Big Ten conference play continued last week offering a slew of exciting match-ups.
The Spartans won bragging rights over in-state rival Michigan for the second consecutive year, Minnesota battled to the end but failed to take Paul Bunyan's Axe from Wisconsin for the sixth consecutive year, Northwestern spotted Purdue 18 points who then gave the game away for their fourth consecutive loss, and Ohio State extended its conference road game win streak to 16 while beating the Hoosiers for the 15th consecutive time.
I went 5-1 for the week. I did predict the Spartans would upset the Wolverines in the annual slugfest for state bragging rights, but underestimated the mighty Badgers who took it to rival Minnesota (in a game that wasn't as close as the score might indicate) to keep Paul Bunyan's Axe in Madison for the sixth straight year.
Big Ten conference play continues this week with most teams facing conference foes.
Two key games to the conference title race take place this week. Wisconsin will travel to Columbus to battle the Buckeyes and Michigan goes on the road again to take on Iowa.
In other conference action, Purdue visits "The Bank" to take on the angry Gophers and Michigan State will try to extend its win streak to two against the hapless Illini who have benched star quarterback Juice Williams.
As for the Nittany Lions, Wildcats, and Hoosiers... Penn State will once again feast on a cupcake when they welcome former Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen and Eastern Illinois to Happy Valley, Northwestern is at home against the winless Miami Redhawks, and Indiana goes on the road to face the Cavaliers of Virginia.
On to this week's previews and picks...
Eastern Illinois at No. 14 Penn State--12:00 PM ET ESPN Classic (Dave Lamont and JC Pearson)
Penn State got its first Big Ten win of the season last week over the hapless Illini. But this week, after a grueling two game stretch (by PSU standards) the Nittany Lions return to the comfort of the land of cupcakes when they welcome (with open arms) the Eastern Illinois Panthers to Beaver Stadium.
The Lions will look to build on its best rushing performance of the season. The run game (and offensive-line play) has been a real concern for Joe Paterno, but the icon's mind was put to ease for the moment by a completely dominating performance from the offensive front and the 100-yard performances of backs Evan Royster and Stephfon Green.
Eastern Illinois, a top 25 FCS team, has been stout against the run allowing just 2.7 yards per carry and 94 yards per game.
The Panthers shouldn't have the depth to sustain Penn State's attack for four quarters, but finding yards on the ground could be tough going for the Lions to begin the game.
The Panthers' quarterback has faced the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley before. Former Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen led the Hawkeyes into Beaver Stadium in 2007. That game was the last time the Nittany Lions beat the Hawkeyes.
Fast Facts: This is the first meeting between Penn State and Eastern Illinois; The Nittany Lions are appearing on television for the 183rd time in their last 185 games; The Nittany Lions have won 19 straight non-conference home games; Penn State LB Josh Hull recorded double-figure tackles last week for the fourth consecutive contest with 11; Green (13-120-1) and Royster (17-105-1) eclipsed 100 rushing yards, giving Penn State its first 100-yard tandem since Tony Hunt (151) and Michael Robinson (125) did so in a 2005 win over Wisconsin.
Prediction: Penn State 34, Eastern Illinois 14
Miami (OH) at Northwestern--12:00 PM ET Big Ten Network (Ari Wolfe, Glen Mason, and Anthony Herron)
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald should send Purdue coach Danny Hope a thank-you card. The Wildcats, down 21-3 with 3:04 remaining in the second quarter, intercepted Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott and scored to cut the deficit to 21-10. That interception was the beginning of a mind boggling series of Purdue turnovers and penalties.
The Wildcats should be commended for their ability to stay focused. After allowing 21 points in the first 20 minutes, Fitzgerald's defense and special teams units played flawlessly. The defense pitched a shut out and kicker Stefan Demos was clutch, connecting on all four field-goal attempts.
The offense, which has been the strength of team this season, was disappointing. Arby Fields fumbled on the first play from scrimmage and although the offense did convert five of Purdue's six turnovers in to points, only two were for touchdowns.
Mike Kafka and company will have an opportunity this week to get back in form. The 0-5 Miami Redhawks are in serious rebuilding mode and may put up an early fight, but shouldn't be able to hang around.
The again, the same thing could have been said about the 'Cats week two opponent Eastern Michigan (who are currently 0-4 and in serious rebuilding mode, yet hung with Northwestern until the end in a 27-24 win for the 'Cats).
Fast Facts: Miami (OH) leads the all-time series 6-2; Northwestern held Purdue to 62 rushing yards (a single-game season best) to lower its season defensive rushing figure to 118.0 ypg; Miami is one of the most successful all-time FBS programs, tallying 649 games (23rd all-time) and posting 82 winning seasons; The Redhawks are 0-5, but they have played a demanding schedule, including games against Kentucky, Boise State and Cincinnati; Northwestern wide receiver Zeke Markshausen hauled in a career-high 10 passes last week, giving him 25 receptions in the past three games.
