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.