Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dashing Through Ten Bowls...
Hard to believe we are almost through football season and into B1G hoops season.  Time flies when you're having fun.  It will be a busy holiday season for the greatest conference in college sports as ten, yes TEN teams are going bowling.

Dan Meyer is picking with me for the first time all season.  Which is great EXCEPT I deleted the email with his picks!  Sorry Dan.  Hope you still have 'em!

Without further ado, my picks (Dan's to follow) and warm holiday greetings for a fantastic Christmas and New Year!

Little Caesar's Bowl - Western Michigan v. Purdue, 12/27 @ 4:30PM on ESPN
Purdue is thrilled to be in bowl season, if not to be going to dank and damp Detroit.  A few player no-nos are depleting the roster a bit and you have to expect that the Broncos will be ready to raise the roof at Ford Field.  WMU should have beaten Illinois and was really some early big plays against away from a possible to the wire finish with Michigan.  I like Western's offense against this defense and sorry Boilers, the first black eye for the Big Ten this bowl season.  Western Michigan 34 - Purdue 27.

Insight Bowl - Oklahoma v. Iowa, 12/30 @ 10PM on ESPN
Well, a lot of folks were wondering if Iowa might bite a disinterested OU squad.  I was leaning that way until Marcus Coker got the hook for the game.  I think this is a chance for Oklahoma to finish strong and make a statement for next season.  Iowa just doesn't have the horses, especially with last year's Insight Bowl hero Coker left behind for the trip.  What is it with Iowa RBs at this time of year?  Closer than expected but an 0-2 hole for the B1G to start the bowl campaign.  Oklahoma 38 - Iowa 28.

Meineke Car Care Bowl - Texas A&M v. Northwestern, 12/31 @ 12PM on ESPN
Is this the year the Wildcats break free and get that elusive bowl win (first since 1949)?  The Aggies are in a coaching transition and while at time they looked like a Top 15 team this season, the swoons have been maddening.  Northwestern fought off a tough start to finish strong and has great motivation in this one.  I like Northwestern to get over the hump and beat future SEC member A&M in a barn burner.  Northwestern 41 - Texas A&M 38

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl - UCLA v. Illinois, 12/31 @ 3:30PM on ESPN
How about we call this the "Neither Team Deserves to Go" Bowl, or the "This is an example of why 35 bowls is too many" Bowl!  Seriously.  UCLA is 6-7 and between coaches.  Illinois is 6-6, on a six game losing binge and in between coaches.  I'm not impressed.  I like Illinois to get a win though to build momentum for 2012.  Illinois 23 - UCLA 14.

Ticket City Bowl - Houston v. Penn State, 1/2 @ 12PM on ESPNU
Houston went from BCS shoe in to bowl game afterthought.  Penn State got the hose from the bowls because of something beyond these players' control.  The Cougars are without their head coach.  The Nittany Lions are in a similar boat.  One team scores at will.  The other stops teams at will.  With the rust of the down time, defense is usually sharper in these games and I'm going to give the nod to Penn State... although the altercation between teammates that has Matt McGloin questionable is giving me pause.  Penn State 17 - Houston 14

Gator Bowl - Florida v. Ohio State, 1/2 @ 1PM on ESPN2Ahh the Urban Meyer Bowl.  Given the recent news that Ohio State will not bowl in 2012-13, it makes this that much more important to the Buckeyes.  I haven't been at all impressed with the Gators this season and think Boom, Braxton and Posey rule the day. Ohio State 30 - Florida 20.

Outback Bowl - Georgia v. Michigan State, 1/2 @ 1PM on ABC
Much like last year's Capital One Bowl, this is one of the best non BCS matchups of the bowl season.  The difference?  The teams are very evenly matched in this one.  Both lost in their Conference Championship Games, though Michigan State was more stung by their loss than UGA.  The motivation for MSU is the 0fer they are riding.  As in 0-4 under Coach Dantonio in bowls, and 0-5 in the last five.  Motivation is there too to wipe out the stigma of last year's debacle.  I think Michigan State turns it on in the second half and puts a nice beating on the SEC for the B1G.  Michigan State 31 - UGA 17

Capital One Bowl - South Carolina v. Nebraska, 1/2 @ 1PM on ESPN
This is an interesting one.  South Carolina would be the pick if Lattimore was still churning out yards.  But I like the way that Nebraska can ride the legs of T-Mart and Burkhead.  The Cornhusker D and special teams can also shine.  I like a low scoring but huge win for the B1G over the SEC.  Nebraska 18 - South Carolina 17

Rose Bowl - Oregon v. Wisconsin, 1/2 @ 5PM on ABC
The Granddaddy of them all.  A game I so wish my Spartans were in.  And frankly, a game that I think would have been better for the Big Ten matchups wise.  It will be interesting to see how the size and strength of UW fares against the speed of the Ducks.  UW will probably be without their O.C. but still has Wilson and Ball.  Both teams are hungry for a win here and I think it will be a close game for 3 quarters.  Problem is, the Badgers are a lot like Stanford in style and I don't think that cuts it in this game.  Oregon 45 - Wisconsin 33

Sugar Bowl - Virginia Tech v. Michigan, 1/3 @ 8:30PM on ESPN
This one should be called the "Neither Team Deserves the BCS" Bowl.  At least the Hokies got to their conference title game... but I digress.  I'm really not sure what to expect here.  I think both teams could explode on the other and bring electric QB play to the fold.  In what looks to be an even match on both sides of the ball, I'm going with Beamer Ball (Special Teams) to be the difference.  Va Tech 30 - Michigan 28.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Moving On...
It's been almost a week.  I am moving on.  Well, as much as I can.  Putting objectivity aside, that was one of the toughest MSU losses to take.  The game itself was fantastic.  A college football fan's dream, and proof that teams can re-match and play a meaningful, equally as memorable game.  But how it ended?  Some of the calls?  Bret Bielema's post game press conference?  I'm still struggling.  I run through about five particular plays over and over and over.  I'm ready for the bowl game so I can move on once and for all.

The good news for Spartans fans?  This is not a once in a quarter century thing.  Our program has arrived, made a statement and is here to stay.  That team in green?  Not your daddy or granddaddy's MSU.  There is talent, depth, speed and athleticism.  A team that I think would have matched up better with Oregon than Wisconsin.  But that's enough of my shaded viewpoint!

One last on the game, which was a boon for the league.  Bret Bielema is a bona fide jerk.  Smug, arrogant, cocky, rude.  All SEC from the astronomical scores against inferior foes to the way he speaks, acts, etc.  Sorry, the guy bugs me.  Always has, always will.  It was just magnified last Saturday.

The game itself?  Best of the day.  A classic.  One I can watch over and over and over except for the way it sits in my stomach.  The toe-tap catch by Keyshawn Martin?  Extraordinary and I still wonder how there was enough clear evidence to overturn it?  The running into the punter?  That guy trains with Bo Ryan.  Pretty sad to see a game end on a call like that... especially with as much as they were letting both sides play in the first 58 minutes.

I'm not going down the BCS road.  It is clearly time to go to a +1 and open the rest of the bowls up.  Michigan does not deserve the Sugar.  Nor does Va Tech.  But at least Va Tech won their division...

Get Gamm
Going into the bowl season, we have a deadlock at the top.  And a first too.  Dan gets to pick with the closest to on the margin in the title game.  You know the drill Dan!

Western Michigan v. Purdue - Little Caesar's Bowl (12/27)
Oklahoma v. Iowa, Insight Bowl (12/30)
Texas A&M v. Northwestern, Meineke Car Car Bowl (12/31)
UCLA v. Illinois, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (12/31)
Houston v. Penn State, TicketCity Bowl (1/2)
Florida v. Ohio State, Urban Meyer, er Gator Bowl (1/2)
Georgia v. Michigan State, Outback Bowl (1/2)
South Carolina v. Nebraska, Capital One Bowl (1/2)
Oregon v. Wisconsin, Rose Bowl (1/2)
Virginia Tech v. Michigan, Sugar Bowl (1/3)

Season Review...
Over the next few weeks, I'll take a look back at what I picked versus what happened.  Meantime, Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Game time!
We're in rarified air here. The B1G is entering new territory, joining the other big boys with a conference championship game. Some say it's about the money. Some say this game is meaningless because a national title berth is not on the line. Me? I say this is exciting. It's new and very meaningful. After all, the cherished Rose Bowl is at stake and the media can't tell these players this game doesn't matter... It sure as hell does!

As I'm on the road, I will have to keep this short and sweet. Michigan State v. Wisconsin is what the conference wanted, needed and got. These are clearly the two best teams, playing the best football, at the right time. Both have vaunted weapons. Both have ebbed and flowed and improved since that fateful October night. All of that means this will be an absolute classic.

The 9.5 spread is out of line, based on Vegas thinking MSU only won the first meeting on fluke play. Never mind that MSU went on a 31-3 run after going down 14 early. Or the big lead it squandered late. At least in their minds...

This game will be as billed. And it will have more mood swings - pardon the pun - than a teenage menstral cycle! Ball and Wilson, Cousins and Cunningham will all have moments but it will be a Trenton Robinson INT in the end zone with less than two minutes to play that will seal the Spartans first Rose Bowl bid in 23 years.

