By JOHN SEARS - BIG TEN INSIDER
In light of this week’s Presidential election, I thought it would be interesting to see what campaign slogans were utilized by the candidates dating back to William Henry Harrison’s “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” way back in 1840 to see if they described any of the Big Ten action this week. Go to http://www.presidentsusa.net/campaignslogans.html to see the exhaustive list. On to the games:
Penn State at Iowa (“The stakes are too high to stay at home”, Lyndon B. Johnson 1964): If you haven’t been paying close attention out there, Penn State could find itself in quite a pickle. And no, it’s not just because of quarterback Daryll Clark’s concussion. There is a significant chance that Penn State’s history will repeat itself and an undefeated Lions’ squad finds itself on the outside looking in on a national championship (if Texas Tech and Alabama win out). One of the biggest “problems” for the Nittany Lions this year has been their strength of schedule, or lack thereof. They rank 67th on the FBS list for how many tough foes have been slated in 2008; rest assured that Penn State will not be sending out thank you cards to the likes of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois who have underachieved this year, thus weakening the schedule further. So it stands that Penn State should embrace their trip to Iowa City because the stakes are indeed too high to be playing at home.
But maybe before we worry too much about perfect seasons, let’s recall that the state of Iowa has not been friendly towards the Nittany Lions’ campaigns the last five visits (all Iowa wins). Coming off a bye last week will only slow Penn State down and Iowa’s tough defense will clamp down on their opponents for most of the game. Iowa may come out swinging and open up a seven or 14 point lead, but the Lions will wake up in the second half and pull things together.
1st 2nd 3rd 4th
Iowa 7 7 0 0
PSU 0 7 7 14
PREDICTION: Penn State 28, Iowa 14
Ohio State at Northwestern (“Don’t swap horses in the middle of the stream”, Abraham Lincoln 1864): How fitting for both teams that swapping horses, or quarterbacks, could make or break their respective seasons. On one hand, Ohio State benched sixth-year senior Todd Boeckman for freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor and their only stumble since then was a tough loss against Penn State. On the other hand, a battered Northwestern team traveled to Minnesota on homecoming day after a weekend and saw back-up quarterback Mike Kafka put up conference player of the week numbers in the Cats’ 24-17 upset of the Gophers. But the word coming out of the Wildcats’ camp is if starter C. J. Bacher is healthy enough to have a go this week, he is Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s guy. Quarterback controversy is inappropriate terminology for this situation, but there will be plenty of second-guessing if Bacher returns and lays an egg against the stingy Buckeye defense.
Defense wins championships, and in this case, will dictate who wins this game. Ohio State (104 yards/game) and Northwestern (109 yards/game) are identical against the rush but the Buckeyes hold a formidable edge against the Wildcats in passing defense (163 yards/game vs. 232 yards/game). However, the Wildcats are second best in sacks with 26, compared to Ohio State’s 15.
Whoever controls the opponent’s quarterback controls the game. I just think too many question marks exist at that position for the Wildcats and the Buckeyes win a grinder.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 19, Northwestern 15
Purdue at Michigan State (“Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow”, Bill Clinton 1992): Tomorrow may mean different things to these teams, but as it stands, Michigan State’s “tomorrow” certainly pertains to this week (and the rest of this season). They have an outside chance of taking home the conference title and stumbling against Purdue would all but eliminate them from realizing this opportunity (which, by the way, hasn’t happened since the Bush I administration in 1990). For Purdue, tomorrow will almost certainly pertain to the post-Tiller era, although they hang by a thread at the hopes of bowl eligibility. If they win out (at Iowa, Indiana) they’ll earn a bowl bid.
To do that, they must contend with Spartans’ running back Javon Ringer, who was contained in yards (21 carries for 54 yards, two touchdowns) by Wisconsin last week. However, unlike the Badgers, Purdue checks in with the Big Ten’s worst rush defense (176 yards/game). Whichever team rushes the ball better (Ringer vs. Purdue’s quarterback Justin Siller and running back Kory Sheets) wins this one.
At the end of the day, Ringer will prevail and Siller will have been hoping he was playing that other team from Michigan again.
PREDICTION: Michigan State 24, Purdue 13
Michigan at Minnesota (“Change we can believe in”, Barrack Obama 2008): How this statement can embody bitter irony for Michigan while ringing true for Minnesota is uncanny. Michigan is bad this year, no question, which spawns second-guessing of bringing Rich Rodriguez, the non-“Michigan Man” into town with his brand new offense and staff. It seems that outside of Schembechler Hall, very few see this as a regime “change they can believe in”. If anything, questioning how the Coach and staff have performed after only 10 months in office seems awfully premature. Familiarity (with winning) breeds complacency, and complacency breeds contempt. For the Gophers, change has certainly been a good thing. Are we all forgetting that this time last year, Minnesota was 1-9 on their way to a 1-11 record? In fact, you’ll need to count up all of the wins from the previous two seasons to accumulate the same number of wins that Minnesota has notched already this year (seven).
So it goes Saturday--just like every other rivalry game and streak Michigan has hung onto for so long, the little brown jug will find its resting place back with the original captors of ye old water bottle. Minnesota will regroup from their heartbreaker last week as Michigan’s pulse on this season is barely detectable.
PREDICTION: Minnesota 30.9 (Michigan’s scoring defense average, Michigan 17.9 (Minnesota’s scoring defense average) – Listed as such because I reasoned 30-18 before checking their scoring defenses…
Wisconsin at Indiana (“54-40 or fight”, James K. Polk 1844): Indiana’s defense gave up a whopping 485 yards and four touchdowns to Central Michigan’s backup quarterback Brian Brunner last week in a 37-34 loss. The Hoosiers have averaged 40 points against in their six losses. So, in order to get back in the win column, it seems they must outscore Wisconsin “54-40” or else Indiana will be “fighting” to stay out of the conference cellar.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 30, Indiana 24
Western Michigan at Illinois (“Who is James K. Polk?” Henry Clay 1844): Or better yet, who is Western Michigan? They happen to be a 7-2 MAC team under the leadership of quarterback Tim Hiller, who is posting an excellent season (69% completion, 2,856 yards, 28 touchdowns, five interceptions). His favorite target may be Jamarko Simmons (74 catches for 830 yards and six touchdowns), but two other receivers may breach the 50-reception mark as well after this game (Schneider Julien  and Juan Nunez ). Their toughest opponent this year seems to have been Nebraska (loss: 47-24) in their season opener, but still managed to air out 342 yards passing.
For Illinois, will this be a contrast against the defensive struggle against Iowa? Yes, but Illinois takes down the Broncos in a shoot out.
PREDICTION: Illinois 48, Western Michigan 32
Friday, November 7, 2008
By JOHN SEARS - BIG TEN INSIDER