Strap in, Big Ten football fan, because it's going to be one hell of a Saturday in the Midwest. Every team in the conference hits the field today, and it's fair to say that every team has a decent chance of winning their game. Parity often makes for exciting football. We start off at 11 a.m. CT with a Leaders Division showdown in Evanston, as both Iowa and Northwestern try to keep their division title hopes alive. Then at 2:30, Sparty and Bucky kicks off in what has become a de facto rivalry game. Ohio State and Penn State face off in the IneligiBowl at 4:30, and we end the day in style at 7 when Michigan visits Nebraska in a game that will go far in deciding the winner of the Legends Division. The other two games feature scuffling teams trying to get back on track: Illinois vs. Indiana and Minnesota vs. Purdue. Should be a fun six-pack of games. Let's take a look at them all and make some picks, shall we?
Week 9 (all games on Saturday):
11 AM CT:
Iowa Hawkeyes (4-3 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) at Northwestern Wildcats (6-2, 2-2) [ESPN2]: This is a battle of two teams fighting to stay relevant in the Legends Division race. The winner will remain in contention and will hope that Nebraska defeats Michigan tonight. The loser will likely be relegated to jockeying for bowl positioning, so there should be a strong sense of urgency from both teams in this game. Both teams lost at home last week: Iowa got pummeled by Penn State and Northwestern blew a 12-point lead with 8 minutes remaining in a heartbreaking loss to Nebraska. Fortunately for the Wildcats, Iowa doesn't have the type of offense that can put up two touchdowns that quickly. Especially when fullback turned running back Mark Weisman isn't completely healthy. His injured ankle and the Penn State defense limited him to nine yards on five carries last week. If he is able to bring his A-game today, the Hawkeyes have a chance at the upset. If not, Iowa won't be able to score enough points to secure the road victory.
Line: Northwestern -5. Prediction: Northwestern 27, Iowa 24.
Indiana Hoosiers (2-5, 0-3) at Illinois Fighting Illini (2-5, 0-3) [BTN]: One of these Leaders Division cellar-dwellers will finally earn a conference victory. If Illinois wins this game, you can write in Wisconsin to Indianapolis with a permanent marker. Indiana has more of an opportunity at winning the division because the Hoosiers haven't yet faced Wisconsin, but the schedule isn't particularly kind and it seems very unlikely that Indiana could pull it off. They do have an offense worthy of representing the Leaders Division in Indianapolis, at least. They scored 49 points against the Buckeyes and 27 points on Michigan State, certainly respectable totals. The defense, on the other hand...well, that's why they are 2-5 and not 5-2. Both defenses in this game are vulnerable and we could see some ridiculous offensive statistics from both teams. Illinois is coming off a bye week, which could help or hurt their chances depending on how much rust they come out with. Because Indiana seems to have more to play for, I'm going to pick them to win a close one in Champaign.
Line: Illinois -2. Prediction: Indiana 37, Illinois 34.
2:30 PM CT:
Michigan State Spartans (4-4, 1-3) at #25 Wisconsin Badgers (6-2, 3-1) [ABC/ESPN2]: Not quite the matchup fans expected before the season began, as the two defending division champions already have combined for six losses on the season. Still, the atmosphere will be raucous in Madison as the Badgers welcome Michigan State to Camp Randall for the first time since 2009. These two teams do not like each other and are almost always good for a game that comes right down to the wire. The Spartans' offense hasn't been holding up their end of the bargain, but the defense has kept them in almost every game. Wisconsin has been playing well in recent weeks, but the competition has been poor. In fact, the Badgers' last three opponents all remain winless in conference play. I think this game comes down to who executes best on special teams, and I think that team will be Michigan State.
Line: Wisconsin -6. Prediction: Michigan State 23, Wisconsin 21.
Purdue Boilermakers (3-4, 0-3) at Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-3, 0-3) [BTN]: Purdue's overtime loss to Ohio State last week had to be one of the more deflating losses I've seen a team suffer in a while. The Buckeyes were on the ropes after losing starting QB Braxton Miller to injury, and backup Kenny Guiton wasn't looking too swell in relief. But all of a sudden, down 8 points with :47 remaining, he led his Buckeyes on a 61 yard touchdown drive. It took only :44 seconds and Guiton had no timeouts at his disposal. The two-point conversion was no obstacle either. Just a terrible job defensively by the Boilermakers, plain and simple. Meanwhile, Minnesota will continue to roll with freshman QB Philip Nelson, who showed some promise in their loss to Wisconsin last week. Purdue could fold in this situation, but I don't see it happening. They have more talent on the roster than Minnesota and I think it will show on the field.
Line: Purdue -3. Prediction: Purdue 30, Minnesota 23.
4:30 PM CT:
Ohio State Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0) at Penn State Nittany Lions (5-2, 3-0) [ESPN]: The Barbisol IneligiBowl presented by American Family Insurance takes place in Happy Valley this year. But this is just more than the first game between two postseason ineligible teams since 1995. It's also a battle between two teams undefeated in B1G conference play and an important game towards deciding who gets this shiny trophy for their display case. Will Buckeyes QB Braxton Miller show any ill effects from that monster hit he took against Purdue? Even if he is the same old Braxton, the Penn State defense has been difficult to crack this season. Bill O'Brien has transformed the Nittany Lion offense into a watchable group and the Buckeyes defense has been like a sieve at times this season. Ohio State has been playing with fire all year and I think they will finally get burned today in front of a juiced PSU crowd.
Line: Ohio State -1.5. Prediction: Penn State 28, Ohio State 24.
7:00 PM CT:
#22 Michigan Wolverines (5-2, 3-0) at Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-2, 2-1) [ESPN2]: Obviously, this game has huge implications on who will represent the Legends Division in the Big Ten Championship game. Michigan blew out the Cornhuskers last season in this battle between dual threat quarterbacks who sometimes struggle mightily with throwing the football. But the quarterbacks have been better this year than last. Denard Robinson did what he needed to do last week to take his team down the field to set up his kicker for the game-winning field goal. And Taylor Martinez's throwing form has generally been better this year, but there are still some passes that make you scratch your head. You can never count out Nebraska at home, even when they fall into a large deficit. And you can never count out Michigan if they aren't facing a solid defense, which the Huskers do not have. Which defense will make the crucial stop and force the most turnovers? I say it will be Michigan's.
Line: Nebraska -1.5. Prediction: Michigan 34, Nebraska 27.
Season to Date:
Overall Record: 52-16 (76.5%); Last Week: 4-2.
Record Against the Spread: 39-28-1 (58.1%); Last Week: 5-1.