Some random thoughts on the Big 10 Bowl picture to preface this week's installment of the middling mediocrity that is now known as my Big 10 Picks. At least I have a winning record still (15-12), but its been one big taffy pull for a couple of weeks now after a hot start.
**** So if you're a Big 10 Pride kind of football fan, are you a little nervous about what January 1 may bring? Are you aware how close we are to seeing Northwestern and Minnesota square off with SEC teams in the annual New Year's Day clashes. Can you see either the Wildcats or Gophers hanging with the likes of LSU, Georgia, Florida or Alabama? With Penn State and Ohio State both looking like BCS candidates, Michigan's overall sucktitude and Wisconsin doing a mean Sparty imitation, its pretty clear the Big 10 will be sending new blood to those bowl games against the mighty SEC. A lot still has to happen to pave the way for NW and Minny to grab one of those bids, but if both schools can avoid traps games on the road this week, then the winner of their contest next Saturday will have an major inside track--especially if that winner is Minnesota. I think the Wildcats will fade back into a December Bowl, but right now the Gophers are in excellent position, It would not surprise me to see them go 4-1 down the stretch (at PU, nw, UM, at Wisco, Iowa), climb to 10 wins and get a long awaited January bowl bid.
****Illinois and Michigan St, of course, will have something to say about those January bowls. Both are in position to start impressive winning streaks and play in January. The Illini, however, need to win some key road games and host Ohio State. The Spartans have to get by their Maize and Blue nemesis today and close the year at Penn State. So, while both teams have potential, it's hard to imagine either going the rest of the way unscathed. Any losses by them would create chaos on the pecking order and open the door for teams like Northwestern and Minnesota, as mentioned above, to grab those January spots.
* Iowa is off this week and that's too bad because we wont get a chance to watch Shon Greene, the best running back right now in the Big 10. If I had a vote, he would get mine right now for Offensive Player of the Year in the conference. He has the numbers: 1,154 yards, 10 touchdowns and an impressive 6.5 ypc. He's tilted the 100-yard mark in every game this year, and his to lowest outputs of the season (109 and 115 yards respectively) came in blowouts where he didn't see any fulltime action after intermission. His 214-yard, 4 TD game last week against Wisconsin stands as the most impressive individual effort the Big 10 season has seen thus far. More than stats, however, is the value he carries to the team. They have nothing without him. He's single handedly carrying them a bowl game.
****How boring would a USC-OSU rematch be in the Rose Bowl? Of course, the elephant in the room is that there's a good chance these two will rematch for all the marbles in the BCS Title Game. The stakes alone there would make the game worthwhile, I suppose, but if the season plays out and these clubs are BCS worthy, but out of the title game, I urge the Rose Bowl suits not to square these teams off. They played each other already once this year and, of course, play each other next September, Give us something fresh. Sadly, there's a also a good chance that we could see another Pac 10-Big 10 rematch in the Granddaddy, that being Oregon St-Penn St. Dont laugh, but Oregon St controls its own destiny as far qualifying for the BCS. A 1-loss Penn St team would be a strong candidate for Pasadena. This probably has a 10-percent chance of happening, but those odds go up with a Penn St loss tonight in Columbus. Regardless, I think its time for the Rose Bowl to forget about forcing a Big 10-Pac 10 matchup on us. The exception would be if they can get USC and Penn St to the game. Otherwise, its a good year to bring at least one new conference to the Rose Bowl.
****The final weekend of the regular season is shaping up huge. MSU-PSU, Illinois-Northwestern and Iowa-Minnesota all will be games between bowl clubs and the results will likely swing the placement of just about every bowl affiliation the league has. Oh yeah, Ohio State-Michigan is that weekend too. It might be the least relevant league game of the day.
**** Here's a real quick synopsis of my bowl projections for the conference that I predicted in a Mgoblog Diary back in August. The good: calling for OSU and, most importantly, PSU as BCS bound; promoting Minnesota and Northwestern as improved, bowl bound squads; rejecting any notion of Purdue and Indiana playing a 13th game; and nailing the fact that because of their schedule the Illini would hover as a .500 team for most of the season, even if they're better than last year. The bad: Predicting Wisconisn and Michigan to get to January bowl game. Actually, thats not bad. Its brutal. Worse than Pushing Daisies. As it turns out, Michigan needs a major win streak just to get bowl eligible while Wisconsin, by dint of a functional do not play in their finale against Cal Poly Slo, will rebound to cobble enough wins to probably snatch the Motor City Bowl bid. Thats good news for local casino operators in Detroit who will have another chance to rake in the bucks from the pockets of Cheeseheads. They'll load up the roulette wheel on 9 for Beckhum, 2 for Casillas and 32 for Clay and those numbers wont hit all weekend.
Ok, enough of the bowl blather. Here are this week's Big 10 Picks.
Minnesota at Purdue. Lines Minnesota -1, O/U 53.5. I dont know about all that mumbo jumbo about the Gophers playing in January, but I am sure they'll get by a reeling Purdue squad. Minnesota is doing everything right and come in with a week of rest. Since they went winless in league play last year, they wont be looking past anyone because every week is a chance to hand out a little revenge. Weber will make plays, they'll run the football and their retooled defense will force three killer turnovers. Purdue has been rotten against good teams over the years. These numbers ought to be familiar by now: The Boilers are just 4-22 against bowl teams since 2005 and three of those wins came against the MAC. There are rumors their QB and RB have a Mallet-Manningham relationship and Tiller has lost this team. We saw the malaise of a lame duck coach in Ann Arbor last season, but the situation is much worse in West Lafayette. Lisa Horne should be on the case any day now.
