Friday, October 31, 2008
Amazing how fast time goes by when you are swamped with life! Alas, it is already Friday and that means football is upon us. Two big boys - PSU and OSU - get to rest for the stretch, but everyone else is ready and rarin' to go.
BruceS will be picking with me this week and I have an overall two game lead with four regular season weeks and bowl season to go. Can anyone catch me?
Central Michigan at Indiana - Well, the Hoosiers finally got back on a winning track last weekend, but can they pull off another win this go around? Central Michigan is arguably one of the best teams in the MAC and IU already got bull-whipped by a MAC foe at home. The Hoosiers need wins to get back to a bowl game. Kellen Lewis is due back, but is he healthy enough to spell the difference? The Hoosiers are clearly different when he is at his best and running the show. CMU has been escaping of late, but won't be the latest MAC team to beat a Big Ten team. Indiana 31 - CMU 27.
BruceS says ... CMU has the QB to cause problems most teams. However, IU's big win last weekend will give them enough momentum to carry them through to another "W" this week against a good MAC team. IU 31 CMU 27.
Michigan at Purdue - The Loser Stays Home for the Holidays Bowl! Had you asked me back in August, I would have guessed this would have New Year's Day implications, not Motor City Bowl or Bust implications. Michigan has lost four straight. Purdue has lost five of six and sits in dead last. Both teams have major offensive challenges. Purdue's are tougher yet though with former Heisman candidate Curtis Painter likely on the rack with a bum shoulder. Purdue can't lose every league tilt, can they? Michigan can't keep looking completely helpless, can they? If ties were possible, that would be my call. Michigan 13 - Purdue 9.
BruceS says ... A game pitting two teams under performing according to everyone's preseason predictions. Purdue, at home, will be able to throw on a weak UM defense enough to get the win. Michigan is just not very good this year and it is payback time for a lot of teams. Purdue 31 Michigan 24.
Northwestern at Minnesota - A week ago, this would have been an epic battle of two of the nicest stories in the Big Ten this fall. That was before Tyrell Suton was lost for the season and C.J. Bacher came up lame at Indiana. Minnesota is firing on all cylinders and its offense will provide all sorts of trouble for the Wildcats' defense. The Gophers are also taking the ball from teams more than a bully takes candy from the neighborhood nerd. Too many chips are against NU so Minnesota keeps on rolling. Minnesota 45 - Northwestern 31.
BruceS says ... Minny playing very well and should prevail against a banged up NW team. NW just won't be able to outscore the Gophers with Sutton out and Bacher hurt. Minnesota 34 Northwestern 20
Wisconsin at Michigan State - My game of the week. Wisconsin surely isn't as bad as their 4-4 (1-4) record. Michigan State has to prove it can overcome jubilation (win over Michigan) much in the same way it did adversity (ugly loss to OSU). The Badgers seem to be moving forward now that Sherer is at the helm and the stable of dinged but good tailbacks are a force to be reckoned with. The Spartans have a shot at a Big Ten title and that keeps them focused. Ringer might run on UW like Greene did a few weeks back and look for Hoyer to be solid again. It will be close, just like Vegas is calling, with redemption for Swenson... Michigan State 27 - Wisconsin 24.
BruceS says ... The Spartans are on a mission and seem to be focused each and every week. Wisconsin has been up and down, but coming off a good win to help their confidence. I give the edge to the home team with more to fight for. Another win for the good guys. GO GREEN! Michigan State 35 Wisconsin 24
Iowa at Illinois - This is a close runner-up to MSU-WIS as the game of the week. Both teams are in the bowl hunt. Illinois is due to come back up after another head-scratching performance last weekend. Iowa should be fresh off its bye and has a chance to get bowl eligible just ahead of its biggest game of the year (PSU comes to town). Iowa has one of the best defensive units in the Big Ten. Illinois moves the ball at will on most. Something's gotta give. Iowa has won five straight in the series and 8 of the last 10. Which Illinois team will show up? In a game like this, the better defense wins... make it: Iowa 26 - Illinois 24.
BruceS says ... These two teams are like two elevators traveling in opposite directions; one going up while the other is going down. Iowa is playing like many predicted at the beginning of the season while Illinois has been a disappointment to many. Iowa continues their winning ways with a good road win in Champaign. Iowa 24 Illinois 21
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Okay, first off, I do try hard to be fair and unbiased here, but putting on my Spartans fan hat - man that victory felt good! Yes, it came when State should have won and they way they did. But still, green and whiters all over the world know, it is still a win over our rival. Now that I got it out of my system (at least for the blog!) let's look around the league from top to bottom...
Penn State - huge win in Columbus. Much like Michigan State, the Nittany Lions won somewhere they hadn't in years. Only it had been since 1978 since JoePa had the Buckeyes' number in the 'shoe. Everyone is quick to assume this team will run the table, but I promise you Iowa will be no gimme, nor will Michigan State at the end. Should PSU win out? You bet. Will they? Stay tuned. It would be great for the Big Ten to get the Nittany Lions into the BCS Title game but there is a lot of football to be played. The bye week comes at an opportune time. Time to rest, refocus and reload with eyes on the prize.
Ohio State - Terrelle Pryor's freshman tendencies finally bit the Buckeyes in the butt. The OSU offense was stagnant against a great Penn State defense and that put the onus squarely on the super-frosh's shoulders. He'll learn from this and the Buckeyes will be that much better for it down the road, but any last gasp hopes for a third straight trip to the BCS promised land have ended. The Buckeyes can still run the table, go 10-2 and make a BCS game, but there has to be some level of disappointment in a college town used to playing for all the marbles. OSU gets a week to get it back together before two trips to the state of Illinois and the season ender with Michigan. I can't wait to see how Pryor responds...
Michigan State - that long carried monkey off its back, Michigan State must next show it can rebound from success like it can rebound from failure. The Spartans will be favored in the next two games and if the green and white stay focused on the tasks at hand, can go into the final week with a Big Ten title on the line. When was the last time State was in the race this deep in the season? In reality, 1990. 1999 saw two straight losses that ended title hopes and 2003 saw a big drop off after the Michigan loss. A win against Wisconsin will not be easy, not in the least, but it will be interesting to see how the Spartans get up for this game.
