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Big Ten Week 3 Preview

As evidenced by this week’s roundtable, presented by Maize N’ Brew, this is the week where the schedule finally begins to grow some chest hair. That’s not really the case for Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois, Penn State, or Northwestern, but for everyone else there is at least a semi-challenging opponent to face. At least Illinois and Penn State have already faced major conference teams. The other three feature non-conference schedules that would make even Glen Mason say they were too easy.

This week we will see the finale of the Big Ten-Pac 10 challenge. The challenge is currently tied at one apiece after Michigan State lost at California and Penn State beat Oregon State. The Big Ten is not favored in either game this week, but I would love for my Boilers to assure the conference of at least a tie before the USC-Ohio State contest Saturday night. That would then make the Rose Bowl this year’s rubber match. Because of that and some other games this week, it is an important week for the conference profile as a whole. Wisconsin goes to BCS giant-killer Fresno State. Michigan renews its cripple fight with Notre Dame. Michigan State even plays a conference champion from a year ago in Florida Atlantic.

#5 Ohio State (2-0) at #1 USC (1-0) 8pm ABC

One benefit of having a job where internet access is banned like we’re behind the Iron Curtain is that I don’t have to be inundated with hype about this game. From what little I have seen, the media is panicking over Ohio State’s near miss against Ohio. Beanie Wells is notgoing to play, but with the 10+ point line on the game it seems like it will hardly matter. Why should we even bother playing the game at this point?

I think Ohio State has a chance because they always show up for big (regular season) games. I am not comparing us to USC, but when the Buckeyes came to Ross-Ade last season it was a huge game for us. The crowd was hyped and everyone thought our offense had a chance of moving against them. They proceeded to let us do virtually nothing for 60 minutes and did the O-H-I-O cheer in our own stadium (one of the most embarrassing moments I have had as a Purdue fan). USC is a much better team than us, but Ohio State always plays well in big regular season games (i.e. the two-game series with Texas). I think USC will win this, but Ohio State will make it much closer than people think. USC 16, Ohio State 14

#16 Oregon (2-0) at Purdue (1-0) 3:30pm ESPN

This is our shot. If we can win this game suddenly the 2008 Purdue football season takes on a whole new character. We will gain the confidence we can beat a ranked team, meaning games at Notre Dame and Michigan State, as well as home games against Penn State and Michigan can be dreamed of as wins. I was thinking about this on the way to work this morning. If we win Saturday, we will prove that we are good enough to be in the conversation for a Big Ten title should Ohio State falter, especially since we miss Wisconsin and Illinois this year. If we lose, I can see us struggling to make a bowl because of the number of good teams we play. A loss means we have to win at least one game against Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, or Michigan State without losing another game somewhere along the line just to insure qualification for a bowl. It remains to be seen if Michigan and Notre Dame are "good teams", but given our recent history against both (and the venue) I cannot guarantee a win against either.

The weather does not look like it will be good Saturday. It may slow down Oregon some, but they prefer to run more than we do. It won’t favor our passing game any, especially if the wind is blowing in from the open end of the stadium. From the comments on the Oregon article,t he Jeremiah Johnson injury could be a big factor. Will Tiller show patience with the ground game and turn this into a grind it out game with Sheets, Halliburton, Dierking, and Siller? Will Painter tuck and run when the opportunity presents itself? We need to do these things to win, but history says no. Last year I asked Purdue to prove me wrong against Ohio State and they didn’t. I give them another chance with this prediction. Oregon 35 Purdue 28

#10 Wisconsin (2-0) at #21 Fresno State (2-0), 10:30pm ESPN2

Because we’ll be driving back from West Lafayette I probably won’t be able to watch most of the USC-Ohio State game, but I am excited for some late night football to watch with this game. This year’s Wisconsin looks like many in past years as it is experienced in every position but quarterback. That quarterback is an upperclassman, however, that has patiently waited for his chance and is asked to simply not screw things up. Badger quarterbacks are experts at that, and we can expect more of the same next year when Dustin Sherer takes over.

