Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE
A look at the good (and awful) slate of games conference-wide this week.
Iowa (4-6, 2-4) at Michigan (7-3, 5-1)
Line: None Still no line on this game, likely due to the unknown health of Michigan QB Denard Robinson, but it's tough to see a scenario in which the Wolverines won't be favored against a very underperforming Iowa squad that last week handed Purdue its first conference win of the season. Michigan is #1 in the country in pass defense, a stat that likely won't get worse this week versus an Iowa offense that hasn't been great at the pass (Vandenderp, I feel for ya). The rushing defense, on the other hand, is a different story, as the Wolverines let Northwestern roll up almost 250 yards on the ground last week. If the Hawkeyes get back heralded RB Mark Weisman, he could put up some decent numbers--but Michigan may just start to stack the box and dare James Vandenberg to throw.
Likely Winner: Michigan Whether or not Robinson plays likely makes little difference, as backup Devin Gardner has proven most capable and looks to solidify his position as the starter to beat in the upcoming offseason. The biggest obstacle for the Hawkeyes might just be the fact that they have to prepare for either quarterback--that, or their own offensive ineptitude for much of the season. Iowa's lost the last two games (to Indiana and Purdue) by a total of six points (they're 2-4 in games decided by three points or less ON THE SEASON), and is in the midst of a four game skid (amidst which they've let up 475 yards of offense per game)--which makes a bowl game for the Hawkeyes look less and less likely.
Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) at Michigan State (5-5, 2-4)
Line: Michigan State -7 Michigan State's defense is very good; their offense, still not so much. Northwestern is the exact opposite, so this game will pit strength versus strength and weakness versus weakness-and thus may be difficult to watch. A lot of how this game turns out for the Wildcats may depend on the status of dual threat QB Kain Colter, who was seen limping following their loss to Michigan last week; the MSU front seven, one of the best in the nation, is likely licking its chops for a shot at him. The Spartans are well rested headed into this game after their bye week, and are amidst a very disappointing season before which most expected them to be a big contender for the Big Ten championship. In a way, what's befallen the MSU team this year is a microcosm of the entire conference in 2012.
Likely Winner: push Wildcat running back Venric Mark is a finalist for the Doak Walker award--an honor that most assumed Spartan running back Leveon Bell would vy for. Alas, this year, that was not to be for Bell, who is his team's most reliable offensive weapon--which means opposing defense key in on him. The last game it played, a four point loss to Nebraska, saw Michigan State score the most points it had scored at home all season. The Spartans are still looking to get bowl eligible, and it may come this week--but it most definitely won't be easy.
Minnesota (6-4, 2-4) at Nebraska (8-2, 5-1)
Line: Nebraska -20 If you had told me preseason that Minnesota would have a better overall and same conference record as Iowa and Michigan State, I would've laughed in your face. Alas, that's exactly what's happened, as Jerry Kill has pretty quietly put together a respectable season in Minneapolis. It's unlikely to look that way this week, though, as the Gophers roll into Lincoln to face a Husker team that they've lost to fifteen times in a row (though, granted, Minnesota holds a 29-20-2 overall lead in the series). Still questionable for Nebraska in this game is running back Rex Burkhead, who may play this week--or whom coaches may save for an almost-expected Big Ten Championship game.
Likely Winner: Nebraska Last week, true freshman QB Philip Nelson only threw 78 yards for the Gophers in their win versus Illinois...but that was the Illini. He'll have to do much better this week versus a decent Cornhusker defense, and I'm not so sure that's happening, especially with the Gophers down to their third string center this week. The Gophers are decent on both offense and defense, but decent won't be enough to contain Husker QB Taylor Martinez, who has looked out of sorts at times during this season but has pulled it together enough for his team to sit alone at the top of the Legends division (with a tiebreaker over Michigan). Nebraska is also looking to clinch its first undefeated season at home since 2001; they should win easily, though Vegas does seem a bit high on the Huskers. We'll see what the refs can do to make sure the game stays above that line.
Purdue (4-6, 1-5) at Illinois (2-8, 0-6)
Line: Purdue -6.5 Why watch this game this weekend? No, seriously, why. Both teams have severely underperformed this year, though Purdue managed to eke out a last minute win over Iowa last week (perhaps why the Boilermakers are actually favored by six and a half points). Both teams seem to have checked out, with enough talent on each side of the ball to potentially make things interesting--but with neither squad looking like it wants to play for their respective coaches. Robert Marve and his bionic knee will likely start again for Purdue, and again look for a bit of a rotation, with Caleb TerBush and Rob Henry getting snaps here and there on an offense that had almost 500 yards last week.
Likely Winner: Purdue This may be Danny Hope's second-to-last game on the sideline for the Boilermakers, and luckily it comes against a team that's a bigger dumpster fire than his own. Illinois is one of two Big Ten teams mathematically eliminated from a bowl game already this year, and one big thing separates this team from the Hoosiers: Indiana has shown a pulse against most Big Ten teams it's played. The Illini rank last in the Big Ten in scoring, total, rushing and red zone offense, as well as first downs, third down conversions, and sacks allowed. And their defense isn't much better--with the talent that was returning on this squad, that's not just unacceptable, it's borderline disgusting.
Ohio State (10-0, 8-0) at Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2)
Line: Wisconsin -2.5 This line is perhaps the most inexplicable I've seen all season. Yes, the game is at home for the Badgers, and yes, this Buckeye squad may be one of the worst undefeated Big Ten teams in the history of undefeated Big Ten teams; I don't care. Ohio State is coached by Urban Meyer, has played some pretty darn good ball most of the time this year, and is up against a Wisconsin team that has been up (last week's win over Indiana) and down (a 10-7 loss to Oregon State early in the year, a 16-13 loss to MSU two games ago) all season. It may end up being closer than I'm expecting, but I don't see how Ohio State loses this one--unless they inexplicably are looking ahead to OMGTHEGAME next week.
Likely Winner: Ohio State The Badgers have already clinched a spot in the conference championship game, so the last two games on their regular schedule this year (versus both sanctioned teams in the conference) are almost meaningless. Whether that makes a difference may be hard to say; look for Braxton Miller to go all Braxton Miller in this game, and the Badgers to try to limit his impact (the sophomore has accounted for 66% of Ohio State's offense this year); if they can, this game will be close. If not...it'll be a long day for Montee Ball (and brand-new starting senior QB Curt Phillips) in their last game at Camp Randall. A stat in favor of the Badgers: Bielema is 6-0 on senior day. A stat not in their favor is the overall series record, which the Buckeyes have dominated 54-18-5.
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