Minnesota - the Golden Gophers are just quietly staying right at the top of the Big Ten race. Northwestern, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa remain on the schedule, three of those games at home. I know I keep wondering when Goldy will crash back to earth, but the deeper they go, the more I wonder if that will actually happen. No matter how the next four weeks go, this is the best comeback story in recent memory. If Minnesota keeps believing and finding a way, it could produce the biggest single season turnaround in NCAA history...
Northwestern - The Wildcats took a step back in the loss at Indiana and life doesn't get any easier, with Tyrell Sutton out for the regular season and C.J. Bacher questionable for Saturday. Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan and Illinois remain for a team desperate to get to at least seven wins, if not more. None will be easy. You could say the Wildcats will be favored in one (Michigan), perhaps in a second (Illinois) but facing tough tasks against OSU and Minnesota. The next few weeks will tell you if NU goes to Detroit or somewhere warm for the holidays.
Iowa - The Hawkeyes got to sit back, rest and watch the other ten teams in the conference beat up on each other last week. Iowa sits one game from bowl eligibility with four games left. The Hawkeyes travel to Illinois this weekend, play Penn State and Purdue at home and end on the road in Minnesota. Three wins seem well within reach and I will predict right now, Iowa will give Penn State all it can handle. First thing's first - travel to Illinois to face a wounded and dangerous Illini squad.
Illinois - This team has been as wild as a ride on Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point all season. Way up, way down. The Illini have beaten no one of consequence and still need at least a split in the last four to be considered for a bowl. That won't be easy with home games against Iowa and Ohio State, a trip to a neutral site to play a good MAC team (Western) and a road, rivalry tilt with Northwestern. Right now, I'm not so certain the men in orange will get two more wins and even then, I think it might take three to lock a bowl bid up. We'll see what Juice and Co. have in them when border rival Iowa comes calling.
Michigan - There are some mighty long streaks that are about to end in Ann Arbor. This sort of losing and frustration has not been a part of Michigan football in my lifetime, which begs the question - how patient are the M fans? Is this acceptable for one season and one season only? What about next year, when a freshman or redshirt freshman QB is calling the signals and the defense loses some top performers? Shorter term, the Wolverines just need a win. Purdue is the worst team in the Big Ten this year and Saturday is an official bowl elimination game in West Lafayette. That just might make it the game of the week...
Wisconsin - The Badgers seem to have found some rhythm with Dustin Sherer at the helm, but now that Travis Beckum is shelved for the season, who will he target when the pressure is turned up? Wisconsin is a dangerous team that is too proud not to get to six wins, but still has to travel to MSU and Indiana before a home date for Paul Bunyan's Axe. Cal Poly is a gimme in the finale, but the rest are dangerous. The Badgers might get a State team still giddy from last week but they certainly earned attention for their win over Illinois. Another good game coming up this week.
Indiana - IU got a surprising and much-needed home win over Northwestern last week and finally has a little momentum on its side. Central Michigan comes calling this week and the Hoosiers are fully aware of what a MAC team is capable of doing. The Hoosiers need at least three more wins and with a trip to Penn State still looming, that means taking care of business this week, against Wisconsin and then protecting the Old Oaken Bucket.
Purdue - Imagine what winning against Oregon would have done for this team. We might not be looking at the complete opposite (6-2 instead of 2-6) but we'd likely be seeing another Tiller team in a bowl game. That is about as likely to happen as seeing Michigan run the table. Time for Tiller to let Danny Hope play more of a role and start playing the young kids. Purdue will get another win somewhere, the question is, when, where and against whom?
Big Ten PotW: Call it homerism if you want, but I am going with Brian Hoyer and Javon Ringer from MSU at the co-Players of the Week. The tandem out-gained Michigan by themselves and accounted for all five scores in a big, rivalry win.
Get Gamm - BruceS was the only one aside from me to go 4-1, so Bruce, you get to pick with me this week...
Coming soon... pre-season basketball thoughts!
Thursday, October 23, 2008
We're gettin' to the nitty gritty. Big match-ups are starting to grace the slate in droves around the Big Ten. None this week bigger than PSU at OSU. Penn State hasn't won in C-bus since 1978. Ohio State has owned the Big Ten of late. Penn State has a shot at running the table and getting the national title that eluded them in 1994. OSU still has a shot at getting to a third straight title game. All that for ONE game! How will it all play out? Time to spill...
Illinois at Wisconsin
Call this one the "Disappointment Bowl." Illinois is 2-2 in the league and 4-3 overall and in need of a signature win. Wisconsin in riding a four game losing streak, two of those at home. The Illini need at least two wins to get to bowl eligibility. Wisconsin needs three. To say this game is critical is an understatement. On one hand, I cannot see Wisconsin's offense making the necessary improvements to get this "W." On the other, I cannot see Wisconsin losing a third straight game in Mad-town. QB play is critical for the Badgers' success. QB play is a given for Illinois. The difference is the home crowd and the UW defense. Wisconsin 31 - Illinois 24 in OT.
AndrewJ1313 says ... Who would have thought going into this game that neither of these teams would be ranked? Juice Williams is a rare talent but unfortunately outside of him, the offense struggles. Wisconsin started 3-0, had a bye week and has yet to return from it. Both teams are not living up to the pre-season hype and while Illinois has looked better as of late (and didn't lose to a terrible Michigan team), I think a wounded Badger squad returns home and gets a much needed W. The Badgers can't lose 3 at home - right? That's really all I'm basing this pick on. Wisconsin 32, Illinois 27
Northwestern at Indiana
This season has quickly run away from the Hoosiers. IU was the feel good story in the Big Ten a year ago, but since being bull whipped by Ball State, Indiana hasn't done squat. Part of it is due to the injuries to Kellen Lewis. A bigger part is the loss of 3/4 of the secondary to injury. Neither bodes well with a hot Wildcats team coming into Bloomington. Northwestern has a great, great chance to get to a New Year's Day bowl berth, but has to win games like this to do so. Northwestern squeaks by an inspired Indiana team. Northwestern 34 - Indiana 33.
