The Big Ten Report

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The Big Ten Conference has become a two-team race and we are now just one week away from the dream match-up between Michigan and Ohio State. These two teams were looking ahead last weekend and both survived single-digit victories over bad teams. After these two programs, there is a clear-cut No. 3 team that plays just 25 minutes away from our main office in Wisconsin.

I stated a couple of weeks ago that Wisconsin and Iowa would be vying for the third spot and a berth in the Capitol One Bowl when the two teams met on Nov. 11. But since then Iowa has fallen apart and it will be interesting to see what kind of effort they give this week. Coach Ferentz has won the last four meetings in this series and it well be interesting to see if he can get his team up for this border rivalry after such a disappointing 2006 season. The following will recap some of the highlights from last weekend and preview a very important week ahead:

Iowa hosted Northwestern and it appeared that they would have no problem notching their seventh victory on the season. They entered as a 20-point favorite and another sports service released them as the Midwest Game of the Year. This was too much weight to put on the shoulders of QB Drew Tate, as his team came out flat and was dominated by the Cats. Northwestern controlled the first half, scoring two touchdowns and picking up a key interception in the endzone to thwart a Hawkeye drive. This score could have been much worse than 14-0, as the Cats came away empty on two other trips into the red zone.

The second half was much like the first. Neither team was able to generate much offense, and each team managed just a touchdown apiece. The Cats did not luck their way into this victory, as they dominated the total yardage, 445-266. They had great balance going for more than 200 yards in rushing and passing and this reminded me of the days when Randy Walker was at the helm. This was their first conference win on the season and I would expect them to play well for the remainder of this campaign. They have another winnable game in two weeks when they host Illinois.

As for Iowa, this was their second embarrassing loss on the season. They suffered a loss to Indiana as well and now may struggle to win another game this season. They will host Wisconsin this weekend and currently the line is off the board because of the status of Badger QB John Stocco. The Badgers will never get a more favorable situation to end their current losing streak against the Hawkeyes. Iowa has already qualified for a bowl game but it will be one taking place before New Year’s Day. Northwestern will host Ohio State next weekend and currently enter as a 23-point dog. Unlike last week, I do not expect Ohio State to be looking ahead in this one.

The Wisconsin Badgers all but wrapped up a trip to Orlando with their victory against Penn State last weekend. We had the ‘under’ in this game and everything worked out perfectly with only 16 points being tallied. State did move the ball between the thirties, but their drives seemed to stall once they got near the red zone. The Lions did force two turnovers but that could have easily been more were it not for some dropped interceptions by the secondary. Wisconsin broke a 3-3 tie late in the second quarter when Paul Hubbard caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Stocco. This would be the only touchdown scored in the game and Stocco would go out with a shoulder injury in the fourth.

The Badgers went up by two scores early in the fourth quarter when Taylor Melhaff kicked a chip shot field goal to give Wisconsin the lead, 13-3. This scoring drive was set up when a punt bounced off a Lion player deep inside the red zone. The Badgers looked bad all day on offense and did not ask back-up QB Donovan to light up the scoreboard. He threw just one pass and Badger fans will be worried if Stocco cannot return to action next week in Iowa City.

But the biggest story of this game was the broken leg suffered by 79-year-old coach Joe Paterno. He was knocked over on a pass play that went to the sidelines and one could easily tell that he was in pain. He was holding his leg for several minutes before doctors finally convinced him to sit down. He eventually agreed to a leg brace before being carted off the field and flew back to State College ahead of the team. My guess is that Joe Pa will be back next week when his team host Temple in some capacity. That being said, State is favored by 35 points against the in-state rival and I could easily coach this team to a victory, so a week of rest may not be that bad of an idea.

Finally, Purdue moved within one triumph of a bowl game with a victory in East Lansing, 17-15. The Boilermakers led throughout this contest until early in the fourth quarter when T.J. Williams caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from QB Drew Stanton. Sparty went up by one point, but like so many games this season they could not hold the lead. The loss was disheartening for Coach John L. Smith, who learned last week that his remaining two years on his contract would be bought out. Purdue drove down the field late in the fourth and with 4:49 remaining in the game Casey Welch kicked a 19-yard field goal to give them the lead for good by two points.

The statistics in this game were even with both teams having more than 300 total yards, but Michigan State was much more balanced as they rushed for 145 yards. This team seems to find ways to lose football games and that is a nightmare when trying to handicap. Nobody knows what type of effort to expect from them and thus they are a team to stay away from when gambling.

This is a nice victory for Purdue, who will now take on two bottom feeders to close out conference play. Both of these games are winnable before their season ends with a trip to Hawaii. It’s very possible this team could record nine wins. They will enter Champaign next weekend as a two-point underdog and I would take a serious look at the road team. Michigan State will host Minnesota and the line in this game is even. But like I said, State is a team that cannot be trusted and I would expect a double-digit winner in this game whichever side that it may be.

As it stands now, just six of the eleven teams in the conference will be going bowling. The conference could receive a seventh bid if Indiana could pull an upset in one of their last two games, but they will be a big underdog in both of these contests (Michigan +19, at Purdue). The conference should receive two BCS bids with the loser of the Ohio State-Michigan game going to the Rose Bowl and the winner going to Glendale.

Final Thoughts from Around College Football

1) Arkansas continues to win football games, but fails to impress people in the standings. They have three tough games ahead and I expect them to lose at least two of them because of the lack of a passing game.

2) The Louisville/West Virginia game lived up to expectations and I feel that if Louisville can run the table, they will be in Glendale playing for the National Championship. This will not be a cakewalk game either since this team can put points on the scoreboard and may be worth a look as an underdog.

3) I still believe Florida will win the SEC having played a brutal schedule and will defeat Arkansas easily if the two teams would happen to meet in Atlanta. If a one-loss team would emerge into the title game, I would suspect it would be them.

This week we will be going with our, “College Game of the Year” after our one in September pushed. We will earn the victory with this game and would like you to jump aboard, as we have had three remarkable weekends in football.

Free Pick – Boise State -13 over San Jose State.

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