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Athlon previews the coming week of gridiron action in the Big Ten Conference.
The Little Brown Jug. A battle of bests in East Lansing with a championship on the line. Ohio State's continued pursuit of perfection. And the Indiana Hoosiers are favored at home over Iowa? Yes, those Hoosiers could actually be a factor in the Big Ten title race. No, I am not kidding around.
Big Ten's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 10:
1. Can Nebraska handle the driver’s seat?
Whether Denard Robinson played the entire game or not, Nebraska emerged from last weekend’s tilt with Michigan as the frontrunner in the Legends Division. There is no rest for the weary, however, as the Huskers travel to East Lansing this weekend to take on Michigan State. The Spartans are an enigmatic team that went on the road and beat Wisconsin last weekend with little to no offensive production from the quarterback position. Bo Pelini can work himself into a frenzy on the sidelines at times and he will need to portray an image of calm, cool and collected this weekend. A potential return trip to Pasadena is in the cards if they can handle the pressure of being the hunted on the road this weekend.
2. The league’s best offense vs. the league’s best defense
Taylor Martinez and the Huskers are leading the Big Ten in scoring offense (39.3 ppg), total offense (489.1 ypg) and rushing (264.1 ypg). Michigan State and William Gholston are leading the Big Ten in total defense (267.4 ypg), scoring defense (15.0 ppg) and rushing defense (91.2 ypg). Talk about strength on strength. Something will have to give on Saturday night and if Nebraska wants to be taken seriously as a Big Ten title contender under Bo Pelini, this is a game it has to win.
3. The Battle for the Little Brown Jug
The earthenware jug originally used by Michigan’s Fielding Yost is what is up for grabs each time Minnesota and Michigan get together on the football field. The Wolverines hold a commanding 67-22-3 record in the series, including winning 20 of the last 21 meetings. Strangely enough, the Gophers' last two wins over Michigan have come in Ann Arbor with their last home win in the series coming in 1977. This Michigan team is still very much alive for the conference championship and a win over Minnesota is a must for a team with Ohio State still looming on the schedule. Of course, that would be much easier if…
4. Denard Robinson plays the entire game
The re-aggravation of the nerve injury in his throwing elbow cost Robinson and Michigan any chance of competing with Nebraska last weekend. Shoelace is expected to play and start this weekend for Brady Hoke but how long will he last? Devin Gardner — a former elite high school quarterback prospect turned wide receiver — has been taking most of the reps in practice. This is a change from what took place last weekend when Russell Bellomy was called into duty when Robinson got hurt. Needless to say, the Bellomy experiment didn’t work. Gardner gives this team the best chance to win should Robinson miss any time. Ideally, however, Gardner will just be catching passes this weekend and not throwing them.
5. Could Indiana actually be a Division contender?
No, I can’t believe I just wrote that. And no, I am not kidding (on either statement, really). Indiana has Iowa and Wisconsin at home over the next two weekends before road trips to Penn State and Purdue to finish the year. A win over Iowa this weekend gets the Hoosiers to two wins with destiny firmly in hand. Wisconsin lost its starting quarterback Joel Stave for the season and still must face Ohio State and Penn State as well. Is it all that crazy to think Indiana wins two of the next four to get to 3-5? And should one of those wins come over the depleted Badgers at home, they would own the tiebreaker. Am I picking Indiana to win the division at this point? Of course not. But in the immortal words of Lloyd Christmas, I'm just saying there’s a chance.
6. Division road test for Penn State
After rattling off five straight wins, Penn State was put in its place last weekend by Braxton Miller and the Ohio State Buckeyes. To rebound, Bill O’Brien must take his team on the road within the division. Normally, that would be a scary task but with the way Purdue is playing, a loss to the Boilermakers would be a tremendous disappointment. Look for the running game, which was completely dormant against Ohio State (32 yards on 28 carries), to bounce back nicely this weekend. Purdue has lost four straight games and has allowed 283.8 yards rushing per game over that span. Another performance like that this weekend from Purdue and…
7. Danny Hope could be looking for employment after this weekend
No, Hope won’t get fired this weekend, even if Purdue gets crushed by Penn State. But this team has completely crumbled under Hope’s leadership and despite a bowl appearance last fall, things appear headed in the wrong direction. The good news is the schedule lightens up for the Boilers with Illinois and Indiana to finish the year. But irreparable damage could be already be done by then as the Nittany Lions come to town this weekend before Purdue heads to Iowa on Nov. 10.
8. Braxton and the Buckeyes pursuit of perfection
Illinois is the worst team in the league and Ohio State is the best. There is a reason the Buckeyes are favored by four touchdowns. But there is still plenty to watch in Columbus as Braxton Miller continues to build his Heisman resume and Urban Meyer is pursuing an unblemished record — something he failed to accomplish at Florida despite two national championships. His only unbeaten season as a head coach took place in 2004 when an Alex Smith-led Utah squad finished 12-0.
Week 10 Big Ten Predictions:
|Week 10 Games||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Michigan (-12) at Minnesota||Michigan, 34-21||Michigan, 31-20||Michigan, 34-20||Michigan, 28-17|
|Iowa (+1.5) at Indiana||Indiana, 30-27||Indiana, 27-24||Iowa, 27-24||Indiana, 28-21|
|Illinois (+27.5) at Ohio State||Ohio St, 42-14||Ohio St, 44-7||Ohio St, 45-10||Ohio St, 52-14|
|Penn St (-3.5) at Purdue||Penn St, 31-14||Penn St, 31-24||Penn St, 31-17||Penn St, 35-14|
|Nebraska (-2) at Michigan St||Nebraska, 24-21||Nebraska, 20-13||Nebraska, 24-20||Nebraska, 21-17|
Bye Week: Wisconsin, Northwestern
by Braden Gall
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