Michigan State 31 - Wisconsin 27

Phats says... Sorry Andy and Spartans fans, I truly believe the Badgers are the best team in the conference. Neutral field Badgers will right the wrongs that did them in in East Lansing and head back to the Rose Bowl to represent the Big Ten. Wisonsin 31 - Michigan State 17

Monday, November 28, 2011

It's Go Time!
T-minus five days until we all get the rematch we desired after one of the greatest games of the season.  Michigan State versus Wisconsin.  60 more minutes of heart-stopping, hair-pulling, hair-graying football madness.  I say, bring it on.  Everyone out there talks about how the Spartans have to face an angry Wisconsin team again.  I see it as both having a difficult task.  Both teams are hot.  Both teams want this championship - bad.  Both teams have to stare down the barrel at the opponents' strengths.  As an MSU guy, I can't wait.  As a B1G guy, I really can't wait... It's GO time!

The Good...
Michigan State.  The media were convinced that MSU had nothing to play for.  Obviously, they don't take Mark Dantonio for his word or values.  The Spartans won a tough game, on the road to clinch the first ever back to back 10-win seasons in program history.

Michigan.  Good for the Wolverines.  The seniors finally got a monkey off their back in a very exciting game.  It was a lot higher scoring than I expected but that win puts Michigan back on the map.

Wisconsin.  What a way to end the regular season.  A beat-down of Penn State in the decisive game.  Impressive!

Minnesota.  I've dogged the Gophers all season.  They sealed Coach Zook's fate.  Nicely done and notice served for 2012...

Nebraska.  Cornhusker fans are going to wonder where this was against NU and Michigan.  A solid win that means a lot for bowl positioning.

Purdue.  Bowl eligible after a dog fight with rival Indiana.  Purdue probably should have seven or eight wins but this is a god start for next year...

The Bad...
Northwestern.  Not really a bad performance all together and certainly a nice run to end the season.  But they have to go here after a loss...

Ohio State.  See Northwestern.  Impressive performance really and an overthrow away from perhaps another win in the series.  Look out for tOSU next year, especially with Urban at the helm.

Iowa.  An appropriate end to a topsy turvy season.  Iowa looked great and below average all at the same time this year...

Indiana.  Giving the Hoosiers a nod for effort here.  IU is young and will improve, but quick enough to keep Kevin Wilson around?

The Ugly...
Penn State.  Sorry Nits but you flat out sucked at UW.  Turnovers, dropped passes, untimely errors, phantom tackles.  But I do feel for what this team has gone through...

Illinois.  Way to get your coach fired.  From 6-0 to 6-6.  OUCH.  Could be home for the holidays despite being one of the first to clinch a bowl berth.

Bowl Predictions...
We'll know the Rose Bowl slot after Saturday.  I guess I am tipping my hand a bit with my pick, but tune in later this week for the deets anyway.  And Phats, you went 6-0 and get to pick the big game with me...

Rose Bowl - Michigan State
Sugar Bowl - Michigan
Capital One Bowl - Wisconsin
Outback Bowl - Nebraska
Insight Bowl - Penn State
Gator Bowl - Ohio State
Meineke Car Care Bowl - Iowa
TicketCity Bowl - Northwestern
Little Caesars Bowl - Purdue
At Large - Illinois

Friday, November 25, 2011

Season's end...
Well, at least the end of the regular season.  Still plenty of fun to be had on the gridiron.  Sorry for the lateness of the post... had this in draft and well, holiday got in the way!

Iowa at Nebraska, Noon EST (ABC)
Nebraska needs a bounce back and gets one at home.  Iowa isn't what they've been.  Nebraska 27 - Iowa 14.

Phats says ... Nebraska 28 Iowa 24- Tempted to take the Hawkeyes, but Nebraska won't lay an egg two straight weeks especially at home

Michigan State at Northwestern , Noon EST (BTN)
Believe it or not, MSU has plenty to play for.  Northwestern does as well, which will make this an interesting game.  Grab some turkey soup and keep an eye on this one.  Michigan State 31 - Northwestern 24.

Phats says ... Michigan State 35 Northwestern 21- Another solid season for the Spartans, this is a tune up for Indy

Ohio State at Michigan, Noon EST (ABC)
THE game has little luster this year.  The bigger question is, Urban yes or Urban no?  Most are predicting Michigan to walk on OSU and get some revenge for seven straight losses.  I'm thinking not so fast my friends.  At least it won't be as much a blow out as thought.  Michigan 23 - Ohio State 20.

Phats says ... Michigan 38 Ohio State 17- OSU one dimensional, UM defense so much better this year.  

Purdue at Indiana, 3:30 EST (BTN)
Battle for the Old Oaken Bucket won't be a battle for long.  Purdue 38 - Indiana 14.

Phats says ... Purdue 42 Indiana 17- Close thru the first half, and for a change the Boilers light up the third quarter, scoring for the first time since the PSU game.  Bringing the Bucket back where it belongs West Lafayette!!  Boiler Up! 

Illinois at Minnesota, 3:30 EST (BTN)
Boring.  Illinois 34 - Minnesota 20

Phats says ... Minnesota 17 Illinois 14- I really am not sure why I am picking this upset, but Illini have really struggled, Gophers have played so much better and it's at Minnesota. 

Penn State at Wisconsin, 3:30 EST (ESPN)
For weeks, I have been predicting an MSU - PSU title game.  But I think Wisconsin woke up in time last week and has just enough offense to put the Nits to bed and make Delany happy.  UW 24 - PSU 20.

Phats says ... Wisconsin 31 Penn State 17- I think the Badgers are still the best team in the Big Ten, if only special teams and a couple of hail mary's wouldn't have done them in they'd be playing for a chance a National title still.  At least they will set up a solid Big Ten title game with a win here.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Halfway There...
We are precisely halfway to knowing the participants in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.  Michigan State tore through Indiana like a tornado through a trailer park, while Michigan handed it's rival the Legends crown by systematically dismantling everything that was good with the Nebraska Cornhuskers this year.  That leaves a 3:30 tussle between embattled Penn State and Wisconsin for the other half and a much clearer bowl picture.

The Good...
Michigan State. Have to start with the Spartans who battled slow starts and sluggish performances in recent Senior Day games only to come out and flat out own Indiana in all phases from the opening kick.  Congrats to Legends Division Champs MSU.

Michigan. Wow. It seems like more than ever the Wolverines have answered the lingering question - are they really back.  Yep.  But we'll know for sure after nemesis OSU comes to town...

Iowa.  Nice bounce back win for the Hawkeyes.  Most expected a dud, but Iowa played inspired and is making a push for a good bowl berth yet again.

Penn State.  Impressive.  Love what the offense is doing to shake things up and that D is outstanding.

Northwestern.  Ho hum.  Kinda boring but now bowl eligible and on a roll.  P-Fitz does a lot with a little every year.

Wisconsin.  The Badgers looked ripe for the picking early but persevered through the doldrums to walk away with the win and set up a shot at the title game.

The Bad...
Purdue.  The tough luck Boilers can't string it together this year.  They are still a win away from a bowl berth too... damn that blocked kick at Rice!

Ohio State.  The Buckeyes rose to the occasion at times on Saturday but I expected more after the Purdue loss.  Is there anything in the tank for Michigan?

Minnesota.  The Gophers are still way too up and down, but do have a glimmer of hope down the road.  IF Coach Kill can stay healthy.

The Ugly...
Indiana.  Atrocious.  Awful.  Ugh!

Nebraska.  What the? So much for playing for the BCS.  THAT was AWFUL.

Illinois.  All I can say is what the?  Seriously.  6-0 to 6-5 that fast?  Sorry, but that goes on the coach.  Any hot names out there for the Illinois job? 

Bowl Predictions...
No sense belaboring the divisions anymore since only two teams remain in the fight.  So, here are my picks for the bowls heading into our last week of the season.

Rose Bowl - Michigan State
BCS At Large - Michigan
Capital One - Wisconsin
Outback - Penn State
Insight - Nebraska
Gator - Iowa
Meineke Car Care - Ohio State
TicketCity - Northwestern
Little Caesars - Purdue
At Large - Illinois

Get Gamm...
If only Phats hadn't gone homer, he would be a perfect 6-0!  I retake the top spot overall but due to being closer on the tiebreaker, Phats get a week win and picks along with me.  Games start Friday Phats so get 'em to me ASAP.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Iowa at Nebraska (Friday)
Michigan State at Northwestern
Ohio State at Michigan
Purdue at Indiana
Illinois at Minnesota
Penn State at Wisconsin (Game of the Week)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Nitty Gritty
We're down to it.  Go time.  The nitty gritty.  Three teams control their destinies, a few more are hoping for some miracles.  The ESPN B1G bloggers break it all down quite well for us today.

Minnesota at Northwestern, Noon EST (BTN)
Don't just assume that the Gophers are playing out the string.  Minnesota is trying to build a foundation for a rebound in 2012 and this would be a good way to get there.  Meanwhile, Northwestern is seeking a sixth win and this week is easier than the finale (MSU).  This will be a high-scoring, entertaining affair, but in the end, the Wildcats have more to play for and get the W.  NU 34 - Minnesota 27.

