Big Ten Preview

Another week brings another interesting slate of Big 10 Conference games. The IrishEyes.com Big 10 Hall of Shame has a second inductee, (joining charter member John L. Smith), this week as well. Find out who it is and also how each conference game breaks down this weekend.

4 Michigan (3-0; 6-0) at Penn State (2-1; 4-2)

The big game in the Big 10 this week has fourth-ranked Michigan visiting Happy Valley to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions. Joe Pa's crew sneaked out of Minnesota last week with a hard-fought 28-27 overtime victory over the Golden Gophers and Michigan walked their way through intra-state rival Michigan State, 31-13. The major story here is that the status of Michigan receiver "Super" Mario Manningham is in question and Lloyd Carr isn't giving any answers. A rumored knee injury may have Manningham on the shelf for this game and others, though no official word has been given as of Tuesday. Losing Manningham would be a huge blow to a Wolverine offense averaging a Big 10-best 33.5 points per game. He leads the conference in touchdown receptions with nine. He also averages a league-best 22 yards per reception and 87.8 receiving yards per game. If he does miss, Carr is fortunate enough to be able to rely on a running game that leads the conference with 195.7 yards per game. Penn State, meanwhile has been taking the baby steps that young teams must take on the road to success. Tough road wins like last week are one of the signs that a young team is starting to mature. But letting Minnesota quarterback Bryan Cupito pass for well over 300 yards is a bit disturbing. If Michigan has Manningham at full strength the Wolverines will win the game. If he is not, look for it to be a close one.

Prediction: Michigan 23 Penn State 21

15 Iowa (2-1; 5-1) at Indiana (1-1; 3-3)

Iowa looks to keep itself in the thick of the conference race this week against Indiana. The Hoosiers made a stunning comeback last week to wreck Illinois' homecoming weekend, 34-32. Freshman quarterback Kellen Lewis looks more and more like he will not be relinquishing his job to original starter Blake Powers anytime soon. Lewis is a dual-threat quarterback that is able to put pressure on a defense both running and passing. The return last week of receiver James Hardy from suspension provided Lewis with a badly needed reliable target. Indiana also possesses one of the most explosive players in the nation in kick returner Marcus Thigpen . He is quite frankly a touchdown waiting to happen with each time he touches the ball. He is averaging an amazing 41.8 yards per return and has scored three touchdowns already. Iowa bested Purdue rather easily last week and comes into this game looking to reestablish themselves as contenders, both in the conference and nationally. Indiana's warm, fuzzy feeling after last week isn't likely to last very long once Drew Tate and the Hawkeyes get themselves rolling.

Prediction: Iowa 45 Indiana 14

1 Ohio State (2-0; 6-0) at Michigan State (0-2; 2-3)

Top-ranked Ohio State had a 35-7 cake walk last week at home against Bowling Green. It was yet another impressive game for the Buckeyes on both sides of the ball, albeit against an inferior opponent. This week Ohio State travels to East Lansing where they will take on a floundering Michigan State team that lost it's third straight game last week at Michigan. The big question about Michigan State is whether or not they will actually let John L. Smith finish the season before laying him on the chopping block. It is a rare occasion that a college will fire a coach in the middle of the season. But State is so bad and the aura surrounding the team is so negative, from a standpoint of both the fans and the media, that firing him in mid-season may be the most viable option to save the program from even worse long term damage. As far as this game goes, Ohio State is clearly the superior team in all facets. Quarterback Troy Smith and receiver Ted Ginn Jr. both continue to be strong Heisman Trophy candidates. In a different world Michigan State could be a dangerous team. Despite all the problems there is a considerable amount of talent on the roster. But in this world they basically just don't stand a chance against the Buckeyes. Even on the road Ohio State easily disposes of the Spartans.

Prediction: Ohio State 33 Michigan State 10

Minnesota (0-3; 2-4) at 25 Wisconsin (2-1; 5-1)

Minnesota, despite sitting in the conference cellar at 0-3, is the best of the Big 10 bottom dwelling teams. They were a botched extra point away from taking Penn State into a second overtime period last week and gave Michigan all it could handle the week previous to that. Their twosome of quarterback Bryan Cupito and running back Amir Pinnix is one of the best combos in the league. But they this week they travel to Camp Randall Stadium to take on a hot Wisconsin team. First year coach Brett Bielema has the Badgers looking like they haven't missed a beat from the Barry Alvarez days. Quarterback John Stocco has been sharp and running back P.J. Hill continues his down hill running. Hill's 847 rushing yards rank second nationally, behind only the amazing Garrett Wolfe of Northern Illinois. He riddled the Northwestern defense last week for 249 yards, including a sixty yard touchdown. Hill also has found the end zone ten times thus far. Even with the disparity in records this shapes up to be a closer game than one would think. Minnesota has to force some turnovers to pull off the upset however. Don't look for it to happen quite that way, however.

Prediction: Wisconsin 27 Minnesota 19

Purdue (1-1; 4-2) at Northwestern (0-2; 2-4)

Purdue is coming off two consecutive losses, including a 47-17 drubbing at the hands of Iowa last week. The Hawkeyes slowed down the Boilers potent offensive attack and took advantage of their porous defense in an easy win. Purdue hopes to bounce back this week against Northwestern. The Wildcats were beaten rather soundly last week at Wisconsin. With each week come questions about who Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald will start at quarterback. What's becoming clear is that it probably doesn't matter who is behind center. After the death of coach Randy Walker it was clear that the makings were there for a long season in Evanston. The Wildcats aren't ready to compete with the upper-division Big 10 teams yet. The question then is this. Is Purdue an upper or lower division team in the conference? In what is becoming a down year for the conference it looks like either way the Boilers are good enough to beat Northwestern.

Prediction: Purdue 27 Northwestern 17

Ohio U. (3-3) at Illinois (1-2; 2-4)

Well at least John L. Smith now has someone who knows how he feels. One week after using Smith's misfortunes for his own personal gain, Illinois coach Ron Zook finds himself as the second inductee into the fictional IrishEyes.com Big 10 Hall of Shame. Zook's Illini somehow managed to figure out a way to blow a double-digit lead at home to an Indiana team that easily looked like the worst in the league the week before. All this on Illinois' homecoming weekend to boot. After quarterback Juice Williams threw touchdowns all over the field in the first half, Zook put a lid on the Illinois offense hoping to protect the lead, only to let his defense lose it. Not to mention the ridiculous two point conversion try out of the "swinging gate" formation in the first quarter (with a sizable lead, mind you) that eventually led to another failed two point attempt (trying to account for the first miss) that eventually led to the staggering two point loss. Any momentum the program had built the week before is now long gone. Only questions about the future of the program, and more specifically their game day-challenged head coach, remain. So who wins the Ohio-Illinois game? Who cares? Prediction: Illinois 21 Ohio U. 20


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