Monday, October 22, 2012
Big Ten Week 9 preview
By Brian Bennett
Oct. 27 was the date we had circled in the preseason as the best day in the Big Ten. While one of the marquee games has lost some luster, we still have two titanic tilts and other interesting matchups as all 12 teams are in action. Here's an early preview:
No. 22 Michigan (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten) at Nebraska (5-2, 2-1), 8 p.m., ESPN2: The winner automatically becomes the Legends Division favorite, and if the Wolverines win, they will be tough to catch. Michigan's defense, which has been the best in the Big Ten in conference play, goes against the league's No. 1 offense. Taylor Martinez versus Denard Robinson. A night game at Memorial Stadium. What else do you need?
Ohio State (8-0, 4-0) at Penn State (5-2, 3-0), 5:3o p.m., ESPN: The Ineligi-Bowl. The shadow Leaders Division championship game. Whatever you want to call it, this game is big despite the lack of any postseason implications. The Nittany Lions are playing as well as anyone in the Big Ten and just got done destroying Iowa on the road. This looks like the toughest test to date for the undefeated Buckeyes, who may or may not have quarterback Braxton Miller at full strength. They will need him against a Penn State defense that's playing with a lot of emotion.
Michigan State (4-4, 1-3) at No. 25 Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2: We've been looking forward to this one since last December after the two teams finished the second of their two classic 2011 heavyweight fights. The Spartans, though, are stumbling into Round 3 and may need to win just to keep their bowl hopes flickering. The Badgers, meanwhile, are rounding back into form the past few weeks. Can Andrew Maxwell dress up as Kirk Cousins for Halloween?
Iowa (4-3, 2-1) at Northwestern (6-2, 2-2), Noon, ESPN2: Both teams saw their Legends hopes take a major hit on Saturday with home losses, so any margin of error is gone. Iowa ended three years of frustration against the Wildcats last year with a 41-31 victory in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes are banged up on offense now, and quarterback James Vandenberg has not been effective. Northwestern has its own issues in the passing game and will need a healthy Venric Mark.
Purdue (3-4, 0-3) at Minnesota (4-3, 0-3), 3:30 p.m. BTN: The math is pretty simple. There are five games left for both teams. Purdue needs three more wins to make a second straight bowl game, while Minnesota needs two victories for its first postseason appearance since 2009. You start playing the schedule game, and both sides look at this one as a game they can win. Somebody's going to break a three-game losing streak, while the other falls to 0-4 in the league. Jerry Kill has surprisingly committed to true freshman Philip Nelson as his quarterback, with MarQueis Gray going to receiver. Danny Hope's team just needs something positive now.
Indiana (2-5, 0-3) at Illinois (2-5, 0-3), Noon, Big Ten Network: We checked with both the NCAA and the Big Ten, which confirmed that one of these two teams will, in fact, earn a victory this week. It's the league's own version of a pillow fight, as the Hoosiers and Illini have combined to lose nine straight games. Of course, Indiana has put up more of a battle, losing four of its last five by four points or less, while the Illini haven't been close to a victory over an FBS opponent since the opener. But Illinois has had two weeks to prepare. We may need that long to recover from watching this one.