Pickin’ On the Big Ten
Shameless self-promotion: I was the guest on Dan Wetzel’s podcast this week, talking about the fall and (possible) rise of Big Ten football. I had a blast talking to Wetzel; he’s a solid reporter who always finds the angles no one else is working. Unfortunately, I burned through all my usual intro material while talking with him, so again this week we go right to the games.
PENN STATE @ ILLINOIS (Line: pick ‘em)
A lot’s being made of Tim Beckman’s staff flocking en masse to Happy Valley once the NCAA declared current Nits to be fair game. If you’ve seen the Illini play this season you know they are a team in need of bodies. I don’t know why but the Illini can’t seem to find any traction, and last week’s lopsided loss to Louisiana Tech made it seem like they were regressing. So I’m not sure how much extra motivation Bill O’Brien really needs to win this game, but he has it if he wants it. I like Penn State in this game. Neither team is all that good but the Nits seem closer to competence on both sides of the ball. Penn State 24, Illinois 17.
MINNESOTA @ IOWA (Line: Iowa -7)
The Hawkeyes are favored by a touchdown here, and I have no idea why. The offense played much, much better against Central Michigan than it did in any of the previous three games but this is a team that doesn’t bounce back well from disappointments. Throw in a Minnesota defense that is far, far further along than I expected it to be this year and I am just not seeing Iowa winning by a touchdown. Or at all, even though Iowa’s defense is acceptable and the Gophers have some offensive issues. Jerry Kill’s club will still force mistakes and turnovers and you know they’re going to test out Iowa with an onside kick or two. Minnesota 20, Iowa 17.
OHIO STATE @ MICHIGAN STATE (Line: Spartans -3)
I would not have wanted to be a Michigan State football player this week. Their children will probably be born with ringing ears. That was one flat, uninspired performance against Eastern Michigan last week.
Sparty has enough of a defense to slow down OSU’s not-terribly-diverse attack and the Buckeyes have yet to put together four inspiring quarters of football. Braxton Miller is a playmaker, though, and I can see him making just enough happen for the Buckeyes to pull the … man, it feels weird saying OSU over Michigan State would be an upset. I’m not sure I can say that, in fact.
MSU’s wideouts can’t keep dropping passes forever, can they? Every time I go out on a limb for Sparty, Sparty makes me look like a fool, but here I go again on my own. Michigan State 31, Ohio State 27.
WISCONSIN @ NEBRASKA (Line: Huskers -12)
Is Wisconsin that bad?
Is Nebraska that good?
Is it love that I’m feeling?
(Yes. Whitesnake references in two straight predictions. That’s a shoutout to my wife; we’ve been married for ten years this week. It’s also pointless, as she doesn’t read the column.)
Nebraska’s defense finally shut down an opponent last week and we’ll just pretend that opponent was not Idaho State. Wisconsin didn’t shine in its too-close-for-comfort win over UTEP but at least the offense was able to make some things happen. The question is thus whether we get Good Martinez or Bad Martinez this week. Given Wisconsin’s well-documented inability to generate turnovers this season, I’ll vote for Good Martinez, but this game will be closer than ten points. Nebraska 37, Wisconsin 30.
INDIANA @ NORTHWESTERN (Line: Wildcats -11)
This game has the potential to be major fun. Two wide-open offenses, two iffy defenses, zero expectations on either squad, and the weather should be gorgeous. You should go to this game if you can, because you will see touchdowns. Northwestern will have more of them. Northwestern 44, Indiana 30.
MARSHALL @ PURDUE (Line: Boilermakers -16.5)
Remember when Marshall was one of those up-and-coming mid-majors? Good times. Hasn’t been that way for a few years, though. This will be a good measure of how far along Purdue’s defense is. No one has held Marshall under 24 points this season. The Thundering Herd have scored 21 touchdowns in four games. They’ve given up exactly as many. So this looks like a pretty good matchup.
That’s what you would write if you’d paid no attention at all to the Boilermakers this year and thought they were still the same flaming puddle of beige they had been for the last half-decade or so. Purdue is the only team to score more than one touchdown on Notre Dame this year. The defense is giving up 1.33 touchdowns per game and the Boilermakers fishhooked that Eastern Michigan squad which Michigan State could barely beat. This game should not be close at all. It’s hip right now to think that Purdue can back its way into the conference title game by virtue of Ohio State’s ineligibility. I think the gap between the Boilermakers and the Buckeyes is narrower than you think. Purdue 56, Marshall 20.
Next week’s games:
- Michigan State @ Indiana: Hey Spartans, you really have to play this game too
- Nebraska @ Ohio State: Preview of 2013 Big Ten title game
- Northwestern @ Penn State: Finally we see if NU’s really all that
- Michigan @ Purdue: When’s the last time this game excited you? It should now
- Illinois @ Wisconsin: This game, on the other hand …