Last week ended cupcake season for the Big Ten, so let's start this week off right by taking a look at the Big Ten as they begin conference play in a week that largely looks to favor the away team.
No. 2 Ohio State at Illinois
Where: Champagne, IL
When: 12:00 noon ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Ohio State is coming off a big win against Eastern Michigan in which star quarterback Terrelle Pryor put up huge numbers, while the Illini are coming off a bye week before hosting the Buckeyes this Saturday. Even though Illinois has had an extra week to prepare for OSU, it's still doubtful the Illini could pull off a win with an extra month to prepare.
Ohio State's run defense is just too good and Illinois ranks next-to-last in passing offense (112th to be exact). This game should be a breeze for the Buckeyes who may very well go undefeated though conference play.
Outcome: Ohio State wins by an embarrassing amount of points.
Northwestern at Minnesota
Where: Minneapolis, MN
When: 12:00 noon ET
When you lose to South Dakota and Northern Illinois, there are not too many good things one can say. An 11-point home loss to USC would be forgivable to any other team, but for the Gophers, it's almost impressive.
For Minnesota to retain any sort of measure of respect, they need to come into Big Ten play and make a statement, not a whimper. Unfortunately for embattled coach Tim Brewster, the latter seems more likely, especially against an impressive quarterback in Dan Persa who has racked up 1,200+ yards of offense so far.
Outcome: Northwestern convincingly beats the Gophers.
No. 11 Wisconsin at No. 24 Michigan State
Where: East Lansing, MI
When: 3:30pm ET
This is arguably the most intriguing matchup in Week 1 play in the Big Ten. Michigan State is going to be (presumably) without head coach Mark Dantonio, while the Badgers will be without linebacker Chris Borland, who has been semi-productive with seven tackles and a sack to his name so far this season. Both teams show some weakness to the pass defensively, while, on the offensive side of the ball, pack a mean punch in the running game (10th and 17th overall).
[EDIT: It appears Coach Dantonio, according to ESPN and the Associated Press, will be coaching from the upper-box this Saturday "I'm going to ease back into this much like anybody would after any injury," Dantonio said. "I'm going to listen to our doctors, but I am going to ease back into this and do something daily with our football team."]
Nick Toon and David Gilreath should be back in business for the Badgers and, if both are healthy, both teams should be fielding a dangerous receiving corps. I'd like to see this one come down to the passing game so we can really see how good and balanced each team is, but I wouldn't put money on either team abandoning the run anytime soon.
Outcome: Wisconsin wins in a nail-biter.
No. 19 Michigan at Indiana
Where: Bloomington, IN
When: 3:30pm ET
TV: ESPN U
It's come as no shock that Heisman-hopeful Denard Robinson finally went down last Saturday against Bowling Green. Everyone knew it would happen, and the only questions were, "When," and, "how bad?" In the case of the latter, not too bad. Robinson was cleared to re-enter the game in the fourth quarter against Bowling Green if need-be but, by that time, the game was already out of hand, so he rode the bench while Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner shared mop-up duty.
This week, the Wolverines travel to Bloomington to take on the 3-0 Hoosiers in what should be each team's first real test of the season. The Hoosiers rank 11th nationally in passing yards and Ben Chappell and his army of talented receivers should give the Wolverine's secondary fits. On the other side of the ball, Denard Robinson will be back and will be looking to make a name for himself in the Big Ten.
Outcome: Michigan wins in a competition to see who can put up more yards.
No. 22 Penn State at No. 17 Iowa
Where: Iowa City, IA
When: 8:05pm ET
This is my close runner-up in my "most intriguing game of the week" and would be the number one except for the fact that Kirk Ferentz owns Penn State, home or away, and this week they get the Nittany Lions at home.
The Hawkeyes will be without starting running back Jewel Hampton, while it seems Penn State is still looking for a player to step up in the running game. Joe Paterno has said that Evan Royster is not in the "doghouse," but you still have to think that if somebody presents themselves as a viable option that coach Paterno won't hesitate to give him some carries. You just have to wonder if now is the time to do that against a top-10 defense like Iowa.
Outcome: Iowa wins, Jewel Hampton notwithstanding.
Outcome: Purdue might still find a way to lose this week...
This is a big week for Big Ten fans and every team needs a win for one reason or another. OSU is trying to make a national championship bid. Ron Zook's job is on the line (if not already gone) at Illinois. Northwestern, Indiana, and Minnesota are looking for legitimacy in the Big Ten. Wisconsin and MSU, along with Penn State and Iowa, are in the pack chasing OSU for Big Ten honors, and Michigan is trying to prove 2010 is not 2009.
If you're not already, get excited for 2010 Big Ten conference play that starts this Saturday, Oct. 2.
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