Most teams in the conference have already reached the halfway point of their season, but this weekend Purdue, Iowa, Minnesota, and Michigan will play their sixth game. With that, we know a few things:
- Ohio State is pretty damn good after all.
- The rest of the conference can look good one week and suck out loud the next.
Think about that second point for a moment. In the preseason Wisconsin and Michigan State were favored to return to Indianapolis, with Michigan challenging them. Then all three looked awful in a few games. Before last week Nebraska was the new team to beat, then forgot to play defense in Columbus. Northwestern and Minnesota were the last remaining undefeated and eligible teams, then each lost. Iowa lost to Cnetral Michigan. Purdue got slaughtered by Michigan. Illinois got destroyed by Louisiana Tech.
It is going to change week to week. If Purdue defeats Wisconsin this week almost all will be forgiven as the Boilers will control the Leaders Division. Conversely, a win by the Badgers puts them at 5-2 and all but booking hotel rooms for Indy despite how bad they've looked.
The conference may not have the prettiest football, but it is at least going to be an exciting race the rest of the way.
Iowa (3-2, 1-0) at Michigan State (4-2, 1-1) Noon, ESPN
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I think this is pretty much a must-win for the Spartans. They were incredibly lucky to escape Bloomington with a win last week. Indiana took its foot off the gas and trusted it defense, which is never good. For the Hawkeyes, a win puts them into the driver's seat with Michigan for the Legends, which is just sad considering that they lost to Central Michigan.
Mark Weisman has defied AIRBHG for 515 yards and seven touchdowns, thus representing the bulk of Iowa's offense. He's had two weeks to rest too and so far did not have an anvil fall on him, nor did he come down with beri-beri. Michigan State runs almost the same offense though with Le'Veon Bell.
So it will be Bell and Weisman running into the line 25 times each. That makes it about a wash. The quarterbacks are a paradox. Andrew Maxwell has the better numbers, but James Vandenberg has the experience advantage. Michigan State 20, Iowa 17
Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) at Minnesota (4-1, 0-1) Noon, ESPN2
If not for a fourth quarter meltdown at Penn State Northwestern could take a stranglehold of the Legends Division with a victory tomorrow. As it stands, being 2-1 with both Iowa and Michigan to play is not a bad place to be.
Minnesota has a bit of a defense so far. Sure, they struggled against the best team they've played, but the Golden Gophers are just trying to sneak out two wins for an unexpected bowl game. Given Indiana and Illinois' struggles and the situation with Penn State and Ohio State a bid would be there too, even if it is Detroit. Northwestern represents one of their best chances for win No. 5, with a game at Illinois looking good later.
Northwestern is the better team here though. I really like Kain Colter doing, well, whatever it is Kain Colter does in games. He's not the team's leading rusher or passer, but he seems to be the difference-maker. Northwestern 27, Minnesota 24
Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1) at Purdue (3-2, 1-2) Noon, Big Ten Network
So here we are. Vegas has Purdue favored and on paper it looks like we have the more diverse offense and somewhat stronger defense. Why do I have absolutely no confidence then?
It is simple: Danny Hope.
I cannot state how huge this game is, and it somehow got bigger because of last week. Purdue is right at the edge of taking a step forward, even if it is a small one. Winning a crippled division isn't much, but it gives us a one-game playoff for Pasadena. We don't get too many of those, so we can't exactly be picky about the circumstances in which they happen.
If Purdue is ever going to do anything under Danny Hope it has to beat a Wisconsin team that is weaker than it has been in years. Unfortunately, this is a team that has physically dominated us in each of the last three games. I can't get that out of my mind.
One of two things will happen: The Caleb TerBush that did well on the first set of scripted first quarter plays comes out and calms everyone with an early score, keeping Purdue in the game the whole time, or the Wisconsin that has steamrolled us on its first possession in recent years comes out after a three and out and we turtle. It's either going to be a narrow Purdue win or we're going to get blown out. If it is a blowout, Danny Hope needs to be gone.
Picking with heart over head here: Purdue 21, Wisconsin 17
Illinois (2-4, 0-2) at Michigan (3-2, 1-0) 3:30pm, ABC
Of all the teams in the Big Ten it looks like the Fighting Illini are the closest to completely giving up on the season. Indiana isn't good, but at least they are trying. Illinois has given up more than 31 points in each of the last three games and has only scored 38. They cannot settle on a quarterback, have no running game, and the less said about the defense, the better.
Then you have Michigan, who got its offensive grove back, or at least good Denard Robinson back, last week in Ross-Ade Stadium. The Wolverines need this game before a tough two-game stretch against Michigan State and Nebraska that will likely decide their season.
I don't expect any trouble this week. Michigan finally played well in every facet last week, while Illinois hasn't played well in any facet yet. Michigan 52, Illinois 17
Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) at Indiana (2-3, 0-2) 8pm, Big Ten Network
This could get brutal. Indiana has very quietly put together a good offense, but the defense cannot stop anyone when it matters. Braxton Miller very well could run for 300 yards against them and it would not surprise me.
If Indiana ever gets even a bad defense instead of putrid they'll instantly be a respectable team to watch. They have 831 yards rushing as a team and 1,526 yards passing and 11 touchdowns against only two interceptions between three quarterbacks. Those numbers are really good, and dangerous enough to win some shootouts once their very young players get even more experience. Don't be surprised if the Hoosiers spring a surprise or two the rest of the year.
The Buckeyes won't be a team that will be surprised. They destroyed a good defense last week and are 11th in the nation in rushing thanks to Miller and Carlos Hyde. Indiana will score a few points and hang around for a little, but they won't stop OSU nearly enough. Ohio State 56, Indiana 31