Mayo says ... Minnesota is starting to figure out how to play some tough football and Northwestern is showing what it could have been all season. I really do like the fight that I’m seeing in both clubs, but right now Northwestern has shown me more and will pull out a nice win for Fitz. Minnesota 22 – Northwestern 31

Indiana at Michigan State, Noon EST (BTN)I'm bummed that my bad back has me missing Senior Day in EL.  This class has left a remarkable set of memories for fans, students and alumni alike and has set a stage of high expectations that I truly love and appreciate.  Indiana is building for the future but doesn't have the firepower or the defense to get in the way of a 14th straight home win for Sparty.  Michigan State rolls with two 100-yard plus rushers.  Michigan State 41 - Indiana 14.

Mayo says ... In the Spartans protected rivalry for the Brass Spittoon. Although Indiana has played much better lately, this Spartan defense is one of the best and most physical in the land. Defense wins this one big. Indiana 12 – Michigan State 31

Nebraska at Michigan, Noon EST (ESPN) - Game of the Week
Talk about a toss up.  Both teams sport spectacular running games and weak passing attacks.  Either defense can step up on any given Saturday.  That may leave it to special teams.  I think Nebraska has the definite upper hand in this area.  But, the Wolverines have a new found advantage at home since the suites keep the noise inside.  I like an OT thriller with Michigan sealing the deal for rival MSU.  Michigan 38 - Nebraska 37 in 3 OTs.

Mayo says ... A lot of writers in Detroit are saying these two teams are very similar. In some ways I see the point, but Michigan’s offense just seems to have peaked and although this team is much improved, the likes of Nebraska have not been seen this season. Although I’m sure the Michigan D will have a pretty decent second half, Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead is a menacing runner who I envision running wild enough in the first half to get a decent lead that will hold throughout the game. Nebraska 27 – Michigan 24.

Iowa at Purdue, Noon EST (BTN)
This one is very interesting.  Iowa is reeling after the smackdown at home last weekend.  Purdue is sky high after an improbable OT win over Ohio State.  Iowa has the six requisite wins, Purdue is one shy.  Iowa is playing for positioning and Purdue always has the Bucket game next week to get to six.  I think Iowa will be motivated to silence some of the demons and get a nice road win.  Sorry Phats, I'm not going with you this time!  Iowa 27 - Purdue 23

Mayo says ... Both teams need to win this one, Iowa has shown some flashes, and Purdue has as well. This game will show what Purdue has left after taking down Ohio State last weekend. Iowa is a head scratcher this year, dominating some opponents and then losing to Minnesota. I’m gonna go all Phats this week and predict a Boiler win. Iowa 23 – Purdue 29.

Wisconsin at Illinois, Noon EST (ESPN2)
Hmmmm, another very intriguing game.  Illinois has gone from 6-0 to Fire Zook in a heartbeat.  Wisconsin is rolling again and has an eye on a rematch in Indy.  The once touted Illini D is looking very soft right now while Wilson and Ball and Toon are white hot.  Wisconsin rolls to set up a win and in game with Penn State.  Wisconsin 33 - Illinois 13.

Mayo says ... I don’t remember a better hand-picked successor ever coming along than Bret Bielema. Usually those don’t work out very good, but he has put together one of the most solid programs to follow a legend that I have ever seen. Illinois has been slipping since starting 6-0 and that slope just turned into the edge of an abyss at this point. Queue up ‘On Wisconsin’ several times today and see if Montee Ball can break some more rushing records. Wisconsin 51 – Illinois 24.

Penn State at Ohio State, Noon EST (ABC)
Call this one the Shame Bowl. Had OSU simply made it's PAT last week, this would be even bigger in the Leaders race.  Still, OSU can make a dent in the title chase.  Penn State needs to win and see UW upset to clinch Indy.  But how focused is the team?  Maybe it will do them good to leave State College.  OSU is motivated to play and takes advantage of a shaky Penn State offense.  Ohio State 20 - Penn State 14.

Mayo says ... A spectacular matchup most years, this one is tainted with scandal on both sides of the field. Ohio State couldn’t wait to start the season this year to get the bad taste of the previous 9 months out, and now Penn State finally gets to get out of Happy Valley and all the media attention that has fallen on them. In what could be the only matchup between Luke Fickell and Tom Bradley, I’m going with Ohio State in a nail-biter. Penn State 13 – Ohio State 17.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Crunch Time
A little late this week.  On the rack with a bulging disc in L5-S1 territory.  Not fun!  But I figured in between pain killers I should check in seeing how it is definitely crunch time in the Big Ten.  Some key losses - and victories - last Saturday helped clear up the title race picture... well, kinda sorta.  And it put to rest the 24/7 PSU coverage that was all consuming. 

Speaking of which, great scene at Beaver Stadium with the teams coming together at midfield.  Keeps it all in perspective.  Also the game reminds us, these players are collateral damage.  So any talk about canceling the season, as ludicrous and down right stupid as it sounded, can go away too...

The Good...
Michigan State.  What an impressive answer to last season's debacle in Iowa City.  Cousins atoned for his shocking failure in 2010 and MSU solidified its position as Legends leader. 
Michigan.  Okay, I'm buying more and more into that D.  Vastly improved over a season ago.  And the run game was sound.  The coaching staff finally figured out they need the right QB to truly become a two-dimensional team and stopped trying to throw so much. 
Nebraska.  No one talked much about the task the Cornhuskers faced last week as the first Penn State opponent post program apocalypse!  NU fared very well and stayed right in the race, while also making the Leaders Division race a little more fuzzy. 
Northwestern.  Nice win to keep up the momentum.  But beating Rice won't get you much more than that from this blogger!
Purdue.  Nicely done.  When another devastating defeat seemed imminent, a big right paw bats away the oft taken for granted PAT to send the game to OT where the Boilers once again shocked the Buckeyes and threw a monkey wrench into the race!
Wisconsin.  Left for dead after two straight losses, the Badgers control their destiny and sent a message in the romp over rival Minnesota: despite the losses, Wilson and Ball never slowed down and can hardly be contained...

The Bad...
Iowa. Despite some head scratching losses, the Hawkeyes controlled their own destiny.  Note the past tense.  Iowa was bullied and smacked around in a defeat that nearly resembled the beat down Iowa put on MSU a season ago.
Penn State.  Hat's off for the effort of the players, fans, etc.  But the lack of offense bit the Nittany Lions once again and may well keep them from Indy.
Ohio State. Squarely in the race, OSU inexplicably sleep walked through the first 59 minutes, scored and then had the simplest of plays blown up, leading to a loss and all but NO chance at a division title.
Minnesota.  The Gophers are improving and will be dangerous next year.  The fake field goal was sweet.  But that was about the only bright spot.

The Ugly...
Iowa fans. Booing injured players?  Nice show of sportsmanship there.  Way to send a message to young kids at the game and watching on TV.  Flopping in the 4th quarter of a close game?  Maybe.  But in the 3rd quarter of a blowout?  Please.
Illinois.  That offense - or lack thereof - is quite possibly the nail in the Ron Zook career coffin.

Division Races and Bowl Projections
The races took some funky turns last week, notably in the Leaders Division.  With two weeks to play, here are my thoughts on how things will shake out...

Leaders Division:
Penn State and Wisconsin are in the driver's seat.  They go head to head in the last week in what should be a defacto title game.  Both have tough roadies this weekend, but we should get a doozy in the final week of regular season play.

I put Wisconsin at 80% likely to represent in Indy; Penn State at 20%.  OSU and Purdue need way too much help and are playing for bowl position not the division title.

Legends Division:
Michigan State is the only team that controls it's own destiny.  Nebraska and Michigan play an elimination game this week.  Iowa needs a lot of help.

I put Michigan State at 80% likely to make it to Indy; Nebraska at 19% and Michigan at 1%.  Michigan needs to win against NU and OSU and see MSU lose twice more.  Nebraska just needs to win out and get one MSU loss.  Iowa has really no shot.

Bowl Projections:
Looks like we will have a whopping ten teams eligible this year.  Shows the depth of the conference if not a clear hierarchy.

Big Ten Title Game: Wisconsin over Michigan State
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin
BCS Bowl: Nebraska
Capital One Bowl: Michigan State
Outback Bowl: Michigan
Insight Bowl: Ohio State
Gator Bowl: Penn State
Meineke Car Care Bowl: Iowa
Ticket City Bowl: Northwestern
Little Caesars Bowl: Purdue
At Large: Illinois

Get Gamm
We all went 4-2 with Mayo closest on the tiebreaker...

Minnesota at Northwestern
Indiana at Michigan State
Nebraska at Michigan (Game of the Week)
Wisconsin at Illinois
Iowa at Purdue
Penn State at Ohio State

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Toughest Sports Week Ever
I'm like everyone else this week... shocked, disgusted, horrified, disappointed, dismayed, sick to my stomach over what is going down in State College.  I've read and watched and listened to about every piece of news on this tragically historic "event" all week.  And the more I read, the worse it gets.

