Wisconsin let a road win in Columbus slip away last season. - Kirk Irwin
It's the penultimate week of Big Ten regular season football action. The spotlight is on Madison for the clash between the Buckeyes and the Badgers, while Iowa and Minnesota look to make an impact on who goes to Indianapolis from the Legends Division.
Two Saturdays of Big Ten regular season football remain. We already know it'll be Wisconsin in Indianapolis representing the Leaders Division thanks the Badgers' demolition of Indiana last weekend. Things remain less clear in the Legends Division, and it could very well be the Iowa Hawkeyes who hold the keys to Indy in that division, as they face both of the frontrunners in their final two games (Nebraska and Michigan, both at 5-1 in conference play). The Wolverines face a tougher road than the Cornhuskers, as they still have to face archrival Ohio State and need Nebraska to lose at least one of their remaining games.
One interesting subplot as we wind down the season is how many teams in the B1G will ultimately finish with bowl eligibility. Only five teams are eligible so far, and Michigan State is on the cusp at 5-5. Indiana, Iowa, and Purdue are all at 4-6 and will need to win out to gain eligibility. Purdue and Indiana face off in the final week, and the Hawkeyes' remaining schedule is tough, as previously mentioned. The Boilermakers have the best chance at finishing 6-6, but there's also a possibility none of the three get in. Even the Spartans' bowl bid isn't a shoo-in, as they will have to beat an already bowl-eligible opponent to earn it. The conference's bowl portfolio has suffered because of the success from States Ohio and Penn, but there's still a chance Michigan (who is lurking at No. 21 with the Buckeyes left on the schedule) could sneak in and be a 2nd B1G BCS participant if the cards fall right. What is certain right now is that the lowest bowls in the Big Ten pecking order should probably start looking for replacements for unfilled Big Ten bowl tie-ins.
Week 12 Games (all games on Saturday):
11 AM CT:
Iowa Hawkeyes (4-6 overall, 2-4 Big Ten) at #21 Michigan Wolverines (7-3, 5-1) [ESPN]: Iowa successfully allowed their bowl hopes to evaporate over the last month, as the Hawkeyes have lost four straight games. Their most recent setback was at home to Purdue, who was previously winless in conference play. A bounce back performance at Michigan Stadium is a lot to ask out of the Hawkeyes, whose running back corps has been absolutely decimated by injuries. The Wolverines are still in the thick of things after that wild comeback and overtime victory over Northwestern last week, so they will be playing focused football. With a Michigan win all but certain, the biggest story could be what role QB Denard Robinson will have in his final home game as a Wolverine. He's still dealing with an elbow injury and may receive a ceremonial snap if he isn't healthy enough to play a significant amount of minutes.
Line: Michigan -17. Prediction: Michigan 34, Iowa 14.
Northwestern Wildcats (7-3, 3-3) at Michigan State Spartans (5-5, 2-4) [ESPN2]: Northwestern snatched defeat from the jaws of victory last week, allowing Michigan's Devin Gardner to complete a 53-yard strike to Roy Roundtree which lead to an overtime-forcing field goal (the Wildcats must have borrowed their defensive prevent play from Wisconsin). The momentum from that play unsurprisingly carried Michigan to the win. Meanwhile, Michigan State had an entire bye week to stew over what they felt to be an unfair (see: referees) result against Nebraska. It's been one difficult grind for the Spartans up to this point, who have had to scratch and claw for most of their victories and have lost four games by four points or less. I like Northwestern to bounce back here. The offense looked pretty good for much of the game against the Wolverines, although the Spartans defense will be a tougher test. Northwestern has been moderately successful at stopping the run this season, and they will have to focus their efforts on bottling up Le'Veon Bell to steal a victory in East Lansing.
Line: Michigan State -7. Prediction: Northwestern 24, Michigan State 21.
Indiana Hoosiers (4-6, 2-4) at Penn State Nittany Lions (6-4, 4-2) [BTN]: Indiana's offense put up only 14 points last week on Wisconsin, their worst total this season. They might not struggle as much this week, but it won't matter. The only way Penn State loses is if Jim Delany tells them to throw the game so Indiana can maybe go to a bowl.
Line: Penn State -17.5. Prediction: Penn State 34, Indiana 20.
2:30 PM CT:
Ohio State Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0) at Wisconsin Badgers (7-3, 4-2) [ABC/ESPN2]: This game isn't as exciting as it could have been because of tattoos. That is truly unfortunate. But, it should still be a crazy afternoon in Madison. Both teams don't like each other much. We know what happened last time Ohio State came to Camp Randall with an undefeated record. We all remember Braxton Miller's game-winning touchdown throw to Devin Smith in Columbus last season. This is the first meeting between Urban Meyer and Bret Bielema. And, there's still a Leaders Division title and trophy at stake. The Badgers' biggest concern has to be containing Miller, as Wisconsin has struggled with mobile quarterbacks this season. And that task would be even more difficult without linebacker Chris Borland, who is questionable to play. The Badgers ran all over Indiana last week, but that won't happen against Ohio State, although the Buckeyes' defense is far from impenetrable. I'm eagerly anticipating seeing what Curt Phillips can do today. Senior Day usually brings out the best in the Badgers, but Ohio State is the better team here. The glimmer of hope for Wisconsin is the Buckeyes' poor performances against Indiana and Purdue, but we'll chalk those up to playing down to the opponent. Ohio State gets a win in Madison and stays undefeated.
Line: Wisconsin -2. Prediction: Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 23.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-4, 2-4) at #14 Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-2, 5-1) [BTN]: Congratulations to Jerry Kill, whose Gophers earned bowl eligibility last week with a 17-3 win over Illinois. If it wasn't already obvious, he clearly is a superior football coach to his predecessor Tim Brewster. Bowl eligible or not, it will still be a massive upset if the Gophers win in Lincoln today. Nebraska has a Big Ten Championship looming on the horizon if they take care of their business, and Senior Day in Lincoln should go off without a hitch.
Line: Nebraska -20.5. Prediction: Nebraska 34, Minnesota 18.
Purdue Boilermakers (4-6, 1-5) at Illinois Fighting Illini (2-8, 0-6) [BTN]: It's a Leaders Division basement showdown! Purdue finally showed signs of life last week, beating Iowa with a field goal as time expired. Illinois did not, scoring 3 points against the Gophers. An Illinois win here to get off the schneid is certainly possible, but I can't in good faith take them to win this one. Purdue keeps their bowl hopes alive with a victory.
Line: Purdue -6.5. Prediction: Purdue 30, Illinois 21.
Season to Date:
Overall Record: 63-21 (75.0%); Last Week: 3-2.
Record Against the Spread: 45-38-1 (54.2%); Last Week: 0-5.