It's Paul Bunyan weekend in the Big Ten; both the Paul Bunyan's Axe and the Paul Bunyan Trophy are up for grabs. But the best games of the weekend don't involve any trophies. Northwestern hosts Nebraska in a game with major implications for the Legends Division race. Later, Penn State will visit Iowa for a game under the lights, and those two teams have had some interesting battles over the years. According to conference commissioner Jim Delany, both the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes are eligible to win the Leaders Division trophy, so it's worth keeping an eye on how those two teams fare each week. I'd characterize this week's schedule of games as mediocre, but that happens sometimes when a conference is in a down year.
Week 8 (all games on Saturday):
11 AM CT:
Purdue Boilermakers (3-3 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) at #7 Ohio State Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0) [ABC/ESPN2]: Purdue has fallen flat on its face the past two weeks at home, first to Michigan and most recently to Wisconsin. Things don't get any easier this week with a road trip to Columbus, although getting to face a Buckeye defense who just allowed 49 points to Indiana could be considered a silver lining. With the Boilermaker defense giving up 645 total yards to the Badgers last week, Ohio State should have a field day offensively. The Buckeyes will most likely remain undefeated, but the real question is how close Purdue can keep this one- it all hinges on if whether or not one of the numerous Purdue quarterbacks on the roster can crack a vulnerable OSU defense. The Boilermakers won this matchup last year, and I think they will cover the spread again this year.
Line: Ohio State -18.5. Prediction: Ohio State 41, Purdue 24.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-2, 0-2) at Wisconsin Badgers (5-2, 2-1) [ESPNU]: This is one of those games where the overall records of the two teams are deceiving. Wisconsin is 5-2 and Minnesota is close behind at 4-2, but the Badgers are finding their stride after starting slowly. On the other hand, the Gophers have only scored 26 total points in two Big Ten conference games and haven't won a game in nearly a month. In an attempt to reverse their offensive woes, Minnesota will burn the redshirt of freshman quarterback Philip Nelson, and he is expected to start today. Nelson is the reigning Mr. Football of the state of Minnesota, but a road game at Camp Randall Stadium is not an enviable place to begin your college career, especially with the way the Wisconsin defense has been playing lately. Regardless, it's always safest to bet the over when the Badgers and Gophers get together. I see Minnesota giving Wisconsin a bit of a scare early, but the Badgers will pull away late.
Line: Wisconsin -15.5. Prediction: Wisconsin 35, Minnesota 20.
2:30 PM CT:
Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-2, 1-1) at Northwestern Wildcats (6-1, 2-1) [ABC/ESPN2]: The Nebraska defense has had two weeks to think about the 63 points Ohio State scored on them. To be fair, 14 of those points came from a pick-six and a punt return touchdown, but giving up 371 rushing yards is never acceptable for a defense. They will need to play better if they want to defeat Northwestern this week in Evanston. The Wildcats upset the Cornhuskers last year 28-25 in Lincoln, and the stage is set for another exciting game this year. Two of the nation's top rushing attacks will be on display in this one, and the team that best contains the other on the ground will likely win the game. I think that team will be the Wildcats. This is a huge game for them and I think they will bring their A-game at home, where they haven't lost yet this season.
Line: Nebraska -6.5. Prediction: Northwestern 30, Nebraska 27.
Michigan State Spartans (4-3, 1-2) at #23 Michigan Wolverines (4-2, 2-0) [BTN]: At first glance, it looks like Michigan will be able to easily take care of little brother Michigan State and end that four game losing streak to Sparty. But I would listen to the wise words of Lee Corso before writing this off as a Wolverine victory. Michigan State still has a strong defense, and they've been able to stymie the Michigan offense in recent years. We've already seen the Wolverines fall apart at the seams twice this season when they've faced good defenses. With the well-documented struggles of the Spartan offense this season, I expect this one to be a defensive slugfest. I'll pick Michigan to eke out a close victory, but I would not at all be surprised with State winning their fifth straight in the series.
Line: Michigan -9.5. Prediction: Michigan 20, Michigan State 17.
Indiana Hoosiers (2-4, 0-3) at Navy Midshipmen (3-3) [CBS Sports Network]: Ooh, an out-of-conference game! Here's an opportunity for the Big Ten to repair its national reputation...well, sort of. Navy already faced a Big Ten opponent earlier in the season: Penn State. And the Nittany Lions rolled to a 34-7 victory. But the Indiana defense is not on the same level as Penn State's, so expect more than 7 points out of the Midshipmen. I'd like to take this opportunity to suggest that Indiana is likely the only team other than Wisconsin with a shot at representing the Leaders Division in Indianapolis. The Hoosiers have hung tough with the Spartans and Buckeyes in recent weeks, and they can't be taken for granted at this point in the season. Navy is beatable at home, and I like Indiana to win a close one.
Line: Navy -3. Prediction: Indiana 34, Navy 31.
7:00 PM CT:
Penn State Nittany Lions (4-2, 2-0) at Iowa Hawkeyes (4-2, 2-0) [BTN]: Nothing like a good primetime matchup between two teams still undefeated in conference play. With how poorly these two teams performed in the non-conference portion of the schedule, it's surprising that both are still perfect against conference opponents. The Hawkeyes have made life miserable for Penn State in the past few years, but the Nittany Lions did shut down Iowa 13-3 last season. The big question mark in this one is how effective Iowa running back Mark Weisman will be after injuring his ankle last week. He will play, but how much and how effectively are to be determined. Freshman running back Greg Garmon received a few carries in overtime last week against Michigan State, but he didn't show anything to be excited about. Penn State has a more complete team at this juncture, and I see them stealing a win at Kinnick Stadium.
Line: Iowa -2.5. Prediction: Penn State 28, Iowa 21.
Season to Date:
Overall Record: 48-14 (77.4%); Last Week: 4-1.
Record Against the Spread: 34-27-1 (55.6%); Last Week: 2-3.