Saturday, July 26, 2014





NITTANY NOTES: Stretch Run Edition of Around the Big Ten


February 19. 2013 4:10PM
Story Tools
PrintPrint | E-MailEMail | SaveSave | Hear Generate QR Code QR
Send to Kindle


While the founding of a Big Ten title game was largely considered an inevitable and necessary measure from both a competitive and financial standpoint, there was one main point to make against it.

By forcing your best teams to play one extra game, you reduce the odds of getting the maximum two teams from your conference into BCS bowls. As it turned out, the point would be rendered moot for the long term, what with the BCS set to be dissolved and all. But last year, with the Big Ten title game installed for the first time, the league still picked up an at-large berth, sending champion Wisconsin and Michigan to the BCS.

Had it not been for two teams under a postseason ban, the Big Ten was in line to pull it off again.

As it is, the conference almost certainly won't be able to fill it's full allotment of eight bowls. Nebraska, Michigan, Wisconsin and Northwestern are in already with Michigan State and Minnesota only needing one more win apiece. There's still work to be done for both Iowa and Indiana. Ohio State and Penn State are both ineligible. Purdue and Illinois might as well be.

Let's take a closer look at this week's slate. Just three more to go.

—derek

 

WEEK 11


No. 24 NORTHWESTERN (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten)
 at MICHIGAN (6-3, 4-1 Big Ten)

AWAY DETAILS HOME
/

Noon, Saturday

Michigan Stadium,
Ann Arbor, Mich.


 /


/
LINE: UM by 10.5. It's a Legends Division knockout game at The Big House. Both sides face some long odds to actually win the division, having both lost to Nebraska already. But this is the chance to keep hope alive, particularly for the Wolverines. Michigan has to be feeling better about getting a win -- regardless of the opponent -- without Denard Robinson, who sat out against Minnesota with a nerve injury in his elbow. QB-turned-WR-turned-QB Devin Gardner came through the Wolverines, besting Minnesota. After a very shaky first quarter for the offense, Michigan came together with Gardner at the helm and won comfortably. Not surprisingly, Brady Hoke isn't tipping his hand about who will start this week. Obviously if Robinson is healthy enough to play, he will. But having Gardner now as a viable option after the Russell Bellomy experiment flopped, would allow Michigan to play things safe if needed. After beating the Gophers, Michigan is now 6-0 against teams outside of the top 25... and winless against ranked squads. As it so happens, Northwestern comes off of an open week at No. 24 in the new BCS standings. Michigan's defense has been much improved under Greg Mattison in the last two years but a guy like Kain Colter can still create some problems. Pat Fitzgerald and coordinator Mick McCall got Colter involved more in the passing game in their last time out and though the numbers were modest still -- 80 yards, a TD and an INT -- it opened things up for him on the ground as both Colter and Venric Mark topped 160 yards rushing. It's tough to predict this one without knowing if Robinson will return. Without knowing for sure, I'll go with the Wildcats with the upset on the road, but confidence in the pick is low.

WISCONSIN (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten)
at INDIANA (4-5, 2-3 Big Ten)

AWAY DETAILS HOME
/

Noon, Saturday

Memorial Stadium,
Bloomington, Ind.

 

 /


/
LINE: UW by 7. Because of course everyone picked before the season tath the Leaders Division title could be decided by a game in Bloomington in November. Here we are. The Hoosiers have finally built a backbone on defense to win back-to-back Big Ten games for the first time in five (!) years. You have to go back another decade to find the last time Indiana won three straight league games. Hell, the Hoosiers won three Big Ten games total in the last four seasons. Just mind-boggling. And yet, if IU can somehow pull this one out, the Hoosiers will come into Penn State next week technically in first place in the division for purposes of going to the Big Ten title game. And wouldn't you know it, just as Wisconsin's offense was clicking wil Joel Stave at quarterback, he's been knocked out for the season with an injury. And Danny O'Brien, whom so many schools (including Penn State) were after in the offseason doesn't look like he'll get the job back. The Badgers are reportedly set to go with Curt Phillips, who has battled injury problems of his own, though there's always the chance we see both guys if the offense stalls. That shouldn't be much of a problem this week, despite Indiana's success on defense against Iowa last week. Bret Bielema has simply tortured Indiana during his reign, scoring an unbelievable 142 points against the Hoosiers in these last two Rose Bowl seasons. A win here will give them a shot at a rare threepeat of trips to Pasadena, and it's hard to imagine Indiana standing in their way. 