Prediction: Northwestern 31, Miami (OH) 17
Purdue at Minnesota--12:00 PM ET ESPN2 (Pam Ward and Ray Bentley)
The Gophers must regroup after an emotional battle with rival Wisconsin. Though Minnesota was in the game until the end, the game was never really in doubt following an Adam Weber interception and subsequent Badger touchdown that gave Wisconsin the lead (for good) midway through the third quarter.
The Gophers run defense has been fairly solid this season, except in the two game it has faced an elite running back; Cal's Jahvid Best rushed for five touchdowns and Wisconsin's John Clay rushed for 184 yards and three touchdowns.
The Boilers do have solid backs in Jaycen Tayler and Ralph Bolden, but neither is ready to be put in the same category as Best and Clay.
For Purdue the key this week should be ball security. The offense has enough playmakers and quarterback Joey Elliott leads the conference in total passing yards and in total yards per game.
The Boilermakers have been not lost a game this season by more than a touchdown and lost two games against superior teams (Notre Dame and Oregon) by a combined five points.
It has been the turnovers, stupid mistakes, and silly penalties that have killed this team. Those are all fixable mistakes and should be teaching lessons for coach Danny Hope, but there is some question as to whether Hope can teach and motivate.
The Boilers have no time to recover. After facing a hungry and angry Minnesota squad, they must face Ohio State and Illinois in West Lafayette before a brutal four-game stretch to close the season (road trips to Wisconsin, Michigan, and rival Indiana and a home date with Michigan State).
Fast Facts: Minnesota leads the all-time series 32-30-3; Minnesota has only won two of the last 11 meetings with the Boilermakers, although it did win last year's meeting; Minnesota has trailed in the fourth quarter of every game it has played this season; Thanks to a minus-8 turnover ration, Purdue has had 73 less total offensive touches than its five opponents this season; The Gophers have performed in front of three straight sellout crowds of 50,805 in the first three games at the new TCF Bank Stadium.
Prediction: Minnesota 31, Purdue 21
Michigan State at Illinois--12:00 PM ET Big Ten Network (Wayne Larrivee and Chris Martin)
Michigan State got its spark last week when the Spartans took down hated rival Michigan in an overtime thriller that probably shouldn't have been. Mark Dantonio's disdain for the Wolverines had been well documented through the week and that intensity was picked up by his team.
The Spartans hit harder, ran faster, blocked better, and tackled more soundly (for 55 minutes). Now if Dantonio can get the Spartans to repeat that performance for a second consecutive week (and against a team not named Michigan), Michigan State will be in good shape.
The Illini are a team in search of its spark. Ron Zook is hoping that benching senior quarterback and four-year starter Juice Williams in favor of veteran back-up Eddie McGee will do the trick. But Illinois' troubles are much deeper than Juice Williams.
In its three games against BCS competition, the Illini have scored a paltry 26 points (14 of which came in mop-up time in last week's blow out loss to Penn State) while giving up 102 points.
Granted, those teams (MIssouri, Ohio State, and Penn State) are all ranked. But, three blow out losses to teams with comparable talent speaks to a coaching issue and not just a player issue.
Fast Facts: Michigan State leads the all-time series 27-17-2; The Spartans have won eight of the last nine meetings outscoring the Illini 35.4-15.1 in those contests; Kirk Cousins' 70-percent completion percentage on first down leads the Big Ten; The Illini offense ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 43rd in the nation in rushing yards per game (176.5); This game will mark Illinois' 99th Homecoming celebration, games in which the Illini are 42-54-2.
Prediction: Michigan State 34, Illinois 24
Wisconsin at No. 9 Ohio State--3:30 PM ET ABC (Sean McDonough, Matt Millen, and Holly Rowe)
Wisconsin, led by steady handed quarterback Scott Tolzien, hasn't blown anyone away (save FCS Wofford), but Bret Bielema's squad has been a hard hitting team that can never be counted as down and out (ask Fresno State).
The Badgers could become just that much more dangerous when they bring a chip on their shoulder and a 5-0 record into Ohio Stadium and with maybe just a few thoughts of revenge in their minds.
The Big Ten's most balanced offensive attack (217 yards per game rushing and 216 yards per game passing) will face its biggest test of the season in Ohio State's suffocating defense.
Running back John Clay has been stellar since reclaiming the starting job and is the key to solving the Buckeyes defensive attack.
The Buckeyes offense has been inconsistent, but still very productive in three straight wins since the loss to USC. Terrelle Pryor has had some breakdowns, but has been improving in each performance.
The offense has scored at least 30 points in those games and last week against Indiana, Pryor accounted for three touchdowns through the air and rushed for another.
The Badger defense and safety Jay Valai will surely be keyed in on trying to contain Pryor. But, that is everyone's goal and more times than not, Pryor's elusiveness and speed take some time to get used to.
