As we head into the backstretch of another great season of B1G football (cough, cough), we turn our attention to this week's B1G undercard. So far, Northwestern and Wisconsin have punched their tickets to the post-season, while the winner of Michigan/Nebraska will earn a post-season birth this week. Of course, the game featuring arguably the two beast teams in the B1G, has absolutely no post-season meaning...Thanks, Mark.
Iowa v. Northwestern, 12:00 P.M., ESPN2: After getting pounded by Penn State last week, the Hawkeyes (4-3 overall; 2-1 in B1G)travel to Chicago to take on the Northwestern Wildcats (6-2 overall; 2-2 in B1G). Iowa will take an anemic offense (#103 in the nation) up against Northwestern defense that gives up 23 points per game. In particular, senior QB James Vandenberg has been disappointing, throwing for only 1323 yards, with 3 TDs and 5 INTs. On the other hand, the passing attack of Northwestern has been paltry as well, with 3 quarterbacks combining for 1377 yards, 6 TDs and 2 INTs. This game will likely feature two teams that like to run the football and play defense, of which Iowa's is better statistically. Call it a hunch, but I think Iowa wins this one 20-14.
Indiana v. Illinois, 12:00 P.M., BTN: In this game, one 0 must go. The Hoosiers and Illini bring identical records (2-5 overall/0-3 in B1G) into Saturday's contest in Champaign. While both teams are perennial also rans, Indiana has shown the ability to score, averaging 34.7 points per game. The Hoosier offense features one of the best passing attacks in the nation (#18) and is led by Sophomore QB Cameron Coffman, who has amassed 1,320 yards passing, 7 TDs and 3 INTs. Meanwhile, on the ground, the Hoosiers are led by Junior RB Stephen Houston, who is averaging 5.4 yards per carry with 7 TDs. Meanwhile, Illinois brings an offense averaging 18.1 PPG and a defense allowing 30.7 PPG into Saturday's contest. Accordingly, look for the Hoosiers to route the Illini, 35-17.
Purdue v. Minnesota, 3:30 P.M., BTN: Coming off a heartbreaking, overtime loss to tOSU, the Boilermakers (3-4 overall/0-3 B1G) travel to TCF Bank Stadium to take on the Golden Gophers of Minnesota (4-3 overall/0-3 B1G). Purdue is the quintessential midling team: they're not really good or bad at any one phase of the game. They're lead by Senior QB Caleb TerBush, who has thrown for 10 TDs. However, TerBush has amassed only 946 yards passing and has been picked off 7 times. Minnesota, meanwhile, is lead by a stout defense (#39 in the country). The Gophers are especially strong in their secondary. Minnesota's problem is also that they can't seem to score. That said, with their propensity to turn the ball over, Purdue faces an uphill battle against the opportunistic Gopher defense. Minnesota wins this one, 24-10.
Michigan State v. #25Wisconsin, 3:30 P.M., ABC: The disappointing Spartans of Michigan State (4-4 overall/1-3 in B1G) travel to Madison to take on the Wisconsin Badgers (6-2 overall/3-1 B1G). With the #18 ranked defense, Michigan State's offense has been just good enough to come up short against the likes of Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State and Notre Dame. Specifically, while QB Andrew Maxwell has thrown for 1799 yards and 7 TDs, he has also thrown 5 INTs. Junior Spartan RB Le'Von Bell is having a very good season, having rushed for 984 yards and 8 TDs so far. Wisconsin, while an excellent team, will likely win the Leaders Division by default, with both Ohio State and Penn State ineligible. That said, the Badgers have lost to the only two quality opponents they have played, losing to Oregon State and Nebraska. While RB Monte Ball remains a Heisman favorite, the rest of the Badger offense has been steady, if unspectacular. A bit of an upset special here, with Sparty getting off the schnide in a defensive struggle, 17-13.
(22)Michigan v. Nebraska, 8:00 P.M., ESPN2: The Wolverines of Michigan (5-2 overall/3-0 B1G) head off to Lincoln to take on the Cornhuskers (5-2 overall/2-1 B1G). Michigan is led by Senior dual-threat QB Denard Robinson and a stingy defense (#16 nationally) which allows only 16.4 PPG. Nebraska, meanwhile, put the blowout loss to tOSU behind them, besting Northwestern last week by 1 point. Junior QB Taylor Martinez seems to be coming into his own this season, with a 67% completion percentage 1,615 YPG, 15 TDs and only 4 INTs. Add to that the 6th ranked rushing attack in the nation (279 YPG) and the fact that the winner likely wraps up the Legends Division and we have the makings of a great football game. In the end, Robinson may be a bit too turnover prone (9 INTs) to overcome what promises to be a hostile crowd, especially given the efficiency of Martinez this season. Another upset special here: Nebraska wins 29-24.