A weekly feature that checks out the action coming up in the Big Ten conference...
It's Week Ten in the Big Ten, and the question I have is - does anyone care what happens in this conference this week? Okay obviously all of us Big Ten fans care, but on a national level, the answer is probably no. The country's attention is focused on the ESSSS EEEEE CEEEE SPEEEEEEED game-of-the-millennium of LSU-vs-‘Bama. And then we've also got the undercard games of Arkansas against South Carolina, and Okie State and K-State.
Meanwhile, the most exciting thing going down in the Big Ten is... well, actually all of the games this week are pretty much crap. The only redeeming feature of any of them is the possibility for epic fail. If Michigan State loses to Minnesota, Ohio State to Indiana, Nebraska to Northwestern, or Wisconsin to Purdue, I predict the creation of an entirely new internet meme, because all of the current fail memes wouldn't be enough combined to fully encapsulate the level of fail that would be on display.
Nevertheless, here at the Big Ten Digest we'll still take a look at all the games and the relevant lines and let you know whether this week will see any upsets, but first, a quick check of the standings in the conference.
Big Ten Conference Standings
(updated 10.30.2011 at 1:45 AM CDT)
|Penn St. Nittany Lions||5||0||8||1|
|Ohio St. Buckeyes||2||2||5||3|
|Illinois Fighting Illini||2||3||6||3|
Eight teams are still mathematically in the hunt for a spot in the championship game in Indy. Of course, realistically, only six actually have a shot at getting to the title game unless all hell breaks loose in the conference. One of those teams, Penn State, is on a bye this week, with the other five all playing in games that they really should win.
Week Ten Games:
Week Ten features a slate of games that should all turn out as wins for the favorites. The only real question is on the spreads. Will all teams cover? Read on to find out what the Digest thinks...
Minnesota at No. 17 Michigan State (11:00 A.M., Big Ten Network)
Minnesota just knocked off Iowa for a second year in a row, while Michigan State suffered an epic beat down in Lincoln against a suddenly revitalized Nebraska squad. But if anyone tells you to bet on the Golden Gophers in East Lansing, they should be screened for the crazy, because that's exactly what such a prediction is. State is still very much in the championship game hunt, and by some accounts has an easier time of getting there than the newbies in Nebraska. But of course that track starts this week against Minnesota. Jerry Kill might be building something up there in Dinkytown, but I see a revitalized Spartan offense under Kirk Cousins putting the hurt on Minnesota, while the defense in East Lansing shows just what a talent deficit looks like. The last time State lost in embarrassing fashion, to Notre Dame, they came out and put a 45-7 beat down on Central Michigan, a team that is slightly better than Minnesota.
Current Line: Michigan State, a 27.5 pt favorite.
Pick: State, covering the spread
Indiana at Ohio State (11:00 A.M., Big Ten Network)
Ooooof. This is one of those games that is perhaps guaranteed to make prognosticators look silly in a week or two. No, not because Ohio State is going to lose. Barring an injury to Braxton Miller that sees Joe Bauserman under center, Ohio State will romp to a victory in the ‘Shoe. Rather, this is one of those games that's going to make many think that the Ohio State offense is clicking right along, when really it's just the case that Indiana's defense is horrifically bad. They gave up 59 points to Northwestern last weekend, and it probably would have been more were the Wildcats not somewhat conservative minded towards the end of that game. They're going to give up a bucketload even to a shaky offense like that of the Buckeyes, but that doesn't mean that the patient along the Olentangy is healthy. We won't know the real state of health in Columbus until their November 19th tilt against Penn State.
You could make an argument for the Buckeyes not covering - namely that they haven't won by more than 20 during any game except for their opener against Akron, but that ignores the fact that Braxton Miller finally seems to be shaking off the freshman jitters, and that their more recent wins against Wisconsin, Illinois, and their loss to Nebraska, in which they scored 33, 17, and 27 points were all against teams with vastly better defenses than the one featured by the Hoosiers. On the Indiana side, they've lost by 21 to Northwestern, Iowa, and Illinois. They lost by six to Penn State, and by 52 to Wisconsin. Looking at this game, I see it more likely to turn out like the game against the Badgers than the others. NU, Iowa, and the flying Zookers all have issues on one side of the ball or the other, while Penn State's offense is quite often putrid, so I go with a big win by the favorite.