If the Wisconsin running game asserts itself this one will be over quickly. Fresno State is a blood in the water team, especially at home. The longer they stay in the game the better they start to play. If the Badgers win this I think it makes a two game season for them. Beat Michigan State and Ohio State and the Badgers can think national title. This should be a fantastic game. Wisconsin 24, Fresno State 21

Florida Atlantic (1-1) at Michigan State (1-1) noon ESPN2

I think this game could be quite interesting. Florida Atlantic already has a Big Ten pelt from knocking off Minnesota last year. That wasn’t any great feat, but it was still a big win for their program. They went on to win the Sun Belt and the New Orleans Bowl. That’s not bad for a school that didn’t even have a football program 10 years ago. They like to pass, so this should be a decent test for the Michigan State defense.

The Spartans were impressive last week in working on what they needed to work on against Eastern Michigan. Javon Ringer threw up some huge numbers and is now leading the conference in touchdowns. That was one of his biggest knocks last year, but he has already found the end zone more than he did all of last season. Expect Michigan State to have a closer than expected, but business-like win. Michigan State 37, Florida Atlantic 21

Iowa State (2-0) at Iowa (2-0) noon, Big Ten Network

This game is in Iowa City, so the Hawkeyes should win. That, at least, seems to be the trend of late since the home team has won four straight. This is one of the oddest rivalries out there in that you would think the Hawkeyes would own the Cyclones, but Iowa State has more than held its own lately. You simply cannot predict these games anymore. Iowa State last year without even scoring a touchdown. As the 2002 season proved, a loss to the Cyclones doesn’t necessarily mean a bad season.

This may be one of the nastier non-conference rivalries involving a Big Ten team. I really have no idea about this game. Iowa State won last year, and this is the first semi-real team Iowa plays. Since this is the first real look we’ll get of the Hawkeyes I’ll pick them. Iowa 24, Iowa State 20.

Michigan (1-1) at Notre Dame (1-0) 3:30pm NBC

Jimmy Montana says Notre Dame is a good team. Yes, they survived a game against San Diego State that shouldn’t have been close, so obviously the return to glory is happening before our eyes. Two years ago was supposed to be Notre Dame’s last national title. Michigan ended those hopes by stomping the Irish in South Bend. Saturday could be the first step in the magic number of four. The four stands for the four losses the Irish need to prevent the Notre Dame clause being invoked by the BCS and they are handed another undeserved huge payday.

Hatred of that clause aside, the Irish did at least show some signs of life last week by winning a game they really shouldn’t have. That is a step in the right direction. They are better, but how much better remains to be seen. Michigan’s offense needs to take a step forward this week, but who knows how big of a step that will be because we don’t know how good Notre Dame’s defense is. I do know Michigan has a pretty good defense, and Jimmy will probably running for his life a lot. Michigan 10, Notre Dame 7

#17 Penn State (2-0) at Syracuse (0-2), 3:30pm ABC

Syracuse sucks. There are no two ways about it. The loss at Northwestern is fine. The loss at home last week to Akron is embarrassing. They are approaching the rare territory of displacing Duke as "Worst BCS conference team in America". Also in the running for that title is Baylor. Penn state should have very little trouble here. I can’t believe they picked this game for ABC. Penn State 38, Syracuse 10

Louisiana-Lafayette (0-1) at #24 Illinois (1-1) noon, Big Ten Network

The Illini needs to seriously work on their defense this week. So far they haven’t shown much, surrendering 21 points to Division 1-AA Eastern Illinois a week ago. They should have that luxury this week as Louisiana-Lafayette is among the worst teams in the nation. Expect a ton of points

Louisiana Lafayette doesn’t necessarily have a defense to speak of after giving up a ton on the ground against Southern Miss in the opener. Illinois should have a huge day on the ground. Illinois 45, La-Laf. 14

Southern Illinois (1-0) at Northwestern (2-0), noon, Big Ten Network
Montana State (0-1) at Minnesota (2-0), noon, Big Ten Network

No Big Ten team should ever lose at home to a 1-AA team. This is especially true of both of these teams, as they have been guilty in recent seasons of doing just that. Both are through the most difficult parts of their non-conference schedule, but that isn’t saying much. Both have no excuse for being 4-0 outside the conference (except for Minnesota, which still must play a feisty Florida Atlantic). Since they play each other, that means one of them would need just one more win to be conditionally bowl eligible. Northwestern was there last year, but that’s a big step forward for Minnesota. The Gophers have already lost Duane Bennett for the year, so I’d give the edge to Northwestern for now. Both should have little trouble Saturday. Northwestern 31, Southern Illinois 10. Minnesota 38, Montana State 7