Pickin’ On the Big Ten
INDIANA @ ILLINOIS (Line: Illini -2)
Is Illinois even trying to play football anymore? Indiana 38, Illinois 20.
PURDUE @ MINNESOTA (Line: Boilermakers -3)
All eyes are understandably on Ohio State-Penn State and Michigan-Nebraska this week but the loser of this game has to face the awful truth: It won’t be going bowling this season. Both teams have cycled through quarterbacks in search of that elusive spark of competence. Both teams have watched their defenses wither like that cilantro you forgot to harvest before the frost. Neither team is playing well enough to win this game — but one of them has to. It’s tempting to pick the team which has approached mediocrity the most recently but I still believe in Jerry Kill more than I believe in Danny Hope, if only because I can’t figure out what Hope sees in Caleb TerBush that the rest of us don’t. Plus it’s going to be colder than a penguin’s feet in Minneapolis on Saturday and Purdue’s roster is full of Florida kids. Minnesota 28, Purdue 24.
MICHIGAN @ NEBRASKA (Line: Huskers -2)
These are the only two teams in the Legends Division anybody outside of Evanston believes in, and I’m not sure why. Michigan has turned into McNuggets every time it has faced a halfway competent defense. Nebraska’s defense is only about 43% competent, though. Michigan’s is at a higher level than that. Even though the thought of Taylor Martinez trying to save a broken play no longer liquefies the stomach contents of Husker fans, Michigan’s defense is good enough, and Nebraska’s bad enough, to let the Wolverines walk into Lincoln and leave with a win. (That used to be unthinkable but that was many years ago.) Michigan 31, Nebraska 27.
IOWA @ NORTHWESTERN (Line: Wildcats -5)
The Hawkeyes are done, of course, because they have James Vandenberg at quarterback and Greg Davis as offensive coordinator and Kirk Ferentz’s buyout is $20 million dollars and they keep losing running backs to bizarre gardening accidents and every week there’s another round of national media knuckleheads who apparently discover all these facts for the first time. It’s like hanging out with a 12-year-old boy who just discovered Led Zeppelin.
Northwestern’s 6-0 start is beginning to look like a point it passed through on its way to its customary 7-5 finish, though I suppose you can’t rule out 8-4 quite yet. One of these years the Wildcats are going to realize they need to beat one of the Big Ten’s better teams before anybody will take them seriously as a threat to win nine games or more.
None of this can cover for the fact that the Iowa offense really is putrid. Like “Sylvester Croom era at Mississippi State” putrid. Northwestern 34, Iowa 13.
OHIO STATE @ PENN STATE (Line: Buckeyes -1)
This game deserves more than the cutesy-poo nicknames people are trying to stick on it. These are, at worst, two of the three best teams in the Big Ten. Their coaches are both massively overachieving in their first seasons at challenging, high-expectation jobs. You might be mad at both schools (probably one more than the other) but the players you’ll see on the field had nothing to do with what happened. And if I had more platitudes, I’d put them right here.
It’s like this: Ohio State is just a bit too vulnerable to big plays. Penn State is suddenly capable of making big plays. I don’t think it’s too big a stretch to think a team that struggled at Indiana and at home against Purdue might have a bit of trouble in Happy Valley against a team that is playing a lot better than either Indiana or Purdue right now. If Ohio State can control the tempo of the game from the very beginning this prediction will be wrong, but I’m taking Penn State. Penn State 37, Ohio State 30.
MICHIGAN STATE @ WISCONSIN (Line: Badgers -6)
I am not at all sure that Wisconsin has completely turned around its season, though the evidence is mounting. The running game is back, the offensive line is getting a good push off the snap, and the defense hasn’t worn itself out quite yet. I have to wonder how much longer Michigan State’s defense can hold up, though. Wisconsin can probably hold the Spartans to a single touchdown. I have significantly less confidence about Michigan State’s ability to do the same to the Badgers. Wisconsin 16, Michigan State 10.
Next week’s games:
- Iowa @ Indiana: I give the Hoosiers a solid shot here
- Nebraska @ Michigan State: Where the wheels really come off for Sparty
- Michigan @ Minnesota: Apt to be ugly
- Illinois @ Ohio State: Certain to be ugly
- Penn State @ Purdue: Trap game?