By JOHN SEARS - BIG TEN INSIDER
This week dichotomizes teams in to those who are getting a shout-out or a call-out for their recent play.
1. Penn State at Wisconsin: Shout out…to the Nittany Lions for being first in the conference in scoring offense and defense, rushing offense and defense, total offense and total defense, and holding the 6th slot nationally. Call out…to the Badgers who started 3-0, ranked as high as 8th in the polls before suffering back-to-back second half losses to Michigan and Ohio State and tumbling almost out of the Top 25.
Key Match-up – Penn State offense vs. Wisconsin defense: Penn State offers one of the best receiving corps in the nation (Derrick Williams, Jordan Norwood, Deon Butler) who combine for 56 catches, 869 yards and seven touchdowns. They will line up against a Badgers pass defense that has allowed only four scores through the air and 186 yards per game. Furthermore, the Nittany Lions are first in the Big Ten averaging over 250 yards per game rushing. Wisconsin has surrendered breakaway runs on the ground in consecutive weeks from quarterbacks and tailbacks alike. Wisconsin does not have the offensive firepower to trade scores with Penn State, so they must tune down the HD-spread to have a chance.
A Penn State fan dared me to pick Wisconsin here. So I will. It’s hard to think that Wisconsin will fall flat three games in a row (twice at home at night) considering their pre-season potential and veteran squad. The fifth quarter celebration returns even if the band doesn’t.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 23, Penn State 20
2. Michigan State at Northwestern: Shout out…to the Spartans for rattling off five straight victories after a road loss to Cal to start the season and for rushing so well behind the legs of Javon Ringer (988 yards, 12 touchdowns). Ringer accounts for a whopping 86 percent of Michigan State’s rushing yards, 46 percent of their total offense and 66 percent of their touchdowns. Shout out…to Northwestern, who has started the season undefeated (5-0), their best start since 1962. Surprisingly, the school that brought the spread offensive attack to the Big Ten is mostly stalling on offense this season. Thankfully, the Wildcats have relied on a stifling defense to pull out their wins: third in the Big Ten in scoring defense (12 points per game), tied for first in sacks (17) and second in red zone defense. Certainly no one predicted at the open of the season this game would have bowl implications, but the Spartans and Wildcats are both a victory away from becoming bowl eligible. The big key will be how Ringer moves the ball and if he can convert red zone trips into touchdowns for Michigan State. Northwestern shut down Iowa’s Shonn Greene on the ground in their last game and will step-up similarly this week.
PREDICTION: Northwestern 17, Michigan State 13
3. Minnesota at Illinois: Shout out…to Minnesota and the steady leadership of quarterback Adam Weber (124-183, 1428 yards, eight touchdowns, two interceptions), starting 5-1 in his sophomore campaign. Shout out…to Juice Williams (431 total yards and three touchdowns) and Illinois for coming back with authority against Michigan (45-20) after losing big to Penn State. This game comes down to one simple statistic – turnovers. Whoever wins the turnover battle, wins. Illinois wins the turnover battle.
PREDICTION: Illinois 31, Minnesota 24
4. Ohio State at Purdue: Shout out…to Ohio State for regrouping after a devastating loss to USC, walking out of Camp Randall with a big win and remaining undefeated in the Big Ten with freshman Terrelle Pryor at quarterback. Call out…to Purdue for posting a 1-3 mark in their last four and playing completely uninspired football. This is an awful stretch for the Boilermakers to roll over: as Ohio State, Northwestern (5-0) and Minnesota (5-1) head up the next three weeks. What happened? Unless a sudden infusion of character and leadership arrives suddenly, Purdue continues their landslide.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 30, Purdue 17
5. Iowa at Indiana: Call out…to Iowa for losing its last three games after starting undefeated (3-0). Call out…to Indiana for losing its last three games after starting undefeated (2-0). Is it possible that both teams continue their losing streak? Give it to Iowa with their strong defense.
PREDICTION: Iowa 10, Indiana 7
6. Toledo at Michigan: This game’s outcome will rest solely on what Michigan team comes out of the tunnel. Is it the exuberant squad that championed a historic comeback against ninth ranked Wisconsin? Is it the sloppy team that coughed up eight turnovers against Notre Dame? How about the defenseless defensive-lapsing team that embarrassed the Big House by surrendering 45 points to Illinois? Who knows? But when you’re a team with the excellence and tradition that Michigan carries and is being called out by your coach half-way through the season, you better respond. I think they will...or won’t. As “Shoeless” Joe Jackson says to “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams, “Look low and away…but watch out for in your ear.”
PREDICTION: Michigan 22, Toledo 17
Photo Credit: Illinois Sports Information