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Big Ten Preview: A Saturday without Joe

This Saturday will bring what many Penn State fans seem to be calling for after a 3-3 start and an embarrassing homecoming lose to Illinois: a Saturday in October without Joe Paterno on the sidelines. Of course, the lack of our bespectacled, cuffed, tie-laden octogenarian isn't because he's stopped coaching, but because the good guys got a week off to regroup before the second half of the season.

On Saturday, none of the coaches patrolling the sidelines for Big Ten teams will have won more games than any other college coach in Division 1 history. None will have a library named after them. None will have conceived of and executed a "grand experiment" to combine education and athletics. None will have goofy glasses; none will lack an email address; none will coach the great grandson of someone they coached fifty years ago; none will have been listed in the "pros" side of the list I made in deciding to matriculate at Penn State.

In the five days since the Illinois Incident, I've found two arguments about why Joe Paterno should no longer be the coach at Penn State to be the most compelling. First, Paterno no longer has the energy and enthusiasm to meet the demands of the head coach position at a major D-1 program. Second, under Joe Paterno, Penn State has failed to consistently compete in and win big games against the top teams for the better part of ten years. Both arguments boil down to stating that Penn State should find a new coach because they cannot compete at the level that the fans, alumni, players, etc expect with Joe Paterno at the helm. The irony, of course, is that Joe Paterno is responsible for those expectations. Beaver Stadium holds 110,000 people, Penn State competes in the Big Ten and is considered one of a handful of national college football programs because of one person. But what if that person can no longer do their job?

I know that every other Big Ten program would have likely fired their head coach if they had five years like Paterno did from 2000-2004. As we all know, Penn State tried to fire Paterno before the 2005 season, but Joe prevailed and restored order to the world. Until now.

Joe Paterno took a risk -- and continues to take a risk -- by holding his players to high standards in the classroom and in their personal lives. That risk has paid big dividends on the field and for the reputation of Penn State as a football team and as a university. Penn State now, presumably, has an opportunity to take a similar risk. We -- the fans, alumni, students -- can risk having an exceptional football team, can risks wins, by stating that we want Joe Paterno to be our coach for as long as Joe Paterno wants to be our coach. It's a risk that's similar to the risk inherent in the grand experiment. It assumes that there are things that are more important than wins and losses; it assumes that character and loyalty are paramount; it assumes that we are going to be different. And it assumes that can make us great.

Would any of the teams playing on Saturday extend that courtesy to their coach? Does it matter?

Onto the games and the gambling:

Arkansas State Red Wolves at Indiana Hoosiers (12:00, ESPNU)

Indiana -11; O/U 66.5

I thought these games were finished? Arkansas St. appears to be the Sun Belt version of Indiana - they have a strong passing attack and zero defense. Look for this one to go over.

Indiana 44 - Arkansas St. 24

Illinois Fighting Illini at Michigan St. Spartans (12:00, Big Ten Network)

60 and sunny; Michigan State -7; O/U 51

There's a good chance that this game, which features two teams playing well above what the experts expected pre-season, could be the best game of the year on the BTN. I don't think the Illini can handle the Spartans outside run attack, and playing their second straight road game makes things a little tougher. Both teams could have a bit of a letdown after emotional wins last week. I like Sparty here to win, but not cover.

Michigan St. 26 - Illinois 20

Minnesota Golden Gophers at Purdue Boilermakers (12:00, ESPN2)

Purdue -5.5; O/U 51

And just like that, Purdue could get off to a 2-0 start in the conference. Not so fast, my friend. This is one of Goldy's few chances to get a win, and I think they "shock the world" and do it.  Adam Weber blows up Purdue's secondary, and the Boilermakers dual-threat quarterback never really gets going.

Minnesota 27 - Purdue 24

Iowa Hawkeyes at Michigan Wolverines (3:30, ABC/ESPN)

60 and sunny; Iowa -3.5; O/U 53.5

If Denard Robinson and the Michigan offense had trouble getting points on the board against Sparty, why should they have better luck against a nasty, more aggressive, and better disciplined defense? Iowa might not have the most exciting offense in the league, but everybody scores on Michigan's defense. Ricky Stanzi might win the offense player of the week honors. Iowa covers going away. Pick of the week.

Iowa 31 - Michigan 10

Ohio State Buckeyes at Wisconsin Badgers (7:00, ESPN)

67 and Sunny; Ohio State -4; O/U 49

Over the course of the season, Ohio State has looked a lot more than four points better than Wisconsin. However, Saturday night's game at Camp Randall Stadium is only the second road test for the Buckeyes, who struggled against Illinois in Champaign Urbana two weeks ago. Add to that how difficult it is to win in Madison, and how crazy the crowd should be with a good 8 hours of pep in them, and remember that Wisconsin played their best game of the year last week against Minnesota, and maybe, just maybe the Badgers can knock off the number one team in the world. Maybe not.

Ohio State 24 - Wisconsin 13

BYE: Penn St. Nittany Lions, Northwestern Wildcats

Last Week 2-3 Against the Spread; 2-3 Picking Winners; Overall 4-6 ATS; 7-3 Picking Winners