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