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Big Ten Preview: Week Eleven

Jonathan Daniel

Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2) at Indiana (4-5, 2-3)
Line: Wisconsin -7

This is a battle for who gets to represent the Leaders division in the Big Ten title game this year, which virtually no one saw coming before the season started. Wisconsin is, on paper and historically, the superior team in this matchup, but the Hoosiers have been playing very well in all their games (including the losses), and with the season-ending injury to freshman QB Joel Stave in the Badgers' last game, Bret Bielema has yet to decide whether Danny O'Brien or Curt Phillips will be starting. Either way, the Badgers will be relying on RB Montee Ball to carry the offense this week--and Ball has been another one underperforming this season.
Likely winner: push.
Indiana's trending up, while Wisconsin is treading water. Indiana has already scored more points this season than it did in all of 2011, and with the last two weeks, has won its first Big Ten games since the 2010 season. Also, remarkably, the Hoosiers' D has only given up 17 points in the last 102 minutes of game time. Their offense should test the Wisconsin defense, which hasn't looked as great as advertised, and this may be a fairly high scoring contest.

Purdue (3-6, 0-5) at Iowa (4-5, 2-3)
Line: Iowa -5

Both teams are trending down right now, and looking to get bowl eligible--which, pre-season, seemed a no-brainer for both squads. Iowa's offense behind QB James Vandenberg hasn't looked very good this season, but their defense has been decent--and should be able to put pressure on borderline cyborg QB Robert Marve, who will be starting again for the Boilermakers. Expect one-time starters Caleb TerBush and Rob Henry to, much like last week, see some time in this game, but it may not make a difference. Iowa RB Mark Weisman is still questionable for Saturday, and despite injuries to the offensive line, the Hawkeye offense should be able to score enough with or without his inclusion.
Likely winner: Iowa
Expect Purdue coach Danny Hope's seat to get really, really hot this week. Though both teams have been underperforming this season, the Hawkeyes have at least been somewhat competetive in their losses the last two weeks, to Northwestern and Indiana; aside from their surprising trip to Columbus, the same can't be said of Purdue's string of losses in the Big Ten. This should be a low-scoring game, which favors the Hawkeyes.

Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) at Michigan (6-3, 4-1)
Line: Michigan -10.5

The Wildcats are the underdog this week, despite being ranked in all polls this week. They were on a bye last week, and that should help a struggling Northwestern defense to prepare for a Wolverine offense that finally got its feet back last week in their win over Minnesota, behind backup QB Devin Gardner. Starting Michigan QB (and team rallier) Denard Robinson is still questionable this week versus the Wildcats, but it may not make a difference; Gardner wasn't inserted when Robinson went down versus Nebraska (Russell Bellomy got the time), but he was impressive last week, both on the ground and in the air. Despite having a weird game plan against the Nittany Lions a few weeks ago, the Wildcats have rightfully turned to Kain Colter to run their offense, having him become more of a passing threat in addition to his running ability. Look for Northwestern to try to run a lot, behind Colter and RB Venric Mark; it may not be enough to win this week, though.
Likely winner: Michigan
The Wolverine defense is much improved this year, and should limit Northwestern enough to allow the Michigan offense to score what is needed in this game. Northwestern's run defense has been very good this year, but they haven't faced a quarterback as dynamic as Robinson (except maybe in practice)--and their secondary has been an issue. The Wolverines, meanwhile, lead the conference in scoring defense, total defense, and pass defense. And defense should be where this game is won.

Minnesota (5-4, 1-4) at Illinois (2-7, 0-5)
Line: Minnesota -3

I get that, since B1G conference play has started, Minnesota has underperformed. But seriously, Vegas? It's 2012 Illinois.
Likely winner: Minnesota
With how both teams have been playing, this shouldn't be as close as the line suggests. Minnesota has finally found a good quarterback in true freshman Philip Nelson, despite their offensive output (or lack thereof) last week versus Michigan. Former QB MarQueis Gray has been utilized as a WR, and is a threat when he touches the ball (I'm still expecting a flea-flicker or two). Illinois, on the other hand, despite all the talent they have, still has Tim Beckman as a coach--and Jerry Kill should be able to outcoach him this week with two hands tied behind his back.

Michigan State vs BYE
Ohio State vs BYE