Kentucky do it again? With undefeated teams dropping left and right #15 Florida at #7 Kentucky has a ton of intrigue to it. Usually you only see rankings like this for basketball between these schools, but the Wildcats proved they were the real deal by knocking off LSU last week. Surprisingly Florida can get right back into the title race even with two losses if teams ahead of them keep losing. Purdue fans should be interested in this game because a strong finish could put us in the Outback bowl against one of them. Kentucky has already taken out a pair of ranked teams at home, and a win here may make them the favorite in the SEC. Kentucky 27, Florida 24
Another game of interest to Purdue fans as far as bowl opponents go is #24 Texas Tech at #16 Missouri. With a pair of tie-ins at the level of bowl I expect us to go to we very well could see one of these teams in either the Insight or Alamo bowls. Missouri has a very balanced offense and has played well each week except in a loss at Oklahoma. Texas Tech and Michael Crabtree are putting up numbers that are unattainable even on playstation. 78 catches for 1244 yards and 17 touchdowns are insane numbers for a single season. When you consider Crabtree has done this in just seven games and was even kept out of the end zone last week against Texas A&M you have to simply watch this kid in awe. Missouri seems to be on a mission though. Missouri 42, Texas Tech 38
LAST WEEK: 4-4 SEASON RECORD 52-16