Rivalry weekend is already halfway in the books, and some teams that had to win ended up losing on Friday (such as Marshall and Temple).
Others, like West Virginia, played with poise late when they needed to and secured that sixth win.
Saturday features a bunch of games with teams that need to win (like Purdue), teams favored by a lot of points in a rivalry (like Northwestern) and teams that will be playing for pride such as Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. The latter will be playing with high emotions in their last home game after a fine season in State College.
Rice needs to win as well, but it's the last home game for UTEP under coach Mike Price which makes it a going away party as well as a game.
We'll take a look at two less dramatic games from the Midwest, starting in Evanston, Illinois and heading over to West Lafayette, Indiana for a pair of rivalries with one team favored by not enough points, and the other favored by too many.
Illinois (+19.5) at Northwestern
There are four major points of emphasis for this game and one major point strategic point
First of all, Northwestern is 9-1 against the spread (ATS). In the world of oddsmakers, what goes up must come down.
Second of all, Northwestern has won just one of its last 46 games against BCS conference teams (including Big Ten conference teams, of course) by more than 18 points. Actually, in the last 10 years, Northwestern has won a grand total of three Big Ten conference games by more than 18 points. The Wildcats aren’t a blowout team.
Third of all, Northwestern has little to gain by winning this game by 20 points and might be locked into the Outback Bowl (and a decent payout) even if it loses. That's because Wisconsin still must play two games—one against Penn State and then in the conference championship game against Nebraska.
Also, Illinois is minus-10 in turnover margin while Northwestern is plus-11 for a significant 21 possession difference.
In other words, Illinois had some bad breaks while Northwestern has had some fumbles bounce its way.
Northwestern’s offense is a slower, methodical West Coast style offense and is even ranked a
spot below Illinois’ offense in terms of total yards. In none of their games this season did the
Wildcats average more than 10 yards per pass for the game.
Illinois’ offense has been putrid this season. The Fighting Illini opened with a nice win over Western Michigan, a team that head coach Tim Beckman was familiar with. They were also blown out on five occasions. That includes Louisiana Tech at home, Michigan and Ohio State—all teams with dynamic offenses. Penn State handled them as well and got some revenge since new Illinois coach Tim Beckman sent multiple coaches to State College to try and recruit a few Penn State players after the Sandusky incident and ruling.
Illinois defeated Northwestern in 2010 and came back from an 18-point deficit to beat them last season as well.
Northwestern will be playing to win, but will also likely be playing conservatively like
it always does, instead of trying to run up the score. At 9-1 ATS and due for an ATS loss, considering the Wildcats don’t really need to win big, and have won just one of their last 46 major conference games by 18+ points, look for Illinois to stay within the number for a solid Saturday play.
Take Illinois plus the points
Purdue (-5.5) vs. Indiana
Indiana had a chance to become bowl-eligible with a win at Penn State, in which case both teams would be coming into this game with a record of 5-6 and a lot to play for.
Instead it's Purdue with everything to play for while Indiana is completely deflated with seven
losses and a bad defense.
Indiana tried and even executed a successful surprise onside kick, but still lost and
failed to cover 18 points at Penn State. Now Purdue is in the driver’s seat, and a win
would likely land them in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, which paid out 1.7 million
dollars last season.
Purdue hasn’t been at all impressive in the Big Ten this season, but don’t forget the Boilermakers lost by just three points to Notre Dame, a team that might be playing for the National Championship. They also lost in overtime to Ohio State, which might finish undefeated.
So against the two only current undefeated teams, Purdue almost beat them both.
Purdue has a ton of momentum coming off a last-second win at Iowa where the Boilermakers doubled up the Hawkeyes in yardage and a win at Illinois where senior quarterback Robert Marve had a fine game.
This is an in-state rivalry and these two teams usually play in the last regular season slot over
Thanksgiving weekend. Purdue was in this exact situation last season and had to win at Indiana to get to six wins. The Boilermakers did that by winning by a touchdown as an eight-point favorite and getting $750,000 to go bowling against Western Michigan. Now they are just a five- or six-point favorite and get the home field after being an eight-point favorite on the road last season. Shouldn’t it have been the other way around?
I’ll call for a touchdown win once again: A nice, big bowl payout depends on it, as well as a free trip to Texas for the players over the holidays.
Take Purdue minus the points
Follow Mark all season at www.TheFallMiracle.com