Pickin' on the Big Ten: Week 6
This time around, how about we get right to the games before we all get hurt?
Michigan State at Michigan
Denard Robinson's detractors, who were probably the miserable little brats who spoiled dodgeball for everybody back in grade school, have been pointing to this game as the first time Michigan's bolt of lightning would face a "real" defense. As my colleague John Walters pointed out, some of the statistically poor defenses the Wolverines have faced thus far look soft because they've faced Robinson.
Stopping Robinson is a fool's errand. Nobody has even been able to figure out how to slow the guy down, and I question if anyone will figure it out this year. The only effective anti-Robinson strategy is to seek to contain the damage he can do. One way is by keeping him off the field.
Keeping Robinson off the field is a pretty low-percentage strategy, though. Michigan ranks 79th nationally in time of possession at 28:56 per game. The Wolverines don't need a lot of time to score. A different plan is clearly called for. Can MSU keep Robinson in the pocket? It sure seems like it. Only Iowa and Ohio State have allowed fewer rushing yards than the Spartans. Keeping Greg Jones in Robinson's grill all day long would force the Wolverines to pass. Sparty has given up nine passing touchdowns this season, good enough to tie for 92nd nationally. That's one more passing TD than Michigan has given up. Nobody thinks Michigan's pass defense is anything but dreadful.
So yeah, Michigan State's defense is the best one the Wolverines will have faced this season, but it's still not good enough. Sparty will become the latest team to lose a point-scoring contest with Michigan. Michigan 34, Michigan State 31.
Purdue at Northwestern
Getting to 5-0 is a tremendous accomplishment for Northwestern, which has historically ... OK, can we stop doing this now? Northwestern has had a pretty good football team for 15 years. It's time to stop acting like it's a miracle if it manages to break the huddle without anyone getting hurt. The Wildcats are just waiting for their cover to be blown. They're undefeated but they aren't playing like an undefeated football team. They make far too many mistakes on both sides of the ball. Dan Persa is a great story and all that, but Northwestern just isn't playing well enough to make a serious run right now.
The silver lining, at least for NU, is that a team doesn't have to be playing very well to handle what's left of Purdue. Northwestern 26, Purdue 20.
Indiana at Ohio State
The Buckeyes would do well to make a statement here before Oregon jumps them in the polls, too. Their win over Illinois last week didn't impress anyone. Every week Denard Robinson is unmaking the case for Terrelle Pryor being the best player in the Big Ten, a case which seemed airtight just six weeks ago. The defense has held up so far, but doesn't look nearly as stout as Iowa's defense. A 45-0 win would keep Ohio State ahead of the Ducks and Broncos and on the inside track for the national championship game.
Normally, when a Big Ten team needs a 45-0 win, Indiana is the first opponent that comes to mind. But it's not business as usual in Bloomington this year. This is the best team Bill Lynch has had at IU, and mark my words, the Hoosiers are going to get somebody this year.
OSU won't be that somebody. The Hoosiers have faced some weak competition so far, and they haven't been able to run the ball against anyone. Ohio State should be able to drop a linebacker into coverage all afternoon long. The Buckeyes won't be able to shut the Hoosiers down, though, so this game will end up being something less than the jaw-dropping blowout OSU needs to stay at No. 2. I don't think it will drop, but Oregon and Boise State will gain a little ground. Ohio State 35, Indiana 24.
Illinois at Penn State
Frankly, Illinois is better than I thought it would be. The offense is still trying to find its way, but the defense is no longer the giant liability it was last season. If Ron Zook hadn't turned conservative in his play calling in the fourth quarter last week, the Illini might well have beaten Ohio State. Like Indiana, I think Illinois is going to get somebody this season.
But what about Penn State? Stick all the air fresheners you want on that offense; it still smells rank. Like Ohio State, the Nits lack a feature back. Unlike the Buckeyes, they don't have a dual-threat quarterback to make up the difference. You can't blame it all on Rob Bolden, though. Penn State's offensive problems begin on the line, which is most unusual for them. Even Ball State kept Iowa's Adrian Clayborn from making too much noise, but PSU let him have a breakout performance last week. That's just not the Nittany way. Star defenders are supposed to look worse after playing Penn State, not better.
Penn State still has the upper hand in this game because of its defense. If that defense has a liability, though, it's in the running game. Should Mikel Leshoure, the only reliable offensive playmaker the Illini have right now, have a big day, Illinois can pull off the upset. I don't think that's going to happen. I'm expecting the North American Punting Championships instead. Penn State 13, Illinois 7.
Minnesota at Wisconsin
This, of course, is a rivalry game, so let's spin the Wheel of Cliches.
Throw out the records, because there's no love lost between these two teams.
This is a must-win game for both teams coming off of heartbreaking losses last week.
On any given Saturday, any team can beat any other team.
That and $1 will buy you a doughnut.
I think the key to winning this game will be scoring more points than you give up. Whichever team does a better job of that will probably win.
Look, I hate to say Minnesota has no chance. There's always a chance. But if Minnesota was any sloppier, it'd be LSU. And if LSU was any sloppier, it'd be Tennessee. And if Tennessee was any sloppier ... it'd be Minnesota. It's like a little Bermuda Triangle of dopiness. Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 27.
Next week's games
Arkansas State at Indiana: Nice little break for the Hoosiers
Iowa at Michigan: This is the game the Michigan State game will not turn out to be for D-Rob
Illinois at Michigan State: Somehow I see the Illini getting blown out
Minnesota at Purdue: Hope nobody forgets the orange slices
Ohio State at Wisconsin: Not an instant loss for UW by any means