Friday, October 29, 2010
Halloween in the Big Ten
By Adam Rittenberg
It's probably good that Wisconsin has an open week. I'm not sure Madison could handle a football game featuring the nation's No. 10 team and Freakfest in the same 24-hour span.
Oh, yes, it's Halloween weekend in Big Ten country. Hopefully, we'll get some crazy costumes and thrilling games, in no particular order. For the third straight Halloween, I'll be going as a tired sports blogger.
To get you scared and prepared, I've put together this Big Ten Halloween primer.
Haunted House: Ohio Stadium remains the most intimidating venue in the Big Ten, if not the country, especially at night. It has a lot to do with the team that calls The Shoe home, but a large, rowdy and passionate crowd decked out in red creates a Dante's Inferno-like environment for games.
The Paul Bunyan Trophy was first introduced for the 1953 Michigan-Michigan State game.
Trick-or-treat: There's plenty at stake throughout the Big Ten on Saturday, but particularly at Kinnick Stadium. Michigan State can stay in the national title picture with a victory that would improve its record to 9-0, while an Iowa loss would effectively remove the Hawkeyes from the Big Ten title race. Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines also face a pivotal game at Penn State after dropping two in a row.
Jigsaw team: Purdue has been piecing together its depth chart all season because of injuries and other factors. The Boilers entered the year without top running back Ralph Bolden (torn ACL) and backup quarterback Caleb TerBush (academically ineligible) and then lost starting quarterback Robert Marve and top wide receiver Keith Smith to season-ending knee injuries. Wideout Justin Siller (foot) also has missed time, and quarterback Rob Henry is a game-time decision Saturday with a laceration on his throwing hand. Coach Danny Hope and his assistants really have been challenged in their game-planning and preparation.
Witchcraft: Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has been the most spellbinding player in the Big Ten and perhaps all of college football this season. The speedy sophomore already has recorded the top three offensive performances in team history this season. He ranks second nationally in rushing average (156.7 ypg) and has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in six of seven games. Robinson also ranks 16th nationally in quarterback rating (159.1).
Jack-O-Lantern: Penn State really needs the light to go on for senior running back Evan Royster down the stretch. Royster, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009, has only one 100-yard rushing performance through the first seven games. Given the injuries on defense and now at quarterback with Rob Bolden, the Lions really need Royster to start producing if they want to make a bowl game.
Black Cat: They prefer purple, but the Northwestern Wildcats have three wins against ranked opponents in November since 2008. The Wildcats will get two more chances for upsets next month against Iowa (Nov. 13) and Wisconsin (Nov. 27), two teams they beat last season. Michigan also could play spoiler as it takes on both Wisconsin (Nov. 20) and Ohio State (Nov. 27). Penn State could be the ultimate spoiler if it hosts a potentially undefeated Michigan State squad on Nov. 27.
Twilight Zone: Minnesota would love a do-over after dropping seven consecutive games. Everything went downhill after a Sept. 11 loss to FCS South Dakota, which shredded the Gophers defense for 41 points. Minnesota never recovered and coach Tim Brewster was fired Oct. 17, becoming the first Big Ten boss dumped midseason since Michigan State dismissed Bobby Williams in 2002.
Thriller: This label applies to Michigan State, which has provided the most exciting play of the Big Ten season, a fake field goal in overtime that went for a touchdown to beat Notre Dame. The Spartans followed up "Little Giants" with "Mousetrap," a fake punt pass into the wind last week at Northwestern when they trailed 24-14 in the fourth quarter. It has been quite a thrill ride for the Spartans and their fans through the first eight games.