Big Ten Conference play! Where all dreams are rebuilt anew...at least for a week or two. Then things usually revert back to how they were shaping up in the conference season. This sport is sort of predictable, after all.
We've got two stellar games this week, both of which are rematches of the two most consequential Big Ten season openers of 2011. At 3:30 p.m. is Ohio State at Michigan State; recall that last season Michigan State utterly embarrassed the Buckeyes in a 10-7 game that was nowhere near that close for the balance of the contest.
Meanwhile, the late game is one worth watching; Wisconsin travels to Nebraska, as the Huskers seek revenge for the 48-17 walloping Bucky put on them in Nebraska's very first conference game.
Let's take a look at those two games and the rest of the Big Ten's docket.
This game's not about to blow up any ratings records or anything, but it is worth noting that we could see some fireworks here. The two teams combined for 97 points in a 59-38 romp for Northwestern last year, and while both defenses have improved substantially from last year, both offenses have shown the capacity to put up big points as well.
So, if you're a fan of a team that's on a bye week or playing late on Saturday, Indiana-Northwestern might be worth your time for five or 10 minutes, if it's close. It really might not be close.
Final Score: Northwestern 38, Indiana 19
When these two teams last met in late October 2011, Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions knocked off Ron Zook's Illini on a missed last-second field goal by kicker Derek Dimke. The win gave Paterno the all-time wins record in college football over Eddie Robinson.
We probably don't need to remind you of all that has happened since.
Either way, it's a new year and a new era at both schools, and this game should provide an important benchmark for both programs. Each should be able to look at the other and say, "If we want to be serious Leaders Division contenders, we have to prove we're better than them."
Penn State, despite starting off 0-2 on the year, might have the advantage here; Illinois' pass defense is just horrific, and Matt McGloin is slowly becoming a legitimately decent passer under Bill O'Brien. But Illinois' depth could wear down Penn State over time, so expect a game that should go four quarters here.
Final Score: Penn State 21, Illinois 20
One of the stranger aspects of the Big Ten over the last few seasons has been the fact that, for as bad as Minnesota's been on balance, the Gophers have been able to take down Iowa for the Floyd of Rosedale two years in a row.
Now, we see the overall landscape shifting in this rivalry, and it's shifting toward Minnesota. The Gophers are 4-0 after a relatively easy non-conference slate, and while that's not saying much, it's also worth pointing out that Iowa is 2-2 after a relatively easy non-conference slate.
That being said, Iowa's offensive woes are starting to get worked out, and the Hawkeyes represent the substantially biggest challenge for Minnesota to date. Also, this game's at Kinnick Stadium, and both Iowa and its fans are going to be eager to see the pig come back to Iowa City.
Final Score: Iowa 23, Minnesota 13
This is going to shock you, but Marshall and Purdue have never met on the gridiron. Surprising, yes, considering the programs have so much in common, such as [ERROR: NULL SET].
This game comes about as a bit of a scheduling oddity since Purdue took its bye week in the non-conference portion of the season slate. Indiana did as well; the Hoosiers will face Navy later in the year.
As far as Marshall goes, the Thundering Herd are a long way away from the days of Chad Pennington throwing to Randy Moss. It's the defense that really howls in Huntington, though, as the Herd is giving up more than 40 points a game, including 69 to West Virginia in a season-opening slaughter and 51 to Rice in an overtime win this past week.
But Purdue had better buckle up for a test to its defense, because Marshall QB Rakeem Cato loves throwing the ball and does a mighty fine job of it; the Herd rank first nationally in passing yardage.
Purdue fans should expect Cato to put up a ton of yardage, because he's going to throw the ball a ton. We could easily see 60 pass attempts. So, unless the Boilermakers play the game of their lives in the secondary, Cato's topping 300 yards in that scenario and at least flirting with 400 yards.
But it's every bit about efficiency as it is yardage when it comes to pass defense, and if Purdue can force turnovers and limit the Herd's ability to get into the end zone, this should be a win.
And yes, we will be mortified but not surprised if Marshall wins. Nobody should be surprised by the Big Ten's futility anymore this year.
Final Score: Purdue 38, Marshall 31
Here. We. Go.
The pad-popping-est game of the week should take place in East Lansing this week as the newly re-energized Buckeyes face a Michigan State team that has looked off its pace by far since a Week 1 win over Boise State.
Michigan State is just as athletic on defense this year as it was in 2011, so the demolition it put on Ohio State in Columbus last year is on the table again. Ohio State hasn't faced a defense anywhere close to the Spartans' this year, and the Buckeyes haven't looked elite against semi-serious competition thus far.
But Notre Dame made a suddenly Fou Fonoti-less Spartan offensive line look painfully average in Week 3, then Michigan State absolutely slept through a game with woeful Eastern Michigan before pulling ahead and away in the second half.
Ohio State holds a definite advantage while on defense, as long as someone can emerge as a foil for massive TE Dion Sims, who's quickly becoming Andrew Maxwell's most reliable target in the passing game. But that's only by default, because MSU's wideouts are horrendous. John Simon and Johnathan Hankins should give the Spartan offensive line fits, and thus don't be surprised to see Michigan State struggle to move the ball here.
But Michigan State is athletic enough on defense that Braxton Miller's going to have another rough time moving the ball both on the ground and through the air, so while we'll see more offensive production on both sides than last year's 10-7 battle (one of the most lopsided three-point wins of all time), the result still should look pretty familiar.
Final Score: Michigan State 16, Ohio State 10
The main event of the weekend is a tilt between Wisconsin and Nebraska, one that takes on additional levels of intrigue with the Badgers looking very vulnerable on offense and Nebraska's defense being shakier than expected.
On the other side of the ball, Nebraska's rushing game looks elite, but it has succeeded against some rather porous competition. Rex Burkhead has a posse, and that posse is the triumvirate of Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard and Imani Cross all at back-up tailback. With that many strong rushers, Nebraska will never be hurting for fresh legs at any point of the game, and that's going to be trouble for Wisconsin's defense (tough as it is) over the course of 60 minutes.
Joel Stave had a decent day as the starting quarterback for Wisconsin last week in Wisconsin's 37-26 win over UTEP (a game that rarely felt in doubt by the second quarter), but the Badger offensive line—and thus offense as a whole—has underwhelmed severely this season. Expecting a return to power against a team such as Nebraska requires more faith than analysis at this point.
This one should be loud and fun, but there's just not enough reason to think the Badgers can keep the Huskers from pulling away late. Revenge will be Nebraska's.
Final Score: Nebraska 34, Wisconsin 16