Only two teams are off this week as we have five games in the Big Ten. Minnesota gets a well-deserved week off as the Golden Gophers are surprisingly still in the race to win the Legends Division. Iowa also has the week off after beating Purdue last week to clinch bowl eligibility. We also get the rare triple-noon game with ESPN, ESPN2, and Big Ten Network all having the first games of the day.
Purdue (1-8, 0-5) at Penn State (5-4, 2-3) Noon, Big Ten Network
After reading a lot on the Nittany Lions this week I see that their fans are not confident with this team. There are even some that think that Bill O'Brien is not doing a good job despite having barely over 50 scholarship players (basically an FCS team) and he will still likely have them bowl eligible if not for the sanctions. They are far from perfect, but many expected year two of the sanctions to have them barely competitive week in and week out.
Instead, the team that is barely competitive is Purdue, with 85 scholarship players. The unit that has taken most of the criticism, the offensive line, is going to see changes this week with Cameron Cermin possibly playing at guard and center. J.J. Price may also get time. This is with Jason King and Jordan Roos already starting at the guard spots. I think it has been a long time coming. The four seniors did not get it done this year. It is time to move on and completely rebuild the line with freshman and hope they are a long term solution.
It may work out in the end and even be slightly better in the short term (Purdue gave up only two sacks last week), but for now, we can likely expect more struggles. Penn State 24, Purdue 3
Indiana (4-5, 2-3) at Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1) Noon, ESPN2
Let's see, we have the No. 10 run offense in the nation in the Badgers, who average 280 yards on the ground per game, against an Indiana run defense that would have to improve to be considered bad. Last season in Bloomington the Hoosiers gave up an incredible 564 yards and 62 points to Wisconsin. The year before that it was 223 yards and 59 points. Finally, the year before that it was 338 yards and 83 points.
In short, Wisconsin is going to run the ball and occasionally pass. Indiana cannot and will not stop it. Wisconsin could win this very easily without throwing a single pass. They could even tell Indiana this strategy and Indiana still couldn't stop it. Wisconsin 56, Indiana 31
Ohio State (9-0, 5-0) at Illinois (3-6, 0-5) Noon, ESPN
This is technically a rivalry game, as the teams play for the Illibuck Trophy. Our friends over at Eleven Warriors even decided to make their own poster this week in the same vein of the Purdue Harbor 2 posters of a few weeks ago. The Buckeyes have every right to be cocky too. When you have won 21 games in a row and you're facing a team that has lost 19 Big Ten games in a row it is natural that the Bucks are thinking of bigger things. They have only Illinois and Indiana as speed bumps before a slightly bigger speed bump at Michigan, then likely Michigan State.
There will very likely be blood the next two weeks. Ohio State has no choice but to bludgeon their weaker opponents left and hope that either A. Baylor, Alabama, or Florida State loses to someone, or B. Hope their bludgeoning can convince poll voters. Ohio State is not likely going to pass Alabama or Florida State if they both stay undefeated, and I think Baylor will pass them because of the strength of schedule at the end. I also think Michigan State is good enough to beat Ohio State in Indianapolis and give college football the first ever 24-game win streak that wins exactly nothing. Ohio State 63, Illinois 10
Michigan (6-3, 2-3) at Northwestern (4-5, 0-5) 3:30pm, Big Ten Network
At one point I thought this game was going to decide the Legends Division. Now I think it will decide who finishes in last place in the Legends Division. Northwestern is continuing to do its best Purdue 2004 impression post-Wisconsin while Michigan fans are almost in open revolt against offensive coordinator Al Borges. The Wolverines have only beaten Indiana and Minnesota in league play. Minnesota probably wants that game back too, as it was one of the few times Michigan looked good and the Gophers are playing some of the best football in the conference right now.
The Wildcats need this more. If the Big Ten is going to fulfill all of its bowl slots it needs Northwestern to get to bowl eligibility. The Wildcats need this one and a win over Illinois because a win at Michigan State seems unlikely. The Wolverines are already there and, honestly have somehow had a worse running game than Purdue the last two weeks. Northwestern 24, Michigan 21
Michigan State (8-1, 5-0) at Nebraska (7-2, 4-1) 3:30pm, ABC
By far this is the biggest game of the week. If the Spartans win they have a two-game lead in the Legends Division with two to play and the tiebreaker over everyone that can catch them except Minnesota. That would also allow them to lose to Minnesota and still reach Indianapolis with a win over Northwestern. For the Cornhuskers, a win puts them in the driver's seat for the divisional crown, but a Minnesota win over Michigan State coupled with another Nebraska loss would open the door for Minnesota come in and steal the spot.
That makes this game very compelling, but I have been awfully impressed with Michigan State's defense. The Spartans would be undefeated if they had any sort of fourth quarter offense against Notre Dame. They are the anti-Purdue, in that their defense strangles team to death and lets the offense develop over time instead of Purdue's offense doing nothing and letting the defense whither. Indiana is the only team that even got to 20 points on them. Michigan State 24, Nebraska 14