AndrewJ1313 says ... Northwestern is the second biggest surprise in the Big Ten this year and they are already bowl eligible. Now they can focus on the quality of bowl game they go to. The remaining schedule looks to have two sure wins, two toss ups and a real struggle that will probably be a loss. One of the sure wins should come this weekend against Indiana. The only thing going in Indiana's favor right now is they don't have Ohio State on the schedule. At this rate, Indiana might (MIGHT) have just one win left on the schedule. I hate to see Indiana take such a huge step backwards after a solid 2007. Northwestern 32, Indiana 21
Minnesota at Purdue
Talk about a tale of two teams going in entirely different directions. The promise of a great send off for Joe Tiller is now mired in horrible play and in-team fighting. Kory Sheets blasted Curtis Painter, and Tiller more or less called Sheets ignorant for doing so. Ouch. Not what a team desperately in search of a win needs right now. Meanwhile, Minnesota comes in after a BYE, is a shocking 6-1 and looking to build to a great bowl berth. Two things could happen in W.L. this weekend: Purdue could rally and respond and show some heart while gaining a critical win, or Minnesota could come in and flat out roll a team in turmoil. I want to believe the former, but until Purdue shows me something - anything - I am going with the latter. Minnesota 40 - Purdue 31.
AndrewJ1313 says ... Minnesota is the biggest surprise in the Big Ten this year and Purdue is the second biggest disappointment (see Michigan for the first although Wisconsin is vying for that honor). In Minnesota's one loss, they never stopped fighting. This team, like Northwestern, is bowl eligible and now looking to determine where they go this holiday season and that is going to help this team surge through the remainder of their schedule pulling out at least two more wins. Purdue just hasn't been the same since that blown opportunity against Oregon. The one bright spot is Purdue's defense held both Penn St. and OSU in check keeping both under 20 points but fell apart against Northwestern. Playing at home might help Purdue put together a winning effort this weekend. Minnesota 26, Purdue 24
Michigan State at Michigan
Michigan State is going to run first and foremost. No surprise there. The surprise will be the ease with which the Spartans do so. Ringer will go Cobb & Duckett (200+) on the U-M defense. Hoyer will be sharp enough to keep the M defense honest. No one on the Michigan offense can approach Beanie Wells or Terrelle Pryor in terms of escapability and scare factor. I like the special teams play of the green and white all day, every day over U-M. State jumps out early and often and cruises to its biggest win in the series since 1967 and in the process pretty much cements Michigan's first losing campaign since that same year. Michigan State 31 - Michigan 14. (For my full, biased preview, go to my other blog)
AndrewJ1313 says ... Like Andy said, "U-G-L-Y." That pretty much sums up Michigan. Michigan State was in the wrong place at the wrong time last week when Ohio State's offense finally woke up. I don't think the 45-7 loss is an indication of MSU collapsing again like they did under JLS, I attribute it to OSU playing like they should have all year. I can still see this team getting to 9 wins (mainly because only one of their remaining opponents has a winning record) and possibly playing in the Outback Bowl. Michigan St. 28, Michigan 20
Penn State at Ohio State
Best game in college football this weekend. Winner takes the Big Ten. Winner stays in the National Title race. The Nittany Lions haven't won in C-bus as a member of the Big Ten. Haven't won there since 1978. Ohio State is coming off its best game of the season. The offense and defense clicked together in East Lansing and all the bounces went the way of the scarlet and gray. In a game where literally everything is equal, it comes down to QB play. Daryl Clark is more experienced than Pryor, even if the two are mirrors of one another athletically. Penn State got the Michigan monkey off its back and now they get the C-BUS off their back. Penn State 23 - Ohio State 17.
AndrewJ1313 says ... Game of the week in college football (that pick was easy). No team in the country has looked more complete on all sides of the ball then Penn State. People can pick on their schedule all they want, but the bottom line is Penn State is winning the games they are suppose to the way they are suppose to. Let's see if PSU is as good as advertised. Ohio State FINALLY played like the team everyone thought they were in a dismantling of MSU. The key for this week for both teams will be the defensive line. If OSU's d-line can get pressure and allow the secondary and LB's to roam and make plays like they did last week, I think OSU will dominate this game. If PSU's d-line pressures and contains Pryor we may see Boeckman come in to air out the ball and stretch the field, but we've all seen how Boeckman has handled the pressure of the last three big games he's played in dating back to last year (Illinois, LSU, So. Cal). I really think OSU has found it's grove and needs this game to prove to everyone that this team can perform on the big stage again. GO BUCKS!!! OSU 30, Penn St. 24
Monday, October 20, 2008
Monday afternoon QB and half season reviews...
Well, we found out a little more about the Big Ten this past weekend. Congrats to AndrewJ1313 for going 5-0 and getting the tiebreaker over fellow nut Buckeye Nation. AJ - you know the drill.
Along the path this season, we have found out a lot about the Big Ten - the topsy, turvy (compared to my preseason predictions) Big Ten. Follow along for a look at where each team stands in general, and compared to what I saw heading into the season. Also, see who BigTen.org has chosen for POTW honors compared to yours truly...
Player of the Week ... The Big Ten folks and I agree this week, though the choice was actually tougher than you might think. I really liked what Terrelle Pryor did against Michigan State. But how can you pass on Shon Greene? This guy is a monster and gives the Big Ten the three best backs in the nation - in my opinion (Greene, Ringer, Wells).
Team by Team - some comments on where teams stand and the mid-season review of my predictions versus reality (in order of my best to worst predictions to date)...
Minnesota - No big surprise here that Minnesota is the team I missed the mark on by the most to this point in the season. The Gophers are four games better than I predicted and well on their way to one of the best bounce back seasons in NCAA history.
I picked Minnesota to finish tied for 9th, with a 2-2 OOC slate, 2-6 conference record and 4-8 finish. To this point in the season, I had the maroon and gold pegged to be 2-5 (2-2/0-3). Instead, the Golden Gophers are 6-1 (4-0/2-1).
There are five games left and nothing will be easy, but eight wins seems like a lock at this point. That should be good for the Champs or Alamo Bowl.
