So, what's new with you guys? Me, I'm just sitting here wondering how Disney's going to ruin my beloved Star Wars franchise...and, oh yeah, there's football this weekend, huh? Some interesting matchups conference-wide, and while I don't generally like the word parity (I prefer parody, myself), there's no one word that can describe the Big Ten conference better.
If I was going with a two-word phrase, I'd have to pair parity with, ahem, not good. And I don't think I'm alone in thinking that assessment's fairly generous. Anyway, onto the previews, young padawans!
Michigan (5-3, 3-1) at Minnesota
Line: Michigan -12.5 After going the last two games without a touchdown (a win over little brother MSU and a loss to Nebraska), the Wolverines are looking to bounce back in a big way this week. Luckily, they take on a Minnesota team not overflowing with defensive talent, but coming off a big win over Purdue. Wolverine QB Denard Robinson, now Michigan's all-time leader in career total offense, is dinged up (must be November), but he'll still likely play, and will likely score against the Golden Gophers. This shouldn't be anywhere near as bad as last year's 58-0 beatdown, but still...
Likely winner: Michigan. Starting Additionally, the Michigan defense has been much improved, allowing only 12 ppg in the last six games, and ranking first in the nation in pass defense. And, oh yeah, the team with the second longest streak of not allowing a score in the first quarter? The Wolverines. They'll be up against someone the Gophers have been searching for: an honest-to-goodness starting quarterback, this time not named MarQueis Gray, the former Minnesota starting quarterback who's only played wide receiver since returning from his injury a few weeks ago. The Golden Gophers now have Philip Nelson, a true freshman with just two starts under his belt but with--dare we say--poise? He'll need it, as this one won't be easy. The final score may be much closer than last year (the line seems about right), but the Wolverines have too much talent, and much better coaching than under the Rich Rod years, and should become bowl eligible this week.
Iowa (4-4, 2-2) at Indiana (3-5, 1-3)
Line: Indiana -1.5 Here's the scenario: Indiana beats Wisconsin, and wins one of three against PSU, Iowa or Purdue. Wisconsin loses to both Penn State and Ohio State. Indiana then goes to the Big Ten title game, at 3-5. Sounded unlikely a few weeks ago, right? That was before this Hoosier team started getting its shit together, playing every conference opponent (and a rebounding Navy team) tough and coming within three (scoring 48 points) against Ohio State. This looks to be a game of teams on different trajectories; I like the Hawkeyes, but they're playing with little to no direction right now, while Indiana is confident after getting its first conference win last week over Illinois (not that that's saying much, this year).
Likely winner: Indiana. On paper, this is a toss up. But I've liked what I've been seeing from the Hoosiers, and James Vandenberg is playing with very little confidence, in himself, his team, and his coaching staff. The season's lone bright spot for Iowa, walk on RB Mark Weisman, will sit out this game due to an undisclosed injury (a pity, as Indiana's run defense has been lacking). Because of the loss of their biggest (only?) offensive weapon, Indiana's prowess in the red zone and uptempo offense as well as the Hawkeyes problems defending fast moving teams, Indiana should be able to pull this one out, despite their quarterback controversy.
Nebraska (#20, 6-2, 3-1) at Michigan State (5-4, 2-3)
Line: Nebraska -2 The Spartans have never beaten Nebraska, and this may not be the year to buck that trend. RB Rex Burkhead should be out for the Huskers, but it probably won't matter much as he was likely to get little going against the Michigan State front seven. Nebraska was going to look for QB Taylor Martinez, playing slightly injured with an ankle, to continue his progress in this game, and build on his positive performances of the last two weeks. MSU enters this game after a surprise win over Wisconsin, in a low-scoring traditionally-Big-Ten slugfest like most of their games this season. That may not be enough this week.
Likely winner: Nebraska. This looks like a close one, when you look at the teams overall. When you look at the matchups...maybe not so much. The Cornhusker defense is gelling right now, and the MSU offense, behind QB Andrew Maxwell, hasn't found a groove at all this season--but did see some positive progress in the final come-from-behind minutes of last week. I don't see the Spartans scoring much, even with RB LeVeon Bell, and the question will be how well the Michigan State defense can contain Martinez. Even if he only breaks through, with his arm or legs, a few times, that should be enough to keep Nebraska's conference title hopes alive in a low-scoring game.
Illinois (2-6, 0-4) at Ohio State (9-0, 5-0)
Line: Ohio State -27.5 Yep, seems about right.
Likely winner: hahahahaha. That's all.
Wisconsin vs BYE
Northwestern vs BYE
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