Every Thursday, Pickin' On the Big Ten breaks down action across the conference.
RIGHT: Let's face it, this is what everybody's talking about in the Big Ten this week.
We're now two weeks into the conference season and already things are starting to sort themselves out. It's clear that Penn State and Ohio State are going to duke it out for the conference title and a Rose Bowl berth, unless Penn State wins out and gets some help from the Big XII and SEC. It's clear that Illinois, Michigan State, and (probably) Northwestern constitute the conference's second tier. Just below them, put Minnesota (gadzooks, how long has it been since you could put the Gophers ahead of anybody in this conference?) and ... yeesh. Is Minnesota all alone in the third tier?
That leaves us with five teams who right now are fighting for one bowl slot, unless two Big Ten teams wind up in the BCS. Early estimates would favor Wisconsin, though it's starting to look like the Badgers may have been overhyped. (I'll save you the trouble, SEC fan: "All teams in the Big Ten are overhyped!" Oh, look, none of your teams have beaten Vanderbilt!)
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Iowa is a strange case, as usual. The Hawkeyes have been more unlucky than awful in their three-game skid, but there aren't any easy games left, except maybe this week. Purdue, Indiana, and Michigan? Stink, stank, and stunk.
MINNESOTA @ ILLINOIS
While the Gophers are the feel-good hit of the fall, rising from the depths of 1-11 ignominy to stand on the cusp of legitimate Insight Bowl consideration, the fact remains that they're still at best a third-tier team in the Big Ten. Sure, they're 5-1, but their best win was against Indiana, not exactly a resume-builder. They did well to stay within two touchdowns of Ohio State, but they got shredded by Beanie Wells and Terrelle Pryor.
The blueprint for beating Illinois, however, is simple: Stop Juice Williams and you win the game. The Gopher defense is much improved over last year (how could it not be?) but they don't have enough to contain Williams, who will have another big day.
|BANKING ON NEXT YEAR||17|
|BANKING ON JUICE'S NEXT YEAR||34|
IOWA @ INDIANA
Look, every game is a must-win, but this, I guess, is a must-must-win for both teams. The loser of this game will be staring up from an 0-3 hole with no easy games left on the schedule. (IU still has a non-conference game against Central Michigan, but that's no gimme.) Thus, whoever loses this game has the best chance of everybody to finish dead last in the conference.
Both teams come into this game on a three-loss skid, but that's not to say they're in the same place. Iowa has lost three straight heartbreakers, and they have nobody to blame but themselves for each loss. Indiana, on the other hand, has been blown out by Ball State and Michigan State, and played Minnesota tough but couldn't make anything at all happen on offense.
Kellen Lewis has picked the Hawkeyes' bones clean in each of the past two seasons. Of course, he had James Hardy to throw to. Hardy's gone, and Lewis himself isn't even the full-time quarterback any more. Both these teams are still working off their patsy karma from September, but Iowa is a little further along in the process and should prevail.
|ONE WEEK'S VACATION||23|
|THESE SCORN FLAKES ARE DELICIOUS||16|
TOLEDO @ MICHIGAN
It's a good thing Toledo isn't very good this season. A very good thing, as far as Rich Rodriguez is concerned.
The Wolverines reverted to form last week, stinking up the joint while getting curbstomped by the Illini. The defense had been the only thing keeping them in games all season, but they simply got overwhelmed by one guy. Michigan's offense performed okay, but no better than okay. Toledo, however, is reeling, making this a perfectly-timed game for the Wolverines, who should blow the doors off the Rockets. Wait, rockets don't have doors.
|GLASS JOE FROM THE GLASS CITY||10|
|COULDN'T BEAT PIZZA PASTA||28|
Know Your Non-Conference Tomato Can: The University of Toledo
Located in the heart of the largest city in northwestern Ohio, the University of Toledo is one of only seventeen universities in the United States with schools of medicine, law, business, education, pharmacy, and engineering. Not bad for a school which started off in 1872 as a trade school.
Today the University of Toledo enrolls more than 20,000 students and has the third-largest budget of any public university in Ohio. While the school's best-known football players include former Tampa Bay quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and current Minnesota running back Chester Taylor, the school's best-known alumnus ought to be Fred Baur. Why, you ask?
Because Fred Baur invented the container and the packaging technology which made Pringles potato chips possible. Baur, who died earlier this year, had part of his ashes buried in a Pringles can. Clearly, he was a man who made a significant contribution to modern American life.
MICHIGAN STATE @ NORTHWESTERN
Is Northwestern a legitimate 5-0 football team? Their best win is over Iowa, but who knows if that's much of a distinction this year? Michigan State, on the other hand, is looking more and more like the real thing. They aren't dominant enough on either side of the ball to challenge to for a league title, but then again they haven't lost a conference game yet.
Iowa showed last week that Javon Ringer can be stopped if you sell out your defense to contain him. Northwestern's defense is nasty, but not quite as nasty as Iowa's . The Wildcats are themselves vulnerable to the "one guy" syndrome, as C.J. Bacher appears to have taken a step back this season. It'll come down to which offense finds an exploitable weakness in the other team's defense. Just by virtue of having superior weaponry, I like Sparty in this one.
|ALL THIS AND IZZO TOO||31|
|BASKET-BALL? NEVER HEARD OF IT||24|
PURDUE @ OHIO STATE
The Buckeyes would like you to know that they are not a football team to be disregarded, thank you very much.
The Boilermakers would like you to know that it's not long until basketball season.
PENN STATE @ WISCONSIN
This game isn't the title tilt that it looked like four weeks ago, thanks entirely to the Badgers and their sudden inability to finish football games. The Michigan loss was a bed-soiling all around; last week's OSU loss was largely due to an inability to throw the ball when throwing the ball is what was needed. Bret Bielema has intimated that he's not afraid to pull Allan Evridge for Dustin Scherer if Evridge doesn't step up his game.
This, however, is not really a game in which you want to try out new things on offense if you're the Badgers. Penn State's point production was a little off last week, but the Nits denied the Boilermakers (who have never been accused of being unable to score points) for the first 90% of the football game. Wisconsin's only hope is for lots of long, rushing-oriented drives which eat up the clock and keep the Penn State offense off the field. Even one turnover, however, may prove fatal for the Badgers, as PSU can rack up points in a big hurry--and Wisconsin has always had troubles against the spread offense. Stay off of State Street after this one; the Badgers are dropping to 0-3 in the conference.
|I KNEW MARIAN BEFORE SHE WAS A LIBRARIAN||38|
|76 TROMBONES MISSED THE BUCKEYE GAME||17|
Next week's games!
- Indiana @ Illinois: Remember when this game used to be funny?
- Wisconsin @ Iowa: If both teams lose this week, this game will be huge
- Ohio State @ Michigan State: Ought to help sort some things out
- BYE @ Minnesota: Last year the Gophers gave up 38 points in this one
- Purdue @ Northwestern: Will almost certainly be played
- Michigan @ Penn State: Not even Michigan's D can shut down the Nits