Big Ten conference play starts today y'all! And the B1G jumps right in with two spotlight matchups to get the race to Indianapolis started in style. The Badgers are in Lincoln for the first time since 1973 to take on 22nd-ranked Nebraska underneath the lights and on the national stage. And earlier in the day, No. 14 Ohio State squares off with No. 20 Michigan State in East Lansing as the Buckeyes will try to remain undefeated in their toughest test thus far. The slate is rounded out by three other conference matchups and Purdue going out of conference to host Marshall. Let's take a look at the schedule.
Week 5 (all games on Saturday):
11 AM CT:
Penn State Nittany Lions (2-2) at Illinois Fighting Illini (2-2) [ESPN]: Both Illinois and Penn State have road losses to AQ conference opponents, which is completely understandable. Less impressive on their resumes are the home losses to non-AQ opponents: the Illini to Louisiana Tech and the Lions to Ohio. Last season, Penn State defeated Illinois 10-7 thanks to a touchdown by now-former running back Silas Redd with a minute to go. That game was Penn State's last before the Jerry Sandusky scandal exploded onto the scene. There seems to be a theme of unpredictability when these two teams get together, and this year's meeting is likely no different. I think Penn State will win this game on the heels of their defense and possibly special teams, and I really hope for the sake of the fans in Champaign that there are more than 17 total points scored in this one.
Line: Illinois -1. Prediction: Penn State 20, Illinois 13.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-0) at Iowa Hawkeyes (2-2) [ESPN2]: Minnesota has won the Floyd of Rosedale the past two seasons in close victories, and the Gophers will try to make it three in a row and stay undefeated on the season in the process. It would be a huge victory for the Gophers; as for the Hawkeyes, they are just trying to get back on their feet after a shocking home defeat to Central Michigan. Both of these teams have showed a penchant for the close game this season, and the games in this rivalry have been well contested in recent years (except for a 55-0 beatdown of the Gophers in 2008). This one is not easy to call, but I think Iowa will grind out a close victory largely thanks to whichever tenth-string fullback is running the ball for the Hawkeyes.
Line: Iowa -6.5. Prediction: Iowa 27, Minnesota 21.
Indiana Hoosiers (2-1) at Northwestern Wildcats (4-0) [BTN]: Rule one of the Big Ten: Indiana never wins Big Ten road games. They last won a conference road game in the last week of 2010, but that one doesn't really count because it was an overtime victory over in-state rival Purdue. The offensive fireworks could come from both offenses, or it could just be the Wildcats running roughshod over the Hoosier defense. Either way, Northwestern remains perfect on the year.
Line: Northwestern -11. Prediction: Northwestern 41, Indiana 20.
2:15 PM CT:
Marshall Thundering Herd (2-2) at Purdue Boilermakers (2-1) [BTN]: Purdue has played pretty well this year, blowing out the teams they should blow out and hanging tough with Notre Dame. Marshall is one of those pesky teams that plays many opponents tough, so expect the Thundering Herd to keep things interesting in this one. But Purdue has too much of a talent advantage to stub their toe at home.
Line: Purdue -17. Prediction: Purdue 30, Marshall 20.
2:30 PM CT:
#14 Ohio State Buckeyes (4-0) at #20 Michigan State Spartans (3-1) [ABC]: This is the Buckeyes' first venture out of the friendly confines of Columbus. Both teams haven't looked particularly strong lately. Ohio State's defense has been porous while the Spartans' offense hasn't been able to do much of anything. It will probably end up being a defensive struggle, but I see Michigan State finding a way to win at home in spite of their offensive self-sabotage.
Line: Michigan State -2.5. Prediction: Michigan State 20, Ohio State 17.
7:00 PM CT:
Wisconsin Badgers (3-1) at #22 Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-1) [ABC]: The flashy Adidas uniforms specially made for this game can't salvage the fact that both of these teams suffered a loss at the hands of a Pac-12 team out in the Pacific Time Zone. Still, each of these teams has a legitimate shot at winning their division, so this game serves as an opportunity for both teams to get a jumpstart on that goal. For Wisconsin to win this one, redshirt quarterback Joel Stave will have to play wise beyond his years and the Badger offensive line will have to dominate the line of scrimmage. I just don't see both of those happening in the unfamiliar environment of Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
Line: Nebraska -12. Prediction: Nebraska 35, Wisconsin 20.