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Big Ten Review: Learning to Love to Hate Sparty

Vaguely lost among the hoopla surrounding Nebraska's ascension to the Big Ten and the debate over divisions and cross-over rivalries has been the fact that this is the last year that Penn State will finish its regular season playing half-hated, sorta land-grant rivals, the Michigan State Spartans.  If things shake out, the game we've all been clamoring to get rid of could be the biggest of our season.

Somewhat unbelievably, the Spartans are currently ranked fourth in the computer polls that help determine the BCS rankings. They're seventh overall in the BCS polls, trailing two SEC teams - LSU and Auburn - two mid majors - Boise St and TCU - and Oregon and Oklahoma.  Michigan St. has a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way: home games against Minnesota and Purdue and road tests at Northwestern this week, at Iowa next week, and at Happy Valley to close the season. If they can take down Stanzi and company in Kinnick, there's a good chance that Penn State will have an opportunity to end their bid to play in the BCS championship game on November 27. That kind of win could completely change the way this season is remembered and render moo a lot of the complaints about how "elite" the Penn State program is or is not.

Four other quick thoughts going into week four of the Big Ten season:

Jeff Horton, Minnesota's new interim head coach who has replaced Tim Brewster, is only adding to Minnesota's reputation as being Canada's eleventh province. If someone says, "Minnesota's Horton is looking good," my initial reaction is, "of course it is, Tim Horton's is the best thing to come out of Canada since Molson XXX." For some reason, I can't get over the fact that Minnesota's interim's head coach shares a moniker with the Canadian Starbucks that is Tim Horton's. I can't get those donuts in DC and don't I miss them.

I hope that Denard Robinson gets healthy during Michigan's bye week and starts at QB in Happy Valley Halloween weekend. Choir boy / line-dancer Tate Forcier may provide more visual fodder for the blog, but I think he's a bigger threat at QB than Robinson. Denard Robinson can run all over weak competition, but in the Big Ten, where every defense is designed to stop the run, a competent passer like Tate Forcier is actually more deadly. Sure, Forcier has an unmistakably Morellian streak of throwing ill-advised passes into triple coverage, but he was the one who tore up Iowa's much-heralded defense on Saturday.

Illinois could win their final six games and finish 9-3. After this week's game against Indiana, the Illini face Purdue, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern and Fresno State. If they can win all of those, all of which they ought to be favored in, the Homecoming Incident won't look so bad after all.

Thank goodness for Ricky Stanzi and Kerry Collins. Even though I finished a dismal 1-4 against the spread and 3-2 in picking winners in last week's Big Ten Preview post, I successfully predicted that Stanzi would win Big Ten offensive player of the week honors. And, even though I had a fairly tough gambling weekend, my biggest bet of the weekend was on the Titans to cover 3 last night against the Jags. I felt really confident about that line all week, and then Vince Young got hurt and I got scared. But for no good reason, Penn State's own Kerry Collins looked like an elite NFL backup and held down the fort to help me finish even for the weekend.