Lo and behold, Indiana has won two straight games, including their huge 31-28 upset of Iowa last Saturday. Freshman quarterback Kellen Lewis completed 19-of-25 passes for 255 yards against the Hawkeyes, rallying Indiana to a come from behind win. It was the highest ranked team that Indiana has beaten in nearly twenty years. Unfortunately their reward is a trip to play the top ranked team in the country. The Buckeyes rolled over hapless Michigan State last week 38-7 for their fourteenth consecutive win. Quarterback Troy Smith continued his Heisman bid by hitting receiver Anthony Gonzalez seven times for 118 yards and a score. Indiana is definitely on a roll. But Ohio State is likely to stop that roll this week.
Illinois (1-2; 2-5) at Penn State (2-2; 4-3)
Illinois heads to Happy Valley this week hoping to get the taste of the previous two week's flops out of their collective mouths. The Illini laid yet another Zook-sized egg in losing at home last week to Ohio University, 20-17. A late fumble in Illini territory set up Ohio for the game winning field goal. And the beleaguered Ron Zook is left to try to answer the many questions that surround his downtrodden program. Problem is he likely doesn't have any definitive answers to give. Penn State, meanwhile, dropped a 17-10 decision to Michigan last week. But more importantly was the physical beating the Nittany Lions took. Quarterback Anthony Morelli was knocked from the game and soon afterwards so was his backup, Daryll Clark. Now the status of both is in question for this week. If neither can go the job will fall to untested Paul Cianciolo. Most times an untested third-string quarterback equals doom. Against Illinois it equals a great chance for a win.
Prediction: Penn State 20 Illinois 10
Michigan State (0-3; 3-4) at Northwestern (0-3; 2-5)
This is a matchup of two teams struggling as badly as it seems possible to. Both teams are winless in the conference and have lost four straight games. Obviously one team gets to break their losing streak this week. One could argue that no one needs a victory more than Michigan State coach John L. Smith does. The Spartans got pounded by Ohio State last week to continue their downward spiral. At this point it seems a forgone conclusion that Smith will be out of work next year. Steve Mariucci's name is already a favorite on message boards and blogs throughout the state of Michigan. As far as Northwestern goes, last week brought them a 31-10 whipping at the hands of Purdue. This week they once again may change starting quarterbacks. C.J. Bacher has entered the picture now that Mike Kafka and Andrew Brewer have both proven themselves ineffective. The team that can run the ball and control the clock best has the best chance to pull this one out. Could it be that John L. gets his sorely needed win? Maybe. Just don't bet the house on it.
Prediction: Michigan State 27 Northwestern 24
Iowa (2-2; 5-2) at 2 Michigan (4-0; 7-0)
The Hawkeyes pulled a tough draw to try to rebound from their stunning loss to Indiana last week. Michigan continues to beat their opponents soundly both on the scoreboard and physically on the field. The Wolverines defense looks more dominant with each game. Offensively Michigan has slowed down a bit from earlier in the season, but the running game is still prominent. Iowa gets running back Albert Young back from a knee injury this week but that gain could be offset by the loss of star defensive tackle Mitch King, whose status has not been determined yet due to a hamstring injury. Kirk Ferentz and his Hawkeyes have a tall order having to beat this Michigan team on the road. The old saying is to never say never. But in this particular case never might just be accurate.
Prediction: Michigan 24 Iowa 14
21 Wisconsin (3-1; 6-1) at Purdue (2-1; 5-2)
This game shapes up as the most interesting in the conference this week. Wisconsin has steadily improved all season long and deserves every bit of their national ranking. They must figure out a way to slow down the potent Purdue offense this week. Purdue has the most explosive offense in the league but they have struggled on defense, especially against the run. That's bad news when facing a Wisconsin team that brings with it a big, strong offensive line to open holes for running back P.J. Hill. Last week put Hill over the one thousand-yard mark for the season and he should be expected to have another big day against the Boilers. This game will be high scoring and plenty entertaining. If Purdue can avoid a cluster of turnovers they could pull the upset.
Prediction: Purdue 34 Wisconsin 32
North Dakota State (6-0) at Minnesota (0-4; 2-5)
That sound you heard was Minnesota coach Glen Mason breathing a sigh of relief to finally get a Division 1-AA team to play this year. Unfortunately the Bison arrive in Minneapolis with a lofty ranking and one of the best defenses in all of Division 1-AA, allowing only 41 rushing yards per game. The Golden Gophers meanwhile have lost four straight games and need to stop the bleeding form last weeks thumping at the hands of Wisconsin. This game should provide a good indication of the differences between a Big 10 team and a Division 1-AA team in the trenches. Even a very good Division 1-AA team like NDSU shouldn't be able to control the line of scrimmage against a Big 10 team. If they do this week, Mason's seat will start to get very hot beneath him.
Prediction: Minnesota 27 North Dakota State 10