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Big Ten Preview and the Fall of Notre Dame

There was an interesting article in the New York Times yesterday explaining that the Notre Dame-Army games at Yankee Stadium used to be such a big deal that during the Battle of the Bulge American soldiers asked unfamiliar faces what the score of the 1944 game between the teams was to detect German spies wearing American uniforms. Sixty-six years after #1 Army's 49-0 beatdown of #5 Notre Dame, the two teams meet in Yankee Stadium again this Saturday.

Only this time, a game between two unranked, middle-of-the-pack Big Ten teams -- Illinois and Northwestern -- is a bigger deal, at least according to ESPN's College Gameday. Some ND apologists argue that Gameday is only going to Wrigley Field for the Zook/NW game because that game's on ESPN, unlike the ND game, which is on NBC (7:00 kickoff). But that argument holds little water, as anyone who watched Gameday's appearance in Salt Lake City for the TCU-Utah game a few weeks ago can attest.

Notre Dame football has become a shell of what it used to be. Indeed, the scores of stories about the Yankee Stadium rivalry all remind the reader that Notre Dame is a lot like Army: a program that used to be great, but that now just has a great tradition.  The ND faithful will insist that their program still can land great recruiting classes. But ND's highly-rated recruits are just another way of proving the Deon Butler Postulate: college players are best judged by what they do on the college gridiron, not by how they were rated by some guy who earns his living obsessing over the athletic prowess of teenagers.

The program at ND has been in free fall for some time, and Brian Kelly has not been the panacea that some, myself included, expected him to be. Between the tragic death of the student videographer, a home loss to Tulsa, and their 3rd loss in four year's against Navy, it's hard to put your finger on what's gone and continues to go wrong in South Bend. Personally, I think it all goes back to ND's firing of George O'Leary for lying on his resume about academic credentials that had little to do with his hiring. Between that and firing Ty Willingham for being black, Notre Dame made some rash personnel decisions that upset the football gods and banished the program into mediocrity.

All things considered, it's probably better that we ended up with Nebraska instead of the Irish in the Big Ten. Onto the games and the gambling:

Purdue Boilermakers at Michigan St Spartans (12:00, Big Ten Network) MSU -19.5; o/u 48

Michigan State's coming off a bye week, and Purdue is held together with duct tape. Big game for both teams: Sparty has to win to stay in the hunt for the conference championship, and despite a relentless string of injuries, Purdue could miraculously become bowl eligible if they win in Spartan Stadium and beat Indiana in their season finale next week.  If Rob Henry, the one time third string quarterback who's made a McGloin-esque rise to become the best eligible quarterback for the Boilermakers, can play the whole game, I think Purdue might actually have a chance to win. But he doesn't, and they don't. I still like them to cover, though.

Prediction: MSU 27 - Purdue 10

Wisconsin Badgers at Michigan Wolverines (12:00, ESPN) wisc -4; o/u 67

Michigan seemed to turn a corner against Illinois, but they played awfully last week, turning the ball over 5 times and barely besting a beat-up Purdue team. Wisconsin looked suspect at the beginning of the year, but managed to win against weak competition before being upset by Sparty. Since then, they've run the table and looked impressive doing it, with wins against Iowa and Ohio State. They drubbed Indiana 83-20 last week, much like they drubbed Austin Peay 70-3 early in the season. The week after they destroyed AP, they lost to Michigan State. The week after they destroyed the Hoosiers, they're going to lose to Michigan.

Prediction: Michigan 35 - Wisconsin 31

Illinois Fighting Illini v. Northwestern Wildcats (at Wrigley Field; 3:30, ESPNU) ill -8; o/u 49

A big question mark in this one is how well Northwestern's Evan Watkins will be able to fill in for the injured Dan Persa, who leads the nation in passing accuracy and arguably deserves to win the Big Ten's offensive MVP this year even though he'll miss the final two games. Watkins is bigger than Persa, less of a threat to run, and a native Chicagoan, so he knows how big this game is. I think Watkins will play fine, though not exceptionally well. Another question is whether Illinois can rebound from consecutive losses to Michigan and Minnesota to become bowl eligible. At bottom, I think this one comes down to coaching, and there's little doubt in my mind that Pat Fitzgerald is better than Ron Zook. The game in the Bronx might be more historic, but the crowd at this one will be drunker.

Prediction: Northwestern 21 - Illinois 20

Ohio St Buckeyes at Iowa Hawkeyes (3:30, ABC/ESPN3) osu -3; o/u 48

The biggest game of the day in the Big Ten features the 9th ranked Buckeyes visiting Kinnick Stadium to take on the 20th ranked Hawkeyes. Tressel v. Ferentz; Pryor v. Stanzi; bad special teams v. worse special teams. Ohio State's won 6 of their last 7 in Iowa City, and won last year in overtime in Columbus in a game that Stanzi missed with an injury. But the Buckeyes are a paltry 2-1 on the road this year, losing to Wisconsin, keeping it close against Illinois, and crushing Minnesota. Iowa's defense rebounds after last week's poor showing and Stanzi has a career day. Pryor will make some plays with his feet, but the Buckeyes just aren't that much better than the rest of the league.

Prediction: Iowa 26 - Ohio State 24

Penn St. Nittany Lions v. Indiana Hoosiers (at FedEx Field; 12:00, BTN) psu -10; o/u 56.5

See the BSD staff picks tomorrow.

BYE: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Last week: 3-2 Against the Spread; 3-2 Straight up; Overall: 17-18 ATS; 24-11 SU