And now we've come...to the ennnnnd of the roooooad...sorry, had to get my Boyz II Men on. It's appropriate, though, considering we're at the very last week of the regular season in the Big Ten. That means for at least five (and maybe seven) teams, it's the last we'll see of them this year.
Still I caaaaan't let gooooooo...
Michigan State and Purdue are each playing for bowl eligibility, while Michigan's hoping a miracle upset by Iowa over Nebraska clears the way for the Wolverines to play for a Big Ten Championship berth at Ohio State.
Rivalry games abound here on Thanksgiving weekend, so let's get into it one last time.
You belong to me...I belong to yooooouuuuu...OK, that part is creepy and has nothing to do with football. Sorry. I took the Boyz II Men too far. I always do.
All Nebraska has to do is win this game and punch its ticket to the Big Ten Championship. Considering the competition, that won't exactly be difficult.
Iowa appears to have completely checked out on the season, losing five straight games in conference play and looking uncompetitive against the likes of Penn State and Michigan in the process. It's going to be an interesting offseason in Iowa City, especially if the 2012 slate closes with five home losses, Iowa's worst mark since 2000.
Nebraska had won four straight Big Ten games with double-digit comebacks before walloping Minnesota last week. Even if Rex Burkhead can't go, expect another low-drama affair to end the regular season and send the Huskers to the Big Ten Championship.
Final score: Nebraska 31, Iowa 13
It seems weird to think about, but Purdue is actually playing for bowl eligibility this week after an absolutely wretched season that could easily cost Danny Hope his job. In Purdue's way is Indiana, a team with an offense that can strike fear into any offensive coordinator and a defense that can strike fear into any Indiana fan. If it weren't already basketball season anyway.
Look for Indiana to keep this one close thanks to its high-octane passing attack, but that permissive defense is going to doom the Hoosiers once again and send Purdue off to a bowl game with the Old Oaken Bucket still in hand.
Final score: Purdue 34, Indiana 28
The Land of Lincoln Trophy is up for grabs in this one, and while it has made its home in Champaign over the last 13 months, odds are, Northwestern's taking back the trophy.
Northwestern has an understandable and earned reputation for choking away leads this season, but remember: That started last year, and it specifically started against (you guessed it) Illinois when the Illini rallied back from a 28-10 deficit to come away with a thrilling 38-35 win in one of the wildest games of the season.
This one shouldn't be quite as dramatic.
Illinois has looked lost since Arizona State handed it a 45-14 demolition in Week 2, and the offense has just failed to come together for first-year head coach Tim Beckman. Illinois fans are already uneasy about the hire, but barring some outright misbehavior by the first-year coach, he'll be leading the reconstruction in Champaign for a few years still.
We're talking about a place where Ron Zook got seven years. Beckman's not going anywhere.
And that is good news for Northwestern.
Final score: Northwestern 31, Illinois 6
It almost seems like a shame to have this game played so early on Saturday, but let's face it: That noon time slot BELONGS to Ohio State and Michigan every year. Well, unless you count Georgia Tech and Georgia, but any rivalry that involves an ACC team is automatically docked 50 percent of its Importance Points (which is a thing I just now made up in my head).
As for the game itself, it's going to be a slugfest. Michigan's defense is one of the few in the nation that has the ability to slow down Braxton Miller. Wisconsin's is another, and look at what trouble Ohio State had moving the ball at Camp Randall. Miller is athletic enough to break a big run or two on the Wolverine defense, don't get me wrong, but this isn't going to be a march up and down the field for the Buckeyes.
At the same time, Ohio State doesn't need to march up and down the field because Michigan's offense doesn't match up well against the Buckeye defense. Denard Robinson is set to start at quarterback—as long as you trust Brady Hoke, anyway, and we don't—and he typically has trouble with talented secondaries and linebackers that don't get themselves out of position very often. That's Ohio State.
So this'll probably be a low-scoring affair when it's all said and done—both defenses are too good to get throttled—but by the end of the day, there'll be no confusion as to who the best team in the Big Ten is.
As if there was to begin with.
Final Score: Ohio State 24, Michigan 17
STOP SMILING ABOUT THIS, GOLDY.
OK, raise your hand if you thought that coming into the final week of the season, Minnesota would have more wins than Michigan State. If your hand's up, you're either a Minnesota fan or a liar, and the world's got a lot more of the latter than the former. You liar, you.
Lo and behold, here we are with Michigan State needing a win over Minnesota to become bowl-eligible, something Minnesota already wrapped up two weeks ago. What a world.
The temptation is to reflexively take Michigan State "because it's better," and that's probably good enough logic for a correct pick.
But don't sleep on Minnesota. That team is still developing and the skill position talent isn't quite there yet on offense, but the defense is good enough—especially in run support—to keep Michigan State's score low enough that the game stays competitive for 60 minutes.
Still, Mark Dantonio has no reason to limit Le'Veon Bell's touches here in the regular season finale, so expect a big dose of the big back with the specific intent of wearing down the Gopher D, and it'll probably work. At the very least, it'll open up some passing opportunities, and if guys like Aaron Burbridge can hang onto the ball, Michigan State will do well enough to win.
Final score: Michigan State 21, Minnesota 12
There isn't much in the way of postseason consequence to this game—Wisconsin's already in the Big Ten Championship representing the Leaders Division, and Penn State's obviously not going anywhere for the bowl season for the next few years—but this game could be every bit as physical, exciting and yes, talent-filled as Michigan-Ohio State.
The Wisconsin running game is back to its previous levels of dominance, and although it was certainly impressive when the Badgers ran up a team record 564 yards on Indiana two weeks ago, it can be argued that their 206-yard performance in an overtime loss to Ohio State was even more impressive.
Wisconsin is at the point where it can run on pretty much everybody. That doesn't mean an automatic win, or even automatic points—look at the job Ohio State on both fronts—but it does mean that it has control of the line of scrimmage, and teams that can accomplish that generally do very, very well for themselves.
Penn State's going to have to sustain plenty of drives to keep the score close and its talented but thin defense rested. Thus, it's on the PSU offensive line to keep Matt McGloin upright and Bill Belton sprinting for daylight. Against the Wisconsin defensive front, that's going to be a lot of work, and we're not sure this'll be a happy final chapter to the 2012 season for what's still a very impressive Penn State team.
Final score: Wisconsin 23, Penn State 14