Taking a look at this week's Big Ten football games.
Welp. Iowa lost their first conference game but still sits at 2-1 in conference play. While the Penn State drubbing of the Hawks leaves little hope for the remaining season there are still games to be played. And that means there's still a chance. So, here are the Big Ten games this week in order of importance to Iowa's Legends Division title hopes.
MICHIGAN AT NEBRASKA 7:00 PM CDT ESPN2. This could be the game that determines the Legends Division winner. Michigan is coming off an emotional win over in-state rival Michigan State and will travel to Lincoln to take on a Cornhusker team that survived a trip to Evanston. Michigan is a perfect 3-0 in Big Ten play and have won three games in-a-row since their loss to Notre Dame. A win for the Huskers evens each teams Big Ten record and Nebraska would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Wolverines.
Both teams love to run the football and are averaging over 200 rushing yards a game (Nebraska is at an excellent 279 ypg). On the defensive side is where both teams differ. Michigan is allowing only 285 total yards per game while the Huskers allow 357. Last week, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez was able to light up the Northwestern secondary for 342 yards in the air. The Michigan defense is giving up only 142 yards passing yards per game and have yet to allow a team 200 yards passing in a game.
Watch out for Denard Robinson returning kicks, or at least getting on the field as a decoy. As Denard goes, so go the Wolverines. Vegas likes Nebraska at home in a high scoring game. I'll predict Michigan to win a tough one on the road, 37-30.
INDIANA AT ILLINOIS 11:00 AM CDT BIG TEN NETWORK. Neither team is in the Legends Division but Indiana is next on Iowa's schedule following Northwestern. Last week, I mentioned the importance of Indiana losing to Navy and not riding momentum into the Iowa game. Navy used 257 yards rushing on 57 carries to take down the Hoosiers 31-30. Illinois had a week to recoup after four losses in-a-row with a bye.
This is an odd match-up of a terrible defense (Indiana) versus a terrible offense (Illinois). Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is good to go and that should bode well for the Illini. Illinois is averaging just seven points per game in their last three. Indiana is surrendering 39.8 over their last five. Something has got to give and I say it's the Hoosiers. Vegas likes Illinois and so do I. Illinois 27, Indiana 24.
PURDUE AT MINNESOTA 2:30 PM CDT BIG TEN NETWORK. For probably the same reason as above (Purdue is two games ahead on the Iowa schedule) we'll place this game here. The Boilers waltzed into the Shoe as huge underdogs and took Ohio State to overtime before the Buckeyes escaped with the win. After allowing Michigan and Wisconsin to run wild against their defense Purdue showed signs of life. The Gophers, on the other hand, were the next victims of the re-surging Wisconsin rushing attack and were blown out by Bucky 38-13 in the battle of the Ax.
It seems like a long time ago Minnesota was 4-0 heading to Kinnick Stadium. They've since dropped three in-a-row by average score of 30-13. The Gophers have gone to a true freshman quarterback to lead them. Senior MarQueis Gray's ankle injury has him as a wide receiver now. Max Shortell was deemed ineffective and Gopher coach Jerry Kill believes the time is now for Phillip Nelson.
Despite the tough loss and solid defense Purdue is still staring at a three game losing streak. They've, perhaps, passed the toughest part of their schedule with games against Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State in the rearview mirror. While they sit at 3-4 on the season there's still Minnesota, Penn State, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana left to play. A bowl game is in reach if they don't let the wheels fall off. Purdue is the slight favorite in this one and I'll stick with the Boilers. Purdue 20, Minnesota 10.
MICHIGAN STATE AT WISCONSIN 2:30 PM CDT ESPN/ABC. The Spartans have lost three of their last four and heartbreaking losses in consecutive weeks. Their hopes of a Legends Division crown have disappeared and they are left to play the role of spoiler. The Badgers have won three games in-a-row and have scored over 30 points in each victory. This is a match-up of two teams going in two different directions.
The Badgers seem to have found the answer to early season woes that plagued their offense, particularly the running game. Mon-tay Ball is running like the Heisman candidate many predicted in the preseason. The Badger offense will get a real test this week as their 200 yards rushing per game offense faces the conference's toughest defense. Michigan State has allowed a team over 200 yards rushing only once this season (Ohio State) but allowed 123 yards to Iowa and 163 yards to Michigan in back-to-back weeks.
These teams were pegged by some in the preseason to meet again in the Big Ten Championship game. The Badgers and the Spartans had the makings of an intense rivalry. With Michigan State's struggles the shine is off this one but still expect a solid battle. Vegas likes the Badgers at home by almost a touchdown. I'll say they make it two. Wisconsin 28, Michigan State 14.
OHIO STATE AT PENN STATE 4:30 PM CDT ESPN. It may be the best game on the Big Ten slate but it also has the least meaning to Iowa. The fans of both teams will tell you this game means the world but in reality, it doesn't mean much. They can still earn the distinction of Leaders Division champion, and even a trophy. Neither team will play in the Big Ten Championship game or participate in a Bowl game.
The Buckeyes survived their trap game at home against Purdue. They nearly suffered more than just a loss when quarterback Braxton Miller left the game and was taken to a nearby hospital. Miller suffered a neck sprain and has been cleared to play this week against Penn State. The Buckeyes still have hopes of a perfect season and for Braxton Miller, a trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation.
Penn State came off their bye week and thrashed the Hawkeyes on the road. New head coach Bill O'Brien's NASCAR offense has been red hot and is averaging 37 points per game in Big Ten play. The defense has been equally impressive allowing all three opponents an average of only 68 yards rushing per game.
Ohio State's offense is averaging 48 points per game over its last three Big Ten games. This is truly a battle of two high powered teams but Vegas only puts the over/under at 50.5. The Nittany Lions are the slight favorite (-1) but the game is a straight-up pick 'em at some books. I'll take Penn State and by a lot. PSU 31, Ohio State 20.
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