Athlon previews the coming week of gridiron action in the Big Ten Conference.
There is very little left in the Big Ten to be determined. Nebraska shouldn't be tested by either Minnesota or Iowa, so their ticket is all but punched to the title game. Wisconsin already has their hotel reservations in Indianapolis.
However, there are some quality games to be seen this weekend. There are two great games in East Lansing and Madison. And coaches could be fighting for their jobs at Purdue, Iowa and dare I say, Illinois? Still plenty left to watch in the Midwest.
Big Ten's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 12:
1. Can the Badgers' underrated defense stop Braxton Miller?
The Wisconsin Badgers are going to Indianapolis regardless of how the final two games turn out — two tough ones against Ohio State and Penn State. However, if the Badgers can defeat both, they will claim a 5-0 record in the Leaders Division, taking the bad taste of ineligibility out of Jim Delany’s mouth. Wisconsin is rated No. 1 in the Big Ten in rushing defense and is No. 2 in the league in scoring. They haven’t allowed more than 16 points in a game since a road loss to Nebraska back in Week 5. Braxton Miller on the other hand, is well rested and is the front-runner to win Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. His team has averaged 46.2 points per game in its last five contests. Something has to give.
2. Buckeyes' D-Line vs. Wisconsin’s O-Line
The Badgers have rediscovered their ground game, rushing for a school-record 564 yards in last week’s dominating performance. A far cry from the horrendous first month of the season that saw Bret Bielema make an offensive line coaching switch just a few games into the season. Ohio State, meanwhile, struggled early to stop people, but is also rounding into form. On the ground, it allowed 74 yards to Illinois, 32 to Penn State and 117 to Purdue in its last three games. It had the week off to prepare for the burly Badgers and should they slow Montee Ball and company, Wisconsin will be hard pressed to defeat the Buckeyes with Curt Philips or Danny O’Brien under center.
3. Can Northwestern finally win a big game?
The Wildcats have seven wins this fall. A home win over Vanderbilt is the best win of the season. Against Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State, Pat Fitzgerald’s team held their own but couldn’t steal a win, despite holding a double-digit lead in all three games. They get one more crack at a legit Big Ten power in East Lansing this weekend. Michigan State has played improved football of late and should be riding a two-game winning streak if not for some late-game heroics by Taylor Martinez and a few bad calls from the refs. At home, one has to think the Spartans' talent edge wins out once again and leaves Coach Fitz wondering what if once again.
4. Over/Under: 100 rushing attempts in East Lansing
The key to the sneaky good game between Northwestern and Michigan State will obviously be the ground game. Northwestern runs the ball 46.1 times per game and has topped the 50 attempt mark four times this year. Michigan State totes the rock 36.7 times per game with star runner Le’Veon Bell ranking behind only Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson in carries this season. Bell (283 carries, 1,249 yards, 10 TD) is leading the Big Ten in attempts and yards. Venric Mark (189 carries, 1,181, 10 TD) is No. 3 in carries and No. 3 in rushing. If either player gets to 30 carries, it could spell victory in a key bowl pecking order showdown in the Legends Division. I will take the over.
5. Michigan seeks revenge over Iowa
The reeling Hawkeyes and embattled coach Kirk Ferentz have major issues to deal with in Iowa City. This program has essentially paid Ferentz $1 million per win this season and that simply won’t fly. One thing he has been able to do, however, is beat Michigan. He has won three straight over Michigan and was one of only two teams to defeat the Wolverines last season. You can bet that Denard Robinson on senior day in Ann Arbor won’t forget what has happened against the Hawkeyes during his time at Michigan.
6. Will Rex Burkhead play on Senior Day?
Rex "Superman" Burkhead entered his final year in Lincoln as one of college football’s favorite sons. He is a hard worker who leads his team by example and can literally do anything on a football field. Well, a couple of knee issues have kept No. 22 off of the field for most of the year. He has played in only five games and has 47 total carries for 405 yards and three touchdowns. With Nebraska poised for a Big Ten title game and potential Rose Bowl, having Sexy Rexy healthy for the final two games of the year seems more important than a sure-fire win over Minnesota. But this is senior day in Lincoln and it would be a shame not see to Burkhead at least take the first snap and get the first carry, even if he takes a knee and trots off of the field with his head held high. We are rooting for you, Rex.
7. What to watch for in Happy Valley
There really isn’t much intrigue in the Indiana-Penn State game this weekend aside from the Hoosiers' far-fetched bowl dreams. There is no Senior Day to monitor or coaching rumors to speculate on. A miraculous road win over Penn State and then another road win over Purdue would actually get Indiana to a bowl game, but Penn State should roll and quietly earn its seventh win of the season. In and of itself, that is a great story for the Nittany Lion faithful who needed a quality season after having to deal with the last 12 months. If IU shows up like it did last weekend, this one will be in the books very early.
8. Can Danny Hope keep his bowl hopes alive?
More importantly, can he keep his paychecks coming from Purdue University? Had his team not snatched victory from the jaws of defeat last weekend in Iowa, he might be staring at the unemployment line this winter. However, that vicotry has given Purdue new life as the final two games are very winnable. The Boilermakers face Illinois and Indiana to wrap up the year and two wins would get Hope’s team bowl eligible for the second straight season. If Robert Marve has more late-game heroics, it could save the coaching staff in West Lafayette. Otherwise, this is a tough game to get excited about.
Week 12 Big Ten Predictions:
|Week 12 Games||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Northwestern at Michigan St||Michigan St, 27-24||Northwestern, 24-16||Michigan St, 27-24||Northwestern, 28-14|
|Indiana at Penn St||Penn St, 31-20||Penn St, 37-27||Penn St, 34-24||Penn St, 35-14|
|Iowa at Michigan||Michigan, 38-17||Michigan, 30-17||Michigan, 31-13||Michigan, 31-10|
|Ohio St at Wisconsin||Ohio St, 27-17||Ohio St, 24-20||Ohio St, 27||Ohio St, 35-21|
|Purdue at Illinois||Purdue, 24-14||Purdue, 28-14||Purdue, 24-20||Purdue, 17-10|
|Minnesota at Nebraska||Nebraska, 41-20||Nebraska, 31-17||Nebraska, 34-17||Nebraska, 38-14|
Bye Week: None
by Braden Gall
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