Lost in all of the angst and anger, chaos and disappointment and pointed commentary towards Paterno, McQueary, Curley, Spanier, et al is who we really need to be infuriated with - Jerry Sandusky.  I've watched this become a JoePa thing.  It isn't.  It shouldn't be.  This is a Sandusky thing first and foremost.  And what about the victims?  What must all of this do to them?  The focus on Paterno has turned this into a circus and taken the light off the fact that the accused is walking free right now, while the victims are running the gamut of emotions.  It leaves me incredulous.  Speechless really...

Rick Reilly of ESPN has one of the better stories right now.  And with that, I'll leave it to the thousands who are already covering this event.  My parting wish, a country resets its focus on what is right and wrong, how we were founded and on prayer and faith to put us on a path to healing.  To paraphrase Matt Millen, what kind of people are we that we can't stop these sorts of things from happening...

Get Gamm
It doesn't feel right to pick games.  But at the same time, the show must go on.  I feel for the PSU players, caught up as collateral damage.  How will they respond?  I can't even imagine...

Rice at Northwestern, Noon EST (BTN) - Yawn. This is why I hate going out of conference in the middle of the season.  Rice beat Purdue but hasn't done much else.  NU is riding high but has some work left and this really becomes a must-win when it comes to a bowl berth.  The Wildcats sleep early but awake late and get to .500.  Northwestern 31 - Rice 14.

Ohio State at Purdue, Noon EST (BTN) - Hmmm, Purdue looked good for a while before absolutely taking it on the chin at Michigan and then Wisconsin.  The Boilers need two more wins to go bowling.  Ohio State had the predictable hangover against IU last week.  OSU is getting better by the week and is still very much in the title chase.  Most think this will be close.  Sorry Dan and Phats, I don't agree.  Ohio State 41 - Purdue 17

Michigan State at Iowa, Noon EST (ESPN2) - I was on record last week with my UM - Iowa pick that these noon games in the central time zone are no friend to the eastern time zone schools.  That said, Michigan State can't - and won't care - when this game is being played.  The green and white have not won in Iowa City since 1989 and were slobberknockered there last year.  These teams control their own destiny.  I like a classic battle a la 2008 and 2009 but a victory 22 years in the waiting for MSU.  Michigan State 24 - Iowa 21.

Nebraska at Penn State, Noon EST (ESPN) - How on earth do I pick this one?  Nebraska is in a must win situation.  Penn State is in a no win situation.  The Huskers can't afford another loss.  The Nits want to win and get out of dodge.  Trips to C-bus and Mad-town look easy compared to what faces Penn State this week.  Will the players have focus, energy, will to win, etc?  Many of them say so because they've been doubted and knocked down a peg all season long.  This will be an uncomfortable game for both teams.  Penn State might need it more just to try and start a healing process.  But as much as I was sure that would happen before, I am not so sure anymore.  Nebraska 20 - Penn State 9.

Wisconsin at Minnesota, 3:30 EST (BTN) - The Badgers got back to UW football last week in a pasting of Purdue.  Minnesota is looking better each week as Gray gets fully established.  We saw what happened with the battle for Floyd... but this won't go that way.  UW is oodles better than Iowa.  Wisconsin rolls.  UW 45 - Minnesota 20.

Michigan at Illinois, 3:30 EST (ABC) - This one is all about bowl positioning.  Illinois has fallen on hard times.  Michigan suffered a tough loss at the hands of Iowa last week and is in danger of totally falling out of the Big Ten race.  These teams played an epic in Ann Arbor last year.  Don't expect quite the fireworks, but do expect Illinois to come off a bye week ready to right the ship.  Michigan falls out of the Legends race... Illinois 27 - Michigan 24.

Once again, thoughts and prayers with the victims of this outrageous act by Jerry Sandusky...

Monday, November 07, 2011

Game On!
Is anyone else as excited as I am that we have 12 teams and two divisions in the B1G?  We have seven of 12 teams in contention for the Big Ten title game.  No way that happens in the old world. While the parity that seems to exist means no national title contender, the race for Indy and the Roses alone is great theater.

And while the debate rages on over whether 'Bama and LSU was the greatest game of this century and should meet again in New Orleans this coming January, let's remember that the Big Ten has produced two or three of the very best games this season and has more depth than the SEC.

Speaking of "the big game" - as a college football fan, I thought it was great.  It was edge of your seat, cringe before the big hits, as hyped and advertised exciting.  I personally don't mind if the teams meet again, but do think that opens up way too many what if scenarios.  Plus, sequels are rarely ever as good as the first release.

Back to the Big Ten, in a weekend short on great match-ups, we had several thrilling games.  Indiana and Minnesota gave it their all, Northwestern stung Nebraska, and Iowa held off a late charge.  The better news? We have three more weeks of this remaining.  Game on!

The good...
Iowa. A week after the biggest head scratcher since, well, Iowa State, the Hawkeyes got a huge win against Michigan and find themselves in control - yes, that's right - in control of their Legends destiny.  Minnesota and Indiana.  Both were big time double digit dogs and scared the pants off of their home team opponents.  Moral victories for both.  Northwestern.  Wow.  The Wildcats made moving the ball on the black shirts look a lot easier than MSU did a week prior.  Hangover for the 'huskers?  Apparently.  Wisconsin. Back in style.  In a BIG way.

The bad...
Michigan State and Ohio State.  Proof positive that you can't take anyone for granted, ever.  While the home field edge in this league is crazy big, you can't sleep on teams that have nothing to lose.  Michigan.  Way too many dropped passes and mistakes to win on the road. The Wolverines need a lot of help now to win the division.

The ugly...
Someone has to be here.  Purdue.  A few weeks ago, people were high on a defense that was making noise.  Uh, maybe it was the lackluster offenses that D was facing.  Nebraska.  It was a close game, but to lose at home a week after gaining firm control of the Legends race?  U-G-L-Y you ain't got no alibi... Speaking of which, I am not sure I've ever read something so haneous and disgusting and troubling as the accounts and allegations against former PSU staffer Jerry Sandusky.  Could this be the most unfortunate way to end what should otherwise be a most celebrated coaching era in college football?

The race...
Ohhh things got interesting with that Northwestern upset in Lincoln.  Four teams are in play in the Legends Division, two control their own destiny, including an Iowa team left for dead after the disaster in Minny.  The Leaders Division race stayed the same but gets very interesting the last three weeks as well.  No sense in me setting the table for who's who and what's what, since ESPN did a great job, but I will offer my views on what I think will play out, followed by my bowl projections.

Legends Division:
Already noted that MSU and Iowa control their destiny.  But how about this for one possible, crazy, wild scenario?

Iowa beats Michigan State. Michigan beats Nebraska. Nebraska beats Iowa. The four win the rest of their games not including these head to heads.  Who goes? Michigan State in a tiebreaker with Michigan.  And this is just one of many scenarios.  Hang on tight!

Michigan State. Chances of winning the division? 60%
Iowa. Chances of winning the division? 20%
Nebraska. Chances of winning the division? 10%
Michigan. Chances of winning the division? 10%

Leaders Division:
Penn State is obviously in control here but the road games scare me a lot.  I think the week off helps with Nebraska coming in, but the Nebraska must win factor swings this game a bit too.  The scenarios aren't quite as crazy here, but with PSU playing OSU and UW to close the season, it gets interesting in a hurry.

Penn State. Chances of winning the division? 60%
Ohio State. Chances of winning the division? 25%
Wisconsin. Chances of winning the division? 15%

Weekly Bowl Projections...I'm sticking with Michigan State over Penn State for the Big Ten Championship and MSU in the Rose Bowl.  The rest could get very interesting with bowls having tough choices to make.

Rose Bowl - Michigan State @ 11-2
At Large BCS - Wisconsin (Badgers win out to claim this spot) @ 10-2
Capital One Bowl - Penn State @ 10-3
Outback Bowl - Nebraska @ 9-3
Gator Bowl - Michigan @ 9-3
Insight Bowl - Ohio State @ 8-4
Meineke Car Care Bowl - Iowa @ 7-5
Ticket City Bowl - Illinois @ 7-5
Little Caesars Bowl - Northwestern @ 6-6

Get Gamm...
Only Dan was able to keep up with me this week, also going 4-1.  But I edged him on the tiebreaker so I pick solo again.

Nebraska at Penn State (Game of the Week)
Michigan State at Iowa
Ohio State at Purdue
Rice at Northwestern
Wisconsin at Minnesota
Michigan at Illinois

Friday, November 04, 2011

Calm before the storm
Two teams have the week off to prepare for the stretch run - Penn State and Illinois - so the schedule isn't as good as it will be.  Nonetheless, every game matters in this new Big Ten world, and I have to say, it makes for more exciting times.  For kicks, we'll also pick the latest "Game of the Century" pitting LSU versus Alabama.  Since most have their picks in, it won't be our Game of the Week, although it should be...

Minnesota at Michigan State, Noon EDT (BTN)
The Spartans have likened this one, and all four remaining regular season games, to the playoffs.  The Gophers are riding into East Lansing on a bronze pig named Floyd.  MSU is getting healthier of late, Minnesota more banged up.  Michigan State laid an offensive, offensive egg in Lincoln.  Minnesota shocked its rival at home.  The Golden Gophers bring another multi-talented QB into the fold in Gray and have some confidence.  But I expect to see a steady diet of Pound, Green, Pound mixed in with some new wrinkles in the passing game and a positive Spartans response to the loss at Nebraska.  Michigan State 38 - Minnesota 10.

