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Big Ten Week 4 Preview

This is the last full week of non-conference action. As a result, there are not a ton of good games out there. In recent years, the Big Ten has been a conference where most teams have played it safe in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Since the schedule officially went to 12 games, more and more teams have tried to set up four easy wins to make the postseason easy to reach. Should teams get those four wins, they then only need two in conference play to get to eligibility. We saw this last year when a record 10 teams were eligible for the postseason.

We could see a similar cluster again this year. Long time residents of the bottom of the conference such as Indiana, Minnesota, and Northwestern have excellent chances to win their four non-conference games. Iowa, a team I picked to be the worst in the Big Ten this year, is a game away from doing the same. Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State are all good enough to go to bowls even though two of them have chalked up a loss already. Illinois is likely in the same boat. That puts us and Michigan in severe danger of missing the postseason, especially if we drop a second non-conference game at Notre Dame.

That makes this week a must-win for almost everyone. Since the Big Ten looks to be highly competitive once the conference season starts, no one can afford to have a late non-conference loss if they want to make the postseason. The conference needs to go 8-0 in order to save some face, but that is unlikely to happen.

Central Michigan (2-1) at Purdue (1-1) noon, Big Ten Network

Purdue is a team that has the most to lose with a loss this weekend. They are facing a very good team that is more than capable of pulling the upset if the Boilers aren’t focused. A loss virtually eliminates any postseason dreams in coach Tiller’s final season. If Purdue is focused though, I don’t think it will have much trouble at all. Curtis Painter loves playing against the Chippewas. Shoot, the entire Purdue offense loves playing against the Chippewas as it has averaged more than 50 points per game in the four meetings between the schools.

Coach Tiller should have notched win #85 last week to officially become the Boilers’ all-time wins leader as head coach. Of course, it should have happened sometime late last year but a late three game losing streak delayed it a few months. If Purdue plays like it can, the delay will be over around 3:30 Saturday afternoon. Another Boilermaker record should fall as well, as Kory Sheets needs one touchdown to tie Mike Alstott’s school career record of 42. Alstott had 39 rushing TD’s against three receiving scores, so the rushing TD record is forthcoming later in the year (Kory has 36 rushing, 4 receiving, and 1 return of a blocked punt). I predict both the coaching and overall TD records will fall Saturday, and I’ll be wearing my #24 jersey to honor Mr. Sheets. Purdue 45, Central Michigan 21

Ball State (3-0) at Indiana (2-0) 7pm, Big Ten Network

This is the first semifinal of the 2008 Indiana state Division 1 football championship. The Hoosiers will look to defend their title from last season after they beat the Cardinals, Purdue beat Notre Dame, then Indiana beat us in the bucket game. The Indianapolis Star on Wednesday was trying to make the argument that Ball State may be the best team in the state, and they may be right. Nate Davis heads a very powerful balanced offense. The Cardinals have never beaten a BCS conference foe, but Saturday is an excellent shot for them to end that streak.

People have ripped on Indiana’s weak non-conference schedule, but a loss to the Cardinals would be far from a bad one. Ball State could possibly go undefeated if they win this game. They’ve also played Indiana tough the past two seasons. Indiana’s defense has yet to be tested by a living, breathing offense either. The Cardinal defense isn’t great, but this could easily become a fun shootout. Ball State 38, Indiana 32

Ohio (0-3) at Northwestern (3-0) Noon, Big Ten Network

One more step. That’s what Northwestern has to be thinking. Even their great teams in the mid-90’s had unexplainable non-conference gaffes. For some reason, Northwestern has been unable to put together a perfect non-conference record in decades. That should end this Saturday, but Ohio is a team that could be much more difficult than expected. The MAC hasn’t gotten its Big Ten pelt for the year, but this game (as well as the two above it) is a strong chance for that conference to grab one.

Northwestern has a good chance here simply because they have the better offense. The Bobcat offense couldn’t do enough last week against a porous Central Michigan defense to get the win. It also surrendered a big punt return for a touchdown. The Wildcats can move the ball a bit, but their offense hasn’t been as explosive as expected yet. Northwestern is more than good enough to win a pair of conference games, so a win here probably gets them in a bowl. Northwestern 24, Ohio 14

Florida Atlantic (1-2) at Minnesota (3-0) Noon, Big Ten Network

I don’t know what to think about the Gophers so far. Obviously, they have improved from last year. Last year’s team would probably be no better than 1-2 at this point. Saturday should provide a good test as the owls have a pretty good quarterback in Rusty Smith. Last year he torched the Gopher secondary in a 42-39 win in Miami. Minnesota helped matters along with a boatload of turnovers in that game.