Current Line: Ohio State, a 27.5 pt favorite
Pick: OSU, covering the spread
No. 15 Michigan at Iowa (11:00 A.M., ESPN / ESPN3)
Continuing our slate of early action, we have the overlooked Wolverines traveling to Kinnick, where the Hawkeyes try to salvage something after their loss to Minnesota. At this point, it would take a whole lot of chaos for Iowa to get to Indy, but they could still make a decent bowl if they manage to pick up the pieces starting this Saturday. Meanwhile, Michigan is trying to sneak into Indy. Their hopes rest on the continuing health of Denard Robinson, though the emergence of Fitzgerald Toussaint as a decent outside running option should help take some of the workload - and some of the hits - off the back of Robinson in the weeks going forward. I agree with the lines on this game, namely that it'll likely be one of the closest of the weekend in the Big Ten, but I still think there's just too much wrong in Iowa City for the Hawkeyes to pull out a win here. In fact, I think it's much more likely that Iowa hoodwinks the other team from the Mitten State when they came to town, rather than the Maize ‘n Blue.
Current Line: Michigan, a 3.5 pt favorite
Pick: Michigan, covering the spread
Northwestern at No. 10 Nebraska (2:30 P.M., Big Ten Network)
Now this is an interesting game. The chances of the Wildcats coming out of Lincoln with a victory are slim at best, but the chances of them putting up a heap of points on the Blackshirts and busting the spread are much more likely. Northwestern has doubled or come close to doubling the average PPG of several of the better scoring defenses in the conference, and they seem to do better against teams that rely on the run to generate yardage over teams that rely on some form of the spread (because, even though the defense as a whole is bad up in Evanston, the secondary is REALLY bad. Well, half of the secondary is really bad. But, still.)
I think Northwestern loses, again. But I don't think Nebraska covers in this battle of the NU's. The Wildcats have lost by more than 10 only once this season - against Michigan - and Michigan is rated at 79th overall in passing yardage, while Nebraska is 106th. Better analogues for this game are probably the games against Illinois and Penn State. Both of those teams rely on their running game because of iffy passing, and while both ultimately beat Northwestern, they did so by three points and ten points respectively.
Current Line: Nebraska, a 16 pt favorite
Pick: Nebraska, not covering the spread
Purdue at No. 20 Wisconsin (2:30 P.M., ABC / ESPN2 / ESPN3)
The final game in the conference this week is perhaps the best test of just what type of a team Wisconsin is this season. Are they the dominant team they looked against easier competition in the beginning of the season? Or, are they the snakebit team that finds new ways to lose winnable games each week? This game is back at Camp Randall, where Wisconsin has historically been pretty damn good. But how much heart do these Badgers have? They came back from double digit deficits against both Michigan State and Ohio State, only to lose in the final minute of each of those games in heart wrenching fashion. Do they have it in them to win out the season and salvage what was supposed to be a special year? Or will they let the heartbreak of the last two weeks be the story of the 2011 season?
Your guess is as good as mine, but the optimist in me says that they'll recover from the two losses they suffered on the road and find a way to Indianapolis when all is said and done. That starts this week. At home. Against the Boilermakers.
Current Line: Wisconsin, a 25.5 pt favorite
Pick: Wisconsin, covering the spread
That's what the slate looks like for this week. A few final selections to help set your weekend viewing schedule:
Best Game to Watch: In the morning, watch the showdown between the Wolverines and Iowa at Kinnick if you actually want to see good football, and the Nebraska and Northwestern game in the afternoon. If you're more in the mood for a good old fashioned ass whoopin, then check out the Minnesota at MSU and the Purdue at Wisconsin games.
Most Likely Upset: Uhm... none, really. There is no upset here that is likely. I suppose the least surprising would be Iowa over Michigan, but I still wouldn't rate that as "likely."
Random Thought of the Week: LSU beats Alabama and Okie State gets shut out of the championship game, either because they lose to Oklahoma or they get passed over for Stanford. Yes, I just said passed over by Stanford.