Indiana - This one is at least mildly surprising, given what talent Indiana brought back this year, but injuries have killed this team and it just doesn't look to get any better the rest of the way. IU probably won't be favored to win again this year, making them the bizzaro Minnesota.
I picked the Hoosiers to finish tied for 7th, with a 4-0 OOC record, a 3-5 conference finish, good for 7-5 and a bowl berth. As former IU boss Lee Corso would say, uh, not so fast my friend. To this point in the season, I had the cream and crimson5-2 (3-0/2-2). Rather, the Hoosiers are 2-5 (2-1/0-4).
There are five games left and IU won't be expected to win any of them, including when Central Michigan comes calling. Grind out what you can and hope it doesn't kill the future completely.
Michigan - Apparently, I got caught drinking the RichRod cool-aid. Or at least I thought he might not try so forcefully and frequently to jam the square pegs he inherited into the round holes he was introducing. The offense, is, well, offensive. The defense is nothing like we thought it would be. The special teams - average at best.
I picked U-M to finish tied for seventh - so I'm not far off there - with a run of 4-0 and 3-5 to go 7-5 and make the Champs Sports Bowl. Yikes, not even close. My predictions had the Wolverines at 5-2 (4-0/1-2) right now. Instead, the maize and blue are 2-5 (1-3/1-2).
Michigan also has five games left. The Wolverines might be favored in one (at Purdue). This will be the worst season since 1967 and the end of a lengthy reign as the team to go to the most consecutive bowl games.
Purdue - Hmm, much like I got caught up in the spread offense hype that is Rich Rodriguez and the "new" Michigan, I got busted thinking Purdue might send Joe Tiller out with a gusto. Maybe it was the way the Boilers lost to Oregon. Maybe this team just wasn't that good to begin with. Either way, this might be the second time in Tiller's long tenure that the Boilermakers are home for the holidays.
I picked PU to finish in solo sixth place with a 7-5 (3-1/4-4) record and an Insight Bowl berth. At the Big Ten midpoint, I had the gold and black 4-3 (3-1/1-2). Reality? 2-5 (2-2/0-3).
Purdue has to win four of give just to become bowl eligible. That won't be easy. At least Purdue should send J.T. out with a rivalry win. That's going to have to be the rallying cry now because a bowl game is a big, BIG stretch...
Wisconsin - Oh how the mighty have fallen. After Coach Bielema started off 17-1, his Badgers have gone a very ho-hum 7-8. Included in that are the stunning loss to Michigan and the absolute annihilations at the hands of Penn State and rival Iowa. The Badgers can rebound but will they?
I am two games off on UW at this point, but the past four have been downright ugly (well, except for one half at Michigan and generally against OSU. I had the Badgers tied for 2nd at 8-4 (3-1/5-3) and heading to the Alamo Bowl preseason. At the conference mid point, I had Wisconsin earmarked at 5-2 (2-1/3-1). Instead, the Badgers are 3-4 (3-0/0-4) and mired in the longest losing streak in Madison since 1996.
The Badgers have their work cut out for them with what appears to be two sure wins left and three toss ups. I think there will be a slight rebound, but it will be just six or seven wins for this team en route to the Insight Bowl at best...
Penn State - I said it before, I'll say it again - this is the best Penn State team I have seen since 1994. Yes, the 2005 team was excellent (11-1) but something about this team reminds me an awful lot of the team that got jobbed out of a share of the National Title in 1994. My level of accuracy completely depends on this weekend's game in C-bus...
Penn State has even surprised me a little - I'm two games off so far. With the losses along the front seven on defense for myriad reasons, I thought for certain this would be a very good, not great, Penn State team. I was wrong. I picked the Nittany Lions to go 9-3 (4-0, 5-3) and tie for second - eking out a BCS berth a la Illinois a season ago. Halfway through, I saw the Nits at 6-2 (4-0/2-2) but they are 8-0 (4-0/4-0) and on a roll.
Penn State stays squarely in the Big Ten and National Title pictures with a signature win at Ohio State and probably stays on pace for the BCS and another double digit win season even if they lose to the Buckeyes.
Iowa - Iowa is one of those teams I was wavered on a bit this summer. I loved the defense, hated the offense. Little did I know Shon Greene would emerge as he has. The defense has been fantastic and the offense is coming around. Sometimes it's a fine line between a winning season and a losing campaign, but Iowa is walking the right side of that line right now.
I picked Iowa to finish tied for 9th - shows what I know - with a record of 5-7 (3-1/2-6). The Hawkeyes are poised to prove me wrong and then some. Given my prediction, Iowa should be 4-4 right now (3-1/1-3) but instead sits at 5-3 (3-1/2-2). The schedule doesn't ease up much, but there should be more victories in sight.
This week is a bye for Iowa and there is at least one more very winnable game (Purdue) left. I think Iowa finds a way to get two, maybe three more, finish up 7-5 or 8-4 and battle for the Champs or Alamo Bowl.
Northwestern - The Wildcats are a fun team to watch this year. They play with a ton of passion and love for the game, no doubt passed along by their Hall of Fame coach. I actually am not all that far off my prediction for NU at this point, but I think they'll blow it away...
I predicted a 6-6 (4-0/2-6) record and a tie for 9th place for the purple and black. I figured the back loaded schedule might burn them but I am cruising to be wrong. So far, I had the Wildcats marked to be 5-2 (4-0/1-2) but they are instead 6-1 (4-0/2-1) and looking strong. The back-loaded schedule, which consists of Michigan and Indiana (also OSU, Illinois and Minnesota) sets the men in purple up for a nice finish.
On the low side, NU will win two more games. I'm thinking it will be more like three, however, meaning the Wildcats will finish 9-3. That will be good enough for the Outback Bowl as one of the most improved teams in the nation. Wouldn't it be great to see a Northwestern-Vandy match-up in Tampa?
Illinois - The Illini have been a bit disappointing. While the losses to Mizzou and Penn State were nothing to cry over, the loss to Minnesota at home was borderline unforgivable, no matter how much better the Gophers might be. Juice Williams is an absolute monster this year, but Illinois is missing Mendenhall on "O" and Lehman on "D".
