The Big Ten Report - Week Six
by Max - 10/10/2006
As the midpoint of conference play approaches, the Big Ten clearly appears to be separated into two tiers. Four of the six games last week were routs, including the nation's No. 1 team, Ohio State, taking care of in-state mid-major Bowling Green by a score of 35-7 at the Horseshoe.
In my opinion, the top tier is filled by the Buckeyes, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin. With limited exception, I would not expect any of these four teams to lose to the bottom seven. Wisconsin may struggle with its trip to West Lafayette in two weeks and Iowa may be given a battle at the end the season with a trip to the Twin Cities. Will one of these two games be our Big Ten Game of the Year? Only time will tell but there is a good chance.
Other then that, four teams should end the season with impressive records and two should receive BCS bids. I really hope Michigan and Ohio State can go into their Nov. 18 meeting undefeated, as it would bring great recognition to the conference. The winner of the game would easily finish the season atop the BCS standings and earn a spot in the national title game in Glendale, Arizona, which will be called by former Wisconsin Coach Barry Alvarez.
The following will recap some of the action from last week and preview an important week ahead:
A wild game took place in Champaign, Illinois, when the Hoosiers came calling on Saturday. Illinois was coming off an impressive win and we felt that the situation was right to pull the trigger on them as an eight-point favorite over Indiana. The Hoosiers were really struggling, having lost three straight home games, and were mixing-and-matching their offensive line. Things went as expected in the first quarter when Illinois put 22 points on the board en route to an early 25-7 lead. I felt this game was in the bag, but then the Hoosiers rattled off 24 straight points to take six-point lead. The teams went back-and-forth from that point and Indiana eventually claimed the victory on a 33-yard field goal by Austin Starr as time expired.
This was an embarrassing loss for Illinois, as they could have moved the program to the next level. That could have set up a shot at three consecutive victories and it would have given the Illini a winning record in conference play. The Fighting Illini rushed for 209 yards, yet their downfall was that they only converted 1-of-11 chances on third down.
I don't think too many people are upset about the coaching change that was made when they replaced Urban Meyer. But no matter who the coach is, this team continues to underachieve as they have talent on paper. Next up for Illinois is a home date with Ohio. They enter as a touchdown favorite and they are 10-2 straight up against the MAC. The Hoosiers hope to build upon this shocking upset when they welcome Iowa to Memorial Stadium. The early line has Iowa as a 17.5-point favorite and I would not expect this game to be close.
Another impressive victory by a road team saw Penn State going into the Twin Cities and coming away with a one-point overtime win. The most intriguing stat of this game was that the Golden Gophers were held to just 67 yards rushing. This is a team that makes a living of the ground and that is quite an accomplishment for Joe Pa and his Lions. Minnesota has seen a big drop-off in talent at the running back position and Amir Pinnix was not able to get the job done.
This game was close throughout as no team had more then a 7-point lead and then Minnesota scored with just over one minute remaining to send it into overtime. They converted quickly in OT when Bryan Cupito threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker to give the Gophers a six-point lead. However, Jason Giannini's extra point hit the upright and bounced back. That give the Lions confidence, and Tony Hunt's two-yard run and accompanying extra point gave them the win.
Will this game give Penn State momentum going back home to take on the Wolverines? It certainly could. Revenge will be on their minds after the heartbreaking loss in Ann Arbor last year.
Minnesota will have to regroup quickly as Paul Bunyan's Axe will be up for grabs when they visit Madison. The Badgers will enter their Homecoming game as a 10.5-point favorite, and I would not expect Minnesota to struggle running the ball yet again. However, an interesting stat from last week's game is that QB Cupito threw for 348 yards. Pass defense may be the one weakness of the Badgers unit. Michigan will enter Happy Valley as a touchdown favorite looking to keep their perfect season alive. To me, they are by far the better team and I would only consider playing the chalk.
Finally, a game that few people were able to watch was a border battle between Wisconsin and Northwestern. The game was on ESPN 360 and bar owners in Madison were struggling to find equipment that would allow this Internet feed to be able to be seen on big screen TVs. From what I heard, not many of them had success and thus business suffered.
Northwestern had traditionally been a thorn in the side of the Badgers, as they haven't beaten them two out of the last three years (including last season's 51-48 thriller). The Badgers jumped out to a 10-0 led and it appeared to be an easy victory for them. The Cats did run off the next nine points to get within one, but that was all they could do. Wisconsin gradually pulled away for a 41-9 victory.
Northwestern has lost their identity with the sudden passing of Coach Randy Walker and their offense is just a shadow of what it was in the past. They finished with just 216 yards of offense and the spread is not fooling anybody. RB PJ Hill continues to surprise opponents with his rushing ability and is the conference leader in yards. He has gone over the century mark in five of his six games and should eclipse the 1,000-mark next week.
Next up for the Cats is a home date with Purdue. The Boilers enter as a touchdown favorite and it will be interesting to see which team responds, as both were blown out last week. This would be a game to stay away from since both teams have problems stopping opponents. The over looks to be the only possibility.
The other intriguing game next week features the No. 1 team in the land heading to East Lansing to take on the Spartans. Michigan State realizes this game is their season and their last chance to showcase their underachieving talent on the national stage. I said two weeks ago they would get the Bucks or the Wolverines. They didn't beat Michigan, so who what to expect this week. The talent is there, but their minds tend to drift.
Final Thoughts from Around College Football
1) For those of you who played Mississippi State, you had to have been heartbroken when two touchdowns were scored with under three minutes to play. The dagger was a 50-yard punt return by Vaughn Rivers with 1:07 left that pushed the lead to 28 points.
2) When gambling, I always like to bet with big game coaches, as they seem to do whatever it takes to win. Urban Meyer fits that bill along with Pete Carroll. Les Miles does not and thus I have no confidence in his ability in an evenly matched game.
3) Teams continue to pound San Diego State. I had a chance to see them in person and the offensive unit is definitely one of the worst in the nation. Continue to lay the big numbers until they can prove to me that can score consistently.
Coming off a blowout victory with our, "Revenge Game of the Year" we will carry that over into this Saturday's card when we release our "Underdog Game of the Year." This team has an outstanding chance to win this game straight up and I will be taking a serious look at the moneyline.
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Free Pick: Take Texas Tech -8 over Colorado.