Week 9: Michigan State Beats Nebraska and 5 Other Big Ten Picks
In East Lansing, it is simply "The Catch." Michigan State receiver Keith Nichol (pictured) went 59 minutes and 59 seconds without a reception against the Wisconsin Badgers.
Then in a "Hail Mary" pass play that has become a trademark of college football, Nichol catches a rebound and scores the winning touchdown on the final play of the game. It is what makes college football frightening, maddening, delightful or any other wonderful adjective that describes this fall sport.
And we haven't reached the midpoint of the Big Ten football schedule!
Halloween is looming, so let's take a look at six dandy games that will close out October. They include the
- Big Ten College Football Game of the Week (CFGotW)
- Three Chiller games (sometimes called "trap" games)
- Two Snoozers (games you couldn't get me to watch)
- Big Ten Player To Watch
There are no "Etc." (Et cetera) games this week, given the "trick or treat" nature of the schedule.
Big Ten CFGotW: "200" Is the Magic Number for the Spartans' Win over Nebraska
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They like to play the clip from the movie 300 at Spartan Stadium. It's the scene where the king asks his warriors: "What is your profession?" Their combative response is intended to unite the army of Sparta and strike fear in their opponents.
On this road trip to Lincoln for the Big Ten College Football Game of the Week (CFGotW), the No. 11 Michigan State Spartans should concentrate on the number "200." Since fall of 2010 the Cornhuskers are 16-0 when they rush for 200 yards or more.
For example, Wisconsin held Nebraska to 159 yards rushing to earn a 48-17 win on October 1st. Martinez completed 50% of his passes and threw three interceptions. It is an interesting scenario when you consider how Michigan State has done against run-dependent Big Ten teams.
First, the Spartans faced a Buckeyes offense that thought they could ease new starting quarterback Braxton Miller's load by running the ball in Columbus.
Second, Michigan traveled to East Lansing and leaned on the athleticism of quarterback Denard Robinson to lead them to victory over their cross-state rivals.
Third, Wisconsin came to Spartan Stadium last Saturday with three top-notch rushers in Montee Ball, James White and Russell Wilson.
The result in all three games was a Spartan win, because Michigan State has the second best run defense in the country. MSU allows an average of 88.9 yards on the ground per game.
The challenge for Michigan State is that Martinez is a better passer than Michigan's Denard Robinson, though he's still behind Wisconsin's Russell Wilson.
The Cornhuskers, No. 14 in the polls, also have a rushing offense that is somewhere between Michigan and Wisconsin's in its productivity and effectiveness. Running back Rex Burkhead is No. 4 in the Big Ten in rushing and Martinez is No. 6. Together they average just under 200 yards a game. (There's that number again.)
Michigan State must get another solid game on defense and from quarterback Kirk Cousins if they want to win this Legends Division showdown. The senior captain (pictured) celebrated the Spartan's final-play win over Wisconsin after completing 22 out of 31 passes for 290 yards and throwing three touchdown passes.
I am disregarding any other numbers this week, because they betrayed me last week when I picked Wisconsin to beat Michigan State. I am going with more of my gut (sizable as it is) in making this prediction.
Michigan State 31, Nebraska 24.
Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin Will Win the 3 "Chiller" Games This Week
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The competition for the Big Ten CGofW was fierce this weekend and that's why we have three "Chiller" games for Week 9 of the season.
We have one game that features two teams with a combined record of 13-3 and two games where the combined records of the four teams are 20-8.
The 13-3 match is not Ohio State versus Wisconsin. It is Illinois (6-2) visiting Happy Valley to play Penn State (7-1)
Nittany Lions running back Silas Redd (pictured) provides the best indication of how his team's offense has improved during the season. Redd has rushed for over 100 yards per game in October and had a career-high 192 yards in last week's win over Northwestern.
The Fighting Illini offense has gone in the opposite direction. After appearing to be explosive in the early weeks of the 2011 season, the offense has sputtered in the last two weeks. Nathan Scheelhaase is one of the more talented quarterbacks in the Big Ten, but he faces a tougher defense this week than he faced last week.
Penn State 20, Illinois 17
Wisconsin, No. 15 in the nation, travels to the "Horseshoe" in Columbus to face the unrated Ohio State Buckeyes. It is a Leaders Division confrontation that both teams need to win to keep pace with Penn State.
The Badgers (6-1) are No. 5 in scoring offense in the nation, but they had to come on late to tie MSU 31-31 before losing in the game's final play. Ohio State's offense, not surprisingly, got noticeably better with the return of running back Daniel Herron.
The two defenses seem evenly matched. Ohio State (4-3) is No. 12 nationally in fewest points allowed and Wisconsin No. 9 in total defense. This one is a tough call, but I cannot see the Badgers losing two games in a row.
Wisconsin 34, Ohio State 27
Purdue (4-3) heads for "The Big House" to face the 6-1 Michigan Wolverines.
Michigan may be No. 18 in the polls, but they had a rough time against Michigan State two weeks ago. Their explosive offense imploded against the Spartans as Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson was held to 165 yards in total offense.
Michigan should be concerned, because Purdue's offense and defense have gotten progressively better in the last two weeks. Caleb TerBush is getting comfortable at quarterback and led a balanced offensive attack in the Boilermakers' win over Illinois last Saturday.
Purdue has occasionally been called the "Spoilermakers," but I don't see them beating Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Michigan 27, Purdue 20
Snoozer Alert: Iowa Beats Minnesota and Northwestern Beats Indiana
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The best team in this week's "Snoozer" games is the Iowa Hawkeyes. They boast a 5-2 record and an offense that is No. 2 in the Big Ten.
A lot of the credit goes to quarterback James Vandenberg (pictured) who had his best game last week against Indiana. He completed 12 out of 16 passes for 253 yards and no interceptions. He has been very consistent this season, averaging 248.7 yards passing per game.
Minnesota (1-6) enter this home game with the No.11 offense in the Big Ten. The defense is also subpar, so the Golden Gophers will probably come out of this game with a 0-4 conference record.
Iowa 37, Minnesota 14
It is hard to explain why Northwestern and Indiana have a combined record of 3-12. I expected more victories from the Wildcats by this point in the season.
Northwestern (2-5) is apparently going to stick with their two-quarterback system that features senior Dan Persa and sophomore Kain Colter. The Wildcats offense is in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, though wide receiver Jeremy Ebert has averaged over 100 yards in pass receiving in October.
Indiana (1-7) has been rotating quarterbacks due to injuries. Now all three QBs are healthy, but look for true freshman Tre Robinson to start at home against Northwestern. He threw his first career touchdown last weekend and completed two-thirds of his passes for 197 yards. Robinson also ran for 84 yards.
I expect Dan Persa and Kain Colter to do well against Indiana's weak defense.
Northwestern 27, Indiana 13
Big Ten Player to Watch: Nebraska Quaterback Taylor Martinez
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Nebraska's hopes rest squarely on the leadership and performance of quarterback Taylor Martinez.
Martinez (pictured) must play like the quarterback who led the Cornhuskers to six wins and not experience the problems he did against Ohio State in their only loss.
There is no doubt that Michigan State will try to shut down the Nebraska running game and force Martinez to throw the football. The Cornhuskers QB is No. 6 in the conference as a passer, averaging 168 passing yards per game.
I expect the Spartans defensive game plan to work. But if it fails, it will be because Martinez led a balanced offensive attack to victory over Michigan State.