I predicted a 9-3 (4-0/5-3) finish and a tie for second place, with a Capital One berth for the Illini. To get there, I had them at 5-2 (3-0/2-2) at this point of the season). Reality isn't that far off as Illinois is 4-3 (2-1/2-2) but something about the inconsistency bothers me a little.
The pending trip to wounded Wisconsin is much tougher than it looks. So is the neutral site game against Western Michigan. The Illini still entertain Iowa and Ohio State and travel to Northwestern. Three wins is doable, but I expect nothing more than that, which means 7-5 and a likely trip to the Insight or Motor City Bowl.
Michigan State - OSU lambasting aside, Michigan State is actually a game ahead of the pace I set for them. The Spartans are far more consistent this year than in years past and seem to have a bit more of that "it" quality needed to persevere and win games. The loss to Ohio State proved that there is still a talent gap and that MSU has work to do, but the Spartans look better than expected right now and are set up for a nice finish.
I had the green and white going 8-4 (3-1/5-3), good for a tie for second and an Outback Bowl berth. That record equates to a prediction of 5-3 (3-1/2-2) at this point in time. MSU is one game better than that, however and should be favored the next three weeks.
The next three opponents that the Spartans face are a combined 1-10 in the Big Ten right now. None of them will be gimmes, but look for State to get its first win in Ann Arbor since before I was in college this weekend and to get to nine wins and a trip back to the Capital One Bowl.
Ohio State - The Buckeyes are exactly where I had them pegged to be. Well, except I didn't think we'd have the full time Pryor show yet and there were some more struggles than expected in that start. Still, the scarlet and gray served notice to the nation in East Lansing that the Buckeyes are not dead and in fact might be poised for the title game berth trifecta.
I had Ohio State going 11-1 (3-1/8-0), finishing solo first place and making it back to the national title game. They are right no pace right now and are exactly (down to the right loss) where I had them pegged.
Saturday's battle with Penn State is, in essence, for all the Big Ten marbles. Upsets can and will happen, but the winner is squarely in the driver's seat. In order for my prediction to remain on track, OSU needs the win. I won't pick that one until I have to, but I will say this - OSU loses no more than one more en route to some sort of BCS berth...
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Hard to believe it, but we're already to week eight of the Big Ten football season. Wow! Basketball practice starts tomorrow, the NHL season is underway - seems like we just started pining for football season to hurry up and get here.
As we get deeper in the season, we get into the meaty match-ups. We've got one for sure this weekend with the Buckeyes heading to East Lansing, where they haven't lost since 1999. Don't sleep on the other games though, there are still quite a few with something to say in the Big Ten race.
Since St. Louis Spartan is bogged down with his new job, he'll just bask in the win this week. Without further delay...
Purdue at Northwestern - This has the makings of a really interesting game. Purdue has scored all of nine points the past two weeks and while the schedule eases up a little from the past two weeks (PSU and OSU) the Boilers get a Northwestern team stung by a home loss and chomping at the bit to get back in the Big Ten race.
Purdue has lost four of five and Curtis Painter has seen his Heisman hype flushed. Northwestern is a win away from bowl eligibility and has its sights set on the best finish in recent memory. The real difference maker might be the fact that Purdue is the only team to slow down Penn State's offense to date. Then again, Northwestern is much better on D as well this year. I like the way the 'cats offense has been playing more than I like Purdue's defense. The drought continues for one and the one-game set back ends for the other. Northwestern 31 - Purdue 20.
Wisconsin at Iowa - Another one that should be quite interesting. Iowa took out three weeks of frustration on Indiana last weekend and is feeling better about itself. Wisconsin is mired in a three game streak of futility. I wonder how much that loss at Michigan hurt this team because aside from hanging with Ohio State for most of that game, this team looks nothing like it did up to halftime in Ann Arbor.
Wisconsin may be making a quarterback switch and that may make the difference. This offense is predicated on mistake free football at quarterback and a pounding ground game. Neither has come to fruition of late. Iowa has perhaps the best defense the Badgers will have faced to date making quarterback play even more of a premium. I don't like what I saw in the Badgers last weekend and think Iowa is in better shape at this point. UW goes to 0-4 in conference play and Iowa keeps on the right track. Iowa 20 - Wisconsin 17.
Ohio State at Michigan State - The game of the week in the Big Ten and one of the best games in the country that will undoubtedly get little national love. I'm bummed to have to watch this on DVR tape delay, since my son's team plays at the same time. I can only imagine how much Spartan Stadium will rock for what is the biggest home game since State was favored over Michigan in 2005.
Ohio State seems in a bit of turmoil with some seniors throwing their support behind Todd Boeckman and wavering a bit on Terrelle Pryor. OSU's offense has been less than stellar for much of the season but Beanie Wells is a beast. Michigan State's defense will need to continue its strong play inside the red zone while the offense needs to find a way to break Javon Ringer loose. My gut says the play action will work and the MSU receivers and QB Brian Hoyer will have their best game to date. Brett Swenson kicks a game winner at the buzzer... Michigan State 23 - Ohio State 21.
Michigan at Penn State - Well, this might be the year that Penn State gets that Michigan monkey off its back. The Nittany Lions have lost nine in a row against the maize and blue but this is the worst Michigan team I have seen in my lifetime - PERIOD. Penn State is very good and hungry to make a run at the Big Ten and National title.
I do expect Michigan's best shot of the season in a last gasp effort to make things right. Trouble is, Penn State is too good for Michigan right now. I think this is a game for a half but no longer than that. Clark shreds the Michigan defense late and the Lions kill with stellar special teams play. Penn State 34 - Michigan 20.
Indiana at Illinois - This game serves as a wake up call for both teams. Indiana is in danger of undoing all the good it put to work last season. Illinois is as up and down as a Cedar Point roller coaster and needs someone, anyone to step up and lend Juice Williams some support. IU is clearly a different team without Kellen Lewis healthy and on the attack.
