In the virtual grotto where your humble BSD bloggers plan world domination, there was a lively debate this week about whether we should spend front-page time talking about Penn State's "rivalry" with Michigan or lack thereof. The discussion more or less settled down to a consensus view that any time Michigan and Penn State play it's a big game, but let's not get bogged down labeling it.
In a certain sense, that's true of most of this Saturday's Big Ten games. None of them deserve the label "rivalry" by any objective measure, but all of them, save Bucky/Goldy, are big games, at least for the teams involved. Three of the games -- NW/IND, MSU/Iowa, Mich/PSU -- are perhaps the fulcrum upon which the balance of the season depends. If everything goes as planned, the Illinois/Purdue game won't really make much of a difference, but maybe everything won't go so swimmingly for the Illini. (Actually, I think it will.)
I'm particularly fond of this Saturday's slate of games because it exemplifies what I love about Big Ten football: nearly every game is interesting. This week's Penn State game is more about bowl eligibility than the conference championship, but it's still a big game for the teams and fans involved. The MSU/Iowa game may be the defining game of this year's Big Ten season, and someone has to win Indiana/Northwestern, even if we'd rather assume that neither team can. In other words, every game matters.
Enough of the love fest. Check out http://joepasdoghouse.com/ for some HATE. Onto the games and the gambling:
A key game for both teams, as they each are playing a beatable opponent and searching for enough wins to become bowl eligible. Northwestern likely played their best game of the year last week despite losing to Michigan State. Indiana, meanwhile, hasn't looked particularly good in either of their last two outings - an embarrassment at Illinois last week and just sneaking by Arkansas State the week before. I think Ben Chappell rebounds well from his three-pick game last week and outscores Dan Persa and the Wildcats.
Prediction: Indiana 33 - Northwestern 31
This game had promised to feature arguably the two best (redshirt) freshman quarterbacks in the league, but Purdue's Robert Henry, who started the year as third on the depth chart and is 2-1 as a starter, might not play due to a cut on his hand suffered in the third quarter in last week's beatdown at Ohio State. The Illini's Nathan Scheelhaase is a decent dual-threat option at quarterback in his own right, but the strength of the Illinois team is their defense. Illinois should win, but ought not overlook Purdue, which has been surprisingly frisky all year. Purdue's just too banged up and Illinois is too hot.
Prediction: Illinois 31 - Purdue 10
The marquee Big Ten matchup of the week features two very similar teams. Both execute well, both have battle-tested veterans under center, both have potential first-rounders starring on defense, and both have a well-coached cohesion that allows them to come from behind and stay in every game. In the back of my mind, I keep trying to anticipate the inevitable Sparty FAIL, but something tells me it might not happen this year. This is the only game left on Michigan State's regular season schedule in which they will not be favored. The outcome depends on whether or not Michigan State can consistently move the ball on offense, particularly on the ground. I think they'll have modest success, and their defense will be up to the challenge, but this is the Saturday when they learn that Cinderella's slipper doesn't quite fit. Even still, 6.5 points is too many.
Prediction: Iowa 22 - Michigan State 21
This game contradicts everything I assumed about night games on ABC, even if it is only regional coverage. Will anyone besides sadists, Ohio residents, and gamblers even care?
Prediction: Ohio State 45 - Minnesota 13
50 and slight chance of rain; wind 10 mph; Mich -2.5; o/u 50
BYE: Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 3-2 Against the Spread ; 5-0 Picking Winners ; Overall: 8-12 ATS; 15-5 W/L