Indiana at Ohio State, Noon EDT (BTN)
If ever there was a time for the Hoosiers not to play OSU, this is it.  IU is playing a true freshman QB.  The top two receivers are done for the year.  The defense can't stop a thing.  Ohio State has new Leaders life after the stirring win over Wisconsin.  While a bit of a hangover is to be expected, especially considering the opponent, and injuries are mounting for key Buckeyes, the scarlet and gray are making strides and want to have a say in the Big Ten race.  It might be tighter than it should be for a quarter or so, but Braxton and the Bucks roll the hapless Hoosiers.  Ohio State 42 - Indiana 3.

Michigan at Iowa, Noon EDT (ESPN) - GAME OF THE WEEK
I'm not speaking from true player or coach experience here, but these 11am central kicks for teams that reside in the eastern time zone, well, suck.  You're on the road to begin with, playing when you should be watching Game Day or eating breakfast and too boot, Michigan is doing so against a very agitated and angry Iowa team.  It doesn't make for the best situation for the Wolverines.  A few things are on the line here.  Iowa needs a win to stay in the race.  So does Michigan.  Iowa needs to get the bad taste of last week out of its mouth.  Michigan wants to continue to silence the critics who predicted a typical M collapse after another loss to Michigan State.  I am truly on the fence with this one.  Michigan pounded Purdue on the ground last week and I think the Boilers have a better D than Iowa.  Iowa is hungry and often bounces back well (see MSU last year).  Plus, the road teams have been indefensibly poor this season (MSU, Wisconsin, Illinois). For some reason, I see Iowa pulling this one out in OT.  Iowa 41 - Michigan 35

Northwestern at Nebraska, 3:30 EDT (BTN)
I have to say, I'm pretty disappointed in the Northwestern season to date.  Three wins, all over teams with putrid records and not enough oompf to beat any of the big boys.  Nebraska meanwhile, has been rock solid.  The only hiccup was the loss at Wisconsin and that one was turned on three turnovers in a short period of time.  The defense has gotten better, the offense is tough to defend and the Cornhuskers are hungry.  Thing is, the schedule is back loaded and gets tough quick. This is a potentially tricky game too just because Northwestern has nothing to lose and Nebraska has so much to play for.  Still, Lincoln is an intimidating place to play and the Wildcats don't have the D to slow the Big Red down.  Nebraska 45 - Northwestern 24.

Purdue at Wisconsin, 3:30 EDT (ABC)
I would not want to be Purdue this weekend.  Wisconsin is two huge mistakes in the secondary from being potentially unblemished and in the national title hunt.  Purdue got bull whipped by Michigan last weekend and took a step back after a few nice moves forward.  The home cooking at Camp Randall is just what the doctor ordered for the Badgers.  UW needs to win out and hope for some help to get to Indy but you can bet has its sights set on just that.  Two straight losses didn't make Russell Wilson any worse, even if the Heisman talk has quieted.  UW runs wild.  Wisconsin 49 - Purdue 17

LSU at Alabama, 8pm EDT (CBS)
I love ESPN and their coverage of college football, but I'm sorry, the CBS college football jingle is the best in the business. I also love the announcing crew of Lundquist and Danielson.  No excuses for going to bed on this game as we gain an hour with the fall back to standard time at 2am Sunday.  Big games are often over-hyped and under perform, but I don't see that here.  These teams are so evenly matched that it comes down to a few things.  Special teams.  Big advantage to LSU here.   Home field.  Obvious advantage to Saban's boys.  It will be a lot like the No. 1 OSU vs. No. 2 UM game a few years back but with less points scored.  I like the Mad Hatters' (or Lesticles if you prefer) swashbuckling style.  But having seen first hand the NFL caliber team that Alabama fields, and knowing Nick Saban is the best in the business, I'm going with Bama.
Tide 17 - Tigers 14

Monday, October 31, 2011

Four Weeks Left, Six Teams Standing
Well, how's that for clarity? Michigan State's magic ran out with a thud in Lincoln.  But by late afternoon, what looked like a four team race in the Legends was down to three after Iowa inexplicably lost to rival Minnesota in maybe the biggest shocker of the day in college football.  Penn State dug out another workman like win to firmly plant itself in the Leaders Division driver's seat.  But that only after Ohio State made a statement and turned that division into a race.

Hang on tight!  It's going to be a wild ride.  Six teams - three per division - will vie for a trip to Indy.  I realize more are technically still alive, but I see this as six teams with sights on two slots.  More on who has what left and who I predict where later...

The good...
Ohio State. Wow.  I didn't see anything but that last 5 minutes and that was enough.  I felt like I was watching MSU - UW all over again.  Hat's off to Braxton Miller - who has now officially arrived.  And notice served to the rest of the league.  Penn State.  Ugly but who cares?  JoePa climbs to the tip top of the Division 1 leaderboard and the Nits do it like they have all year long - with defense and resilience.  Nebraska.  Finally, a dominating performance from that black shirt defense.  The Spartans never figured out how to beat it and the Cornhuskers made Cousins and MSU pay dearly. Michigan. Solid. Done the old fashioned way - on the ground, with authority. Minnesota. I thought for sure the Gophers were part of the Suck for Luck campaign!  Seriously though, vote of confidence this week for Coach Kill and a nice win to retain Floyd.  Northwestern.  The points were flying in Bloomington as the 'cats hit their stride on offense.  The defense still worries me but it was a win to stop the bleeding.

The bad...
Wisconsin. For all the tremendous spirit the Badger offense showed again in a late, improbable comeback, the secondary was torched again.  This time losing sight of a Buckeye receiver with 20 seconds left. Illinois. That makes three tough losses in a row with a schedule that still has some toughies.  Really hard when one of the most reliable kickers in the country doinks one that would have sent the game to OT. Michigan State. Part I.  The Spartans also belong in the ugly category.  The defense was not to blame - except for some very untimely penalties.  State flat out ran out of gas and it showed.  And that play calling? Come on! Purdue. After looking like they were going to be a part of this race and jumping out early, the Boilers were steamrolled in Ann Arbor.

The ugly...
Michigan State. Part II. Uh, can we have an adjustment please?  Nebraska dared MSU to run up the gut, and when the Spartans did, they gained yards in chunks.  Yet State chose to try and beat double coverage all day and it never worked.  Blueprint for the next four weeks?  Iowa.  That was fugly. Just when you think Iowa is going to rise up and be a part of the race, the Hawkeyes play uninspired football and lose a rivalry game to a very bad Minnesota team. The Hawkeyes are still a key player, with games against all three Legends leaders remaining. Indiana. Beating a dead horse is getting old but were the Hoosiers really this gutted and fundamentally unsound when Wilson came in?  There is a glimmer of hope in 38 points on offense.  But that was against one of the softest defenses in the conference.

The race...
Back to the very interesting Big Ten race.  Nope, we won't get a participant in the national title game this year.  Why?  The depth in the conference is very good.  There are six top 25 worthy teams and each of them will have a huge say in how this thing ends up.  Here is a look at what is left for each team, the probability of a trip to Indy (my odds) and who goes where in the bowl scheme of things.

Leaders Division:
Penn State - Currently 5-0 in conference play and with a two game lead on the pack.  Penn State has a bye this week, followed by a visit from Nebraska and trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin. The Nitanny Lions have the toughest slate remaining.  I like the way the defense is playing though, and while I don't see a 3-0 finish, 2-1 is highly possible, and thus I put the chances of Penn State making it to Indy at 50%.

Ohio State - Currently 2-2 in conference play with both losses to cross divisional foes.  The win over UW was huge as is having Penn State trekking to Cbus.  Indiana, at Purdue, Penn State and at Michigan remain. There is a better than average chance the trip to Michigan could be huge for the Buckeyes.  I see a 3-1 finish but that won't be enough.  Chances of making Indy - 25%.

Wisconsin - Currently 2-2 in conference play with the loss to Ohio State being critical.  UW still has Penn State left to close the season and the easiest road of the three: Purdue, at Minnesota, at Illinois, Penn State.  I see a 4-0 finish but that won't be enough to get the Badgers to Indy.  Chances of making it to Lucas Oil Field? 25%

Legends Division:
Nebraska - Currently 3-1 in conference play with a key win over Michigan State.  Nebraska has the toughest remaining road in the division with Northwestern, at Penn State, at Michigan and Iowa.  The defense has come alive and the offense is tough to defend but I see Nebraska taking it on the chin at Penn State, finishing 3-1 and falling out of the chase for Indy.  I put the chances at going to Indy at 40%.

Michigan State - Currently 3-1 in the conference after a brutal month of October.  The good news for MSU is that it has the easiest schedule between the division contenders - Minnesota, at Iowa, Indiana and at Northwestern.  I see a 4-0 finish and a trip to Indy to help put the unsightly performance in Lincoln to bed.  I put MSU's chances of making Indy at 45%

Michigan - Currently 3-1 in the division with a key loss to Michigan State and critical battles remaining.  Michigan has to go to Iowa and Illinois and then has Nebraska and Ohio State at home.  Iowa is stinging and will be up for this game.  Illinois is in a similar boat.  Nebraska and nemesis OSU close out the toughest slate of the three contenders.  I see a 2-2 finish and with the loss to Michigan State, a less than likely chance to make Indy.  Chances? 15%.

