Clearly the biggest game this week is Ohio State at Penn State. The winner will still be alive for the BCS, while the loser is done. We also avoided the apocalypse this week at the Indiana-Wisconsin game. No, I don't mean that it has any bearing on the league race. The announcement that Bob Knight would not return to Bloomington for his IU Hall of Fame enshrinement prevents the world from ending. It's too bad, too. If he had announced he was coming IU might have had their elusive sellout in the expanded stadium. I am boycotting their ridiculous ticket prices for the Bucket game by waiting until the game, then scalping half price tickets.
Purdue (3-6, 2-3) at Michigan (5-4, 1-4) Noon, Big Ten Network.
(No Michigan blog has posted a preview yet, so pick your favorite.)
Well, this is it. Ironically, we carry an identical 3-6 record into the state of Michigan with fleeting bowl hopes just like last season. Unfortunately, everyone under 40 has memories of us actually winning at Spartan Stadium.
I don't like this game. People can try to talk it up and give us every chance possible, but I am beyond the point of believing we can win at Michigan. I have seen too many very good Purdue teams go up there and accomplish nothing. I don't care how bad Michigan has looked lately. There are few constants in this league, and Purdue not being competitive at Michigan Stadium is one of them.
What's so frustrating is seeing so many other teams that are worse than us go up there and have success. Illinois has two wins there in the last 10 years. Indiana played a close game there this year. Toledo, Applachian State, Utah, Oregon (far from being worse than us). All were given one chance to win there and they succeeded. We've been given 17 chances and can't even come close. We are more than capable of competing, even winning up there, but it is to the point where I won't believe it until I see it. Michigan 37, Purdue 10
Western Michigan (4-5) at Michigan State (4-5) Noon, Big Ten Network
The Broncos will try to avoid a last place finish in the pseudo-Big Ten. Syracuse and Notre Dame are the non-conference teams that have played three Big Ten teams each. With losses to Indiana and Michigan, Western Michigan will now become the third. The Broncos were supposed to be better than their 4-5 record behind quarterback Tim Hiller, but they got drilled by Michigan, had a late fumble against Indiana, and have also lost big to Northern Illinois.
Western also dropped a game to Central Michigan, who has a nice victory over Michigan State this year. If Sparty loses they will join us and possibly Illinois with a 1-3 non-conference record. Michigan State played an awful game last week against Minnesota, but I don't think they'll be that bad this week. I think Sparty wins to salvage bowl hopes for another week, making Purdue a huge game for them. Michigan State 31, Western Michigan 14
#21 Wisconsin (6-2, 3-2) at Indiana (4-5, 1-4) Noon, Big Ten Network
Bucky's 5th Quarter Preview (Not yet posted)
This is the third of four games on the Big Ten Network this week. Living in Indy, I am going to be pretty pissed off if I get this game instead of Purdue-Michigan. Hopefully the overflow channels will be working. A Wisconsin win would all but end any IU bowl hopes, as the Hoosiers will not win at Penn State. Truth be told, Indiana should have about four more wins already if they could close games and beat awful teams *cough* Virginia *cough*.
Wisconsin was one of the most physically dominating teams I have seen in some time. They exerted their will on the first drive against Purdue last week and the Boilers folded. Will Indiana do the same? The Hoosier have a similar makeup with a solid defensive line, multi-faceted offense, and a shaky (at times) back seven. Ultimately, Indiana cannot close a game, and that will cost them. Wisconsin 27, Indiana 17
Illinois (2-6, 1-5) at Minnesota (5-4, 3-3) Noon, Big Ten Network
The Daily Gopher Preview (Not yet posted)
It is probably a sign of how crappy the Big Ten is, but both teams are coming in as some of the hottest in the league. Illinois for their "where the hell was THAT all year" win over Michigan, and Minnesota for the same reason on a smaller scale. I honestly think the Gophers are creating a bit of a home field advantage at TCF Bank Stadium. They are 3-2, but have played the better teams they have faced close.
Ultimately, this game will be decided by what Illinois team shows up. The Illini finally played like they were capable of playing last week. If they keep it up, they can probably win at least three of their remaining games and have some positive momentum going into next season. While they found a running game, Minnesota found a passing game. The Eric Decker injury may be a blessing in disguise. It has forced Adam Weber to look for other receivers and he spread the ball around well last week. That will be the difference as Minnesota has finally discovered the forward pass. Minnesota 27, Illinois 24
Northwestern (5-4, 2-3) at #4 Iowa (9-0, 5-0) Noon, ESPN
Black Heart Gold Pants Preview
I love this game because there is some serious bad blood between the teams. Iowa won't admit it is a rivalry, but the Hawkeyes have struggled lately against the Wildcats, losing three of four. On the other end, a miserable Iowa team upset Northwestern in 2000 the day Purdue blew a game at Michigan State, denying the Wildcats the Rose Bowl and giving Purdue a reprieve. Iowa refers to them often as "Just Northwestern", which is about as bad as "Little Brother" in the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry.
Seriously though, do you want to pick against Iowa this year? They could easily be about 3-6, but they are 9-0 and on the short list of national title candidates. They were down to the final second at Michigan State, but somehow pulled it off. No margin is too steep for them. No injury is too much to overcome. I am not going to rip them for their close games. Instead, I am going to praise them for having the guts of a burglar. They are the Mariano Rivera of college football at the moment. Iowa 24, Northwestern 23
#16 Ohio State (7-2, 4-1) at #11 Penn State (8-1, 4-1) 3:30, ABC
This feels like the only game of any substance this week. Sure, Iowa-Northwestern will be exciting because the Hawkeyes are incapable of a ho-hum win. Minnesota-Illinois is intriguing because Illinois couldn't run until last week while Minnesota couldn't pass. The other games have serious blowout potential. This game, however, has some good storylines. To the winner, a possible BCS berth and Big Ten title if Iowa stumbles. It may be the first game in the Big Ten this year where both teams were ranked at kickoff.
Normally I would trust Penn State at home in a night game, but their struggles against Iowa jaded me. Ohio State has shown some semblance of an offense lately too, even if it was against Minnesota and New Mexico State. If they can keep that momentum going forward I like Ohio State's chances.
Penn State has been playing awfully well though. The Michigan win was particularly impressive given their own struggles in Ann Arbor. They have been on a mission since losing to Iowa, winning every game by at least 18 points. Since Iowa must lose two of its final three for Penn State to win the Big Ten that dream is probably gone, but an at large BCS is not at 11-1 (and let's pray they steal one from a possible 10-2 Notre Dame). Penn State 21, Ohio State 17