This is a light week for the Big Ten, as most teams get two off weeks this year and half the teams in the league are taking this week off. We also have two of the final three non-conference games involving Big Ten teams, as well as a huge game in the Leaders Division race.
There are already bowl projections out there for most of the conference, and they are rightfully counting out our Boilers. With two losses in non-conference play, Purdue and Indiana have a lot of work to do, needing to go 4-4 at minimum in conference play. Iowa, Illinois, Michigan State and Wisconsin are slightly in back of the leaders with one loss, but still should be fine.
With Penn State already out of one of the eight Big Ten bowl commitments Purdue can pretty much join them unofficially with a loss this week.
Northern Illinois (3-0) at Purdue (1-3, 0-1) Noon, ESPN2
As I have said this week, it is pretty much a must-win game for Purdue if there is any chance at all of going to a bowl game, even Detroit. Ironically, heading to Detroit could force a rematch with this same Northern Illinois team, just as what happened with Central Michigan in 2007.
I am reminded not of that 2007 game against Central Michigan, but the 2008 one. That Central Michigan team was also very good led by a dual threat quarterback, and it faced a Purdue team that eventually finished 4-8. CMU went on to finish 8-5 and won six in a row after the loss to Purdue.
Unfortunately, this NIU team is far better. Purdue will be missing Frankie Williams (concussion) and possible Ricardo Allen (ankle), depriving it of two of its better defenders. Jordan Lynch has rushed for more yards by himself in three games than Purdue has as a team in four games. Given that the run defense was nothing short of awful last week, it is not a good sign.
I think the offense is going to play better. It almost accidentally has to at this point, and the Huskies' own defense has been rather bad against the pass. That makes this possibly Rob Henry's Last Stand. Should the offense continue to falter it may be time for Austin Appleby to take over, because the rest of the 2013 season will simply be building for 2014.
I want to pick Purdue, I really do, but I also know reality. Northern Illinois is a very good team that will likely be in the top 25 later this year. A month into the season they have looked far better than Purdue, so I hope I am wrong with this pick. Northern Illinois 38, Purdue 28
Miami (OH) (0-3) at Illinois (2-1) Noon, Big Ten Network
This Fighting Illini should have no trouble in this game. Last week Miami played Cincinnati and lost 14-0, but only gained 87 yards of total offense. They rank dead last in FBS in scoring at only seven points per game. They average only 60 rushing yards and 90 passing yards per contest. This is a putrid offense that has more turnovers than it has touchdowns.
Illinois should be able to pick its score here. Miami is probably the worst team in all of FBS and will not likely provide a challenge to the Illini. Look for Nathan Scheelhaase to be on the bench by the third quarter and the Illini defense to pitch a shutout. Illinois 52, Miami 0
Iowa (3-1, 0-0) at Minnesota (4-0, 0-0) 3:30pm ABC
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Our Most Hated Rival faces its other most hated rival by heading to the twin Cities to take on the Golden Gophers. The Hawkeyes looked good last week against Western Michigan, but that is taken with the caveat of their opponent being Western Michigan. Still, there is some real hatred here. Iowa once tore down the goalposts in Minnesota's own stadium.
Both of these teams like to run. Minnesota is 118th in the country in passing, which is behind even Purdue at this point. Still, they are undefeated at 4-0 and have gotten great efforts, especially in the second half, from their defense and special teams. At the same time Iowa has looked, well, special against teams not named Western Michigan.
These two teams hate each other and there is a bronze pig at stake. What is not to like? Minnesota 24, Iowa 21
No. 23 Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0) at No. 4 Ohio State (4-0, 0-0) 8pm, ABC
The Buckeyes have the nation's longest active winning streak at 16 games in a row, while Wisconsin can take a major step towards a fourth straight Rose Bowl with a win in Columbus. A victory for the Badgers would be huge, because it amounts to a two game lead in the Leaders Division standings with six to play. Wisconsin is not going to lose to Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, or Minnesota, and it gets both Northwestern and Penn State at home. With no Nebraska, Michigan State, or Michigan from the Legends Division their final six league games are about as easy as you can ask except for the Northwestern game.
Then you have Ohio State, who is 4-0 but has not played any kind of a defense at all so far. Wisconsin is only giving up 10 points per game (albeit against three lousy offenses), while Ohio State is averaging 52.5 points per game against four lousy defenses. Something has to give.
I think the difference is that Ohio State is starting Braxton Miller over Kenny Guiton, but may do the dreaded QB rotation. They might as well say they want to lose the Big Ten. Miller is good, but Guiton makes their offense far more balanced. The Badgers are going to hit Miller and get after him. He is injury prone and could go down, but that might be a blessing since it would put in Guiton.
Then you have Wisconsin's running game. The vaunted Ohio State defense is not as good as Wisconsin's and Melvin Gordon, James White, Corey Clement, Ron Dayne, Montee Ball, Michael Bennett, and the ghost of Walter Payton rushed with ease behind the massive offensive line last week.
Wisconsin has the make up of a team that can knock off a cocky Ohio State fans base. They can control the clock and put some points up. I like them in the upset. Wisconsin 31, Ohio State 28