ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 10: Fans fill University of Michigan Stadium prior to the start of the game between the Michigan Wolverines and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on September 10, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
The Big Ten Digest returns with a look at the news in the conference and a preview of week four action...
Hey college football fans. Welcome back to the Big Ten Digest! The Digest was on hiatus for a while, but now it's returned to bring you all the latest news coming out of the Big Ten conference. In the weekly series, I'll take a look at news updates in the best conference in the country, rankings shifts, standings, and previews of the weeks upcoming games. I'll also give my picks for the most likely upset of the week, and for the best games to glue your eyes to while you drink that third MGD of the afternoon (or morning)...
The conference has been relatively quiet since this past weekend's action, with most of the news in the college football world concerning the chaos that is going on across the rest of the country. The only news item of note from a B1G school is that Michigan State's starting right tackle, Skyler Burkland is officially out for the season after suffering a broken bone in his leg against Notre Dame.
Meanwhile, the rest of the college football world continues to careen off in unexpected directions. After Pittsburgh and Syracuse bolted the Big East for the ACC, there has been talk of a merger between the officials who head the Big East and the Big 12. This situation would only occur if some combination of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech bolt the conference for an expanded Pac-12/14/16. However, recent news out of the Pac-12 suggests the conference is closed off to the idea of expansion. Do I believe that? Not really. Just as I don't believe the Big Ten is truly done with expanding, I think the situation across the college football landscape is quite unsettled and could really change at any point in time.
The Big 12 isn't the only conference experiencing instability. The Mountain West Conference has apparently explored the possibility of merging with C-USA, while the ACC is considering poaching more Big East teams with the additions of schools like Rutgers and UConn. Speculation is also high on who the SEC's 14th team will be, with guesses ranging from Missouri to Florida State to West Virginia.
Five Big Ten teams are ranked in the AP or USA Today after week four. Here's how the rankings shakeout:
Illinois: AP Top 25: 24 (previously NR), USA Today: NR (previously NR)
Michigan: AP Top 25: 22 (previously NR), USA Today: 21 (previously NR)
Michigan State: AP Top 25: NR (previously 15), USA Today: 23 (previously 15)
Nebraska: AP Top 25: 9 (previously 11), USA Today: 9 (previously 10)
Ohio State: AP Top 25: NR (previously 17), USA Today: NR (previously 16)
Wisconsin: AP Top 25: 6 (previously 7), USA Today: 7 (previously 8)
With one more week of non-conference play ahead of us, the current standings in the Legends and Leaders division are below.
Big Ten Conference Standings
(updated 9.19.2011 at 9:04 AM CDT)
|Illinois Fighting Illini||0||0||3||0|
|Ohio St. Buckeyes||0||0||2||1|
|Penn St. Nittany Lions||0||0||2||1|
Week Four Preview:
Week Four sees more non-con action, with few of the schools of the conference facing any kind of real challenge in their games. Four schools remain undefeated in the conference, but the big story of the week will be the San Diego State vs. Michigan game, as Brady Hoke welcomes his old team to Ann Arbor. The weekend will have ten Big Ten games, as both Purdue and Northwestern are on byes.
Western Michigan at No. 24 Illinois (2:30 P.M., CDT, Big Ten Network)
Newly ranked Illinois will try to preserve their undefeated record through the end of non-con play as they welcome Western Michigan to Champaign. Western Michigan is currently 2-1 overall, 1-0 in the MAC conference. The Broncos are led by quarterback Alex Carder, who has already thrown for 681 yards and 5 TDs with a completion percentage of 72.1%. The Broncos run a hybrid 4-3 defense anchored by Johnnie Simon with 22 tackles thus far on the season. Illinois leads the overall series 2-1, though the Illini lost their last meeting with the Broncos in 2008, 23-17.
As long as Illinois isn't looking ahead to conference play, they should have little trouble against a Western Michigan team that had a -3 turnover margin against Michigan during the first week of the season.
Current Line: Over/Under: 55, Illinois a 12.5 point favorite.
Pick: Illinois and the over
Indiana at North Texas (6:00 P.M., CDT, ESPN3)
Fresh off his first win at Indiana, Kevin Wilson takes the Hoosiers down to North Texas to finish off the non-con slate. North Texas is currently 0-3 (0-1 in the Sun Belt). They run a spread offense, though QB Derek Thompson is only 46-82 with 1 TD on the season. Even with Indiana's still questionable defense, they should be able to hang with an equally questionable offense. This is the first time the two teams have met, but in their first three games of the season, the Mean Green have given up a minimum of 41 points. Last week Alabama's pro-level defense completely shut them out. I don't think Indiana will be able to pull that off, but I still like Indiana to cover the spread at slightly more than a TD.
