Big Ten Preview: The Final Weekend
No. 7 Michigan (9-1, 7-0) at Ohio State (6-4, 3-4)
1:00 p.m. EST – ABC Sports
Daily Line: Michigan minus 5.5
Michigan player to watch: Running back Michael Hart leads the conference in rushing and will look to have a big day against a mediocre Ohio State run defense.
Ohio State player(s) to watch: Quarterback Troy Smith threw three costly interceptions last week against Purdue. If he has another bad first half against Michigan, there will be more than 100,000 "coaches" calling for Justin Zwick at the Horseshoe.
The inside scoop: It is the 101st edition of "The Game" with Michigan holding a 57-37-6 edge. The Wolverines are averaging more than 31 points a game this season, while the Buckeyes are No. 21 nationally in scoring defense allowing only 19 points a game. Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards is the first player in Big Ten history to record three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons. If this game comes down to special teams, the advantage goes to Ohio State. The Buckeyes lead the conference in punt returns, averaging more than 15 yards a return, while Mike Nugent is one of the top kickers in the nation, having converted 17 of 20 field goal attempts.
Michigan will win if: it can get Hart at least 20 carries. The Wolverines are 8-0 when their freshman running back gets 20 or more carries. Michigan also needs to take the Ohio State offense out of rhythm early in the game and force them to play from catch up.
Ohio State will win if : it can put points on the board. The Michigan offense is going to score points, but if Ohio State can hang in the game, the emotion of the series and the chance to ruin a Wolverines’ Rose Bowl trip could spell upset for the Maize and Blue.
The pick: Michigan 27, Ohio State 17
No. 9 Wisconsin (9-1, 6-1) at No. 17 Iowa (8-2, 6-1)
3:30 p.m. CST – ESPN
Daily Line: Iowa minus 3
Wisconsin player to watch: Defensive end Erasmus James is going to need to have a big game along with the rest of the defensive line against Iowa. The Hawkeyes have been the most sacked team in the conference, allowing their quarterbacks to be taken down 33 times on the season.
Iowa player(s) to watch: Quarterback Drew Tate has been the straw that stirs the drink for the Hawkeyes during their six game winning streak and will have to come up big again for his team to get its seventh straight win. He leads the conference in passing yards per game in league games with an average of more than 270 yards per game.
The inside scoop: This week’s matchup for the Heartland Trophy pits Wisconsin versus Iowa. The Hawkeyes enter the game with the No. 6 rushing defense in the nation and will have their hands full with running back Anthony Davis, who is averaging 136 yards per game since coming back from an eye injury. Iowa has won 16 straight at home and with a win this weekend, Coach Kirk Ferentz will move his overall record above .500. Even after giving up 49 points last week, the Badgers are still ranked No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense. The wrecking ball will hit the south end zone of Kinnick Stadium after the game, as renovations that will be completed by the start of the 2005 season begin.
Wisconsin will win if: it has a short memory. The loss to Michigan State last week may have cost the Badgers a shot at a BCS bowl game, but a loss this week to Iowa will guarantee no shot at the Rose Bowl.
Iowa will win if : its defense can control the Badgers running game and force quarterback John Stocco to beat them through the air. Iowa will also need to protect Tate from the Wisconsin front four, who have been outstanding in creating pressure most of the season.
The pick: Iowa 20, Wisconsin 17
Michigan State (5-5, 4-3) at Penn State (3-7, 1-6)
12:00 p.m. EST – ESPN2
Daily Line: Michigan State 3.5
Michigan State player to watch: Quarterback Drew Stanton came off the bench last week to replace injured Damon Dowdell and will get the start this week against the Nittany Lions. Stanton is coming back from a shoulder injury suffered in the Spartans’ loss to Michigan last month.
Penn State player to watch: Quarterback Zack Mills is playing his last game as a Lion. It should be an emotional game for him and the crowd, and if the fans get behind Mills, look out.
