Conference play in the Big Ten begins in earnest this week as eight teams play their first league game. Michigan State, Rutgers, Wisconsin, and Ohio State also play their final non-conference games of the year, making for a diverse week. The league's struggles outside of league play have been noted, but given the opponents the only one that should be challenged is Ohio State by Cincinnati.
Most of the conference games feature teams that are relatively close. Nebraska-Illinois has some blowout potential, as does Northwestern-Penn State, but Purdue-Iowa, Michigan-Minnesota, and Indiana-Maryland are interesting.
South Florida (2-2) at Wisconsin (2-1) Noon, ESPNU
Wasn't it just a few years ago that South Florida was a program on the rise and even reached as high as No.2 in the rankings. Of course, 2007 was a bizarre year, where South Florida, Boston College, West Virginia, South Florida, and Kansas were in the No. 2 spot at least once and the National champion had two losses. They haven't shown much of anything to suspect that they can even slow down another Badger ground game that is ramping up to Playstation levels. Wisconsin 45, South Florida 14
Tulane (1-3) at Rutgers (3-1) Noon, ESPNews
Rutgers hasn't done too poorly in the Big Ten so far, and with this w they would clinch a 4-0 non-league mark. Considering the struggles that everyone else has had, that's pretty good. Only they, Penn State, and Nebraska can still boast a spotless non-conference record. Unfortunately, they did lose running back Paul James to a torn ACL. Funny, they didn't play at Purdue. Rutgers 27, Tulane 10
Wyoming (3-1) at Michigan State (2-1) Noon, ESPN2
Wyoming isn't a bad team and they are coached by Craig Bohl, who guided North Dakota State to the last three FCS titles. Yes, he is the architect of the rampaging Bison on the northern Plains. The Cowboys are not a high scoring team. In fact, they rank 121st at the FBS level in scoring, but they have played some decent defense except for in the loss to Oregon 48-14. Michigan State should win, but don't be surprised if the Cowboys make it a little uncomfortable. Michigan State 31, Wyoming 14
Northwestern (1-2, 0-0) at Penn State (4-0, 1-0) Noon, BTN
So far it looks like Northwestern's offense has been replaced with Purdue's from last season. They are averaging only 21 points per game and last week an FCS team outgained them by more than 100 yards. That should mean blood in the water for Penn State, who quietly might be the best team in the Big Ten. It's the case of bad offense going against a good defense, as Penn State is sixth nationally at only 11 points per game. Penn State 24, Northwestern 7
Iowa (3-1, 0-0) at Purdue (2-2, 0-0) Noon, BTN
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Purdue has not earned any respect. Mostly because of the Central Michigan game we're still considered to be the worst in the Big Ten and many feel we'll be lucky to win a conference game even with as bad as the league has looked. That's why this game could be a turning point not only for this season, but for many seasons going forward. Iowa is a respectable team, but they are flawed. They have a habit of keeping their opponent close all game long. Purdue needs to seize on that and come away with a win.
A victory tomorrow could mean a 2-0 start to league play, which would be very surprising. It also would ignite at least some faint hopes that the Boilers could reach the postseason. Should Purdue get Iowa and Illinois it only needs two more wins somewhere else, likely out of the trio of Minnesota, Northwestern, and Indiana.
That's getting ahead of ourselves, however. Right now we need to focus on Iowa, a team that has struggled offensively, yet still wants to power run with Mark Weisman. This is still Purdue's biggest defensive weakness. We know it is coming, so it is time to stop it. It is homecoming in West Lafayette and I think there is a different attitude with this team after two productive weeks. Since Iowa likes to keep it close that is an opportunity for Purdue, and I think the Boilers find a way to take advantage to squeeze out a win. Purdue 27, Iowa 24
Maryland (3-1, 0-0) at Indiana (2-1, 0-0) 1:30pm, BTN
So what the hell do we do with Indiana? The win at Missouri was indeed impressive, but they still have that loss at Bowling Green. They still need three conference wins at minimum to go to a bowl game, but this is one of the few games in which they will be favored the rest of the way. Maryland, meanwhile, has played well at times, but lacked a defense in their lone loss. This could be a fun game to watch with points all over the place. Because of that, I'll pick Indiana. What can I say, they actually impressed me last week. Indiana 41, Maryland 38
Minnesota (3-1, 0-0) at Michigan (2-2, 0-0) 3:30pm, ABC
Juan, who is embedded in Ann Arbor, is going to be at this game because he was one of the lucky ones that took advantage of the Coke promotion before Michigan caught on. It's the battle for the Little Brown Jug, which has been won by Minnesota only three times since 1967 and just once since 1986. Basically, you have the overwhelming weight of history against the fact that Michigan can do nothing against teams with a pulse. Sounds like fun! Minnesota 17, Michigan 10
Cincinnati (2-0) at Ohio State (2-1) 6pm, BTN
I kind of want to see this game because Ohio State has never lost to an in-state team at Ohio Stadium and hasn't lost to an in-state team at all since 1921 when they lost to Oberlin. That's an impressive run, but this is possibly the toughest in-state challenge they have faced in that time. Since Gunner Kiel realized he actually has to play football instead of hopping from school-to-school he has been pretty good. Cincinnati is also playing with a heavy heart after a walk-on running back was killed in a motorcycle accident. Cincinnati 30, Ohio State 27
Illinois (3-1, 0-0) at Nebraska (4-0, 0-0) 9pm, BTN
Nebraska appears to have righted things since the near loss to McNeese State, and that is not good for the Illini. Yes, Illinois is off to a 3-1 start, but it was a very ugly 3-1and could have easily been 0-4. This game is screaming mismatch because Ameer Abdullah looked pretty awesome last week and Illinois doesn't have an answer for him. Nebraska 45, Illinois 14