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Week 8 Big Ten preview

You could almost look at this week in the Big Ten as a moving week. The three teams in the most danger of missing the postseason all face must-win games, especially Purdue and Michigan. Both are underdogs in games against teams they have owned over the past 10 years. Since the two face each other in two weeks, a loss this week by both guarantees someone will have six losses and be on the brink of postseason elimination after that game. Indiana, the third team in that equation, desperately needs a win. In doing so, they would seriously hurt an Illinois team that saw its own postseason hopes endangered by the Minnesota loss last week.

The Iowa game against Wisconsin is also very similar. Both teams have three losses already, and a fourth loss by either would put a lot of pressure on the remainder of the season based on who each team must still play. The Ohio State at Michigan State game is different in that the winner will emerge as Penn State’s main challenger to the Big Ten title. The loser would still have a chance since Penn State would remain on the schedule, but they would need help. At this point only these three teams have a good chance at the championship, but Minnesota and Northwestern could be right there if they continue to win and there are some upsets.

Purdue (2-4, 0-2) at Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) Noon, ESPN2

Even though we’re 2-4, I feel our entire season rests on this game. Win, and we can still make a bowl game by winning all our remaining home games. Lose, and we must beat a very good Michigan State team on the road or win at Iowa for the first time since 1992 in order to play somewhere. It is not the season we had hoped it was, but as long as our effort is there that’s okay, right?

I am encouraged that Northwestern’s offense has struggled for most of the year. At 5-1 the Wildcats still have issues that most 5-1 teams don’t have. They also aren’t ranked, which at this point would automatically make me favor them because of how big of an issue our streak against ranked teams has become. We’re due, long overdue in fact, for a breakout performance by this offense. It is so much better than we have played so far. I say Kory Sheets cracks the century mark and we get a much needed win. An important thing to remember is that Bacher has thrown eight interceptions this year and we got him four times a year ago in West Lafayette. If he does that again we win by an even larger margin. Purdue 24, Northwestern 20

Wisconsin (3-3, 0-3) at Iowa (4-3, 1-2) Noon, Big Ten Network

I question whether the loser of this game will make it to bowl eligibility. Iowa still must play Penn State, Minnesota, Illinois, and Purdue who could all beat them. Wisconsin still has Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan State as possible losses. Iowa probably needs it more, but not by much at this point. The Hawkeyes should be in a better position after losing three very close games. They have a solid running game that rolled over Indiana last week, taking the pressure off of the quarterback. The defense hasn’t been bad either. They just been a little short in all there losses.

Wisconsin seems to be regressing severely since cracking the top 10 after beating Fresno State. The Michigan loss looks awful now. The loss to Ohio state was a tough one, but the Penn State one was flat out embarrassing. Even Purdue wouldn’t have crapped the bed that badly in a nationally televised night game. Even when we did against Notre Dame in 2005 we got some second half cosmetic scores that made it look better. Iowa is still a good team at home, so I’ll give them the edge here. Iowa 17, Wisconsin 14

#12 Ohio State (6-1, 3-0) at #20 Michigan State (6-1, 3-0) 3:30pm ABC

This should be a whale of a game. If Michigan State is for real it will finish what Wisconsin couldn’t two weeks ago. Ohio State is probably lucky to be 6-1 when its not outside the realm of possibility it could be 3-4. They escaped a trap against Ohio, pulled out a last minute win at Wisconsin, and would have been in trouble last week if our offense had actually boarded the bus and went to Columbus instead of staying behind in West Lafayette. Still, there is little to complain about when they are 6-1 and in the national title discussion.

Both teams have reached this point in similar fashion. Both have a "good" loss to a very good Pac-10 team in its home stadium. Both have had some unexpected close calls in conference play with Iowa for MSU and Purdue for OSU. Both had a defensively dominated game against a lesser opponent that hung around at home (Florida Atlantic for MSU and Ohio for OSU). Both have an incredibly talented if not Heisman worthy running back that can change a game. Fans of change will want Michigan State to win after the way OSU has dominated the Big Ten in recent years. They have dominated for a reason though. They are the class of this conference until someone physically takes it from them. If it doesn’t happen this week or next week against Penn State it won’t happen his year.

Right now Michigan State’s defense is playing well while the offense is more consistent. That’s enough of an edge for me to pick them. Michigan State 20, Ohio State 13

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

This is either going to be a bloodbath or a day of record sales of Yuengling in Central Pennsylvania. Since coming to the Big Ten Michigan has simply own Penn State. A year ago the Nittany Lions appeared poised to end their long streak of losses only to go more conservative than a Republican minister offensively in a loss in Ann Arbor. Penn State’s defense is good enough, and Michigan’s offense is bad enough, for this year to be different even if Penn State goes close to the vest again. If the Nittany Lions play like they did last year this could be the most dominant 9-0, all field goal win in history.

If Penn State is the all-dominant team they have appeared to be so far on the season they should have little trouble this week. I thought Michigan wouldn’t have any trouble last week and that was obviously not the case. The defense is actually pretty good. It has had some seriously good moments, but at this point the offense is so bad that it needs to pitch shutouts in order to have a chance. That won’t happen this week. Penn State 38, Michigan 10

Indiana (2-4, 0-3) at Illinois (3-3, 1-2) 8pm Big Ten Network

I am actually hoping that Indiana finds a way to pull this game off. As long as they lose two more games between now and the Bucket game we can make sure they don’t go to a bowl. Right now we need as much help as we can get in that department, and that means making other teams not eligible. Illinois still must play Ohio State, Wisconsin, Northwestern, and they have a dangerous trip to Western Michigan. A loss here will put them in danger of missing the postseason like so many others.

Unfortunately, Indiana is playing like the Indiana of old. They can’t run the ball, their biggest offensive threat is hurt, and their defense just gave up 45 points and two 100 yard rushers to one of the most anemic offenses in the conference the past few years. Illinois has struggled with its own running game of late, but the passing game has not been a problem. If Illinois doesn’t get on track this week it has bigger issues than anyone realizes. Illinois 41, Indiana 14

Quickie National picks:

Miami (FL) 38, Duke 13 -
It's absolutely ridiculous that some are picking Duke to win this game. Miami finally asserts some dominance.

#1 Texas 42, #11 Missouri 31
- Missouri's Chase Daniel reminds me a lot of Purdue when we ahd Drew Brees. This is especially true when some say Daniel won't be successful at the next level because he is only 6 feet tall. Ask Mr. Brees what he thinks about that.

#22 Vanderbilt 17, #10 Georgia 13 - Why not?

#4 Oklahoma 45, #16 Kansas 20 - A very good Oklahoma team is pissed off and will vent this week at home.

Time to pay some bills

This brief interlude is to help pay some bills here at Off the Tracks, especially since I just got some Purdue-Michigan State tickets for a few weeks from now. I may need some sunglasses on that sunny day in East Lansing. Good pais can be found at the following site, with a handy buyers guide.