Minnesota also appeared to find a replacement for Duane Bennett last week with Deleon Eskridge (114 yards, 3 TD’s) He needs to continue playing well because historically few teams have done well in the Big Ten without a premier running back. The same appears to be true this year with P.J. Hill, Javon Ringer, Beanie Wells, Tyrell Sutton, Shonn Greene, and Kory Sheets all having very productive years so far. I think Minnesota gets through this game in the dome. Minnesota 27, Florida Atlantic 21

Iowa (3-0) at Pittsburgh (1-1) Noon, ESPN2

So far I have been wrong about Iowa. They haven’t played anyone yet though. Iowa State isn’t that good and both FIU and Maine are terrible. It’s no wonder that the Hawkeye defense looks like the 1985 Bears against a slate like that. Next they get a Dave Wannstedt Pitt team that is about as up and down as they come. Will the Panthers be the same team that stopped the seemingly unstoppable Rich Rodriguez last year with a national title berth on the line, or the one that got owned at home by Bowling Green. That’s the same Bowling Green that then went home and got destroyed by Minnesota.

At least we can finally learn something about the Hawkeyes. The defense does look to be pretty good. The offense is getting hard yards on the ground from Shonn Greene and quarterback play isn’t killing them. They should be able to beat Pittsburgh, but a loss would raise all kinds of questions. Pittsburgh struggled with a perennial doormat last week, but this could be the week things turn around. Iowa 20, Pittsburgh 17

Notre Dame (2-0) at Michigan State (2-1) 3:30pm ABC

I have one plea for you Michigan State. Please, please beat the Irish this week. I ask not as a Purdue fan that hates the Irish, but as a college football fan that doesn’t want to put up with a week of Return to Glory rhetoric coming from the media. If you lose to the Irish, you give them an actual credible win to base this return on. I don’t trust us to stem the tide next weekend in South Bend based on our history. Therefore, I am trusting you to please save us all before it gets out of hand. A loss means people start looking at Notre Dame’s weak schedule after the Purdue game and everyone will think, "Hey, they can be 11-0 before going to USC." It’s up to you Michigan State, as well as Purdue, North Carolina, and Boston College to insure they don’t get another undeserved BCS bid. USC will destroy this Irish team, but if they reach 11-0 going into that game I may have to stick my head in a deep fryer in order to end the misery of hype. You can end it right here, right now Michigan State. Please don’t blow another home game to them. Give the ball to Jevon Ringer and let him run all day long. We’re all counting on you. Michigan State 24, Notre Dame 10.

Troy (2-0) at #13 Ohio State (2-1) Noon, Big Ten Network

If the Buckeyes struggle in this one it is time to have serious concerns about them. Should they somehow lose, I will no longer take them seriously as a threat to win the Big Ten. Michigan has obviously fallen off and I openly question why it is a guarantee that RichRod will turn them into a juggernaut. Have the past two weeks shown us that Ohio State may be stepping back too?

What I don’t get is why the Big Ten is perceived as down if Michigan and Ohio State happen to lose a game or two, but the SEC can be dead even and beat the living tar out of each other, yet is considered to be the greatest conference God ever created. I understand Ohio State has lost the last two title games to SEC teams, but it is not like the SEC is blowing the Big Ten out every year in the Capitol One and Outback bowls. What does this have to do with Ohio State-Troy? Nothing, actually. I just wanted to rant a bit. Ohio State 35, Troy 7

Temple (1-2) at #16 Penn State (3-0) Noon, Big Ten Network

The Nittany Lions get a final tune up before heading into the Big Ten season. JoePa should have little trouble adding to his record this week, as the real race is to see how many Florida State will lose this year. That record won’t be decided until Bowden or Paterno retires first. It is still fun to watch. Penn State, in the meantime, is reaching the point where I may be more afraid of them than Ohio State. We might scare them at Ross-Ade if we come out like we did against Oregon, but I fear we will start the conference season 0-2. Penn State 45, Temple 7.

Quick national picks:

Arizona State over Georgia – I just have a feeling here.
Wake Forest over Florida State – The Seminoles apparently couldn’t schedule Butler this week.
Oregon over Boise State – This one could be as fun as last week for the Ducks
Auburn over LSU – and the black and blue SEC begins
Florida over Tennessee – Florida is a damn good team