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It's a big Saturday for Michigan State and Wisconsin, who look to keep themselves in the hunt for return trips to Indianapolis. And who will emerge victorious in Minnesota/Northwestern, the Big Ten conference game featuring the best combined record of the two teams?
After a lackluster non-conference performance from most of the schools in the Big Ten, the league's teams have started off conference play by essentially cannibalizing themselves from having any national presence. We are only two weeks into conference play and there are only four teams remaining who haven't suffered a loss to a fellow Big Ten team. Two of those teams are Penn State and Ohio State, and when the bowl ineligible teams are winning a lot of conference games that doesn't usually do much to boost a conference's reputation. Iowa is another team still undefeated in conference play, but no one is going to mistake a team who lost to Central Michigan at home as a contender. The fourth team is Michigan, and the current frontrunner to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl already has two losses on the season and has thrown an average of two interceptions per game this year.
This is a big Saturday for last year's Big Ten Championship game participants. Michigan State needs a home victory over the Hawkeyes to keep pace with the Wolverines and reassert themselves as a contender in the Legends Division. Meanwhile, Wisconsin will try to put the biggest threat between them and a return trip to Lucas Oil Stadium behind the 8-ball by defeating Purdue in West Lafayette. Michigan provided the blueprint of how to defeat the Boilermakers last week, but Wisconsin road victories are few and far between. And finally, who would have thought that the Big Ten game featuring the teams with the best combined record would be Minnesota vs. Northwestern? Two teams with still a lot to prove at TCF Bank Stadium in that one. Without further ado, let's take a look at all of today's games.
Week 7 (all games on Saturday):
11 AM CT:
Iowa Hawkeyes (3-2 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) at Michigan State Spartans (4-2, 1-1) [ESPN]: The Hawkeyes had a bye week last weekend, while the Spartans overcame deficits of 17-0 and 27-14 to steal a victory over Indiana in Bloomington. The Spartan defense locked up on the Hoosiers in the 2nd half, completely keeping them off the scoreboard and allowing the offense to successfully complete the 2nd half comeback. I think we will see that defense on display against the Hawkeyes and not the defense that gave up 27 points to the Hoosiers in the 1st half. Iowa just doesn't have enough offensive firepower to steal this game, but a struggling Spartan offense could help to keep this one interesting.
Line: Michigan State -7.5. Prediction: Michigan State 24, Iowa 20.
Northwestern Wildcats (5-1, 1-1) at Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-1, 0-1) [ESPN2]: Both teams went undefeated in the non-conference portion of their schedules, but that momentum hasn't continued into conference play. Minnesota had a bye week last week while the Wildcats were in position to take down Penn State on the road until a fourth quarter meltdown occurred. If you want to beat the Wildcats, you have to slow their rushing attack, which is averaging 231 yards per game this season. I'm not sure the Gophers are capable of doing so after getting bowled over by Iowa's Mark Weisman a couple of weeks ago, so I'm picking Northwestern to earn the road victory at TCF Bank.
Line: Northwestern -3.5. Prediction: Northwestern 30, Minnesota 27.
Wisconsin Badgers (4-2, 1-1) at Purdue Boilermakers (3-2, 0-1) [BTN]: The epic Leaders Division game of the year takes place in West Lafayette between two teams sporting two losses. The winner of this blockbuster showdown has the inside track at Indianapolis, so motivation on both sides will be there. Purdue is talented but there's no sugarcoating a 31-point home loss to Michigan. Wisconsin wants to shut down the run and force Purdue to be one-dimensional, but the likely return of running back Ralph Bolden could revitalize the Boilermaker running game. I'm picking the Badgers to win, but a better prediction would be to say that the team who takes better care of the football will win.
Line: Purdue -1. Prediction: Wisconsin 27, Purdue 24.
2:30 PM CT:
Illinois Fighting Illini (2-4, 0-2) at #25 Michigan Wolverines (3-2, 1-0) [ABC/ESPN]: Last week, Wisconsin got a closeup look at the issues plaguing this Illinois team, as the Badgers coasted to a 31-14 victory. Those issues aren't going away as the Illini head to Ann Arbor for the first time since that ridiculous 67-65 triple overtime victory by Michigan in 2010. The Wolverine offense probably won't drop 67 this time around, but they will be able to score early and often in this one. Hard to see the Illini offense keeping up with the Wolverines, and it could get ugly quickly.
Line: Michigan -25. Prediction: Michigan 41, Illinois 17.
7:00 PM CT:
#8 Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0, 2-0) at Indiana Hoosiers (2-3, 0-2) [BTN]: Indiana nearly toppled Michigan State at home last week, but that may say more about the Spartans' struggles than it does anything about the Hoosiers. The Buckeyes' offense is rolling right now and the Indiana defense is ill-equipped to contain an offense like Ohio State's. The Hoosier offense might be able to chip in two or three touchdowns, but that won't nearly be enough to upset the top team in the conference.
Line: Ohio State -18. Prediction: Ohio State 42, Indiana 20.
Season to Date:
Overall Record: 44-13 (77.2%); Last Week: 4-1.
Record Against the Spread: 32-24-1 (57.0%); Last Week: 2-3.