The Pick: Minnesota -1.......I like this team a lot in this game and feel they are still an under the radar money maker from here on out. They've covered five games in a row.
Illinois at Wisconsin. Lines, Illinois -2, O/U 54. I dont think Wisconsin will recover out of its tailspin this week either. The Illini offense is too explosive and not the type of club you can get healthy against. I think Illinois is going to win the remaining games on their schedule. Nobody has really stopped the Illini all season long. The Badgers lack the firepower to keep up. Wisconsin will play with pride, but the Illini will pull away with some late scores. The Over looks tempting any time the Illini take the field because of their offensive talent. But, I dont see the Badgers surpassing the 20-point mark, but their D will keep the Illini in range all game until late. But, dont take that as a lean to the under either. I do, however, strongly endorse the Illini.
The Pick: Illinois -2.........if you have time, check out Doc Saturday's post from Thursday detailing the sudden collapse of the Badgers and the hot seat Bret Bielema is suddenly on after starting his Wisco career 21-5. He's taking the Kirk Ferentz career arc, but doing it on speed. Or at least pizza.
Northwestern at Indiana. Lines, NW -7, O/U 52.5. Guess this team with the following national statistical rankings: 4th in sacks allowed, 11th in sacks, 28th in scoring D, 39th in rushing D, 35th in passing efficiency D and for good measure they're second in their own league in tackles for losses. Did you guess Northwestern? Thats the right answer. Fitzgerald has this D playing as good as any D in program history. Indiana has nothing on offense. Their best player is QB Kellen Lewis, but he cant avoid the injury bug and play a full game. They're bad with him, terrible without him. Against the better teams defensively in this league, they've struggled to reach double digits. The Wildcats will control both lines of scrimmage and eventually pull away from the Hoosiers like they did last week against Purdue.
The Pick: Northwestern -7.......One team is good, the other awful, but because of the Wildcats schedule this might be the last win either club gets on the season, Fitzgerald knows that his November schedule is nails and he'll have the Cats focused and strong in Bloomington.
Michigan State at Michigan. Lines, MSU -4.5, O/U 45. From a pointspread standpoint, one of the most intriguing developments is how often the game total sails past the Over mark in Michigan games this season. Equipped with the worst offense the program has seen in years has not hampered their games from seeing a lot more scoring than the experts think. The Over has hit 5 times this season in Michigan's games, including every time the team has not played a MAC school In their five games with Utah, ND and fellow league mates, the average total score in UM games has been 54 points and the Over has cleared by more than a touchdown each time. You know the defense will get scorched for big plays setting up a lot of quick points. You know each team will implode enough to set up short scoring drives. I think Michigan will come close, if not exceed, their highest point total of the season, which was the 27-spot they rallied to put on the board against Wisconsin. Sparty will have more than fair share of fireworks. This rivalry has been one of higher scoring games each year for Michigan with the winner averaging 31 point per game over the last decade. If the winner comes close to that mark, this total will hit with ease.
The Pick: Over 45..........I dont want to bet on or against Michigan today This column is 15-12 in Big 10 games, but 1-3 picking Michigan, so do the math there. And, no way I am walking into tomorrow 'sstadium with an MSU ticket in my pocket. We need all the karma we can get and a jackass in Section 14 whose inner gambler is quietly fist pumping for the Green and White wont cut it. I just hope I dont spend an afternoon tailgating in such terrible, Northwestern 2006 like, inclement weather that I feel stupid about this pick the whole time. Although it would be weird to drink heavily over a pick gone awry hours before it even kicks off. Now, I am even more excited to see what happens.
Penn State at Ohio State. Lines, PSU -2., O/U 44. I dont want to bet this game either. No gambling is required to add any excitement to this heavyweight fight. Home field advantage is huge and JoePa has had no luck in the Horseshoe since they joined the Big 10. On paper, Penn State is the better team. As we've seen week to week, Penn State looks better in real time and is certainly more explosive. Despite Pryor's talent, PSU's Clark is the better QB in this game. Something just has not felt right about OSU this year and I cant shake the feeling that the Nittany Lions expose them throughout the contest. I dont think OSU can keep up in a track meet, nor do I think their D can keep this score in the ideal Tressel Ball range either. Penn State has captured football magic. The Illini won in this stadium last year, and PSU comes into this game in a better position to win than Illinois did last year. Not that it means anything, but I use that comparison to convince myself that winning in the Horseshoe is far from impossible for a good team. This just in: Penn State is a good football team.
The Pick: Penn St -2.........would it surprise anyone to see Ohio State play their best game of the season tomorrow night. Me to. So, this is a play I make with shaky confidence at best. I just want one of these prime time games to live up to its hype, so I hope we get a classic and a game winning FG by the Nittany Lions.
One pick for each game. I took four road teams and the Over in the Michigan game. What could possibly go wrong?
Everyone enjoy the action tomorrow as its a great day of football and if you're at the Big House cheer loud and Go Blue!