Way early bowl projections...
I see Michigan State and Penn State making it to Indy and MSU getting it's first Rose Bowl berth in 24 years.

Penn State will get shut out of the at large pool, as title game runner-ups are apt to be, and Nebraska gets the at-large BCS nod at 10-2.

Wisconsin slides into the Capital One Bowl at 10-2 and with the win over Penn State, while Penn State goes back to the Outback Bowl.

The Insight picks ahead of the Gator this year and goes with a 9-3 Michigan team.

Ohio State, at 8-4 heads to the Gator Bowl.

Illinois goes back to the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

Iowa manages a sixth win and goes to the TicketCity Bowl.

No one else makes a bowl and the Little Caesars falls back to the at-large pool.

Think I'm off base?  Tell me what you think?  The ESPN bloggers seems to be on the same wavelength.

Get Gamm:
Michigan at Iowa
Minnesota at Michigan State
Indiana at Ohio State
Purdue at Wisconsin
Northwestern at Nebraska

Friday, October 28, 2011

Encore, encore!
Is it just me or does everything seem a bit anti-climactic now?  I mean, don't get me wrong, we have a couple of great races going on in the first year of division play within the Big Ten, but can there be a better all around football game than the one that Michigan State and Wisconsin battled in last week?  That one had everything.

The good news is, we have some really good games on tap this weekend and plenty at stake.  That alone means we are far from peak season in what is shaping up to be an exciting B1G race.

Northwestern at Indiana, Noon EDT (BTN)
My gut says BTN wishes they had a shot at MSU - Nebraska instead of this one.  Indiana and the Chicago area will watch this one at least for a while, but other than alumni, is there any interest in this game?  Northwestern is better than they've shown record-wise.  Indiana may have found the future at QB in Iowa City.  The Wildcats are more talented overall and have a team that can beat anyone on a given Saturday.  The same cannot be said for IU.  Persa is dinged up but I like the Wildcats to mix he and Colter well and pull away late on Homecoming in Bloomington.  Northwestern 34 - Indiana 24.

Mayo says ... I really thought that Northwestern would be much better than they are right now. Dan Persa has had a tough go of it since his injury last year and although his backup Kain Colter seems to be pretty good running the offense, the defense looks like Michigan’s recent defenses (read non-existent). Indiana, whew something stinks in Bloomington. There are signs of a positive future, but it’s not going to be overnight. Northwestern 37 – Indiana 13

Purdue at Michigan, Noon EDT (ESPN2)
This could be an interesting game.  Many are watching to see if another great start to the season + loss to Michigan State = Michigan collapse.  I think this Michigan team is better than the last few, especially on defense.  The Wolverines won't have a total collapse but are playing for bowl position now because the loss to MSU, coupled with games remaining against Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio State more or less renders them an also ran in the Legends race.  Purdue is two wins from a bowl game and starting to come together.  The ground game and defense are underrated and with a blueprint on stopping DRob available courtesy of MSU, the Boilers will be ready.  Still a week off to prepare and heal and a hunger to prove the pundits wrong puts Michigan over the top.  Michigan 31 - Purdue 23

Mayo says ... Two up-and-comers with questions just about everywhere on the field, but both positioned for a post-season. A co-worker told me last February that Michigan wins 9 games this year. I scoffed at this thought, but now believe that might be at the high end of the year. Purdue needs to find some unbreakable players that can last a season to get where Hope wants them to be. Michigan 41 – Purdue 35

Michigan State at Nebraksa, Noon EDT (ESPN) - Game of the Week
Just like last week, this pits strength against strength.  Nebraska is top ten in all of the key rushing categories.  Michigan State is top ten in all of the key defensive categories.  The Cornhuskers boast a mobile QB who can beat you with his savvy, including his decisions in the option game.  The Spartans boast a front seven that gets after you because the back end is sound.  So, what gives?  Well, if the Spartans can contain T-Mart and force him to pass, this could go the way of the NU-UW game earlier this month.  Nebraska needs to get pressure on Cousins and avoid the big play.  The special teams are very evenly matched.  Both teams have great tailbacks. But I keep going back to the one dimensional tendencies of Nebraska against a really good run D.  The rule of thumb is keep Martinez from a run over 25 yards and you win (they are 9-0 when he has at least one 25-yard plus run a game).  MSU is hungry to keep proving that what you see is real and holds on for it's first ever stretch of three straight wins over ranked opponents.  Michigan State 27 - Nebraska 21

Mayo says ... Three weeks ago, I would have picked the Huskers hands down. Now, it’s not that easy. These Spartans that Dantonio has built are by far the most impressive team in the conference right now. Nebraska was greeted at Wisconsin very rudely and I expect Michigan State will not let up on the pedal this weekend in what will most likely be one of the best matches of the weekend. As a college football fan, I’d rather watch this than even LSU-Alabama. Michigan State 34 – Nebraska 30

Iowa at Minnesota, 3:30 EDT (BTN)
They are playing for the pig in Minnehaha. Iowa lost it last year and wants it back.  They will probably get it back without much of a fight.  I like that the Gophers made a statement and signed Coach Kill to a long term deal but that doesn't help in the now.  He is a few good, solid recruiting classes away from having the horses to sniff six or seven wins.  Makes me wonder why they ever fired Glen Mason, who if nothing else, got the maroon and gold bowling most years.  Iowa is starting to find its stride and this is a good tune up going into a month that has them taking on MSU, Michigan and Nebraska.  Iowa rolls.  Iowa 45 - Minnesota 17

Mayo says ... Iowa takes a 3 hour bus ride, sits in a beautiful new stadium and runs a few sprints up and down the field, takes a shower and a bus ride home. Minnesota wakes up, wonders why nobody likes them, lays down like a beaten dog and accepts that maybe next year they can play with the rest of their friends. Iowa 56 – Minnesota 10

Illinois at Penn State, 3:30 EDT (ABC)
This is where the Penn State schedule gets interesting.  Games remain with Wisconsin, Ohio State and Nebraska after this one so a win is imperative in the race for the top of the Leaders division.  Illinois is also at a crossroads.  The offense is stagnant and the Illini are playing tight.  The magic of the 6-0 start has been flushed and now the men in orange are tasked with a tough trip to State College to face a stout defense.  While I am still not sold on the Penn State's offense to consistently stretch the field, Silas Redd is a stud and can be a one man wrecking crew.  Illinois will come out inspired and ready, but Penn State staves off an Illinois rally and stays atop the Leaders.  Penn State 23 - Illinois 20

Mayo says ... Oh how the Illini have fallen. Starting 6-0 I thought this was going to be the year they surprise some heavyweights. Well, not so much now. Penn State has been playing stellar defense and their only loss is a national champion caliber squad. Paterno can still coach at 134 years of age and brings his team another victory. Penn State 44 – Illinois 14

Wisconsin at Ohio State, 8pm EDT (ESPN)
This is a very intriguing game. Ohio State is coming off a bye week and a solid road win at Illinois.  Wisconsin hits the road again as the opponent's biggest home tilt of the season.  The million dollar question is - will the Badgers be caught licking their wounds from the devastating loss at Michigan State, mired in a shell-shocked hangover, or will they come out hungry to avenge the loss and regain a bead on the leaders in the Leaders?  Ohio State is going to have to pass the ball more than four times to keep the Badgers honest.  Wisconsin can keep a good Buckeyes defense off balance with the Wilson, Ball, Toon, Pedersen combo.  After seeing Wilson first hand, I can attest, this guy is poised and mature beyond a typical senior QB.  The crowd will be rabid and a win keeps the Buckeyes in this race.  However, when push comes to shove, you have to pick the better team to win, even on the road. Wisconsin 24 - Ohio State 23.

Mayo says ... I remember back when this was a game I looked forward to watching every year. Maybe because it was the personification of the Big Ten style of football. Right now, Wisconsin might have to take a quarter to get back on track and Ohio State just wants a win to stop the bleeding. Unfortunately for Luke Fickell, his head coaching tenure appears to be completed at Ohio State by seasons end, this is one more step back. Ohio State 14 – Wisconsin 38

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hail yes!
Sorry for the delay this week... recovering from an amazing college football game in East Lansing last Saturday, and traveling for work.  But before I hit the road for home Wednesday am, I thought I'd better check in.  After all, what a weekend it was.

The Hail Mary will be what is most remembered, but let me tell you, the MSU - Wisconsin game was a classic college football game.  Big plays.  Comebacks.  Momentum shifts galore.  Two heavy weights going toe to toe to the finish.  Maybe we'll get lucky and get a reprieve in Indy that first weekend in December.  Then again, the encores are rarely ever as good...

The good...
The instant classic in E.L.  I want to watch it over and over.  It was - and I've seen some classics in Spartan Stadium - the best to date and will be hard to surpass.  Michigan State.  The defense forced rare UW turnovers.  The offense was efficient.  Special teams turned the tide.  Total team effort.  Wisconsin.  I can't put them in the other categories.  They were as advertised and still have to be the favorite in the Leaders Division.  Penn State.  Smoke and mirrors or not, the Nits keep getting it done.  Now that maybe they've settled on a QB, they can survive the upcoming schedule and sneak into the title game.  Purdue.  Finally, the Boilers are rewarded for playing a good game.  PU may never be a steady threat to win the title, but despite a spate of injuries, Danny Hope has this team poised to make a bowl.  Iowa and Nebraska get to be here too but they virtually had BYE weeks so no comment.