This game, like many in the series before it, will be won by the team that makes fewer mistakes and runs the ball better.
The Ohio State defense has allowed a paltry 37.4 yards per game on the ground its last three outings and only 83.7 yards per game this season while Wisconsin has rushed with authority racking up 217 yards per game. Somethings got to give.
Fast Facts: Ohio State leads the all-time series 52-17-5; Ohio State's defense has allowed an average of 37.7 rushing yards in its past three games; The Badger rank first in the Big Ten in rushing yards with an average of 217 yards per game; The Buckeyes have forced 12 opponent turnovers through the first five games, an average of 2.4 per contest; Wisconsin's +1.00 turnover margin leads the Big Ten and is tied for 17th in the country; The Badgers are averaging 35 points per game while the Buckeyes are giving up 11.8 points per game and the Ohio State is averaging 29.4 points per game while Wisconsin is giving up 24.6 points per game.
Prediction: Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 17
Indiana at Virginia--3:30 PM ET ESPN 360 (Frank Giardina and Sonny Randle)
After getting off to a surprising 3-1 start (including a hard fought, toe to toe loss to Michigan), the Hoosiers fell back to earth on Saturday. Many were calling the match-up with Ohio State in the Indiana's favor (BTN's Chris Martin for instance), but the Buckeyes proved to much for the upstart Hoosier squad.
The simple fact that there were people on the planet that thought Indiana could upset the mighty Buckeyes speaks volumes as to how far the program has come in four short games.
The installation of the pistol offense and Bill Lynch's commitment to making it work has something do with that success.
In this new system, IU quarterback Ben Chappell has thrived and wide receiver Tandon Doss has been steady all season, including a remarkable performance in the Hoosier's first scoring drive against the Buckeyes.
But, no one else offensively has been effective consistently for the Hoosiers and that must change for the Hoosiers to be competitive on a consistent basis in conference play.
But Indiana doesn't play a Big Ten team this week. Instead, the Hoosiers will go on the road to face a Virginia team that until last week, only had losses to William & Mary, Southern Miss, and TCU on its resume.
Last week, the Cavaliers did get a win over North Carolina, but it could be argued the win had more to do with the Tar Heels horrific offensive performance than it did with anything the Cavaliers were throwing at them defensively.
This is a winnable game for the Hoosiers and Chappell and company must find a way to get it done. With a schedule that still includes trips to Iowa City and Happy Valley as well as a home date with Wisconsin, winnable games could be few and far between.
Fast Facts: This is the first meeting between Indiana and Virginia; Indiana defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton, both All-America candidates, own 43 career combined sacks (Middleton-23, Kirlew-20), the highest total for any tandem in the country; Indiana is 5-10 all-time against the ACC. The Hoosiers last meeting against an ACC foe came on Sept. 6, 2001, at North Carolina State (L, 35-14).
Prediction: Indiana 28, Virginia 20
Michigan at No. 12 Iowa--8:05 PM ET ABC (Brent Musberger, Kirk Herbstreit, and Lisa Salters)
Five games into the season it has become abundantly clear that Rich Rodriguez has something special in quarterback Tate Forcier.
Young Forcier has been brilliant this season, but his performance in the final five minutes against the Spartans are what legends are made out of and may have permanently endeared him Wolverine fans everywhere.
It is unfortunate, however that the true freshman quarterback must carry such a weight on his injured shoulder. The offense has been steady, but inconsistent and the Wolverines have needed fourth quarter comebacks in all three games against BCS opponents this season.
That being said, the offense is the heart and strength of this young Wolverine squad and has covered for a disappointing defense.
The Hawkeyes are a team that is built around its hard hitting defense. The Iowa defensive front seven could be the best in the conference and swarm to the ball with ferocity. The defense has been buoyed by the outstanding play of defensive leaders Adrian Clayborn, Pat Angerer, and Tyler Sash.
The Hawkeyes inconsistent offensive play starts with quarterback Ricky Stanzi and his erratic, sometimes brilliant-sometimes terrible play this season.
The Iowa defense is so good that it will keep the Hawkeyes in every game. But unless the mistakes on offense are fixed, the offense could be a liability when facing a similarly dominating defense.
Fast Facts: Michigan leads the all-time series 40-10-4; This game marks Iowa's 98th Homecoming game; the Hawkeyes are 51-41-5 in such contests; Iowa has won 41 of its last 49 games (.830) in Kinnick Stadium, dating back to the 2002 season; This will be the 400th time a Michigan football game will be televised (most in the nation); Michigan has won eight of the last 10 games in the series, including six of eight at Kinnick Stadium; This is the seventh night game in Kinnick Stadium history, with Iowa holding a 3-3 record in the six previous games.
Prediction: Michigan 27, Iowa 24
My record through five weeks: 33-11 (.750)