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Big Ten Preview: Rivalry Week

The new Big Ten feels a little odd with half the games this week not being rivalry games. Sure, you have the new Heroes game, the Bucket Game, and Michigan-Ohio State. It seems wrong to have Illinois-Minnesota, Wisconsin-Penn State, and Northwestern-Michigan State. Each of those games has its own storyline, but it isn't the same as having Wisconsin play Minnesota, Northwestern against Illinois, and the epic Land Grant Trophy rivalry between Michigan State and Penn State.

We could still get the Land Grant Trophy battle next week if Penn State can upset the Badgers on the road, but I hope not. Michigan State-Penn State may be the only rivalry in the conference that is more fierce than Iowa vs. Purdue. The final full weekend of conference play begins today at noon with Iowa taking on Nebraska.

Iowa at Nebraska Noon Friday, ABC

The Hawkeyes had a relatively easy win over Purdue last week. I say relatively easy because it is easy to win when the opposing defense completely ignores your two best offensive players. Marvin McNutt and Marcus Coker did whatever they wanted to do against us, and if they do that again the Hawkeyes will find themselves at 8-4.

Corn Nation is not too much of a fan of the new trophy:

The trophy lacks some things. Is there really a desire to win it? It's a silver football on top of a block of wood. I just don't see our players excited about parading it around town like an Oaken Bucket, a Pig or a National Championship. If Iowa wins it, it's no big loss. That, too me, seems like the anti-rivalry trophy. You're suppose to want it. You're suppose to want to take it from the opponent. I feel neither way about this item.

As for the game, I think it will be a fun one. The Nebraska defense was further exposed last week at Michigan. Despite dominating us, Purdue still had a small chance last week before the questionable fumble by Robert Marve. I think we'll see a fun offensive shootout with Coker and Rex Burkhead both having big days.  Nebraska 38, Iowa 31

Michigan State at Northwestern Noon Saturday, Big Ten Network

This is a bit of a lame duck game for the Spartans. They likely aren't getting a BCS berth unless they win next week's Big Ten Championship game. They are probably going to the Capital One Bowl if they don't win it. If anything, Northwestern has more to play for, as a 7-5 Northwestern team is more attractive for the bowl committees. The Wildcats know they don't have a very big fanbase, and if Purdue gets eligible they are likely going to be one of the last teams selected for the Ticket City and Pizza Pizza bowls.

Both Sippin' On Purple and The Only Colors haven't said a lot about this game. What you may see is a very conservative game plan from Michigan State. They'll try to win, but they also likely want to avoid any serious injuries before next week's title game. You do what you have to do when the Land Grant Trophy may be on the line next week. Michigan State 28, Northwestern 24

Ohio State at Michigan Noon, ABC

The Buckeyes have won seven in a row over Michigan, and an eighth straight would deny Michigan a BCS bowl. The Wolverines are in a position to finish 10-2 and get an invite to a BCS bowl. For Purdue's sake, we had better hope this is true, as it greatly improves our postseason chances if they take a second BCS spot. Along the Olentangy takes a look at the game:

That being said, there are not many positions where you would take the Michigan starter over his OSU counterpart.  The most obvious exception is at the Quarterback position, where Michigan has an experienced all Big Ten player while OSU is playing a true freshman.  Even there, however, Denard Robinson has not performed at the same level as last season.  The upshot is simply to state that Ohio State has a real path to victory Saturday.

My conclusion: Along the Olentangy is obviously high. Ohio State is 6-5 and has an offense that is as one-dimensional as it comes. Michigan is 9-2 and has beaten he crap out of two teams (Nebraska and Purdue) that beat Ohio State. Keep dreaming of Urban Meyer, kids. If Danny Hope can figure out how to stop Braxton Miller and Dan Herron then Michigan certainly can. Michigan 34, Ohio State 14

Purdue at Indiana 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

So here we are. If Purdue wins, I am willing to give Danny hope another year to see if we can improve. If we lose, he needs to be gone because honestly, there is zero excuse to lose to an Indiana team that is bad even by their usual standards. The Hoosiers absolutely cannot stop the run. It is not possible for them to. I would not even pass until Indiana proves it can stop the run. If North Texas and Ball State can run with impunity on them we should be able to with Akeem Shavers and Ralph Bolden. We even have Jared Crank, Akeem Hunt, and Raheem Mostert available is Shavers and Bolden get tired.

Why, then do I have so little confidence that we're going to win this game? I really don't know what is going to happen. As I have said this week, a Tiller-esque blowout wouldn't surprise me, nor would a five turnover double digit loss. The fact is that we're 1-8 in our last nine road games, winning only at Northwestern last season. In many of those games we haven't even been close. At Michigan State last year and at rice this year we lost because of our own mistakes. In my opinion, Rice is worse than Indiana, so we're certainly capable of losing this.

I am going to Bloomington as usual. I haven't missed a Bucket game in person since 1999. I'll have a road trip diary, so hopefully it is a happy one. This is the biggest game of Hope's tenure. Purdue 31, Indiana 21

Illinois at Minnesota 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Is this the last game for Ron Zook? I can't see him keeping his job if the Fighting Illini lose to go from 6-0 to 6-6. Joe Kutsunis at Hail to the Orange agrees:

As much as there can be said about continuity being valuable in college football, and it is, we have to still consider what the ceiling is as well. I have said before that Illinois fans would be satisfied with a team that can consistently make bowl games and build up the program to a level of basic competence and relevance, and that is still true. But this thing had a lot going for Illinois: the schedule had 8 home games, and six to start the year. The biggest three opponents, OSU Michigan and Wisconsin were all at home, Ohio State is in a down year, the team misses MSU, Nebraska and Iowa completely, and the team returned a ton of starters, as well as the two coordinators that have been so valuable.

With all of that in their favor, the team still now can only hope for a 7-5 season. Recruiting has fallen off dramatically these last three years, and does not seem to be offering a lot of hope for years to come. So, if this season was the absolute best we could hope for in terms of schedule and opponent power, how can we hope for better in the next few years? Powerhouses like Penn State and Ohio State are about to open up their wallets for Urban Meyer and similarly resumed coaches, will Illinois have any better luck recruiting against them then?

That's enough for me. Minnesota 24, Illinois 21

Penn State at Wisconsin 3:30 p.m., ABC

It is your Big Ten semifinal, and Wisconsin has been virtually unstoppable at home. Black Shoe Diaries has a solid statistical look, and then an apt commentary:

Yikes! Just in case you forgot about Wisconsin this season, there's a refresher for you to stress over. The tricky stats for Wisconsin are on defense. It's not a bad unit by any stretch of the imagination; but it's definitely not the sixth-best in the nation. Much of the high ranking for this unit comes from frequently playing with a lead... a BIG lead, courtesy of Russell Wilson and the offense. Again, the Badgers defense has been very good over the course of this season, but it's not better than the offense.

In truth, I still think the Badgers are the Big ten's best teams. They played poorly at Ohio State and Michigan State, yet it took last second miracle plays to beat them. I think they cruise to Indy given a second chance in the Leaders Division. Wisconsin 31, Penn State 14