Illinois hasn't done much on defense to make me think they can stop Indiana but Indiana hasn't exactly been lighting the world on fire offensively either. If the Hoosiers couldn't stop Iowa's offense, how will they stop Juice? If you need a break from football, this might be the one to miss this weekend... Illinois 41 - Indiana 14.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
It was a weekend dominated by road teams in the Big Ten this past weekend. Michigan State snapped Northwestern's unbeaten streak in Evanston. Iowa pounded Indiana in Bloomington. Minnesota stunned the Illini on homecoming in Champaign. Penn State anihilated Wisconsin in the once nearly impossible to win in Camp Randall Stadium. Oh yeah and lowly Toledo strode 45 miles north to the Big House and slapped another jaw-dropping "L" on the Wolverines. Only Ohio State held serve at home. Crazy!
Congrats to St. Louis Spartan and AndrewJ1313 for tying me at 4-2 for the weekend. By virtue of being closer to the blowout margin in Madison, SLS gets to pick with me this week. The standings are shaking up in Get Gamm ... should be an interesting fight to the finish.
To see what BigTen.org has to say about the week that was, click here...
My team by team thoughts and weekly awards follow:
Player of the Week - I know Illinois lost at home to Minnesota, but Juice Williams accounted for over 500 yards of total offense. Hard to pass up on that as best performance of the week - win, lose or draw. See who BigTen.org picked.
Around the Big Ten - it was not business as usual around the league last week and that might well extend into these next few weeks. It starts getting interesting with big match-ups galore...
Illinois - Welcome to Cedar Point, er Champaign, America's Roller Coast... What is the deal with this team? One week it looks like world beaters, the next it gets taken out, at home, by Minnesota? Either Illinois isn't as good as we thought or Minnesota is better - or both. My vote is on both. The Illini get Indiana this weekend and a chance to get back on track. But can the orange and blue sustain any success this season?
Indiana - The Hoosiers are officially down for the count. Four losses in a row, each one getting uglier along the way. The offense is stalled out, the defense really misses that depleted secondary ... I'm not sure there is another win on the horizon for this team right now. That's a sad state after last year's feel good story. We'll see if the Hoosiers have packed it in or not with a big chance at redemption this weekend in Champaign.
Iowa - Good for the Hawkeyes. The offense shone brightly at Indiana. The defense continued to stifle. Special teams play was there too. Folks, this is a good team that has been on the tough end of three games that could have gone either way. Look for the Hawkeyes to continue to make strides. The tough thing is a wounded rival comes to town this weekend (Wisconsin). Can Iowa ride the momentum of the IU win and completely destroy the Badgers' season? Stay tuned.
Michigan - This is the worst Michigan team I have seen in my lifetime and it doesn't get any easier. 3-9 is looking very realistic at this point. Penn State takes out 9 years of frustration and kills Michigan this weekend.
Michigan State - The Spartans continue to do all of the little things that add up to important wins. State bends on defense but hasn't been breaking and the offense is cruising right now. The special teams play is the real eye popper though - pinning teams deep, making field goals seem automatic and getting big time returns. The schedule gets immediately tougher this weekend when the Buckeyes come calling but State has to be considered a contender at this point.
Minnesota - I haven't given the Golden Gophers an ounce of credit so far. Shame on me. This team has come light years from a season ago and gets a weekend off to rest up for the stretch run. Hats off to Brewster and Co. Minnesota will be a factor in the race, even if the Gophers aren't truly a contender - yet...
Northwestern - The Wildcats took one on the chin at home last weekend but are still a good football team. Purdue comes calling this weekend and is ripe for the picking, coming off of three straight losses. Like Minnesota, I don't expect NU to contend, but I do expect them to factor heavily into the rest of the race...
Ohio State - Ohio State is playing championship defense right now. The offense is still trying to find its identity with Pryor at the helm but is always a threat. Back to back games at Michigan State and at home against Penn State will tell us if the Bucks are for real or not the rest of the way.
Penn State - The Nittany Lions are still not getting much national love - at least from the pundits. I like this team to make a run at the National Title game. The offense is full of weapons, the defense getting better and better and the special teams rock solid. Maybe JoePa should stay in the press box the rest of the year! This week is all about paying Michigan back for years of anguish...
Purdue - Make it stop. Please, I beg of you. What could have been a good season in West Lafayette is turning into a disaster. Purdue can't move the ball, is spotty on special teams and is having to rely solely on its defense to get by. Northwestern looms, so it might be five losses in six games in a snap.
Wisconsin - Was this team that overrated coming into the season? I'm not sold on that. What I am sold on is that Evridge is in over his head. Wisconsin never wins with flash at QB - it wins with heady play and limited mistakes. Can the Badgers salvage the season? A win over Iowa would start to make amends but I'm not so sure...
Friday, October 10, 2008
Ladies and gentlemen, we officially have a nice race in the Get Gamm contest. For a change, I prevailed last week, though St. Louis Spartan gave me a run for my money. A couple more toughies on the slate this go around could lead to more separation.
To see the BigTen.org previews, read here. Otherwise, here are my thoughts for the week...
Minnesota at Illinois - This could be one of those "point-a-minute" games. Minnesota truly is improved, not only over last season but even the start of this season. The Gophers are playing some pretty good defense and have a great pitch and catch duo in Weber to Decker. Illinois got back on track last week with a whipping of the Wolverines, in Ann Arbor. While the Illini defense leaves a bit to be desired, Juice Williams is among the best at his position in the nation. Arrelious Benn is a bona fide NFL first round draft pick and the Illini are hungry to get on a roll. It will be closer than last season's 44-16 romp in the Homer Dome, but Illinois prevails. Illinois 38 - Minnesota 30.
Iowa at Indiana - This is a must win situation for both teams. Both are in a three game free fall, though it is easy to see that Iowa's is not nearly as alarming since the Hawkeyes have lost the last three by a combined 9 points, versus the 44 Indiana has lost by. The Hoosiers seem to be trying to redefine themselves, playing Kellen Lewis less and less at QB and more everywhere else on the field. Iowa has its definition - pound with Shon Greene. Look for Greene to have a big day in Bloomington and for Iowa to get back on track, while Indiana continues to falter. Iowa 27 - Indiana 23.
Toledo at Michigan - This is a perfect opponent for a struggling Michigan team. Toledo isn't doing much of anything on the field this year and while Michigan isn't either, the Wolverines have a lot more talent than the Rockets. After this one, the maize and blue have Penn State and Michigan State on successive weeks, so now is a good time to build some confidence and momentum. This is the worst M team I have seen in my lifetime but Toledo will not give them a scare. Michigan 31 - Toledo 10.
