Halfway through the Big Ten season, it's already pretty clear that the Big Ten championship will likely be shared again this year. With Wisconsin's exclusively playing teams with a .500 record or worse in the remainding schedule, and the fact that someone has to win the game between Ohio State and Iowa, it's hard to reasonably predict a scenario in which at least two teams aren't tied at the top again this year.
A lot of digital ink has been spilled decrying the inanity of the current Big Ten championship, in which two teams are "co-champions" if they have the same record, even if one beat the other in the regular season. Somehow it's fitting that in the last year in which such a sham co-championship is possible, given the introduction of a conference championship game next year, we'll likely get one.
Arguably the best part of college football is the tradition: the mascots, the marching bands, the tailgating, the rivalries. It's a uniquely American sport and culture unto itself. Most other universities in the world don't offer athletic scholarships or have anything above what we call club sports, much less anything like Purdue's World's Largest Drum or the 120 games between Minnesota and Wisconsin dating back to 1890. Given the tradition of college football, I tend to be somewhat agnostic about the introduction of a playoff system. While I'd love to watch the matchups if we ever get one, I'd hate to lose aspects of the bowl tradition and diminish the preeminence of the regular season.
Nevertheless, some traditions are stupid and should be abolished as soon as possible, like the Big Ten's sham co-championship. Good riddance: you won't be missed.
Onto the games and the gambling:
43 and sunny; Michigan -3; o/u 57
Occasionally Vegas puts out a line that makes little or no sense. Case in point: Michigan, a team that clearly has little to no ability to stop even a mediocre Big Ten offense, is favored by three this Saturday against a surging Illinois team that's won its last two conference games by an average of 32 points. The winner of this one becomes bowl eligible, and given the context in Ann Arbor, this is a huge game for Rich Rodriguez. Nevertheless, there's absolutely no reason to expect Denard Robinson and company to be able to so fully dominate a resolute Illini defense that they're able to overwhelm the points the Wolverine d is certain to give up to Nathan Scheelhaase and company. Some people call games like this "traps," because they assume that the line is "too good to be true." I don't buy the theory of trap games. Take Illinois on the money line (+135).
Prediction: Illinois 44 - Michigan 28
50 and sunny; Iowa -17; o/u 54
A 4-4 Indiana team hosts Ricky Stanzi and friends after Iowa annihilated Michigan State last week. Despite a statistically strong year for fifth year senior quarterback Ben Chappell, Indiana is 0-4 in the Big Ten so far. I'd like to make some argument about how this could be a letdown game from Iowa, who might still be hungover from their domination of Sparty last week. But realistically, I just don't see it. Look for this game to more closely resemble the last time these two played in Bloomington when Iowa won 45-9 than last year's contest in which the Hoosiers jumped out to a 21-7 lead before Stanzi and the offense scored 28 straight.
Prediction: Iowa 36 - Indiana 13
Minnesota Golden Gophers at Michigan St Spartans (12:00, Big Ten Network)
42 and sunny; MSU -24.5; o/u 57
The 1-8 Golden Gophers travel to Spartan Stadium to take on 8-1 Michigan St. We should learn a lot about the makeup of this Michigan St team this week. After getting destroyed in Kinnick Stadium last week, Sparty's got a chance to feel good again by beating up on the worst team in the conference. As bad as Minnesota is, they are still capable of staying with MSU, particularly if the Spartans overlook them and are still pouting from last weekend's loss. In years past, an epic Sparty FAIL would have been imagined, maybe even predicted, in a game like this. But for some reason I think Dantonio has helped the program turn a corner. Adam Weber throws for an early score to go up 7-0, but Michigan State roars back.
Prediction: Michigan St. 33 - Minnesota 10
50 and sunny; WIS -20; o/u 51
You'd like to think that 4-4 Purdue could give the Badgers a game, but I don't see it happening. At all. Purdue's been outscore 93-10 in their last two games and their starting quarterback (who was 3rd string preseason) Rob Henry is only probable do to a nasty cut on the finger of his throwing hand. Combine that with the other major injuries the Boilermakers are facing as well as a refreshed Wisconsin coming off their win at Iowa and a week off, and this one should be ugly.
Prediction: Wisconsin 38 - Purdue 9
Northwestern Wildcats at Penn State Nittany Lions (3:30, ABC/ESPN2)
43 and rain; PSU -6; o/u 48.5
See BSD tomorrow for the staff picks.
Bye: Ohio State
Last week: 3-2 Against the Spread; 3-2 W/L; Overall: 11-14 ATS; 18-7 W/L