Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead celebrates a TD with his teammates
There are five Big Ten teams with identical 8-2 records among the top 25 teams in the BCS ratings as we begin Week 12 of the 2011 season.
There are also 10 conference teams that are in the running for a postseason bowl invitation. Only Indiana and Minnesota have failed to qualify for a bowl game.
Though Michigan State and Wisconsin may have the edge in their respective divisions, Nebraska, Penn State and Michigan are waiting for the front-runners to fall and give them a shot at the title.
The Big Ten College Football Game of the Week (CFGotW) has No. 16 Nebraska playing No. 18 Michigan at the Big House in Ann Arbor. It is one of four divisional games in Week 12.
Let's have a look at:
- the Big Ten CFGotW
- the Big Ten Player to Watch
- the Chiller games
- the Snoozers (or at least I think they will be one-sided games)
- the "What's Left?" game on the Big Ten schedule
Two of the better offenses in the Big Ten play in the Big House Saturday, but it will be the versatility and strength of the Cornhuskers' running game that will lead Nebraska to victory over Michigan in this critical Legends Division game.
Nebraska is No. 2 in the conference in scoring and rushing. The formula is the same for Michigan as it was for Michigan State and Penn State. If you want to beat Nebraska, you have to keep them under 200 yards rushing.
The tandem of running back Rex Burkhead and quarterback Taylor Martinez (pictured) make shutting down the Cornhuskers' running game virtually impossible. Burkhead averages 107.2 yards per game running the ball, and Martinez averages 76.8 per game.
Michigan will counter with quarterback Denard Robinson, who averages 96 yards per game rushing. Fitzgerald Toussaint has emerged as the primary running back in an offense that averages 235 yards rushing per game.
However, Robinson injured his right wrist in last week's win over Illinois, and we may see more of quarterback Devin Gardner.
I expect Nebraska to win the battle in the trenches. Michigan's defense played well against Illinois, but so did the Nebraska defense in their win over Penn State.
Nebraska has the superior defense and more versatility on offense.
Nebraska 27-Michigan 20
Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David (pictured) is a difference maker.
He has led the Cornhuskers defense to critical wins over division rival Michigan State and conference rival Penn State.
He averages 9.7 tackles a game. Last year, David averaged over 10 tackles a game.
Look for David to be part of every defensive play. He is highly rated by NFL scouts and could be the first linebacker selected from the Big Ten in the 2012 NFL draft.
David is a great leader and should lead Nebraska to a critical division win over Michigan.
Quarterback Russell Wilson can still lead No. 17 Wisconsin to the Leaders Division title, but Illinois stands in their way.
The Fighting Illini (6-4) are relegated to the potential role of the spoiler due to their four conference losses. Illinois is the "Jekyll and Hyde" of the Big Ten. In their wins, they averaged almost 35 points a game. In their losses, they average 10.5 points per game.
The Badgers (8-2) have the No. 4 scoring offense in the country. Running back Monte Ball has already set a new Big Ten single season record with 27 touchdowns.
One of Illinois' bright spots is quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. His average of 251.8 yards of total offense per game puts him atop of the Big Ten. Wisconsin's Wilson (pictured) is No. 2 with 224.5 yards, and Michigan's Denard Robinson is third with 240.5 yards per game.
Look for the strength and depth of Wisconsin to wear the Illini out.
Wisconsin 42-Illinois 21
In a Leaders Division battle between two "States", I favor the school from Pennsylvania.
The latest news about former Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno will further inspire the team from Penn State and provide the impetus to beat Ohio State in Columbus.
The Nittany Lions offense may be in the lower half of the Big Ten in several categories, but they have the No. 3 scoring defense in the nation. Penn State has permitted just under 13 points a game.
With three conference losses, Ohio State cannot win the Leaders Division. However, if they beat Penn State tomorrow and Michigan in the season finale, the Buckeyes would finish 8-4 with a chance at a respectable bowl game.
Since returning to the lineup, Buckeyes running back Dan Herron has averaged 119 yards per game. He, sophomore teammate Carlos Hyde and junior Jordan Hall provide Ohio State with a formidable running game.
The problem is the Buckeyes have had trouble throwing the ball. Freshman Braxton Miller has completed only 50 percent of his passes.
Look for a defensive battle.
Penn State 17-Ohio State 14
It's Senior Day for the No. 15 Michigan State Spartans, and they can take one more conclusive step toward the Legends Division title by beating Indiana.
It will be the last game in Spartan Stadium for wide receiver B.J. Cunningham (pictured) who is No. 4 among all pass catchers in the Big Ten. He has 55 pass receptions and 873 yards receiving.
It will also be the last game in the stadium for quarterback Kirk Cousins. Last week, he became the second Spartan quarterback to pass for over 8,000 yards.
Indiana's strength has been their offense. The Hoosiers may have a budding star in Stephen Houston—he is the first IU running back to rush for over 600 yards since 2005.
The Spartans need to win and will win.
Michigan State 31-Indiana 14
Northwestern (5-5) needs one more win to be bowl-eligible, and they face the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Ryan Field in Evanston.
Minnesota's offense continues to struggle as it rests uncomfortably at the bottom of the Big Ten in several categories.
Northwestern features a balanced offensive attack. They are No. 2 in the Big Ten in total offense and No. 2 in passing efficiency.
Look for a strong performance from the Wildcats at home.
Northwestern 31-Minnesota 13
Iowa running back Marcus Coker (pictured) will need some firm footing if the Hawkeyes are to beat the Purdue Boilermakers.
Iowa (6-4) and Purdue (5-5) are still in the hunt for postseason bowl games. The Boilermakers need a win to qualify, while the Hawkeyes further strengthen their bow position with a victory.
Coker had one of the most disappointing games of his career against Michigan State last weekend. The Spartans held him to 87 yards rushing. It was close to 30 yards below his weekly average.
The Hawkeyes are leaning on Coker and the passing tandem of quarterback James Vandenberg and wide receiver Marvin McNutt to put points on scoreboard and keep the Purdue offense off the field.
Purdue used a two-quarterback system of Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush to beat Ohio State 26-23 last week. The quarterbacks like to spread the ball around to multiple receivers, but rely on Ralph Bolden to lead their running attack.
This game is a toss-up, but I give a slight edge to Iowa.
Iowa 24-Purdue 21