Michigan State at Northwestern - One of the more underrated national games of the week. Michigan State is on its first 5-game win streak since 2003. Northwestern is 5-0 for the first time in 46 years. Something's got to give. These teams have played some barn-burners the past few seasons. Last year, the Wildcats got revenge for the largest 1-A comeback in history (MSU's 41-38 win after being down 38-3 in Evanston in 2006) by passing to a 48-41 OT victory in East Lansing. Two main questions exist going into this one. One, can Northwestern stop Javon Ringer? They couldn't last year. Two, can MSU stop CJ Bacher and the NU passing attach? They couldn't last year. Northwestern has a better defense but hasn't exactly played an offensive juggernaut. State struggled in its one game thus far versus a no-huddle, spread offense. Call it homerism, but I'm going with my gut on this one. Michigan State 33 - Northwestern 30 on a last second Swenson field goal.
Purdue at Ohio State - Is this a potential trap game for OSU, coming off a big win in Madison and before a trip to East Lansing, which is followed by a potentially HUGE home game against Penn State? I don't think so. Purdue blew it against Oregon and hasn't been the same since, even with that sweet little comeback over Central Michigan. ND and Penn State made the Boilers look average at best. What will an increasingly confident Buckeye squad do to them? Painter's confidence is shaken and without a sharp C.P., Purdue has no chance. Ohio State 31 - Purdue 17.
Penn State at Wisconsin - Back to back night games in one of the most raucous stadiums around. Did the Badgers lose last weekend because the naughty band was barred from the game? Hey, maybe. On second thought, no. Wisconsin has lost two straight heartbreakers because of the play, or lack of, from the QB position. For years the Badgers offense has been predicated on a great ground game and a signal caller who manages the game and makes few to no mistakes. Evridge has flat out made too many mistakes in the last two games. That cannot happen this week, not with a balanced, strong Nittany Lion squad coming to Mad-town. On one hand I hate to pick against a team with such a home field advantage. On the other, Penn State looks for real to me. Penn State stuns the Badgers late. Penn State 27 - Wisconsin 24.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
It was a more predictable weekend in the Big Ten. Michigan came crashing back to earth as Juice ran wild on the Wolverines. Michigan State and Iowa had a little 80's throw back to smash mouth football going. Minnesota beat IU in a surprisingly low scoring game. Penn State frustrated former Heisman candidate Curtis Painter so much that he was benched. And Ohio State sent a message that they are still the team to beat, ending Wisconsin's 16-game home win streak.
Congrats to St. Louis Spartan for going 5-0 on the weekend, but he didn't shake Gamm (I also went 5-0 and nailed the OSU - WIS score).
To see what BigTen.org has to say about the week that was, click here...
My team by team thoughts and weekly awards follow:
Player of the Week - The Juice was loose this weekend in Ann Arbor, with a record setting performance. He is the most exciting player in the Big Ten (you'll have your time soon enough Pryor) and put up jaw-dropping numbers. See who BigTen.org picked.
Around the Big Ten - it was a much calmer weekend around college football with most ranked teams holding serve. The Big Ten picture is starting to take shape, but there is plenty of football to go...
Illinois - Contrary to the belief of some, this team is not dead. While not likley a Big Ten title contender, the Illini will be towards the top of the heap and have an offense no one will want to face down the stretch. This week an improved Minnesota comes to Champaign in what could be a high scoring affair.
Indiana - The Hoosiers are beaten and battered right now and are in dire need of a win. A wounded Iowa team comes calling this weekend. IU did a great job - for the most part - making MSU's Javon Ringer work hard for his yards and will need to do the same with Shon Greene. Iowa is further along than Indiana though. Indy has to hope they can rebound or last season's success will become a distant memory.
Iowa - Poor Iowa. Three tough - and I mean tough - losses in a row by a combined 9 points. Ouch. The heat might be turning up on Ferentz, but it shouldn't. His team is young and getting better and lost to three teams with a combined two losses. Indiana might be just what the doctor ordered this weekend.
Michigan - Forget that big comeback against Wisconsin, it was a mirage. Michigan's offense is bad. Really bad. The defense is taking risks to make things happen and getting burned. A win over Toledo this Saturday gives them three. M might be hard pressed to find three more wins the rest of the way...
Michigan State - State has made HUGE strides this season in one key area - the ability to hang on/finish a game. It happened again last weekend against Iowa and needs to keep happening in order for the Spartans to prove that they are for real. There are still issues here and there, but the attitude of the program is as good as it has been in years. Northwestern has been a thorn in State's side of late so Saturday will go a long way in determining MSU's fortune.
Minnesota - The Golden Gophers still haven't really beaten anyone all that great - BUT - are 5-1 and on the cusp of a bowl berth a season after getting one measly win. Minny is doing it with a pretty good offense and a surprisingly effective defense. The trip to Illinois won't be fun, but this team is brimming with confidence right now.
Northwestern - The 'cats have had a week to rest and repair in anticipation for a big game with Michigan State. Winner stays firmly in the Big Ten race. Loser is still in good shape overall but takes a step back. NU desperately wants to prove it is for real this year. Stop Javon Ringer and they'll have that chance.
Ohio State - Ohio State looked poised and impressive in the big road win over Wisconsin last weekend. Purdue comes calling this week with nothing to lose. OSU must remain focused as a trip to MSU and a visit from PSU loom in the next few weeks. Pryor's demeanor is incredible for a true freshman signal caller and Beanie Wells is showing us why OSU missed him so much...
Penn State - The Nittany Lions are rolling and looking forward to a chance to prove their Top 6 standing. The trip to Wisconsin to face a wounded Badgers squad fresh off of two heartbreaking losses is as tough as it gets. I like how the defense is catching up to the potent offense. This team reminds me more and more of that 1994 team that should have won at least a share of the national title.
Purdue - Make it stop. Three losses in four games. A trip to C-bus looming. Curtis Painter was even benched last weekend. Purdue can still be a dangerous team but has to snap to or risk a losing season in Joe Tiller's last hurrah.
