By DOUG GRIFFITHS
It’s probably a good thing for the Big Ten that the preseason college basketball coaches poll came out this week since the conference has been agonizing through what to date has been a forgettable football season.
The Big Ten leads all conferences with five men’s basketball teams ranked in the season’s first USA Today Coaches Poll, released Wednesday. IU is No. 1, followed by Ohio State (fourth), Michigan (fifth), Michigan State (14th) and Wisconsin (21st).
The conference had just as many football teams ranked in the preseason Associated Press poll, but by Oct. 7 saw just two teams among the top 25 and one of those – Ohio State – isn’t eligible for post-season play this year and the other – Michigan – barely cracked the poll at No. 25.
Big Ten football teams haven’t had any marquee wins. In fact, it has been a season filled with embarrassing performances, including Michigan getting blown out by defending national champion Alabama, Iowa losing at home to Central Michigan, Penn State falling in Beaver Stadium to Ohio. Plus, the league went a combined 0-3 against Notre Dame.
Early in the year you’re just kind of getting into position, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. The goal for everybody is to win their conference. You’re starting to hit that stretch. Just about everyone has six games left. You want to be starting to hit your peak. That’s the challenge.
The Legends Division is shaping up to be quite a race. Four teams are separated by just one game.
The same cannot be said about the Leaders Division since Ohio State and Penn State – both undefeated in league play – aren’t eligible for the Big Ten Championship Game. Wisconsin is now in the driver’s seat for a bid to Indy since it hammered Purdue in Ross-Ade Stadium.
Speaking of Purdue, the only Big Ten coach on the hot seat is Boilermaker boss Danny Hope, whose job security will be even shakier after his team’s date Saturday at Ohio State.
With that said, IndySportsLegends.com tackles this week’s Big Ten football action and helps you decide which of those Big Ten contests you’ll want to keep an eye on and which ones aren’t DVR worthy.
(I posted my second consecutive 4-1 week in Big Ten action as I missed Iowa’s OT win in East Lansing. For the season, my record is 51-11.)
Nebraska (4-2, 1-1) @ Northwestern (6-1, 2-1)
Evanston, Ill. (Ryan Field 47,130)
The winner of this one will remain in contention for the Legends crown, while the loser will pretty much be out of it.
Nebraska has the better team on paper with a better quarterback, a more dangerous running attack and a stout defense. Of course, you could’ve said the same things last year and the ‘Cats went into Lincoln and upset the Huskers.
This season people continue to doubt Northwestern and it just continues to win with the lone exception being at Penn State and that game was in doubt going in the fourth quarter.
If you’re a Husker fan, what has to concern you is the Big Red’s defense has allowed an average of 357 yards per game on the ground in their only two road games this season. UCLA and Ohio State were the two opponents and both had mobile quarterbacks like Northwestern and both ran similar offenses to Northwestern.
The game is sold out and might be more of a neutral setting when you consider the sea of red that will be on hand to support Nebraska. Rex Burkhead, Taylor Martinez and Co. are the safe bet. NU, 35-28.
Michigan State (4-3, 1-2) @ #23 Michigan (4-2, 2-0)
Ann Arbor, Mich. (Michigan Stadium 109,901)
The Wolverines will try to put an end to the Spartans’ four-game winning streak in this rivalry, including twice in Ann Arbor. Michigan should win because its offense is much better than State’s and its defense has really been coming on, allowing an average of 8 points in its last four games.
Per usual, the key for the Maize and Blue will be Denard Robinson. Michigan State has done a good job on Robinson in the past, as the ultra-talented signal caller is completing less than 50 percent of his passes, has thrown 4 interceptions and 2 touchdowns and is averaging just 2.8 yards rushing per carry (119 yards rushing total in three games) against the Spartans during his career. If State does another good job on No. 16, it will have a good chance of pulling off the upset.
In MSU’s three previous games against top-25 competition this season, the Spartans have averaged a mere 12 points. That’s mainly because running back Le’Veon Bell has been a one-man show. If Bell doesn’t get any help from his supporting cast, MSU has no chance.
Is Brady Hoke’s perfect 11-0 record at home guiding the Big Blue in jeopardy? No, but expect this to be closer than some may think. Hail to the Victors, 24-14.
Penn State (4-2, 2-0) @ Iowa (4-2, 2-0)
Iowa City, Iowa (Kinnick Stadium 70,585)
Who saw these two teams being undefeated in Big Ten play when they met, especially after Penn State started 0-2 and Iowa lost to Central Michigan?
