Doc's Big Ten News and Notes
The Big Ten Conference has come down to a two horse race after a surprising comeback in West Lafayette. Vying for the title are the Michigan Wolverines and the Wisconsin Badgers. The only other team still in contention is Purdue, but they need plenty of help from the before mentioned teams. I cannot wait to see the Wolverines and the Badgers duke it out for the title in a winner-take-all game. Wait a second! Because of there being no conference title game in the Big Ten, these two teams will not meet this season, thus both could lay claim to the title with similar 8-0 conference records. This is one of the flaws in the Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences. Multiple teams can lay share to the title and this can create a mess when the BCS Bowls are trying to select representatives for each conference. If both teams would happen to run the table, Wisconsin would get the automatic bid because of their overall record. The following column will discuss the highlights of the previous week of action in the conference and preview a very special week ahead.
The game of the day certainly lived up to its billing in West Lafayette. A defensive battle in the first half turned into a fourth quarter shutout with the front-runner for the Heisman, throwing it all away with a single game-changing play. Wisconsin took a 7-0 lead going into the break on a six-yard touchdown run by Anthony Davis. Purdue finally got going early in the third on a touchdown pass to Charles Davis from Kyle Orton. The Boilers would score ten more unanswered and appeared to be on cruise control with a 17-7 lead against a Badger offense that was sputtering. But Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco went 6 of 7 in passing on the next drive and scored a touchdown to cut the lead to three points. While most people will look at the fumble by Orton late in the game as the turning point, I feel that it happened on this drive. Stocco's one incompletion should have been an interception as Safety Kyle Smith dropped a sure pick. If he just catches that ball and falls down, Purdue will win this game going away. But he didn't and the Badgers took advantage of the situation and cut the lead to three points, setting up the play of the season. On a third and two, QB Orton faked a handoff and ran for the chains. After crossing the first down line he helicoptered into the air and fumbled the ball to Scott Starks, who took it the distance for a touchdown and a 20-17 lead. Purdue did drive the ball down the field after the pick but Ben Jones missed a 42-yard field goal. Wisconsin should be favored in the remainder of their games and has a realistic chance to run the table. Despite the fumble by Orton, I still maintain the drop by Smith was the biggest play in Purdue losing this game.
The Badgers will return to Madison next week for homecoming against Northwestern. The early tout has them as a 13-point favorite. The oddsmakers must feel this is a trap game because on paper the Badgers are a much better team then the Cats. Purdue will have to regroup quickly because Michigan is coming to town next week. Purdue comes in as a four-point favorite and I wonder how this team will respond after an emotional loss. The Wolverine's defense is just as good as the Wisconsin defense.
A game that did not surprise me was Iowa pounding Ohio State. Iowa was coming off of a bye and the Buckeyes are just living on their reputation because both sides of the ball have holes. The Bucks opened as a 2½-point favorite but the public was on the Hawkeyes and at kickoff, Iowa became the favorite by 2½ points. The books took a beating on this game and I wished we would have released the side winner on this game instead of a total prediction. QB Drew Tate played an outstanding game throwing for 331 yards and three touchdowns. He has really come on since getting pounded by Arizona State early in the year. As I had mentioned in previous columns, continued poor play by the Ohio State offense would lead to a change at the quarterback position. That happened in the third quarter as Troy Smith replaced Justin Zwick. I would suspect that Smith will start next week but do not expect a major improvement in their offense. I thought ESPN's Mark May made a great point when he criticized the recruiting of Coach Jim Tressel. Do you ever remember a John Cooper coached team looking this bad on offense? Sometimes you get what you ask for.
Iowa will travel to Happy Valley this week and come in as a one-point dog. Penn State will be coming off a bye and traditionally State teams play well when they are rested. But a similar performance by Iowa may be too much for the Lions to overcome. The Bucks have Indiana at home next week and come in as 14-point favorites. Can they score enough points to cover? We will have the answer on this game.
The shocker in the Big Ten came in East Lansing as the double-digit underdog Spartans pounded the Gophers 51-17. I had mentioned that a poor start by the Gophers may lead to problems against a well coached Spartan team. I did not expect the Gopher defense to be non-existent in the game and give up 51 points to a team with no playmakers on offense. Giving up 636 yards to this team is ridiculous and the Gophers should be embarrassed. Spartan QB Drew Stanton took advantage of the situation and threw for 300 yards for the first time in his career. The Gophers have been averaging 300 on the ground but today had just over 100.
Next up for State is a bye week and then a trip to Ann Arbor. This game is always close despite the Spartan being out manned in many of those games. Minnesota has Illinois at home and I would hope they can win this game, being favored by 18 points.
Looking ahead for teams with Title hopes, I feel Michigan will get their toughest test this week at Purdue. Assuming they get past the Boilers, they should be home free until the annual trip to Columbus. The Bucks will be up for this game because it may be the only thing that can salvage a very disappointing season. The Badgers are certainly not home free and I feel their toughest test and even a loss may come Nov. 20 in Iowa City. The Hawks have had their number lately and I think they can go toe-to-toe with them. That being said, I do expect just one of these two teams to finish the season 8-0 and I would give the edge to Michigan right now.
Free Pick. Take Lafayette -3 over Ark St.
Be sure to look our for our Big Ten game of the Year, which will be posted on Friday at 3 PM CST. We are 25-7 in the last 32 years for our biggest play of the year and this one might be the strongest ever!