The inside scoop: The Land Grant Trophy is on the line for the winner of the game this weekend. The last time the Spartans made the trip to Happy Valley they were sent home 61-7 losers. The Spartans need to win this game and at Hawaii to become bowl eligible. Despite a 3-7 record on the season, Penn State has the No. 9 defense in the nation and is allowing less than 16 points a game.
Michigan State will win if: it gets up early on Penn State. The Lions offense has proven to be one of the worst in the conference, and if the Spartans can get up early and take the crowd out of the game, it could be over quickly.
Penn State will win if : its defense can come up with another stellar effort. Only one team has put up 21 or more points on the Nittany Lions so far this season. Can they keep it up when the Spartans are playing for a bowl game?
The pick: Michigan State 20, Penn State 10
Indiana (3-7, 1-6) at Purdue (6-4, 3-4)
12:00 p.m. EST – No TV
Daily Line: Purdue minus 20
Indiana player to watch: Wide receiver Courtney Roby had zero yards receiving against Penn State last weekend. If Indiana is going to have any chance, the team’s leading receiver can’t be shut out again.
Purdue player to watch: Quarterback Kyle Orton came off the bench against Ohio State last week and led the Boliermakers down the field for the game-winning touchdown. Will he be able to have the same magic against in-state rival Indiana this week?
The inside scoop: The Old Oaken Bucket is presented to the winner of this game. The Hoosiers lead the nation in kickoff returns, averaging more than 30 yards per attempt. Purdue leads the conference in third-down conversions, converting on 49 percent of its chances this season. Indiana will have two players with more than 100 tackles on the season, safety Herana-Daze Jones has 102 on the season, while linebacker Kyle Killion has 99. Despite dropping four games this season, the Boilermakers passing offense is still ranked No. 6 in the nation and racks up more than 298 yards per game.
Indiana will win if: it plays a perfect game. Even with Purdue’s late season troubles, the Hoosiers don’t have the horses to keep up with the Boilermakers in this one. But if Indiana gets some help, the Old Oaken Bucket could head to Bloomington.
Purdue will win if : it can run the ball against the Hoosiers, whose run defense ranks last in the conference, and if the Boilermakers can get their running game going, which will take pressure off of Orton and the passing game.
The pick: Purdue 27, Indiana 10
Illinois (3-7, 1-6) at Northwestern (5-5, 4-3)
11:00 a.m. CST – ESPN Plus
Daily Line: Northwestern minus 12
Illinois player to watch: Running back Pierre Thomas is third in all-purpose yardage in the Big Ten. Illinois will try early to run the ball on the Cats and control the rhythm of the game.
Northwestern player to watch: Running back Noah Herron is the second-leading rusher in the Big Ten with 119.4 yards per game, and he’s has run for more than 100 yards in five of the Cats' last six games. He should be primed for a big game against an Illinois defense ranked 99th in the country against the run.
The inside scoop: The Sweet Sioux Tomahawk trophy goes the to the winner of this game. These teams don't like each other. In fact, it is reported that Illinois head coach Ron Turner dislikes Northwestern head coach Randy Walker and vice versa. Last year, Northwestern didn't throw a pass the whole second half against Illinois, while racking up more than 300 yards rushing. Quarterback Brad Bower will get the start for Illinois, but Jon Beutjer will likely play as well.
Illinois will win if: it can run the ball, control the clock and keep Northwestern’s offense off the field. The Illini will also need a little help from the Cats as well with a gift turnover or two.
Northwestern will win if : it plays a solid game and avoids mistakes. Northwestern's offense should score points and control the ball against the 105th-rated defense in the nation. Illinois has a decent offense, but if the Cats' defense plays a solid game and avoids the big play, they should post a victory.
The pick: Northwestern 24, Illinois 13
Season Over: Minnesota (6-5, 3-5)
Last week: 3-2 Overall: 50-22