Monday, November 12, 2012
Big Ten Week 12 preview
By Brian Bennett
It's the penultimate week of the regular season in the Big Ten. And while one of the spots in the Big Ten championship game has already been sewn up, there is more still on the line this week as all 12 teams are in action.
Here's a quick preview of Saturday's story lines (all times ET):
Ohio State (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) at Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2), 3:30 p.m., ABC: The only undefeated team in the league takes on the team that will represent the division in the conference championship game. That only makes sense in the 2012 Big Ten. Wisconsin could still win the Leaders title and save the league a little face. There's also the little matter of the Bret Bielema/Urban Meyer recruiting spat, which seems like a long time ago now but will definitely be brought up this week (likely to a bunch of no comments and clichés). Montee Ball needs two touchdowns to become the NCAA's all-time career leader. We pegged this one as must-see in the preseason, and despite a few bumps in the road for the Badgers, it remains that way.
Minnesota (6-4, 2-4) at No. 14 Nebraska (8-2, 5-1), 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network: Nebraska's march to play Wisconsin in Indianapolis seems inevitable, but that would be a dangerous sentiment for the Huskers to embrace now. Minnesota, after reaching bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009, might be able to play a little looser now with nothing really to lose. Still, this will be a stiff challenge for the Gophers and true freshman quarterback Philip Nelson on the road in Lincoln. This might actually be a week where Nebraska doesn't need a miracle comeback.
Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) at Michigan State (5-5, 2-4), Noon, ESPN2: Both teams have been eliminated from the Big Ten championship picture, but that doesn't mean they have nothing to play for. The Spartans, after all, still need one more win to get to a bowl game, and they'd rather clinch that at home this week than have to do it on the road next week at Minnesota. Northwestern must put the Michigan disappointment in its rearview mirror, because a nine-win regular season is still very much possible with only Illinois left after this one. This game matches two of the top running backs in the conference in Doak Walker semifinalists Le'Veon Bell and Venric Mark, whose styles and body types couldn't be much more different.
Iowa (4-6, 2-4) at No. 21 Michigan (7-3, 5-1), Noon, ESPN: The Hawkeyes have beaten Michigan in each of the last three years, though that's probably little comfort right now for a team dealing with a four-game losing streak, its longest since 2007. A loss here keeps Iowa at home for bowl season. The Wolverines, meanwhile, have to keep on winning and hope for a Nebraska loss somewhere. They might become huge Iowa fans next week. Will Devin Gardner start again? Should he start even if Denard Robinson is healthy?
Indiana (4-6, 2-4) at Penn State (6-4, 4-2), Noon, Big Ten Network: The potential Indiana championship story was fun while it lasted, but the young Hoosiers got exposed in an enormous away against Wisconsin. A bowl game is still not out of the question for Kevin Wilson's team, but that will require a victory in State College first. Small problem: the Hoosiers are 0-7 lifetime in Beaver Stadium, losing by an average of 21 points per outing. Will the Nittany Lions come out angry after feeling they were cheated at Nebraska? Wide receiver Allen Robinson needs just one catch to become Penn State's all-time single season leader, while quarterback Matt McGloin needs two touchdown passes to tie Darryl Clark for the school's career mark.
Purdue (4-6, 1-5) at Illinois (2-8, 0-6), 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network: This game became slightly more interesting when Purdue won at Iowa. We said slightly. The Boilermakers can still go bowling by beating the Illini and dispatching Indiana at home in the finale, which may or may not save Danny Hope's job. Illinois has been a little more competitive the past two weeks but is running out of time to notch its first league win of the season and snap a 12-game Big Ten losing streak.