Current Line: Over/under: 54.0, Indiana a 7.5 pt favorite.
Pick: Indiana and the over
Louisiana-Monroe at Iowa (11:00 A.M., CDT, Big Ten Network)
As Iowa celebrates their incredible comeback against Pitt, they'll welcome 1-2 Louisiana-Monroe to Kinnick. The Hawkeyes are looking to head into conference play at a healthy 3-1. James Vandenberg leads Iowa with 825 passing yards and 7 TDs on the season, and he'll go up against the 3-3-5 defense of Lousiana-Monroe featuring Darius Prelow, who leads the team with two interceptions on the season. This will be the first meeting of the two teams. Though Iowa lost to Iowa State and had serious trouble against Pitt, they should be able to handle this game. If they don't, then Hawkeye fans will have serious cause to worry about the rest of the season.
Current Line: Over/Under: 50, Iowa a 17.5 pt favorite.
Pick: Iowa and the under
San Diego State at No. 22 Michigan (11:00 A.M., CDT, Big Ten Network)
The big story of the week will be Brady Hoke hosting his old team as they come to Ann Arbor. Michigan is also undefeated and looking like they could have a much better season than many initially predicted heading to the year. Then again... it took a heroic last ditch effort in the 4th quarter to give Michigan a comeback victory against Notre Dame two weeks ago, and though they've won their other two games of the season against the directional Michigan schools, it's not like those schools provide all that mch competition.
SDSU is currently 3-0 and chugging along nicely in the MWC. I still think Michigan can handle them, but with the Wolverine defense a bit questionable still... I wouldn't exactly write this game off as the type of cream puff that most of the rest of the conference is seeing this week. Did I mention that the Aztecs already have a QB with seven TDs on the season and only one interception? Okay, so it's true that Ryan Lindley only has a 53.7% completion percentage on the season, but still. They also have a rusher in Ronnie Hillman who has yet to have a game this season where he's rushed for less than 100 yards.
Current Line: Over/under: 60.5, Michigan a 10.5 pt favorite.
Pick: Michigan for the win, but I don't think they cover the spread. I also take the over.
Central Michigan at Michigan State (11:00 A.M., CDT, ESPNU)
After their disappointing loss to Notre Dame, the question is, who exactly is this Spartan team? They faced easy teams in the first two weeks of the season yet somehow ended up ranked... then looked terrible against a Notre Dame squad that was still way too turnover prone. Then again, they'll end their non-con slate with a mac-rifice game against the Central Michigan Chippewas, who are currently 1-2 overall (0-1 in the MAC). The CMU quarterback has only thrown for three TDs on the season, a completion rate of 53%, and four interceptions. I think the intangible is a big factor in this game - I'm sure Sparty is more than a little embarrassed by their performance against the Irish, and I expect the Spartan defense to come out and really brutalize CMU as a result.
Current Line: Over/under: 50.0, MSU a 24.0 favorite
Pick: Michigan State and the under.
North Dakota State at Minnesota (6:00 P.M., CDT, BTN)
Finally... a team Minnesota can easily handle! Right?? Or... maybe not. ND State is currently 2-0, but it's not like the Bison have played any sort of real competition. Meanwhile, we really don't know what to make of Jerry Kill's Minnesota team. The Gophers hung with and nearly took down USC in week one, but then dropped a game to New Mexico State, before rebounding against a solid Miami (OH) squad. So if this every-other pattern continues, then this week they should drop a winnable game to NDSU. Buuut... I don't think that's the way this goes down.
I think Minnesota is improving. I also think they, more than Purdue or Indiana, are the team that probably isn't bowl bound, but is sort of going to be the one to take down a better Big Ten team later in the season. They sort of have the crazy eyes. You never know what they'll do. But I think they win here.
Current Line: No current line available
No. 9 Nebraska at Wyoming (6:30 P.M., CDT, Versus)
Let's be clear. The only way that Nebraska drops this game is if they're looking ahead to Wisconsin already. Yes, I know Wyoming is 3-0 and and Nebraska's defense has looked anything but dominant these last few weeks. But... they just aren't the same class of team. Wyoming has been terribly inconsistent in their first three games. In two games, they allowed 500+ yards to their opponents, even while getting a win. Then, in another, they held the opposing offense to less than 200. The only consistent factor has been their defense is weaker against the pass than the run. Of course, Taylor Martinez is much better at scrambling and using his legs to get yardage than at passing consistently. But really, will this make much of a difference? Probably not. Like I said, these teams just aren't on the same level.