Wisconsin - Double UGH! Back to back heartbreaking losses have Wisconsin on its heels. From a very real shot at a BCS berth to the spoiler role in a manner of a few minutes of football. The Badgers can still be very good but have to come up big when it matters most. Penn State's visit offers a shot at redemption...
Thursday, October 02, 2008
The Get Gamm race tightened a little bit last week and should get really interesting as we enter the mid-point of the season. This might week might well pose the toughest pickings of the season, with several very good contests on the slate. Buckeye AndrewJ1313 earned the right to pick this week, so without further ado...
Penn State at Purdue - Two teams that appear to be heading in different directions meet in West Lafayette at high noon this Saturday. Penn State is rolling in all facets of the game. This is the first decent road test of the year, however, for the Nits and JoePa's crew faces a wounded - and angry - Purdue squad that blew a lead in an OT loss to Oregon, narrowly escaped Central Michigan and then got slapped around last week in South Bend. Do the Boilers fold or come out with a new vigor? Is Penn State looking ahead to three huge weeks in a row (Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State) or are they focused on the prize? Purdue will put up a fight but Penn State is that good. Penn State 31 - Purdue 27.
AndrewJ1313 says ... Penn St. is the most exciting team in the Big Ten to watch right now. Their offense has thrown traditional out the window and has opened it up. The PSU defense is incredible as well, I'm glad OSU gets them at home and at night this year. That said about Penn St., I have to say that Purdue looks awful right now. I have felt for some time that Joe Tiller needed to move on and I think Boiler fans might feel the same now and are glad this is the last year of settling for mediocrity. The only thing in Purdue's favor in this game is that it is at home, but Penn St. will knock the crowd out of it early: Penn St. 34, Purdue 21
Indiana at Minnesota - Call this one an early bowl elimination game. Yes, Indiana has more work to do at this point than the Gophers but IU also has one more OOC tilt left. The Hoosiers are wounded right now after back-to-back tough home losses to Ball State and Michigan State. This is the first road game and it might be just what the doctor ordered. Minnesota is playing much better football than a year ago and is poised to make the next step. The key is to contain Kellen Lewis, who threw, ran, received ... even punted last week against MSU. If the Gophers can bottle him up, they get the win. I think this is a coin toss, so when in doubt, go with the home team - even if the home team plays in a creaky, stupid, NFL dome! Minnesota 37 - Indiana 34
AndrewJ1313 says ... What a turnaround for Brewster and Minnesota, although the best team they have beaten is BGSU, this is a team that did not quit at Ohio State last week and managed to put up 15 points in the 4th quarter. Indiana on the other hand is a one-man-show and that is really going to be what beats this team this year. Indiana is capable of big plays and Minnesota will allow some. If Lewis gets comfortable, this will be another long day for the Gophers: IU 35, Minnesota 27
Iowa at Michigan State - Another of the very evenly matched games of the week, at least on paper. I am less than convinced that Iowa is really any better offensively than a season ago and the defense has been bending more in recent weeks. Iowa could go one of two ways - think about what might have been the past two weeks and come in flat, or play inspired ball and get back on track. I think it will be somewhere in between. I like Hoyer to make less mistakes than Stanzi, and Ringer to have more impact than Greene. This is game one in a five game stretch against teams that MSU had every chance to beat a season ago. Week one on the revenge tour is a success. Michigan State 24 - Iowa 14.
AndrewJ1313 says ... MSU is playing as good as anyone in the Big Ten right now and may very well have the best defense. MSU will go to Happy Valley to end the season in what might be one of the best games of the year. Iowa on the other hand has disappeared from the college football landscape after several top 10 finishes (how do you lose to Pitt?). MSU at home, no contest: MSU 38, Iowa 17
Illinois at Michigan - You guessed it, another game that seems like a toss-up. Except... I am not convinced that Michigan is back just yet. Yes, they played with abandon and shocked the Big Ten with the improbable comeback win over Wisconsin BUT this same team turned the ball over 5 times with ONE first down in the first half of that game. The Badgers went into turtle mode and the Wolverines rode the wave of momentum. U-M is better than they were a few weeks ago, but how much better? Illinois was stung at Penn State last week and needs a signature win this season. The Illini are 1-9 in the last 10 versus the maize and blue. That changes this week. Juice cuts loose and Illinois brings Michigan back to earth. Illinois 27 - Michigan 21.
AndrewJ1313 says ... I really don't know what to make of either team right now. Illinois' offense looked fabulous against Mizzou to open the season, but their defense is not stopping anyone. Michigan probably had the greatest turn around in NCAA history this past weekend against Wisconsin. UM's defense is clearly their strength right now and that's just what this team's young offense needs. I think Michigan keeps it close at home and finds a way to beat Juice and Zook again (although I do believe this game can go either way): Michigan 28, Illinois 27
Ohio State at Wisconsin - The Game of the Week. Wisconsin is still shell-shocked over the loss to Michigan but gets the friendly confines of Camp Randall this weekend. UW has won 16 in a row at home and this is a tall task for the Pryor-led Buckeyes offense. I think we saw that the Wisconsin passing game is a weakness without a healthy Travis Beckum and while the OSU defense has yet to really play up to its ability, I think a traditional offense plays to the scarlet and gray's strong suit. I'm going to go with Ohio State, mostly because I think this is an either way game and I picked it that way in the preseason. Ohio State 20 - Wisconsin 17.
AndrewJ1313 says ... This has to be the best game in the Big Ten this week if not one of the best in the country. Ohio State is finally starting to find something offensively (nothing against Boeckman, the guy led this team to the Championship game last year, but he has lost something between the first half of last year and now). OSU's defense is starting to play better up front which is allowing the LB's to move around more. Wisconsin is coming off what has to be the worst loss a team could have suffered. Wisconsin settled too much in the first half of last week's game, but still had Michigan down 19-0. Wisconsin and Michigan look like they switched places in the second half. Depending on which Wisconsin team shows up Saturday night will depend on how good of a game this is. In the end, I can't pick against Ohio State, plus I feel they are the better team: OSU 27, Wisconsin 17.