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Week 10 Big Ten Preview

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It’s week 10 in the Big Ten and it’s a week where several teams are facing must win situations. Indiana must win against a surprisingly good Ball State team in order to keep alive some fading bowl hopes. Both Purdue and Penn State must win to keep hopes alive for a New Year’s Day Bowl game. Ohio State must win at home to stay in the national title hunt. Michigan State simply must win period before the entire fan base freaks out over another season falling away late. Iowa and Northwestern must win to secure a bowl bid. Minnesota simply wants a win of any kind.

Who needs it more right now? Ohio State will go at least to the Rose Bowl even with one loss as long as it doesn’t come in the Michigan game. Penn State and Purdue already know they will get one of the seven Big Ten slots, so they are just playing to climb the ladder. Michigan has a very tricky three game stretch that will have them definitely earning a BCS bid if they can get through it unscathed. For some (like Purdue), this week is a last chance to prove they can play with the best of the conference. For others (like Michigan State) it is a desperate home game to salvage a season quickly fading away.

Purdue may have the most to gain from this week, as I really feel like we can get a New Year’s Day bowl and a 10 win season with a win. Michigan State and Indiana are both fading fast, so we should beat them, but many are still only projecting as high as the Insight Bowl. A loss in this game would almost assuredly put us only as high as fifth for a bowl game behind Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin. That means a return to the Champs Sports Bowl at best, and my marriage can’t risk a Miami-Purdue game right now.

BIG TEN GAME OF THE WEEK:

#21 Wisconsin (7-2, 3-2) at #1 Ohio State (9-0, 5-0) 12pm

With a healthy P.J. Hill or at least backup Lance Smith (suspension) to pace the running game I would normally say the Badgers had a chance. Unfortunately since Hill got banged up a bit in the rout over Indiana Wisconsin’s offense suddenly becomes very ordinary. Hill is the type of runner that might actually be able to make some headway against the tough Buckeye front. Without him the Badgers must rely on a passing game that is not nearly as dynamic as some that Ohio State has already shut down this year.

The Wisconsin defense is playing well of late, but if the Ohio State defense can continue to be dominant and shut down a shorthanded Badger unit the Buckeye offense won’t have to do a whole lot to win. Wisconsin completely stifled James Hardy last week, but what about Brian Robiskie this week? Unlike IU, Ohio State actually has a real running game outside of Kellen Lewis running away from people. I don’t see Wisconsin getting this game as shorthanded as they are, or as sharp as Ohio State is playing.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 20, Wisconsin 7

Purdue (7-2, 3-2) at Penn State (6-3, 3-3) 12pm

I think both teams come into this game fairly evenly matched. They both have losses at home to Ohio State and on the road at Michigan. Both had surprisingly easy home wins against Notre Dame and Iowa. While beating Notre Dame has become about as easy as a Charlie Weis fat joke, the other three do allow for some comparisons to be drawn. The main argument is the Penn State defense against the Purdue offense, but I think the other one is just as important.

The Purdue defense has quietly played very well of late, and the impressive showing against Northwestern raised a few eyebrows for even the most pessimistic of Boilermaker fans. Penn State’s offense has struggled mightily at times this year, but playing at home on Senior Day will be a tough challenge for Purdue to overcome. I would really like to say that Purdue can go in there and win this game against a Penn State team that is scarier on paper than in person, but I know our history. Until we actually go into a venue like Happy Valley and win I won’t believe it. I almost wish I could do two predictions here, and in fact I will. For my official Big Ten bloggers’ picks I’ll go with Purdue, but for the sake of here I still think Penn State will win. Purdue did not respond well when I asked them to prove me wrong against Ohio State, so I have little to hope for here.

PREDICTION: Penn State 21, Purdue 13

Ball State (5-4) at Indiana (5-4, 2-4) 12pm

The winner of this game gets to bowl eligibility, and because the MAC is so putrid this year in some places Ball State could get to a bowl with six wins more likely than Indiana can. The Hoosiers have been banking this game as win number six as a fallback for some time, and now they find themselves here without that sixth win secured. A loss to the Cardinals would be nothing short of catastrophic for the team’s "play 13" goal. Remember last year Indiana beat the Cardinals in a 24-23 game in Muncie. This year both teams are better.

In its history Ball State has never beaten a team from a BCS conference, and before this year they had barely beaten any D-1A team outside of the MAC. They already have a win over Navy, and they gave both Nebraska and Illinois a good ball game. This very well could be the game where they break through. Nate Davis certainly has the talent, but Ball State is notoriously bad against the run this year. The good news is Indiana struggles to run the football aside from Kellen Lewis. I actually like Ball State in an upset.