The bad...
Northwestern.  The Wildcats should not be 2-5.  The season is slipping away and the chances are very good that NU stays home for the holidays.

The ugly...
Illinois.  Hmmm, funny how not playing anyone early can bite you late.  Illinois is stagnant and predictable on offense and the defense isn't bailing out the O at the same rate.  So much for that amazing start.  Indiana and Minnesota.  I can't pick on them any more than placing them here. It's bad.  Real bad.

Get Gamm...
We had two go 4-1 but since Mayo picked the MSU win, he gets the nod over Dan.  Dan gets to move to the top of the standings now that he's picked enough games for the stats to even out.

This week...
Michigan State at Nebraska (Game of the Week)
Northwestern at Indiana
Purdue at Michigan
Illinois at Penn State
Iowa at Minnesota
Wisconsin at Ohio State

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Big Ten in the national spotlight
It's a big week for the Big Ten.  The SEC almost always dominates the airwaves and the headlines, but this weekend, ESPN's Game Day descends upon East Lansing for the best game in college football this week - Wisconsin v. Michigan State.

The rest of the slate is rather yawn-inducing, though the cat fight in Evanston could be fun to watch.  Only two games are division tilts but at this point, everyone needs Ws.

Illinois at Purdue, Noon EDT (ESPN2)
I think Illinois was exposed a bit last week by an Ohio State team that had been all together underwhelming on the season.  The Illini can play defense and have some offensive weaponry but prior to the loss had been squeaking by.  Purdue was some bad kicking from a very nice win in State College and has improved little by little, week by week.  Illinois is dead last in most statistical categories when it comes to special teams, which will bite them eventually. In the end, Illinois has more talent and the better defense and when push comes to shove, defense wins games.  Illinois 23 - Purdue 20

Indiana at Iowa, Noon EDT (BTN)
I know that Indiana has threatened Iowa with upsets each of the last few years, but this might be the worst team the Big Ten has seen in a really long time.  Add to it the fact that IU is missing a few key players and the picture is not pretty.  Iowa re-found the offense last weekend and should have no problem dominating in all facets this week as well.  On a side note, I'd hate the 11am local time start as a fan or a player!  Iowa 41 - Indiana 14

Nebraska at Minnesota, 3:30 EDT (ABC)
Raise your hand if you would rather see Nebraska and Iowa go toe to toe twice this season instead of seeing these teams play Indiana and Minnesota this week?  I said above that Indiana might be the worst team the Big Ten has produced in a long time?  Well, Minnesota is right there too.  The ONLY saving grace is that the Gophers played USC tough on the road in the opener and has a win over a D1 foe.  Then again, while IU has its only win against an FCS school, at least the Hoosiers beat an FCS school.  But I digress.  Nebraska comes off a bye hungry to get firing on all cylinders before a big battle with Michigan State next weekend.  Minnesota is battling injuries, guys skipping class, an unhealthy coach... Taylor and Rex win this one on their own.  Nebraska 49 - Minnesota 0

Penn State at Northwestern, 7pm EDT (BTN)
Something's got to give in this cat fight.  Penn State has been stout on D (3rd in scoring defense, 2nd in total defense, 3rd in rushing defense and 3rd in passing defense) and Northwestern has been able to move the ball with some measure of consistency (5th in total offense, 6th in rushing offense, 4th in passing offense).  With every game, Dan Persa is closer to his pre-Achilles self.  Penn State refuses to select a QB and is down its top receiver.  Silas Redd has been a stud and will need a strong performance in order for the Nits to stay unbeaten in the Leaders Division.  NU is 0-fer night games so far, but finds a way in this one, almost a must-win for the Wildcats.  Northwestern 24 - Penn State 20

Wisconsin at Michigan State, 8pm EDT (ESPN) - Game of the Week
The Badgers' first true test of the season and first real road game.  Michigan State's third tough league test in the past three games.  Wisconsin brings a bona fide Heisman candidate to the table in Russell Wilson.  Michigan State brings a dominant defense - the physical, gritty, tough variety common place in the days of George Perles regime.  Something has got to give.  While everyone and their brother wants to make this a UW O v. MSU D discussion, I want to look at the opposite. 

Wisconsin has the league's best scoring defense, third rated total defense, fifth ranked run defense and No. 2 pass defense. UW also is near the top in other key defensive categories.  However, aside from Nebraska, who has Wisconsin played?  That will be a key in this game, whether the so-called experts want to say so or not. Michigan State has the 8th ranked scoring offense, 7th rated total offense, 10th ranked rushing offense and 3rd ranked passing offense.  MSU allows the fewest sacks and leads the league in time of possession.

Seems like a slam dunk, eh?  Just like Vegas thinks (UW is giving 8 at this time).  Maybe, or maybe not.  Wiscy's true weak link is special teams.  While MSU hasn't been as buttoned up as the past, the Spartans changed last year's game with a punt return TD and are long overdue for a kickoff return for a TD.

The night atmosphere, MSU's defense and the fact that the offense is just starting to fire on all cylinders has me leaning against the popular pick.  If MSU is going to win just one of the next two, next week is the one to win, but why not win them both?  Gholston or no Gholston.  Michigan State 23 - Wisconsin 21.

Monday, October 17, 2011

And then there were three...
We went into an important week of conference play with five unbeatens.  We came out with three.  Wisconsin and Penn State rule the roost in the Leaders, Michigan State in the Legends.  The race is still on in both, as Illinois has yet to play either Penn State or Wisconsin and will try and have a final say in the deal.  Ohio State can still play the spoiler too.  The Spartans, meanwhile, still have to go to Iowa and Nebraska - one loss teams hungry to stay in the mix.  And frankly, Michigan might have one of the easier roads with home games remaining against its toughest competitors.

It was a great weekend for football around the Big Ten.  The only game never in doubt was Wisconsin v. Indiana.  The rest gave us plenty of entertainment and water cooler fodder.

The good... Wisconsin. Although I am disappointed that the Badgers scored 24 less this year than last.  What's up with that?!  Michigan State.  Another year of containing D-Rob.  Conditions were nasty, so MSU got back to Pound, Green, Pound and looked great doing so.  Sets up a great game this week with UW.  Ohio State.  The Buckeyes ratcheted up the D some more and made Illinois look silly at times.  Iowa.  That's the offense that was sorely lacking at Penn State.  Then again, maybe it only appears against sub-par defenses?  Penn State.  Solid, if not at all pretty.

The bad... Purdue. But not really.  The Boilers played Penn State tough.  They just get this rap after a loss.  Them's the breaks!  Michigan.  Two-fold.  The vaunted offense again looked below average against MSU's defense.  And those uniforms?  H-I-D-E-O-U-S.  Burn them. Or donate to kids looking to dress as bumble bees for Halloween.  Illinois. Phew, what's that smell?  The Illini offense.  Northwestern.  Great offense.  Zero defense.  Hard to win in this conference without a good D.

The ugly... Indiana. Sorry but wow, are they bad or what?  Penn State's offense.  It is hard to watch. Ohio State's offense.  Not all of it though.  The Bucks can run, especially with Boom back.  But one completion on four attempts?  Holy old school Batman!  The dirty talk regarding MSU - UM.  Especially that from Chris Spielman on the broadcast.  Please.  MSU was penalized as the officials saw fit.  And don't go thinking that M was squeaky clean.  Right before the "punch", Will Gholston's facemask was in hand with his helmet being pushed to the ground.  Kudos to Michigan coaches and players for calling it what it was - physical domination and not dirty play.  Media and fans?  Bag it.  This is football not patty cakes!

Got Gamm? No one bested my 4-1 and that catapults me back to the top overall, in a tie with Phats.

This week...
Illinois at Purdue
Indiana at Iowa
Nebraska at Minnesota
Penn State at Northwestern
Wisconsin at Michigan State (Game of the Week)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Get Gamm - Week Eight

For most, this is just another interesting week of conference play. A couple of good games and some other tune-ups for next week and beyond. For me? This is THE week. Michigan State and Michigan go toe to toe and there is plenty at stake. There is also plenty of talk, though mostly from former players.

Before I get picking though, I have to weigh in on the college football landscape.

Memo to Mizzou - stay where you are. The SEC will eat you alive and use you for the fact that you are about more than just sports (See Vandy). A&M was wisely replaced with TCU and if the Big 12 has its wits, Houston and SMU will follow to make it a happy family of 12 once again. Or, hey, do nothing and stay at ten. Forget BYU or Boise. My goodness can we get some regional reality in these conferences?

Speaking of which... the Big East is desperate. It is said to be courting schools as far south as Orlando and as far west as Boise. Please. May as well change the name to Big Spread All Over. Boise does not belong in the Big East. Nor does Air Force or even eastern based academies like Army and Navy. In fact, I think Army, Navy, Air Force, VMI and The Citadel should create their own militant conference... but that's just me.