Thanks to a thrilling overtime win at Michigan State, the Hawkeyes seemed to have found their groove somewhat.
What could derail Iowa’s two-game winning streak is a less-than 100 percent Mark Weisman. The running back injured his ankle in the win over the Spartans. Although he’s cleared to play, Kirk Ferentz questions how effective he’ll be.
Penn State is coming off a bye week and has lost in its last four trips to Kinnick. But I like the Nittany Lions in this one because I think the visitors have the edge at quarterback with Matt McGloin, I think their defense is better than Iowa’s and Weisman’s ankle is cause for concern. Penn State pushes its winning streak to five, 10-7.
May Be Worth A Look-see
Indiana (2-4, 0-3) @ Navy (3-3)
CBS Sports Network
Annapolis, Md. (Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium 34,000)
This game certainly won’t excite the college football masses, but Big Ten fans may be intrigued to see how Indiana responds after giving Ohio State quite a scare, hanging 49 points on the Buckeyes a week ago in Bloomington.
IU has to win a game like this. Sure, it will be tough adjusting to Navy’s triple-option offense, which is never easy to prepare for in less than a week. However, it’s been games like these — ones that the Hoosiers should win — that have kept the program in the Big Ten’s basement for so long. In a lot of ways, this is a must-win for Kevin Wilson’s program. If the Hoosiers go to Annapolis and leave with a loss, all the positive feelings generated from being so competitive against Ohio State will be gone.
I’ve gone somewhat back-and-forth on this one because I could see Indiana suffering somewhat of a letdown. That may be hard to understand, but Navy just won’t generate the same type of intensity from the Hoosiers that Northwestern, Michigan State and Ohio State did. That’s what has me concerned. With that said, though, I do believe IU has the better offense (certainly more explosive) and will triumph, but will have trouble stopping the Mids’ unique offense. Go with the Cream and Crimson in an offensive affair, 38-28.
Purdue (3-3, 0-2) @ #7 Ohio State (7-0, 3-0)
Columbus, Ohio (Ohio Stadium 102,329)
News flash: The Boilermakers are a phony. Danny Hope’s club has shown its true colors the last two weeks, being blown out at home in the program’s most important games since Joe Tiller was becoming the school’s all-time winningest football coach. Now, another blowout is all but a certainty for the Old Gold and Black as they travel to the Horseshoe to face the undefeated Buckeyes, who have only lost to Purdue once at home since 1967.
Ohio State, which has won eight straight at home over the Boilermakers (dating to a 1988 defeat), has plenty of motivation facing Purdue. You’ll recall last year the Buckeyes lost in overtime in West Lafayette. It’s a safe bet Urban Meyer has reminded his team of that game. It’s also a safe bet Meyer hasn’t been too pleased with his club after its sad defensive effort in Bloomington last week. That’s really bad news for Purdue.
The Boilermakers let Denard Robinson run wild and had no answer whatsoever for Wisconsin’s RB Montee Ball and the Badger running attack. So how in the world are they going to have an answer for quarterback Braxton Miller and a Buckeye ground game that ranks eighth in the country, averaging 263.57 yards per game? They’re not. This game has all the makings of a rout because Purdue has not put up any kind of a fight the last two weeks. Now, the Boilermakers go into hostile territory and there’s no reason to think Hope’s bunch is mentally strong enough to make this a game. All OSU, 49-6.
Minnesota (4-2, 0-2) @ Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1)
Madison, Wis. (Camp Randall Stadium 80,321)
Like Purdue, Minnesota has proven the last two outings that its record was fool’s gold. The Gophers aren’t going to contend for the Legends Division and won’t put up much of a fight in Camp Randall on Saturday.
It will be interesting to see how effective Gopher QB MarQueis Gray will be after he re-injured his ankle last week against Northwestern. Keep an eye out for Gray possibly playing receiver as Minnesota has hinted a move to that position may be on the horizon.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, looks like a team that not only will represent the Leaders Division in Indianapolis, but also could even get to the Rose Bowl again.
The Badgers made Purdue look silly as their offensive line has really improved since Bret Bielema made a change with his coaching staff. As a result, Montee Ball is looking more and more like the preseason first-team All-American he was tabbed to be. Ball is coming off a career-high 247 yards rushing and 3 touchdown performance against the Boilermakers. Expect the same type of production from No. 28 in Mad Town.
Even though Minnesota leads the all-time series against Wisconsin by three victories, the Badgers have dominated recently, winning the last eight meetings. The Paul Bunyan Axe stays in the Land of Cheese. On Wisconsin, 31-10.
(All times ET)