Friday, October 30, 2009
Big Ten Halloween primer
By ESPN.com staff ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten is known for the Maize and Blue, the Scarlet and Gray, the Blue and White, the Black and Gold and many others, but on Saturday, the only colors that matter are orange and black. It's Halloween around the Big Ten, with six ghoulish games on tap.
Halloween is a huge deal in Madison and other places around the league, so here's what you need to know as you head to the games (preferably in costume).
Trick-or-Treat: Ohio State gets a treat Saturday against New Mexico State, but things get much harder as the Buckeyes close against Penn State, Iowa and archrival Michigan. Wisconsin, meanwhile, gets a few treats down the stretch in Purdue, Indiana, Michigan, Northwestern and Hawaii, though three of those games are away from home.
Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
Ricky Stanzi and the Hawkeyes have saved their best for crunch time.
Cursed team: Purdue certainly seemed cursed during a five-game losing streak where four losses came by a total of 18 points. The Boilers couldn't seem to buy a break and committed too many turnovers. They could easily be 5-3 or even 6-2 rather than 3-5 at this point. Illinois feels it belongs in this category as well.
Nightmare on Green Street: Ron Zook and the Illinois Fighting Illini wish they could wake up and realize that this was all a bad dream. The Illini sit at 1-6, without a win against an FBS opponent or a loss by fewer than 10 points. For a group supposedly stocked with talent and enough veterans, Illinois has endured the biggest nightmare of any team in a BCS conference this fall.
Costumes: Ohio State coach Jim Tressel dresses up as Vince Young, hoping to inspire quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez dresses up as Father Time or wears a big clock around his neck, a la Flavor Flav. Purdue coach Danny Hope dresses up as a Quaker Oats box, in tribute to his predecessor and Wilford Brimley lookalike, Joe Tiller. Zook dresses up as a rose, hoping to remind Illini fans of the good ol' days. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany dresses up as Rodney Dangerfield.
Boo (Boo): Minnesota will be without its best player, senior wide receiver Eric Decker, for the rest of the regular season after he strained his foot against Ohio State. Decker was the Golden Gophers' only consistent offensive threat, and his absence creates a major void in production.
Scary movie: Tressel undoubtedly had to avert his eyes numerous times when watching Ohio State's mistake-filled loss to Purdue on Oct. 17. For a guy who hates turnovers, Tressel must have struggled to get through that tape. Michigan State's Mark Dantonio will have a tough time reliving his team's 15-13 loss to Iowa, especially the ending.
Witchcraft: Iowa has had the magic all season long, rallying for seven of its eight victories and winning four games by four points or fewer. Some still wonder when the Hawkeyes' late-game pixie dust will run out, but don't bet against these guys the rest of the way.
Haunted House: There's no obvious choice for Halloween, but Beaver Stadium and Ohio Stadium should be pretty scary the next two weeks for showcase games. Pryor heads back to his home state and undoubtedly will face a rough reception in Happy Valley. A week later, Iowa could be putting its Big Ten and BCS title hopes on the line in Columbus, where it has gotten stomped since 1991. And then on Nov. 21, Ohio State offensive lineman Justin Boren faces his old team at Michigan Stadium.
Graveyard: Illinois will almost certainly miss a bowl game for the second straight year, while both Purdue and Indiana need to pull an upset or two down the stretch. Ohio State's faint national title hopes were buried after the loss to Purdue, while Michigan State likely saw its Big Ten title chances go up in smoke on the final play against Iowa.
Night of the living dead: Purdue has turned things around nicely after a 1-5 start, while Michigan State was one play away from its fourth straight win after stumbling out of the gate to 1-3. Northwestern has flat-lined in several games this season, only to revive itself with big comebacks.