Big Ten Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for Week 11
Here we are at Week 11. Gosh, these seasons grow up so fast, don't they? One minute you're trying to convince yourself that going 3-1 against a mediocre non-conference schedule isn't the worst thing in the world, then you blink and before you know it, you're doing the math in your head as to whether going to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl would be worth your time.
At any rate, five games are on tap for this week. A couple are total snoozers, but there's a lot at stake in the other three, so definitely keep your eye on Big Ten action this Saturday.
Ohio State and Michigan State are on a bye week; this marks the last bye week of anybody in the Big Ten.
Noon: Purdue at Iowa
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This game should be "interesting" the way that watching four-year-olds practice their handwriting is "interesting." Iowa is in the middle of a three-game losing streak, and none of those games have been competitive. Purdue is in the middle of a five-game losing streak, and only one of those games (an overtime loss to Ohio State) was competitive.
Iowa is still missing RB Mark Weisman, who is recovering from a leg injury sustained against Northwestern two weeks ago and is unlikely to face Purdue. Fullback Brad Rogers is also not expected to play, so Iowa's ground game should suffer as a result.
Meanwhile, Purdue wideouts Gary Bush and OJ Ross are questionable and Raheem Mostert isn't expected to play, so don't expect much through the air for the Boilermakers.
All told, this is a matchup of two teams tumbling down a hill, and losing this one is going to turn that season into falling off a cliff. We'll take Iowa at home, but we trust neither team one iota.
Final score: Iowa 27, Purdue 17
Noon: Wisconsin at Indiana
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This is an important game! Seriously! It might be the single most consequential game in the Big Ten in terms of the postseason landscape, and we are not making that up. Indiana is involved in a very, very important football game in November. In 2012. For real.
Thanks to the postseason bans levied on Ohio State and Penn State, Indiana and Wisconsin are the only two teams in the Leaders Division with a shot at going to the Big Ten Championship Game—mainly because we're heading into the second week of November and they're the only two Leaders Division teams with so much as a single conference win.
Wisconsin's sitting at 3-2 in the conference, while Indiana's at 2-3. If Wisconsin wins this game, it clinches a Big Ten title game berth, as there'll be no way for the Hoosiers to catch up.
If Indiana wins, though, look out; both teams will be at 3-3 and Indiana will hold the tiebreaker. Oh, and Wisconsin still has to finish off the season against Ohio State and Penn State, while Indiana gets Penn State and Purdue.
Confession time: We really, really want to pick Indiana in this game. If the Big Ten's going to be such a mess this season, it should embrace that mess, and there's no better way to do so than putting a 6-6 Hoosier team in its championship game.
Alas, this is a likely Wisconsin win. The Badgers will miss QB Joel Stave, but Indiana's rush defense is so permissive that Wisconsin should be able to pound the rock about 50-60 times and rack up several touchdowns. But we'll always remember how close we were to the highest of comedy.
Final score: Wisconsin 38, Indiana 27
Noon: Northwestern at Michigan
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This has been a bit of an enigma of a season for Northwestern; the Wildcats are tied with Nebraska for the best overall record in the division at 7-2, and they could be 9-0 if it weren't for blown double-digit leads in the fourth quarter of two games.
And yet they're still only ranked No. 24 and they don't have a very good win on their resume. Sure, there's Vanderbilt. That's about it. 7-2 is 7-2, but this 7-2 looks pretty flimsy.
There's an opportunity for Northwestern to turn that tide with a trip to Michigan this week. Denard Robinson might start at quarterback for the Wolverines, or it could be Week 10 darling Devin Gardner, who threw his hat into the 2013 Michigan quarterback race in a big way with a 12-18, 234-yard performance against a stout Minnesota defense last week.
There's a problem for Northwestern this week: Michigan is still really, really good. You might not have noticed, but the Wolverine defense is quietly in the Top 10 nationally in yards allowed and 13th in points allowed—second to Michigan State in the Big Ten in both categories.
That's trouble for a Northwestern team that—psst!—isn't that good on offense. The rushing game is a lot of fun to watch, but there's just no passing that's going to get done against that Michigan back seven. Expect frustration from the Wildcats and a growing sense that the legitimacy just isn't there yet.
Final score: Michigan 30, Northwestern 17
3:30 PM: Minnesota at Illinois
Let the record show that the latest Minnesota-Illinois game on any of the photo wires was from 2007. Lookin' good, Rashard Mendenhall.
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The second woofer of the week is Minnesota travelling to Illinois. There's some consequence to this game, at the very least; Minnesota is one win away from bowl eligibility, and with Nebraska and Michigan State looming after Week 11, this is probably the Gophers' last opportunity to wrap up that spot in the postseason.
That's interesting for Minnesota, but it's not nearly enough to get us to want to watch the game. This is a battle of the worst teams in each division, and only a partisan of one side or a masochist would keep this game on the television.
Final score: Minnesota 19, Illinois 16
3:30 PM: Penn State at Nebraska
We're going full screen on this last one, because yeah, last year's meeting between these two teams was kind of a very big deal—or at the very least, it was wrapped up in a very big deal, one larger than the sport itself.
Now that we're one year removed from the explosion of the Jerry Sandusky scandal that eventually cost Joe Paterno his career and legacy, things are a lot different at Penn State and in the Big Ten. The sanctions levied by the NCAA were heavy and dramatic, but Bill O'Brien has his team fighting through them. The landscape of the Leaders Division is going to be different for at least the next five years.
But for as much as it'll make sense for people to look back on what happened one year ago and consider all that's changed since then, once these two teams kick off, it'll be all about the football and nothing else. That's how we move on in this sport—we just keep playing like the schedule says.
As for the football itself, watching Penn State's super-talented linebacking corps square off against Nebraska's option attack is going to be the single best matchup of the week in the Big Ten. The Penn State secondary is good enough that it can punish the "Bad Taylor Martinez" throws, but Martinez should find some holes there too if the Cornhusker offensive line can keep him upright long enough to make his throws.
This is Nebraska's last big test of the regular season, and a win here helps the Huskers stay ahead of the pack in the Legends Division as time begins to run out on Michigan (or perhaps Northwestern). But for as strong as Nebraska has been since its loss to Ohio State a month ago, it's still going to face a four-quarter test from the visiting Nittany Lions. Call this one for Nebraska, but don't be surprised if Penn State has another big win at the ready.
Final score: Nebraska 27, Penn State 24