Kudos to the Big Ten for staying put. The only logical move is when or if Notre Dame is ever truly fair game. Then you add them and only someone else if they make sense...

Now, onto the week at hand:

Indiana at Wisconsin, Noon EDT (ESPN2)
Yawn. Indiana is on the cusp of's Bottom 10. Wisconsin is coming off of a bye, ready and refreshed. It is Homecoming, which may be the only thing that keeps the crowd engaged. Kevin Wilson will eventually get the Hoosiers competing, but Russell Wilson pads the stats in a warm up for the big game in East Lansing (the last time the Badgers lost in conference was at MSU last year). Wisconsin 45 - IU 10

Purdue at Penn State, Noon EDT (BTN)
Purdue might wind up one of the those teams that somehow manages to make a bowl game this season. The Boilers aren't very good but have a chance in this one because Penn State's offense has been abysmal. I'll venture to guess that the Nittany Lions will be sluggish to start after a hard fought win over Iowa and that this will be a better game than expected. But PSU is flat out better and just keeps finding ways to win. Penn State 23 - Purdue 13.

Michigan at Michigan State, Noon EDT (ESPN) (Game of the Week)
Really? A noon game between two ranked teams? I guess OK and TX did it last week but come on. This is far better than OSU and Illinois. Ok, enough venting. The noon tilt back in 2009 was a memorable one - an OT win for the green and white. If you look at it carefully, Michigan State has had some of the best success in slowing D-Rob over his career. The Spartans bring a great defense if a sluggish offense to the table. Michigan has been far more opportunistic with the turnovers on D and is bending but not breaking. Typically this one goes to the team who rushes for more yards. M has the upper hand on offense, but State on defense and special teams. Spartans break it open late. Michigan State 31 - Michigan 17.

Ohio State at Illinois, 3:30pm EDT (ABC)
Well, we know OSU isn't totally dead yet - at least not if Braxton Miller is healthy. For as awful as he was made to look against MSU, Miller was a stud against Nebraska. Problem is, the Buckeyes fizzled and blew a 21-point lead. Illinois wasn't great last week at Indiana but that was to be expected after three close wins in a row. The Illini are good and should win this game, but I cannot believe that Ohio State will lose a third straight Big Ten game. OSU pulls off a mild upset. Ohio State 23 - Illinois 20

Northwestern at Iowa, 7pm EDT (BTN)
A battle of the bruised and battered. Iowa looked the part of a wrestling school at Penn State last week. Northwestern once again failed to sustain a lead against a good team. The Wildcats have given the Hawkeyes fits of late and the black and gold O took a giant leap back last week. I'm not sure who truly needs this one more, but for some reason I like the 'Cats to pull off the weekend's second road upset. Northwestern 26 - Iowa 24.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Gaining clarity, one game at a time...
We're still very early in conference play, but there seems to be some clear separation between the top, the contenders, the pretenders and the nobodies. The weekend saw some great comebacks - Nebraska and Michigan - the backing up of a bold statement (Penn State) and more clarity on who's who this season.

The best part? It gets even better this coming weekend with a slate of meaningful games on tap.

The good...
Michigan. Nebraska. Penn State. Illinois. Purdue.  Nice wins by all five.  Two solid comebacks. One statement backer. Two more good wins even in games that were near givens.  Nebraska was most impressive to me because the fans had turned on them, OSU was in control and things were spiraling fast.  Patience, a defensive surge and the Martinez-Burkhead combo were the nails in the Buckeye coffin.  Michigan overcame an ugly first half to dominate a NU team that looked inexplicably lost for two quarters.  Penn State had to back up the "Iowa is a wrestling school" call out by a player and did so with a dominating if not awe-inspiring performance.  Illinois and Purdue rolled - and should have.

The bad...
Ohio State and Northwestern.  The Buckeyes finally woke up their dormant offense and looked to be on the road to a romp in Lincoln.  Then Miller got hurt and that was all she wrote.  Bauserman looked - as my 12 year old said - fat, old, slow and with an arm of a middle schooler.  What a shame that the six-time defending champ has fallen so hard so fast.  Northwestern looked the part of contender until halftime.  Then it all unraveled.  The 'cats forgot the great spy defense that kept DRob in check early and let him right back in the Heisman race...

The ugly...
Iowa. Indiana. Minnesota.  The latter are not a shock and require no further comment (or beat down).  But Iowa? Really? That offensive display was, well, offensive.  Highly.  What happened to the offense that worked so well in a comeback win over Pitt?  And people, Pitt bull-whipped a good USF team so we know that was a nice win for Iowa.  There was no fight from the wrestling school that had owned PSU in the 2000s.

No dinna
For the first time this year, I beat all comers by taking the tiebreaker from Phats - who rebounded nicely after a bad week five.
This week...
Indiana at Wisconsin
Purdue at Penn State
Michigan at Michigan State (Game of the Week)
Ohio State at Illinois
Northwestern at Iowa

Friday, October 07, 2011

Get Gamm - Week Six
No sense beating around the bush.  The thermometer may say 80 and sun here in West Michigan, but we're halfway through the college football regular season.  Mayo is picking with me this week.  Can you beat either of us?

Minnesota at Purdue, Noon ET (ESPN)Not the Basement Bowl in total... that would only be if this were Minny and Indy.  Purdue stunk it up big time last week and is going a la Penn State with a two-headed QB system.  Sorry, not a big fan of that.  Minnesota has to be play better than last week, right?  Purdue does too.  The Boilers aren't all together good but are light years ahead of the Gophers.  Purdue 31 - Minnesota 13.

mayo says... In what could be the Bottom Of The B1G Barrel Bowl, this could be an ugly game. And I don’t mean one team taking the other to the woodshed ugly. I mean ‘can anyone score some points’ ugly. Combined scores against these two last weekend: 96-10. In a pick that even Phats will love, Purdue 13 – Minnesota 6.

Illinois at Indiana, 2:30 ET (BTN)
I had to do a triple check on the game time.  This is old school, sorry but your not on TV this week type of timing.  Of course we know EVERY game is on some sort of TV anymore but still, the time seems odd to me.  Illinois escaped last week with a comeback, throw away, comeback win over rival Northwestern.  Boy was that a kick in the nuts... pun intended - well, at least for the 'cats.  This is simple: Illinois is good.  Indiana?  Uh, see Minnesota.  ILL-INI roll.  Illinois 42 - Indiana 10
mayo says... Zook takes his impressive Illini squad next door to Bloomington for what should be a glorified scrimmage, although one player will not be on the field. Why on Earth would you knee a guy in the groin when you know there are cameras on you and there are two refs within 10 feet? Unbelievable. Regardless, Indiana is showing some signs that they could be on the way up, but it’s not going to be a quick fix. Illinois 34 – Indiana 14.

Iowa at Penn State, 3:30 ET (ABC)
If IU v. U of I is old school with its kick time, this is old school based on the style of play.  Iowa has gone to this magical hurry up since the Pitt game and is clicking but both teams get it done with defense first.  This is one of those cross division games that change rooting interests for fans.  And this is a toss up.  Coach Ferentz has had great success against the Nits.  PSU is struggling through two quarterbacks and a paltry kicking game but is at home.  Both teams are quietly sitting on just one loss but have been unimpressive at times.  Heads PSU. Tails Iowa. Flip, roll, bounce... Penn State 16 - Iowa 14.

mayo says... Oh how Penn State needs this win. Iowa can get things going in the conference with a nice win (again) over Paterno and his indecisive QB group. Iowa has had an extra week to prepare for a very mediocre Penn State group. Iowa 27 – Penn State 20.

Michigan at Northwestern, 7pm (BTN)
My Game of the Week.  Two teams with the potential to score in droves and one with a defense that appears improved, but I'm witholding judgment until the Wolverines play stiffer competition.  You know the fans clad in Purple will be hyped for this game and NU often fares well in these night games.  The key is Persa.  If he stays healthy, we've seen what he means.  If the cats can contain Denard and get off to a good start, they will emerge.  Michigan could get caught peeking ahead, but I doubt it.  Michigan 34 - Northwestern 27.

mayo says... Two of the most enjoyable quarterbacks to watch in the sport on the same field. I really like Persa because he has the better arm of the two, but the weapons that Michigan has at WR are the difference. Defenses may end up null and void here, and I don’t buy that Michigan’s defense is quite back yet. But they appear to be the better group in this matchup. Michigan 37 – Northwestern 29.

Ohio State at Nebraska, 8pm ET (ESPN)
Something has got to give in this one. Either the OSU offense will awaken and lay the hammer to what has so far been a vastly overrated defense or said defense will add to the woes of the scarlet and gray.  Those star players that were due back?  Uh, not so much.  You know the Cornhuskers are hungry to put last week behind them.  Nebraska 24 - Ohio State 20.

mayo says... Both of these teams got socked in the mouth last weekend. Ohio State learned that eventually Mark Dantonio was going to beat them with a good, old-fashioned defense and Nebraska was given a rude awakening that they weren’t going to walk through the B1G by Wisconsin. In what should be a spectacular rivalry for decades to come, Nebraska shows up and is able to muster a win over a still incomplete roster out of Columbus. OSU 16 – Nebraska 22.