I predict that this week is an elimination week. Obviously, we have a few teams that are already out of the bowl picture, but after this week we will probably know for sure who is going and who is not. Indiana and Minnesota are all but mathematically eliminated. Northwestern is getting close, while our own Boilermakers will tumble over the edge with another loss. Meanwhile, four teams are already eligible, Michigan State and Nebraska will soon join them, and Iowa with a win over Indiana will be just a game away. It is a week that if a team like Purdue is going to make a bowl, they have to make a dramatic move.
As I write this I am listening to the Boiled Sports podcast and they are making some great points about the Illinois game. We lack a true identity and Illinois is a team that moves the football. It looks grim but we still have to go out and at least try for a victory. I feel like this is our last chance to make a splash. We're playing a ranked team at home on Homecoming and it is another chance to make a statement that we're not as bad as everyone thinks. I don't know exactly what we'll see, but there has to be a sense of urgency to go out and do something.
Indiana Hoosiers (1-6, 0-3) at Iowa Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-1) Noon, Big Ten Network
Five teams still have to face the Hoosiers, and until the Indiana defense proves it can stop the run the ground game should be the first, second, and third option. Indiana ranks 117th out of 120 FBS teams against the run. Only Rice (whom we were not smart enough to run against), Air Force, and New Mexico are worse. They give up 227 yards per game on the ground, and they haven't exactly played a murder's row in their first seven games. Sure, Wisconsin is Wisconsin, but Penn State's offense is bad and Illinois is up and down.
Honestly, Marcus Coker should be a stone cold lock for a 100 yard rushing game this week. In fact, I would pick just about anyone as a stone cold lock for a 100-yard rushing game against Indiana. I just don't get how the Indiana defense can be this bad against the run year in and year out. The Hoosiers do some things well. They always seem to cobble together and effective offense, but multiple coaching staffs have continued to fail defensively. Until that is addressed Indiana will remain at the bottom of the Big Ten because teams love to run in this conference. Prediction: Iowa 34, Indiana 21
Illinois Fighting Illini (6-1, 2-1) at Purdue Boilermakers, Noon, ESPN2
It feels like there is no reason I should pick us this week. While I wouldn't be totally surprised if we found a way to win, a four touchdown loss would not shock me either. That's just the confidence level I have right now. I don't question the talent we have. If we commit ourselves to the running game I have no doubt we can move the ball because we just ran very well against a good rushing defense. The benefit of that is that the running game moves the clock and keeps it out of the opposing offenses hands. The return of Jared Crank at fullback has helped with that, and I can see both Reggie Pegram and Brandon Cottom serving as fullbacks in the future once Crank is gone.
Illinois comes in with a very versatile offense. Nathan Scheelhaase can both run and throw, and he has a great receiver in A.J. Jenkins. Their pass rush against our week pass blocking is something that can cause a game to get ugly in a hurry, especially if it forces bad throws that end up being intercepted. There isn't a single thing I have seen on the field that gives me confidence this weekend.
That said, my heart is giving me a good feeling. It's totally going against logic, I realize, but something tells me we find a way to win. Maybe Ricardo Allen gets a big pick six. Maybe Raheem Mostert busts a kickoff return for a score. Maybe we finally fix the dumbass penalties and settle down on offense. Maybe we grind the ball against them with Akeem Shavers and Ralph Bolden. Maybe I've just lost my mind and I feel like I can will them to a win. I don't know. Something tells me we win this game despite evidence to the contrary, so I am going with it. Let's bring the Cannon home. Purdue 24, Illinois 21
Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-1, 1-1) at Minnesota Golden Gophers (1-5, 0-2) 3:30pm ABC
I'm starting to really feel sorry for the Minnesota fans. Aside from a close loss at USC where it looks like Minnesota played above its head the 2011 season has been an utter disaster. There is little doubt that Indiana and Minnesota are the two worst teams in the conference, but having watched both teams on TV and seeing Minnesota in person leaves me with little doubt Minnesota is the worst team. I just don't see them being even competitive the rest of the year because they don't do anything well. I don't think we're that good of a team and we were up 45-3 on them.
Nebraska hasn't looked great, but they have at least beaten everyone they should beat so far. They're also still playing for a divisional title and a trip to Indianapolis. There are big games ahead with Michigan, Michigan State, and Iowa within their division. Because of that, there is no way they blow this one. Nebraska 45, Minnesota 20
Penn St. Nittany Lions (6-1, 3-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (2-4, 0-3) 7pm Big Ten Network
It's time to admit that I was wrong about Northwestern in my initial predictions. I thought they would be a lot better by now. The offense isn't the problem, but the pass defense has been awful and this team cannot hold a lead for anything (among other reasons there).
We learned last week that Penn State is not great, but Silas red moves the ball on the ground and the defense is good enough to win. Purdue did move the ball on the ground against them and Northwestern can run a bit. Kain Colter has been decent running the ball with Dan Persa in the backfield, and because of that they can put the pressure on the Penn State offense to perform. Derek Moye is still out, and that hurts Penn State a lot. With their backs against the wall and in a night game at home I think Northwestern gets it done. Northwestern 23, Penn State 20
Wisconsin Badgers (6-0, 2-0) at Michigan St. Spartans (5-1, 2-0) 8pm, ESPN
This is going to be a fun one. It's about time that Wisconsin left home for a real game. They've been totally dominant in five home games and a neutral site, but Michigan State presents them with a challenge for the first time. The next two weeks will decide a lot of Wisconsin. If they split I think they are still the team to beat in the Big Ten. If they win both I think only the Big Ten title game stands between them and an undefeated season. If they get through these they're not going to lose to Purdue at home or Minnesota on the road. That would leave only Penn State at home (who can't score with them) and a trip to Illinois.
Ultimately, that is the difference here. Wisconsin's offense is just too good and I don't think teams can score with them. Say Michigan State holds them to 30. Are we totally confident the Spartans can score 31 and get the win? They've been good, but not 30 points per game good, especially against a respectable defense like Wisconsin's. The only offense to score on Michigan State was Notre Dame's and they were helped out with some key turnovers and a special teams touchdown. Wisconsin is better than that. Wisconsin 34, Michigan State 24