PREDICTION: Ball State 31, Indiana 30

Iowa (4-5, 2-4) at Northwestern (5-4, 2-4) 12pm

In terms of the overall conference bowl picture this may be the biggest game of the week. The winner will find themselves in the driver’s seat for the final bowl game, while the loser will have to wait things out to see what else happens. Having seen each of them over the last two weeks at Purdue I am not sure what to think. Honestly I feel Northwestern is the better team and they will be playing at home, but Iowa was quite impressive in finally getting the ground game on track last week.

Iowa’s passing game isn’t nearly as dangerous as Purdue’s and even thought the Boilermaker air attack took a rare backseat to the ground game against Northwestern it still did more than Iowa’s last week against Michigan State. Iowa will need to get more through the air to pull off the win here. Northwestern added salt in the wound last year with a surprisingly dominant win in Iowa City. Since Iowa struggled with our offense I expect more of the same here. Both of these teams should be very evenly matched.

PREDICTION: Northwestern 21, Iowa 17

#12 Michigan (7-2, 5-0) at Michigan State (5-4, 1-4) 3:30pm

It’s Jan Brady vs. Marsha Brady in this game as Michigan State has always taken a back seat to the Wolverines in their own state. In the midst of yet another late season slide Michigan State desperately needs this game to stop the bleeding. With all due respect to Northwestern and Iowa, Michigan State had both of those games in hand and blew it. They very easily could be 7-2 right now and playing for a New Year’s Day Bowl but instead they find themselves likely needing two of three for any bowl.

Could this be another week where Chad Henne and Mike Hart get a chance to rest? I don’t think Michigan will have quite as easy of a time this week as it did against Minnesota. The Spartan slide this year is very perplexing because they have been good in both aspects of the offense, but the defense seems to be regressing as the season goes on. Since Michigan has played well against the run and Michigan State is beginning to struggle with its strength expect the Wolverines to roll.

PREDICTION: Michigan 27, Michigan State 13

Illinois (6-3, 3-2) at Minnesota (1-8, 0-5) 8pm

Illinois is bowl eligible and will look to lock up an official bowl trip by getting win number seven against the lowly Gophers. It is Minnesota’s homecoming, so there is that added motivation for the day, and it does help the Gophers that Juice Williams is the only starting quarterback in the Big Ten that has yet to throw for 1,000 yards on the season. Since Minnesota can’t stop the pass, but Illinois can’t pass anyway that may be a great equalizer.

Since both teams also like to turn the ball over this may be closer than one would think. If Minnesota can hold on to the ball and not make any mistakes offensively they have a shot. As we have seen though, that is a tall order for the Gophers to do against even bad defenses. Against a good one like Illinois that will be next to impossible. Ron Zook has blown a couple this year he should have had, but Illinois is the better team and still should win. The operative word there being should. As much as Iowa is improving this is probably Minnesota’s last best hope for a Big Ten win and they need to go for it. For Purdue’s sake I hope they pull it out, as then it would improve our bowl position, but I doubt it. At least Goldy has the Capitol One mascot challenge left.

PREDICTION: Illinois 34, Minnesota 14

NATIONAL GAMES OF THE WEEK:

All eyes will be on Eugene, Oregon for the second straight week as #4 Arizona State visits #5 Oregon in a game that will go a long way to deciding the Pac-10 and, if Oregon wins, could vault the Ducks into the national title game. Do you think Sam Keller regrets transferring after not getting his way a few years ago when he lost the starting job as Sun Devil quarterback. He is whiling away on a Nebraska team that may not even get to a bowl game while Rudy Carpenter may take the Sun Devils to a championship. Personally I would love to see the Ducks go all the way this year so it is as big of a non-conference game as possible when they come to Purdue sans Dennis Dixon next season. This should be the first real test for Arizona State, and a win for them probably means only USC stands in the way of an unbeaten season. The winner also has the inside track for the #2 national ranking should Ohio State or Boston College fall. Oregon 26, Arizona State 24

The second national game of the week is #3 LSU at #17 Alabama. Why is this a big game? So what if Nick Saban used to coach at LSU, it’s not like there are that many players left recruited by him, nor would they care if he coaches Alabama now? He has the loyalty of Benedict Arnold and has proven he will leave Alabama when the next paycheck comes along. He did next to nothing at Michigan State, won a national title in one of the most controversial years of the BCS, and has already lost to a Florida State team that is quickly on the verge of being godawful. Why do people consider him a good coach or that Alabama is a good team? They are overrated and LSU is going to destroy them in this game. LSU is long overdue for a breakout week and I think this will be the week. LSU 32, Alabama 17

LAST WEEK: 7-1 SEASON RECORD: 66-18