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Athlon previews the coming week of gridiron action in the Big Ten Conference.
The round robin in the Legends Division got started with Iowa's win over Michigan State last weekend. Otherwise, none of the top five teams in that division have faced each other yet. That will all change this weekend as two huge puzzle pieces will fall into place in Evanston and Ann Arbor. Otherwise, a barometer game in Iowa City and a battle for a six-foot long wood chopper highlight the Week 8 slate in Big Ten country.
Big Ten's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 8:
1. Has The Wolverine State battle lost its luster?
Michigan State has owned this in-state battle of late. Try four straight wins for the Spartans, the last two coming in dominating fashion. After two debilitating losses at home to Ohio State and then Iowa, the Spartans are on the Big Ten title ropes. Meanwhile, the Wolverines have bounced back from losses to two top-five teams early in the year to crush its first two Big Ten opponents, Purdue and Illinois, by a total of 89-13. The ground game is back. The defense has played its best. Brady Hoke has his team poised to not only remove the Spartan monkey from their Maize and Blue backs, but place their name atop the Legends Division standings. And it all starts with one guy...
2. Denard Robinson is back — and will end his losing streak to Spartans
The explosive quarterback has yet to defeat the cross-state rivals from East Lansing but is poised to have his best shot. Shoelace has completed 15-of-27 passes for 264 yards, three touchdowns, and most importantly, no interceptions. He has been up to his old tricks on the ground, rushing for 363 yards and two touchdowns in the Wolverines' 2-0 start in the Big Ten. Against Michigan State, Robinson has been less than electric, however, completing only 9-of-24 passes a year ago and throwing four interceptions in his last two meetings with Sparty. Additionally, he rushed for just 119 yards in three games against MSU and has been contained by Mark Dantonio's powerful front line. Look for Robinson and Michigan to make a big statement this weekend at home against one of its top rivals.
3. Cornhuskers looking for revenge in Evanston
Northwestern do-everything athlete Kain Colter burst onto the national scene last season in Lincoln when the Wildcats defeated the Cornhuskers 28-25. Colter was unstoppable, throwing for 115 yards and one score to go with 57 yards rushing and two touchdowns on the ground. Both programs are poised to compete for the Big Ten Legends Division crown and their respective title pushes start with this game. After a crushing final two quarters in Columbus, Bo Pelini had a week off to prepare his maligned defense for the versatile Northwestern offense. The importance of this game cannot be overstated for both teams and Nebraska will bring an intense memory of Colter into this game up in Chicago. Nebraska feels like the top challenger to Michigan in the Legends Division race, but a loss to Northwestern would flip the entire championship race on its head.
4. Will Northwestern's rushing attack take advantage of Black Shirts defense?
So where will the game be won? Nebraska's porous rushing defense that is ranked No. 10 in the Big Ten will have to stop one of the nation's top rushing attacks. Venric Mark is leading the Big Ten in all-purpose yards and Colter brings tremendous athleticism to the quarterback position. Mark has topped the 100-yard mark in four of his last six games and has been equally dynamic on special teams — and it has earned him some Heisman Trophy recognition. Meanwhile, the Black Shirts are coming off of a defensive performance in which they allowed 371 yards and six touchdowns on the ground to Ohio State. This is a huge test for both defenses — Nebraska is tops in the league in rushing, total and scoring offense — and the outcome will undoubtedly hinge on the Wildcats' ability to run the football.
5. Can Iowa's D maintain momentum against potential POY candidate Matt McGloin?
This is a sneaky good game between two teams that are unbeaten in Big Ten play. Iowa is trying to keep pace with their Legends Division brethren after two excellent defensive performances. The Hawkeyes have allowed 29 total points, less than 330 yards of total offense and picked off four passes in the last two games. And it has Kirk Ferentz back in the good graces of the fans and Iowa in the heart of the Big Ten race. Stopping potential Offensive Player of the Year Matt McGloin, however, will be a different beast than Max Shortell and Andrew Maxwell. McGloin has been exceptional and Bill O'Brien has this offense rolling along at levels unseen in Happy Valley since Michael Robinson was under center. The Nits signal caller has accounted for six touchdowns and no turnovers in two Big Ten wins, and should he play well, Penn State will win its fifth straight game.
6. Paul Bunyan's Axe up for grabs
The most-played rivalry in all of college football is the Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe between the Badgers and the Golden Gophers. Minnesota leads the all-time series 59-54-8 as these two prepare to meet for the 122nd time. The Badgers, however, have dominated their rivals from the Twin Cities with eight straight wins in the series, many of which have not even been competitive. The Gophers haven't had much luck in Madison either with their last win in Camp Randall Stadium coming way back in 1994. Wisconsin has gotten Montee Ball rolling of late — eight touchdowns in the last three games — and should have little trouble scoring on the Gophers. Look for Bret Bielema to continue to improve his team with another key win over its long-time rival.
7. Braxton Miller must to hold serve at home
Two weeks ago, Herbie was touting the Boilermakers as the team to beat in the Leaders Division on College Gameday. After two crushing and embarrassing losses to Michigan and Wisconsin, Purdue has become an afterthought in the race for the Big Ten title. With a trip to Ohio State this weekend, Danny Hope's team is in danger of becoming completely irrelevant. And that is precisely what Braxton Miller wants to do. The Buckeyes have a chance to become the only 8-0 team in the nation this weekend as Miller's Heisman candidacy continues to close on Geno Smith. Ohio State will lean on its running game and star quarterback to keep Purdue at arm's reach, stay unbeaten, exact some revenge and keep Miller on pace to land in New York at season's end.
8. Big Ten's final non-conference game provides opportunity
Indiana will play the league's final non-conference game on the road against Navy this weekend. The struggles of the Big Ten out of conference have been well documented and the Hoosiers have an opportunity to not only triple their win total from 2011 but end the league's difficult non-conference slate on a high note. The defense will have a tough time stopping Navy's triple-option attack but the Midshipmen won't be able to stop the league's No. 1 passing attack (313.0 ypg).
Week 8 Big Ten Predictions:
|Week 8 Games||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Purdue (+18) at Ohio St||Ohio St, 42-28||Ohio St, 41-20||Ohio St, 38-17||Ohio St, 48-28|
|Minnesota (+18) at Wisconsin||Wisconsin, 30-14||Wisconsin, 31-10||Wisconsin, 38-20||Wisconsin, 21-14|
|Nebraska (-6) at Northwestern||Nebraska, 34-30||Nebraska, 27-21||Nebraska, 31-27||N'Western, 35-28|
|Michigan St (+10) at Michigan||Michigan, 38-14||Michigan, 30-14||Michigan, 27-20||Michigan, 42-14|
|Indiana (+2.5) at Navy||Indiana, 31-21||Indiana, 34-24||Indiana, 36-30||Indiana, 35-10|
|Penn St (+3) at Iowa||Penn St, 20-17||Penn St, 21-20||Penn St, 24-20||Penn St, 24-14|
Bye Week: Illinois
by Braden Gall
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