PURDUE (3-6, 0-5 Big Ten)
at IOWA (4-5, 2-3 Big Ten)

AWAY DETAILS HOME
/

Noon, Saturday

Kinnick Stadium,
Iowa City, Iowa



width=55


/
LINE: UI by 5. There are still a frightening number of depressing matchups left in this final month of Big Ten play, and they pretty much all involve Purdue at this point. And yes, we still have that fabled Purdue-Illinois showdown to look forward to. For now, we'll have to make do with two teams that have combined to lose eight straight Big Ten games. The present is terribly bleak for both of these programs and the future isn't looking all that better. Purdue almost certainly has a coaching search to start up soon. The school announced just over 40,000 tickets sold for last week's game against Penn State, but combine inept play on the field with miserable weather and the actual number scanned, according to the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, was closer to 20,000. Yikes. That as much as anything is what could cost Danny Hope his job. There's just no enthusiasm around the program right now, and it's hard to blame fans. What must Joe Tiller think to see his once-feared offense resort to throwing a dozen bubble screens against the Nittany Lions and a still-suspect secondary? Despite it all, if the Boilers can somehow pull out of this nosedive this week, they still have a very reasonable shot at a bowl game with Illinois and Indiana the last two contests. Granted there's zero evidence that will happen here, but it's what Purdue has to believe. The Hawkeyes are basically in the same boat. Though they only have to win two instead of all three remaining, the next two games are against Michigan and Nebraska. So they have to have this one if they have any real shot at a bowl game. Which is a pretty amazing position to be in after starting 2-0 in league play. In other words, there really is no possible outcome here that would be surprising. But as the Boilers appear to have completely thrown in the towel -- Iowa at least had some fight late in their last two games, whereas Purdue was all but done by halftime. Gotta go with the home team in this one.

PENN STATE (6-3, 4-1 Big Ten)
at No. 16 NEBRASKA (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten)

AWAY DETAILS HOME
/

3:30 p.m., Saturday

Memorial Stadium,
Lincoln, Neb.

 

/


/
LINE: UNL by 7. Full breakdown tomorrow. Penn State's last trip out to Lincoln nine years ago was an arduous affair that saw Frank Solich's squad slowly and painfully grind out a win over what proved to be Joe Paterno's worst team in his 46 seasons. Fortunately for fans of college football, this should be a much more entertaining contest. Like the Northwestern game last month, the Nittany Lions will likely be forced to win a shootout against a high-powered offense. The bad new for the Lions is that, unlike Northwestern, the Huskers are very strong against the pass. Nebraska ranks fifth nationally, allowing just 156 yards through the air per game. Granted, some of that has to do with the fact that the Big Ten is populated with some pretty miserable passing games this year. But the Huskers do lead the nation by holding opposing quarterbacks to completing just 46 percent of their passes, and that's something that's impressive no matter who you've played through nine weeks. Led by Taylor Martinez, the Nebraska offense is averaging five touchdowns a game. And the Huskers have won every game they've managed to hold their opponent under 30 points. Not asking a lot from the defense here. Throw in some 80,000 fans in red and this is shaping up to be Penn State's toughest game on paper, perhaps moreso than Ohio State, a game where the Lions seemed to match up reasonably well. Bill O'Brien has done a fairly good job at finding weaknesses in opposing defenses, so it will be interesting to see if he plays the numbers and tries to go straight at the Huskers on the ground with Zach Zwinak and Michael Zordich running between the tackles again, or if he thinks passing out of the no-huddle can still be effective against this defense and in this enviroment.

MINNESOTA (5-4, 1-4 Big Ten)
at ILLINOIS (2-7, 0-5 Big Ten)

AWAY DETAILS HOME
/

3:30 p.m., Saturday

Memorial Stadium,
Champaign, Ill.


width=55


/
LINE: UM by 3. I was all set to pull the trigger. If Illinois was going to win one, it might as well be this one. Coming off an open date. At home. Against a team that still has a ways to go in its own rebuilding process. But no. It's far easier just to assume that the Illini won't win a single Big Ten game this year. It's just unfathomable to think that 11 months ago, Illinois was undefeated at 6-0 and ranked No. 16 in the AP poll. The 16th best team in the country! Since then? Eleven straight Big Ten losses. Other than a farce of a bowl win against a sub-.500 UCLA squad without a coach, the Illlini have only beaten Western Michigan and something called Charleston Southern since being ranked No. 16 in the country. The closest margin of defeat in the seven losses this season is 14 points and the average margin of defeat is just a hair under four touchdowns. So, no -- come to think of it, I will not be picking Illinois to win this one, which means Jerry Kill will have his team bowl eligible and trending upward in his second year at the helm. Will Tim Beckman's second season be so fortunate? 



Comments
comments powered by Disqus Commenting Guidelines
Poll
Mortgage Minute


Search for New & Used Cars

Make 
Model
 
Used New All
 

Search Times Leader Classifieds to find just the home you want!

Search Times Leader Classifieds to find just what you need!

Search Pet Classifieds
Dogs Cats Other Animals



Social Media/RSS
Times Leader on Twitter
Times Leader on Youtube
Times Leader on Google+
The Times Leader on Tumblr
The Times Leader on Pinterest
Times Leader RSS Feeds