Before the season started, the Michigan Wolverines were expected by many to win the Big Ten title. On Saturday they played like they deserved the accolades as they pummeled Purdue, 31-3. Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr probably summed it up best when he made this statement: "We had a complete performance." The Wolverines took control of the game early as they scored two first quarter touchdowns. Purdue was just never able to get its offense on track. Playing at Michigan certainly didn't help their cause, as they haven't won there since 1966. Purdue Coach Joe Tiller made some strong statements about this Wolverine team. Tiller felt that Michigan is the most talented team in the league and he said, "I'm not stunned. The Wolverines have the best corps of receivers I have ever seen. These guys could start at Miami or Florida or wherever you want to pick." This win for Michigan sets up a huge game next week against state-rival Michigan State. The Spartans had the week off and they are the only team in the Big Ten without a conference loss. The Wolverines have been installed as a four-point favorite, and I would have to take a serious look at the favorite.
The Wisconsin State Journal sports headline read 'UW Caught Flat Footed.' I couldn't have said it any better as the Badgers - who were coming off of two big emotional games the past two weeks against Ohio State and Purdue - they were just that… Flat. Northwestern's 16-7 win at Evanston was keyed by a trick play. With the score 9-7 in the third quarter, WR Eric Batis took a snap on a fake field goal and slipped the ball between the legs of RB Noah Herron and ran left with a group of blockers to draw the attention away from Wisconsin. Herron stood still for a couple of seconds and then took off to the right for a 20-yard gain and a first down at the three-yard line. Two plays later the Wildcats scored and the Badgers just never seemed to recover. Wisconsin played without QB Jim Sorgi and it lost starting RB Anthony Davis to an ankle injury. Backup QB Matt Schabert, Sorgi's replacement, was effective while scrambling but he missed WRs time after time while throwing the long ball. Wisconsin has this week off. The following week they travel to Minnesota to play the Golden Gophers. Northwestern will be on the road this week against a Purdue team that will attempt to get back into the Big Ten race with a win. The Boilermakers are listed as a 19-point favorite. This would be another situation where I may lean towards the underdog after an impressive win at home against the Badgers.
It may not have been pretty, but Iowa came up with some big plays on special teams and the defense just dominated as it beat Penn State, 26-14. The big play for the Hawkeyes was a blocked punt, which was returned for a touchdown in the third quarter. Penn State - like most of the season - just couldn't get any offense going. In fact, their running game was just embarrassing. The Nittany Lions gained a meager 38 yards on 28 attempts. To further hinder their cause, Penn State had only nine first downs to show for the day. The defense for Penn State did play adequately at times but Iowa RB Fred Russell scorched them for 148 yards on 36 carries. The Nittany Lions did play without their leading WR, Tony Johnson, who was suspended by Coach Joe Paterno because of a drunken driving arrest early last week. It won't get any easier for Penn State, as they will be home against a tough Ohio State team, which has seemed to find its offensive spark on Saturday. The Buckeyes have been listed as a 7 ½-point favorite. This is a tough game to call because the big question will be whether or not Ohio State can build off of this offensive performance.
In other Big Ten action, Ohio State - as I mentioned earlier - did get its offense in gear. Or did they? You have to remember, they were playing Indiana and this Hoosier defense can make any offense look like a National Championship contender. Buckeyes RB Lydell Ross rushed for a career-high 167 yards and three touchdowns. QB Craig Krenzel, who is now back from an injury, also had a big day throwing the ball. It must have been a very frustrating day for the Hoosiers. Indiana has now lost five straight, and their last 10 in the Big Ten. Half of the crowd at the Hoosier Dome was wearing scarlet and gray, as Ohio State fans were out in full force. The Buckeyes went into this game ranked 114 out of 117 teams in Division I-A in total offense. But the more than 600 yards in total offense Ohio State racked up in this game should help them move down the ladder in that category. Obviously, the Buckeyes love playing Indiana in Bloomington as they have lost there only once since 1913.
The score was closer than the game itself as Minnesota snapped a two-game losing streak by beating Illinois, 36-10. RB Laurence Maroney had a big day for the Gophers as he ran for 179 yards and two touchdowns. The Gophers big back, Marion Barber III, also had a good day as he gained 129 yards on the ground. Illinois did have a chance to make the game close just before halftime. However, QB Dustin Ward had a pass intercepted in the end zone with twenty seconds left in the half. Defense has been a problem all year for the Illini and giving up 500 yards to this Minnesota team is certainly no confidence builder. Illinois will be back on the road this week at Iowa. Illinois has been installed as a 26-point underdog. With such a big spread, I may want to lean towards the Illini. Minnesota will be at home against the Hoosiers and have been listed as a 28 ½-point favorite. I think this is a difficult game to call because of the Gophers' inconsistency.
As one looks at the overall picture of the Big Ten, obviously there is a big gap between the upper and lower echelon. At the start of the season I predicted Michigan would win the Big Ten, and I still feel that will be the case. The Purdue club is not far behind however they have so many difficult games on the road. Indiana will be at the bottom with a case of lack of depth or talent at the skilled positions. Three huge favorites in the Big Ten this week, add up these underdog points and it come to 73. One has to wonder when was the last time in Big Ten action this many points occurred. I have no real reason to back it, but I have a gut feeling that at least two of these three underdogs will cover.
Assuming we get through this week with no major injuries or other intangibles that could affect the game, the Big Ten Game of the Year will go Saturday, November 8th. We have excellent match-ups that week and it's certainly time to pull the trigger.
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