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Prepare for November to remember in B1G
October, 28, 2013
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesSaturday's grudge match between No. 21 Michigan and No. 22 Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich., kicks off a loaded November schedule in the Big Ten which should provide plenty of excitement.Halloween is just three days away, and if you're still seeking a costume, don't worry. I have you covered.
Your costume will be scary, especially for any Big Ten football fans you encounter. It doesn't require many materials, and some parts should intentionally look unfinished. If you happen to live in the state of Illinois, the very sight of you will send people screaming (not so much in Ohio, Wisconsin or Minnesota). If you go trick-or-treating, homeowners will want to give you their candy and get you off of their porches as quickly as possible.
You should dress up as the Big Ten's October schedule. Pretty frightening, right?
Frightening is one word to describe the Big Ten slate for the past four weeks. Boring and limited are two others. October typically elevates the excitement and intensity of Big Ten Saturdays, but it's hard to remember a less compelling month of league play than this past one. The double-bye had a lot to do with it, as two weekends featured only four games, and both Wisconsin and Purdue played just twice during the month. The Big Ten's weak crossover schedule also hurt, as previous October matchups such as Nebraska-Wisconsin, Michigan State-Wisconsin and Nebraska-Ohio State didn't take place.
There was a handful of exciting games (Northwestern-Ohio State, Michigan-Penn State, Michigan-Indiana) and some upsets mixed in (Minnesota beating Nebraska, Indiana beating Penn State), but October featured mostly snoozers.
What better way to end this mostly miserable month than by dressing up as a tattered composite schedule, walking around lopsided? Then you can join the rest of us and ring in November, which promises to bring much more excitement around the league.
The Big Ten's schedule is often backloaded, but this year's slate is especially so. Not only will November bring us rivalry weekend, but a plethora of division games and even a sneaky good non-league game Nov. 9, when Wisconsin entertains BYU. It all begins this coming Saturday when all 12 conference members are in action. Imagine that: It's the first time since Sept. 14 that the entire Big Ten will be on the field.
The main event takes place in East Lansing, Mich., where Michigan State hosts Michigan in a rivalry game that means more than just local bragging rights. The Spartans are 4-0 in Big Ten play and can take a major step toward Indianapolis by beating Michigan, which already has a Big Ten loss but hasn't lost a Legends Division game. A Michigan win gives Brady Hoke's crew the all-important tiebreaker with Michigan State. The nation's No. 8 scoring offense in Michigan (42.4 ppg) goes up against the nation's No. 3 scoring defense in Michigan State (12.3 ppg allowed).
This game typically takes place early in Big Ten play, but Michigan and Michigan State will meet in November for the first time since 2007 -- the Mike Hart "little brother" game. Buckle up.
"I've always just believed as a coach that you embrace your rivalries," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio told reporters Sunday night. "You know who your rivals are. I’ve always chosen to embrace it. It's there. Why ignore it? It’s important to your program and everybody surrounding your program."
Week 10 also reunites rivals Wisconsin and Iowa for the first time since the 2010 season. Wisconsin needs some help to win the Leaders Division but could make a run at a BCS at-large berth if it wins out, while an improved Iowa team is a win away from bowl eligibility. No long-term rivalry in college is more evenly matched than this one: the series is deadlocked at 42-42-2.
November finally will provide answers in the Legends division, as all the potential contenders will play one another. There's a lack of quality wins between Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska -- Michigan's Week 2 win against No. 25 Notre Dame is the only one that stands out, and the Wolverines have been largely unimpressive since Sept. 7. Minnesota suddenly has thrust itself into the mix following upsets of Nebraska and Northwestern and could make things interesting for the stretch run. Iowa needs help from Michigan State's opponents to get back in the division race but has strong potential to be a spoiler team.
After a stomach-churning October, the Big Ten's November menu features many appetizing matchups and story lines, and not just on rivalry weekend (Nov. 29-30). "The Chase" begins in earnest for Ohio State, which has won 20 straight games but needs five more -- plus help elsewhere -- to reach the national title game. There's a good chance Ohio State heads to Michigan at 11-0, giving its archrival a chance to ruin a perfect record -- and possibly set up a rematch the following week in Indianapolis.
Nebraska's season is veering off track after the Minnesota loss, and coach Bo Pelini's future could be determined next month as the Huskers face Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Iowa.
Wisconsin is one of the few Big Ten teams with a front-loaded schedule, but the Badgers have November rivalry games against Iowa and Minnesota as they try to end the season with another BCS bowl berth.
Indiana is three wins away from its first bowl appearance since 2007 and might have the schedule to get there.
No team will celebrate the end of October more than Northwestern, which began the month with a top-20 ranking, ESPN's "College GameDay" on campus and a fourth-quarter lead against Ohio State. Things since have completely fallen apart, as bowl eligibility is suddenly in doubt and Pat Fitzgerald's puzzling October struggles continue (he's now 12-21 in the month). The good news: November typically brings better things for the Wildcats, who are 15-9 in the month under Fitzgerald.
Illinois hopes the same holds true after being outscored 137-54 in three October losses, prolonging its lengthy Big Ten slide. The Illini need a late charge to become bowl-eligible.
"The real football teams show up in November," Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said.
So do the real games.
A frighteningly bad October is over in the Big Ten.
Bring on November. It's about to get fun.