Every team in the league is nearly at midway point already. It seems like just yesterday we kicked off the season with a lot of cupcakes and some bad buzz for the Big Ten Conference. Thankfully that crap is over and the big boys are getting ready to battle with college football really starting to take hold across the Midwest. The chill is even in the air! It just feels like the magic is about to start.
Michigan State Spartans at Indiana Hoosiers (12 PM EST, Big Ten Network)… Both teams come into this one in positions they certainly didn’t expect. The Spartans were expected to be a Legends division contender led by a strong defense and a ground and pound offensive attack behind running back Le’Veon Bell. We’ll they’ve done their job for the most part but quarterback Andrew Maxwell and his receivers just aren’t on the same page. The amount of drops, misses on “hot reads” and poor route running has dearly cost Sparty. Certainly a national title berth is out of the picture but if they run the table the Rose Bowl isn’t. Indiana should have been 3-0 heading into their B1G opener against the Northwestern Wildcats but their defense was a major sieve against the Ball State Cardinals, especially late, and they now look very unlikely to make a bowl in head coach Kevin Wilson‘s second year. If they can steal this one though at home things could change. I just don’t see it. Michigan State will pound the run early and often, grabbing over 200 yards on the ground. Indiana’s quick strike offense won’t have success against an athletic Spartans front. Michigan State 28 – Indiana 10.
#24 Northwestern at Penn State Nittany Lions (12 PM EST, ESPN/ESPN 3D)… Northwestern is back in both the AP and Coaches Poll for the first time since 2008. The Wildcats took care of 3 BCS level opponents in the non-conference portion of their schedule and are riding high. This despite head coach Pat Fitzgerald rotating quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian and a defense that is susceptible to giving up big plays. This is the type of game Northwestern has lost in the past and killed any early buzz the Chicago area had for the “purple cats”. Win this one and “Chicago’s Big Ten team” might be for real. Penn State was obviously distracted coming into the year after the Jerry Sandusky scandal and it took a toll. However, the transfers of offensive studs Silas Redd and Justin Brown hurt even more but it looks like the Lions have finally settled in. Quarterback Matt McGloin has really been outstanding, spreading the ball around to his tight ends and receivers which was a trait of the New England Patriots offense under current head coach Bill O’Brien. The Lions defense, under new defensive coordinator Ted Roof, is legit led by linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges. Penn State 21 – Northwestern 17.
Illinois Fighting Illini at Wisconsin Badgers (3:30 PM EST, ESPN2/ABC “reverse mirror”)… Another game with two teams at a serious crossroads. Wisconsin blew a big 2nd half lead last weekend against the Nebraska Cornhuskers and have major issues on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Joel Stave was knocked out late on Saturday and the offensive line has been just awful. Sure some of this had to be expected with three new starters on the line but running back Montee Ball has been little help in taking pressure off those guys. He’s been dinged up and just isn’t showing the ability to get off the line like he did last season. Illinois meanwhile continues to give up an absurd amount of big plays on defense despite having legit NFL talents in Michael Buchanan, Akeem Spence and Jonathan Brown. If the Illini can somehow get a running game going against a Wisconsin defense that got worn down as the Nebraska game went on, they have a small chance to win at Camp Randall. Wisconsin 24 – Illinois 7.
Michigan Wolverines at Purdue Boilermakers (4 PM EST, Big Ten Network)… This is my sleeper game of the week in the Big Ten. Michigan is a tough team to figure out. Obviously losing the heart of their defense in DT Mike Martin and the heart of their offensive line in center David Molk made a quick start unlikely but I doubt most Wolverines fans saw these struggles. The Air Force Falcons game came down to the final possession and the whole team stunk up the joint against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Quarterback Denard Robinson must cut down on the turnovers. If I’m offensive coordinator Al Borges, I forget the damn deep ball and get him some confidence early. Purdue’s strength is in their front 7. Outside of Ricardo Allen, test those corners and safeties ability to defend in space. Purdue meanwhile has a big chance if they can grab this one. Winning the Leaders division is a damn fine possibility as the Ohio State Buckeyes and Penn State are ineligible. I want to see Purdue feed running back Akeem Shavers a heck of a lot more. He’s a speed back that shows good vision and has the ability to break the big play. Michigan will wear down and then you’ll be able to throw for the win. Purdue 20 – Michigan 14.
#21 Nebraska at #12 Ohio State… “You are looking live”… oh wait that’s not my place. Must respect King Brent, but even he’s excited for this one. Nebraska’s big comeback last Saturday gives them renewed hope heading into this big road test in the Horseshoe. I wasn’t really impressed with quarterback Taylor Martinez against Wisconsin. It looked to be his fundamentals regressed a bit and he started pushing the ball again. Despite that, he used his best asset, his legs, and was key to the victory. With Ohio State’s very good front 7 both running backs will have to be big. I want to see more and more of sophomore Ameer Abdullah in the backfield. He’s already shown he’s a serious weapon in the return game but his speed makes him already on of the most electrifying players in the conference. In my view you start a game with him and finish it with Rex Burkhead who despite his recent fumbling problems is still a load to bring down. The Buckeyes just slopped their way to victory last Saturday in East Lansing and will put most of the load once again on quarterback Braxton Miller. While he’s not really in the Heisman discussion anymore, he’s still is the best player on the field for either team and must again do something special this week. Starting running back Jordan Hall won’t play and Carlos Hyde is nothing more than a short yardage guy. Expect Miller to hook up with wideouts Devin Smith and Philly Brown early and often but finish the game with an explosive play on the ground. Ohio State 28 – Nebraska 17.