Friday, October 31, 2008

Big Ten Preview - I Want Candy!


Halloween is this Friday. How does each game measure up to your favorite holiday treats you find in your bag after a night of trick-or-treating?

Northwestern at Minnesota: (Midnight MilkyWay – didn’t know what it was at first, but was pleasantly surprised at the new dark chocolate combination) If Northwestern didn’t turn the game over last week to Indiana, I would have played this up as a very intriguing under-card in the Big Ten. Perhaps one surprise is that the Gophers (3-1) and Wildcats (2-2) are already bowl eligible, looking for more. The home team comes off of an impressive win over Purdue where they caused four turnovers and shut down the Boilermaker offense (226 total yards).

Key Match-ups:
Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher vs. Minnesota secondary –
time and again, it seems that Bacher is making poor decisions with the ball, which should come as no surprise to Northwestern historians – Bacher has never thrown more touchdowns than interceptions (6 vs. 8, 19 vs. 19, 10 vs. 11) from 2006 to present. This is a more pressing issue against the Gophers who lead the nation in takeaways (24 total, 12 interceptions – tied for tops in the conference). If Northwestern giveth, Minnesota will taketh away.

Minnesota’s hog mollies vs. Northwestern’s big uglies – sacks are great momentum and field position equalizers. Northwestern is giving up the fewest sacks (7) while racking up the most sacks (24) in the Big Ten. The Gophers have gotten to the quarterback as well (22), but have allowed quarterback Weber to eat dirt 17 times, second worst in the Big Ten. Who will get to the quarterback more this week?

Because both teams are comparable in scoring offense [Minnesota vs. Northwestern] (28 points per game vs. 27), red zone offense (89% vs. 87% efficiency) and total offense (356 yards per game vs. 378), this game may come down to who gets to the opponent’s red zone more. This will depend on the battle of field position, which in turn depends on turnovers and sacks. The winner of the turnovers + sacks statistic will win the game, and I think Minnesota has this equation down.

PREDICTION: Minnesota 21, Northwestern 17

Wisconsin at Michigan State: (a large, plump, juicy candied apple with a large plump juicy worm crawling out – salivating until the disappointing finding)
Wisconsin finally snapped their Big Ten losing streak (4) with a surprising win over Illinois last week. The Badgers seem to have settled in offensively at quarterback with Dustin Sherer, but took a big hit with tight-end Travis Beckum’s season ending broken leg. Garrett Graham has shown flashes that he can fill Beckum’s shoes to an extent, which complements Wisconsin’s strategy of using the power running game to set up the pass to the tight end. On the Spartan side, I am concerned that so much weight was placed on beating Michigan. After succeeding in that task, will they now flop against the Badgers in a disappointing letdown?

Running back Javon Ringer shows up against Wisconsin, but the rest of the team is still left on route I-96 staring at some billboards: (
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 31, Michigan State 28

Iowa at Illinois: (Jelly Belly mixed bag: sizzling cinnamon + buttered popcorn + grape jelly can’t be good, but somehow it is).
You love to see match-ups that pit both teams’ best squads on the field simultaneously. In this instance, Illinois’ offense against Iowa’s defense will be your Jelly Belly nutty combination. The Illini are second in the conference in scoring (34 points/game), whereas Iowa is tied for first in scoring defense surrendering just 11 points per contest. Illinois is tops in passing offense (272 yards/game) against the Hawkeyes third best pass defense (192 yards/game). Illinois brings the third best rushing offense (190 yards/game), Iowa has the third best rush defense (106 yards/game).

In the other hand of Jelly Bellys, Iowa brings almost 200 yards per game rushing with Shonn Greene against Illinois’ eighth ranked rush defense (152 yards/game), which will be the difference.

PREDICTION: Iowa 24, Illinois 20

Michigan at Purdue: (a king size Snickers bar…but the wrapper is open, so you don’t know if there’s a razor blade slipped in–normally a satisfying find, now a health hazard).
The only time head coaches Rich Rodriguez and Joe Tiller get to settle the “Snake Oil Bowl” will be this year. Don’t confuse good defense with offensive sludge in this one – Purdue is eleventh (395 yards/game) and Michigan ninth (378 yards/game) in total defense and they are tied for last (-9) in turnover margin in the Big Ten. Toss in a Michigan quarterback who can’t feel from his elbow down (Steve Threet) and Purdue quarterback who is still listed on their roster as a running back (Justin Siller). On the flip side, if there’s any kind of fight left in the tank for either team, they should remember that bowl eligibility hangs in the balance. Oh, the gravity of the situation.

I believe Michigan will finish with two wins. Therefore, Purdue wins. It’s that simple.

PREDICTION: Purdue sloppy, Michigan sloppier

Central Michigan at Indiana: (the Smarties that fell out of the weak cellophane wrapper, smashed up at the bottom of the of your bag – Halloween is a chocolate holiday, enough said)
Last year, Central Michigan quarterback Dan Lefevour nearly eclipsed 5,000 total yards (3,652 passing, 1122 rushing) with 46 total touchdowns. This year’s numbers are down significantly as he is pacing for only 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns. Last year, Hoosiers quarterback Kellen Lewis approached 4,000 total yards (3,043 passing, 736 rushing) with 37 total touchdowns. This year’s numbers are down significantly (partially due to injuries) as he is pacing for 2,000 yards and only 12 touchdowns. How about we take both teams, hop in our DeLorean, punch it to 88 mph and see if we can play this one last year?

PREDICTION: Because this game will have been played in the past with said time machine, I looked up the results online and found the quarterbacks themselves combined for 800 yards and seven touchdowns in a surprising thriller. Indiana 39, Central Michigan 34

Photo Credit: University of Minnesota Athletic Communications