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Athlon Sports breaks down the best must-see games left on the Big Ten schedule.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
The the midway point of the 2011 college football in the rearview mirror, so Athlon Sports takes a look at the top must-see games left on the Big Ten slate.
1. Wisconsin vs. Michigan State (Week 8)
Oct. 22, All-Time Series: Michigan State leads 28-21
These two have swapped victories in the last six meetings including a tight 10-point win by Michigan State a year ago that cost the Badgers the outright conference title. Kirk Cousins converted a few key goalline fourth downs to give Michigan State its first share of a conference title since 1990. Wisconsin brings the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense and the top rated rushing attack, passing attack and total offense in the Big Ten to East Lansing. Jerell Worthy and the nation’s No. 2 defense will be prepared along the Spartan front. Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson will likely hold the key to success. Whichever quarterback can complete passes down the field in the vertical passing game will likely lead his team to victory.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Badgers by 4
2. Michigan State vs. Nebraska (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: Nebraksa leads 5-0
The Spartans are still looking for their first ever win over Nebraska, and with one in 2011, they could find themselves playing in December in Indianapolis. After a quality win over archrival Michigan, Sparty fancies itself as the primary contender in the Big Ten Legends Division. The last meeting between the two took place in the Alamo Bowl in 2003 and Nebraska has outscored Michigan State 181-34 in the five meetings with an average margin of victory just under 30 points. Nebraska possesses two of the top five rushers in the Big Ten and Michigan State is allowing a league best 186.2 yards per game.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Huskers by 4
3. Ohio State vs. Michigan (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Michigan leads 57-43-6
The greatest rivalry in all of college football will be renewed for the 107th time when these two Midwest powers lock horns in the final week of the regular season. Despite the prestige, tradition and nostalgia created from watching the Maize and Blue battle with the Scarlet and Gray, this rivalry has been totally one-sided of late. Ohio State has won seven straight and nine of the last ten. Brady Hoke and Denard Robinson clearly has Michigan pointed in the right direction and has the Wolverines in a position to surprise. However, the Buckeyes will only get better until the final week of the season and will still be able to control the trenches. Michigan will beat OSU in the near future, it just isn’t likely to happen in 2011.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Buckeyes by 3
4. Wisconsin vs. Ohio State (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 53-18-5
Ohio State won 21 straight meetings with the Badgers from 1960 to 1980. Since then, Wisconsin has held its own in the blossoming rivalry 11-14-1 in the 26 games since. In fact, these two teams have split the last six, eight and 10 games played. But Ohio State has won the last two in Columbus in convincing fashion (at least on the scoreboard) 69-30. Russell Wilson will be playing in the most hostile environment of his career when he walks into the Shoe and will need his running game if he expects to leave Columbus with a win. However, the Bucks have totally stymied the Badgers’ potent rushing game in the last two meetings on the Banks of the Olentagy’s. Sconie has mustered only 130 yards on 81 carries in the two losses. Ohio State is still stiff on defense, but keeping up with a team that averages over 50 points per game will be a tall order for true freshman Braxton Miller.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Badgers by 7
5. Nebraska vs. Michigan (Week 12)
Nov. 19, All-Time Series: Michigan leads 3-2-1
Nebraska had a rough enough schedule through September and October, but won’t get any breaks in the final three weeks of the regular season either. In back-to-back weekends, the Huskers have to play in front hostile 110,000-seat crowds in Happy Valley and Ann Arbor. It was 1962 the last time Big Red visited the Big House. The Wolverines lost the first Legends Division elimination game this weekend in East Lansing, but still could push for division supremacy. However, the Wolverines have yet to prove it can match wills along the line of scrimmage with the Big Ten’s elite. And stopping the Rex Burkhead-Taylor Martinez combo takes strength up front.
6. Iowa vs. Nebraska (Week 13)
Nov. 25, All-Time Series: Nebraska leads 26-12-3
These two heartland powers really haven’t met since World War II. The border rivals met regularly during the World War I era as well as in the 30s and 40s, but have played only six times since 1946. The renewal of what is now an intra-divisional rivalry could still carry with it divisional implications - whole ear of corn, so to speak, could be on the line in the season finale in Lincoln. The Hawkeye offense, with the exception of its trip to Happy Valley, has been solid under James Vandenberg’s leadership, scoring at least 31 points in every other game the Hawks have played this season. If both can reach Thanksgiving without sustaining another loss, this game could hold major Big Ten title ramifications.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Huskers by 7
7. Wisconsin vs. Illinois (Week 12)
Nov. 19, All-Time Series: Illinois leads 37-34-7
The luster has certainly been dampened with the Illini’s home loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday. The Badgers lost the last time they visited Champaign 31-26 back in 2007, but had won five out of the previous six as the road team. This has been a relatively high-scoring affair over the last decade and should be so once again in 2011 as both teams are averaging over 200 yards rushing and passing this fall. Nathan Scheelhaase and the Illinois offensive line will have to run the football – and the league’s No. 2 rushing defense will have to slow Montee Ball and company – if the Fighting Illini expects to contend for the Leaders’ Division title.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Badgers by 10
8. Michigan State vs. Iowa (Week 11)
Nov. 12, All-Time Series: Iowa leads 22-18-2
The Hawkeyes have won seven straight games at home against Sparty and there could be a lot more on the line this season than usual. A trip to the Big Ten title game is still very much on the mind’s of both teams as both still have yet to face Nebraska. Kirk Cousins knows exactly what happened in Iowa City last season as the 37-6 shocker was the only blemish on Michigan State’s regular season schedule.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Hawkeyes by 1
9. Penn State vs. Wisconsin (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Wisconsin leads 8-6
The Nittany Lions have won three out of four over the Badgers and embarrassed the Big Red when they last visited Camp Randall, 48-7. That was 2008. Penn State has struggled to score all season long but has showed marked improvement on defense. Certainly, the Lions will be much-improved by Thanksgiving, but a road upset seems unlikely in what appears to be a lopsided offensive match-up.
10. llinois vs. Penn State (Oct. 29)
10b. Michigan vs. Iowa (Nov. 5)
10c. Penn State vs. Ohio State (Nov. 19)