Last week will forever be known as the Big Ten’s week of upsets. A Michigan team that underperformed somehow went into the Metrodome and handed Minnesota its second straight loss. Another Big Ten school, this time Illinois, lost to a MAC team. And of course, in what was one of the best college football games of the year, Iowa made a great fourth quarter comeback in front of its green-clad fans. The Hawkeyes ended Penn State’s title hopes, sparing the nation from watching another Big Ten school get blown out in the championship game. Sadly, Northwestern did not get to partake in the upset celebration.
Indiana @ #8 Penn St., 11 a.m., Big Ten Network
The Nittany Lions suffered a devastating upset loss last week at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes. That loss cost them a chance at the National Championship Game, and maybe the Big Ten title as well. Don’t expect another letdown this Saturday as they face a Hoosiers team that is counting down the days until next season. Poor Indiana can’t even look forward to basketball season as most of last year’s team transferred or left amidst all the turmoil. Expect the Nittany Lions to put up big points at home against a weak Indiana defense to solidify at least a tie for the Big Ten Championship. The only chance the Hoosiers have is if Penn St. is caught looking ahead to a huge match up against Michigan St. next Saturday. But after last week’s loss to Iowa, Joe Paterno will not let that happen.
Prediction: Nittany Lions 48 Hoosiers 17
#11 Ohio St. @ Illinois, 11 a.m., ESPN
Last year, Juice Williams led Illinois to a huge upset in Columbus that got the Illini a trip to Pasadena. Things are different this year. Illinois is just 5-5 and must win one of its last two games to become bowl eligible. The Illini team has been extremely inconsistent, losing to teams like Western Michigan but also blowing out Michigan on the road. The Illini should keep this game close as they almost always play the Buckeyes tough. But, with Terrelle Pryor and Chris “Beanie” Wells the Buckeyes should pull away in the second half of this one to spoil senior day in Champaign.
Prediction: Buckeyes 38 Illini 21
Purdue @ Iowa, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network
The Hawkeyes had a program-changing victory last week, upsetting #3 Penn St. on a last second field goal in very windy conditions. With Shonn Greene at tailback, the Hawkeyes should rack up plenty of yards on the ground against a weak Purdue defense. The only chance Purdue has to spoil the Iowa party is if the Hawkeyes are still hung over from their big victory last weekend. I don’t see that happening as Iowa knows that a win is probably the difference between a New Year’s Day Bowl and a trip to Detroit for the Motor City Bowl. Never ever underestimate how powerful motivation not having to go to Detroit can be.
Prediction: Hawkeyes 27 Boilermakers 14
Minnesota @ Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m., ABC
The rivalry games begin this week as these two teams will battle for the Paul Bunyan Axe that Wisconsin has held for four straight years. The Golden Gophers, after a 7-1 start, have had two devastating losses. They lost to a banged-up Northwestern team, and then a Michigan team that will not even go to a bowl game—and both those losses were at home. Wisconsin, on the other hand, won big in Indiana last Saturday and can storm the bowl party with one more victory. The Gophers will be without star wide receiver Eric Decker. Decker’s injury combined with home field advantage for the Badgers means Wisconsin will win this one.
Prediction: Badgers 24 Golden Gophers 20
Northwestern @ Michigan, 11 a.m., ESPN2
The Wildcats, at 3-3 in conference, find themselves in that cluster that can end up playing on New Year’s Day or in Detroit in the Motor City Bowl. Because of Northwestern’s small attendance numbers, bowls may look past them, so any win they can get is imperative to getting to a good bowl game. Michigan looked dead in the water until they shocked Minnesota in the Metrodome last Saturday, holding the Golden Gophers to six points. Their starting running back, Brandon Minor, is out for Saturday’s game. The ‘Cats, of course, will also be without both the starting running back and their backup running back. It has not been announced who will start at quarterback—Mike Kafka or C.J. Bacher. Whoever it is, the offensive play calling will need to change to beat Michigan in the Big House—not an easy feat, no matter how badly Michigan has played. The ‘Cats are 2-0 this season coming off a loss, and have only one road loss this season. Michigan also boasts a good special teams unit so the ‘Cats will have to win the field position game. If Coach Fitzgerald and offensive coordinator Mick McCall allow Kafka or Bacher to open up the playbook instead of playing conservatively, the ‘Cats should rack up the points and leave Ann Arbor with a victory. The defense will need to continue the improvement it’s shown all season against Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense. A win would not only be huge for momentum heading into Senior Day against Illinois, but it would impress the bowl committees as well.
Prediction: Wildcats 31 Wolverines 24
Bye Week: Michigan St.
Last week’s predictions record: 3-3
Season record: 23-14
With only two weeks left in the regular season, the bowl selection process is upon us. Here are my bowl projections heading into this Saturday.
Penn St.—Rose Bowl (Big Ten Champs)
Ohio St.—Fiesta Bowl (BCS At-large)
Michigan St.—Capital One Bowl
Minnesota—Champs Sports Bowl
Wisconsin—Motor City Bowl