Of course there is the question of whether the blackshirts actually show up to this game. Is this finally the game where Nebraska's defense acts like a Husker defense? I don't know. I think Nebraska is holding back some of their defensive schemes in preparation for in-conference play. They're going vanilla for a reason, which might explain some of the poor play. I think Wyoming puts up more than a few scores as a result.
Current Line: Over/under: 59, Nebraska a 23 pt favorite
Pick: Nebraska to win, not covering the spread, and the over.
Colorado at Ohio State (2:30 P.M., CDT, ABC/ESPN2)
Wow. Did anyone expect OSU to look as bad as they did against Miami? I thought there was a decent shot Miami would take the victory in the Ineligbowl, but I didn't expect them to look... like Purdue. I mean yikes. That was just not good. Much like with Michigan State, I expect the Buckeyes come out this week fired up and really take it to Colorado. Of course, for that to work Ohio State still has to be a good team. I'm not confident in Joe Bauserman's ability under center, though it's not like Braxton Miller is any better of an option. It's clear that this is a down year for OSU...
But how is Colorado? The new member of the Pac-12 is 1-2, losing in OT to a mediocre Cal team and by several scores to Hawaii. They finally picked up a win against Colorado State last week. Tyler Hansen is decent, having thrown for slightly more than 900 yards over three games, with 7 TDs and only 1 interception. But even if the offense at OSU is down, the defense is still decent, and I expect them to have at least a +1 turnover margin at the end of the game.
Current Line: Over/under: 44.5, OSU a 15 pt favorite.
Pick: Ohio State, and the over.
Eastern Michigan at Penn State (11:00 A.M., CDT, ESPN2)
Who is Penn State this year? Are they are a dark horse for the Big Ten race? Or are they just another middling team in the middle of the conference? They brutalized Indiana State, then predictably lost to Alabama by a bushel. But then the Temple game... oof. Temple lost one of their best head coaches and they still nearly took the Nittany Lions down.
So, what does this mean for Eastern Michigan? Well, EMU has two pretty good backs that they get most of their offense from. Against Michigan, they collectively gained 207 yards on the ground, which doesn't sound like a lot, but when you consider that they only managed 29 yards in the air, it says something about the balance of their offense. Problem was, they also turned the ball over twice, which is part of the reason why they put up only 3 points. Then, again, except for with Alabama, Penn State has been pretty good against the rush this year, holding both Temple and Indiana State to below 100 yards. This doesn't spell a good day for EMU in Happy Valley...
Current Line: Over/under: 45.5, Penn State a 28.5 pt favorite.
Pick: Penn State and the under.
South Dakota at No. 6 Wisconsin (2:30 P.M., CDT, BTN)
The leading team in the Big Ten welcomes their last feeble non-con opponent this weekend as they host the Coyotes of the University of South Dakota. If anything is known about Wisconsin, it's that they keep their foot on the gas regardless of their quality of the opponent. It doesn't matter if they're up by ten touchdowns... they'll probably still go for it on 4th down because the card told Bret Bielema that was the right thing to do. Much like last season, for Wisconsin, putting up eye popping scores is important to keep themselves in the talk as an outside contender for a berth in the national championship game.
The Coyotes are currently 2-1. In the Great West conference. Soooo... yeah. This is all Bucky. The only question is by how much. The highest point total put up by Wisky so far is 51, with two other games ringing in at 35 and 41. That should tell you something about the ballpark for a score here. I wouldn't be surprised if this game is the highest scoring affair of the non-con slate for Wisconsin... really I'd consider anything less than 6 TDs a disappointment.
Current Line: No current line available
Pick: Wisconsin, and the over, whatever it ends up being.
Even with two teams off, it's still a busy weekend for TV viewers. So which games do you turn to with your limited time?
Most Likely Upset: San Diego State at Michigan. The Aztecs aren't pushovers, it's not quite clear how good Brady Hoke's Wolverines are this year.
Best Games to Watch: If you want a slaughter, tune in to Wisconsin. For a bit of schadenfreude, everyone but those who root for the Scarlet and Gray should feel free to watch the Buckeyes try to right their footing against Colorado. Otherwise, the Michigan and Minnesota games should both be relatively competitive affairs.