MICHIGAN (-4) at MICHIGAN STATE
** This huge instate rivalry has been dominated by the home team, with the host winning 10 of the last 11 years.
** Starting cornerback Marlin Jackson, who is the Wolverines’ best defensive back, missed the last two games versus Illinois and Purdue due to a leg injury. He will play this Saturday against the Spartans. Jackson was in uniform and could have played if needed last Saturday against Purdue, but was held out. Starting defensive tackle Grant Bowman left the Purdue game because of an injury to his right ankle. Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr didn’t offer up much when asked if Bowman would play versus Michigan State, basically saying that he hoped so. We’ll find out more on this later in the week.
** Michigan State is fairly healthy coming off a bye week. Starting defensive end Greg Taplin, who is the team’s best pass rusher, didn’t play two weeks ago at Minnesota but could play this Saturday. Wide receiver Kyle Brown, who has 18 receptions for 260 yards, also sat out against Minnesota because of a shoulder injury. He is listed as “questionable” for this contest. They are the only two “key” injuries for the Spartans.
** Many Spartan players have been eyeing this game since last year’s 49-3 debacle at Michigan’s Big House. That was MSU’s worst loss versus arch-rival Michigan in more than 50 years. After the game, then MSU head coach Bobby Williams was asked if he had lost control of his team and his answer was, “I don’t know.” Two days later he was fired. One Spartan player, DL Matthias Askew, kept articles from that game posted all over his room to make sure he wouldn’t forget that embarrassing day. Many other Spartan players have used their own means of remembering that day. Needless to say, the MSU players will be emotionally ready for this game.
NORTHWESTERN (+20) at PURDUE
** As we mentioned last week, Northwestern’s place kicker Slade Larscheid was unable to play in last week’s game versus Wisconsin. We also stated that while Larscheid struggled early in the season, he had been kicking much better. The final score didn’t indicate that the Wildcats missed Larscheid as they upset Wisconsin, 16-7. However they definitely did miss him, and had the Badgers played with any type of emotion or enthusiasm at all, the poor kicking of the Wildcats could have cost them the game. Freshman Joel Howells had never attempted a collegiate kick, and after watching him on Saturday we were surprised that he had ever kicked a ball at all. His first short field goal attempt didn’t get high enough off the ground to get over his own linemen. His second shot, which was an extra point, hit one of his lineman right between the cheeks of his gluteus maximus. After those two horrible attempts, NU was forced to let their punter, Brian Huffman have a shot. He at least made an extra point and chip shot field goal. In a closer game, it definitely could have cost the Wildcats a win.
** Northwestern’s top running back Jason Wright, who has over 800 yards rushing this year, sprained his ankle in last Saturday’s win over Wisconsin. He is not expected to practice on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week. However, the coaches are optimistic and say there is a “good chance” that he will be ready to go this Saturday. The news wasn’t as good for starting WR Mark Philmore, who hurt his MCL and will definitely miss this weekend’s game at Purdue. Head coach Randy Walker said RB Noah Herron, who actually had 110 yards rushing last Saturday, will play some at the WR position to help fill the void left by Philmore’s injury.
** Purdue head coach Joe Tiller used last week’s 31-3 loss at Michigan as a “history lesson” so to speak when he addressed his team on Sunday. He basically told them that if you don’t bring your best effort every week in the Big Ten you will get beat. Then Tiller used Wisconsin as an example to make sure his team will be ready when Northwestern comes to town this Saturday. He reminded them that the Badgers were on a high after beating the defending National Champion Buckeyes a few weeks ago, only to lose to his Boilermaker team the following Saturday. Tiller said that how your respond to a loss is key. He again brought up how Wisconsin then lost last weekend to Northwestern and how quickly your season can change if you aren’t ready to play. By bringing this to his player’s attention, he obviously hopes to avoid a letdown this week versus the same NU team that upset the Badgers last Saturday.
INDIANA (+28) at MINNESOTA
** Hoosier starting QB Matt LoVecchio, a transfer from Notre Dame, has been taking a pounding this year to say the least. His offensive line is very inexperienced and the sacks having been coming in bundles. It all caught up to LoVecchio last Saturday as he went out late in the game with a possible concussion. Up to that point, he had been sacked six times, fumbled twice and generated only two drives that crossed mid field. LoVecchio complained of dizziness and backup QB Graeme McFarland said that he seemed to be “swaying back and forth” on the sidelines. McFarland came in late in the game and generated Indiana’s only touchdown drive. He may get another chance this weekend as LoVecchio’s status is up in the air as of today (Tuesday).
** The Gophers players are banged up just as any team is at this point in the season. Teams generally like to have a bye week around the mid point of the season to heal up and prepare for the stretch drive. No such luck for Minnesota, who’s bye week comes AFTER their final regular season game on November 15th. That leaves the Minnesota players having to play 12 consecutive weekends, which can really take it’s toll both physically and mentally. Because of this, head coach Glen Mason decided to give his team two days off (Sunday and Monday) this week leading up to their game with Indiana. He hopes it breaks up the routine a bit and gets his players “recharged.” He did plan these extra days off nicely though, as he waited until his team faced the Big Ten’s worst, Indiana. Mason would never admit to this, losing a day of preparation really shouldn’t matter this weekend.
ILLINOIS (+26) at IOWA
** The Illini are as battered as a team could be at this point in the season. Starting QB Jon Beutjer is now out for the season with back problems. His replacement, freshman Chris Pazan, has really struggled the last two weeks and now will be on the bench this Saturday at Iowa. Senior Dustin Ward will get the start under center. Starting running back E.B. Halsey was out last week with a sprained knee and probably won’t play this weekend. His backup, freshman Pierre Thomas, hurt his leg in last Saturday’s loss to Minnesota and is “doubtful” to return this week. Starting WR’s Lonnie Hurst and Kelvin Hayden BOTH went out with injuries last week. Hurst is lost for the season with a broken leg, while Hayden most likely won’t play this weekend after spraining his ankle. The Illini have had it rough in the Big Ten to this point, getting outscored 222-68 in their five Big Ten games. It could get worse from here on out.
** Iowa had a few key players go down on defense last week versus Penn State. Linebacker Grant Steen, who is third on the team in tackles, suffered an ankle injury in the second half of last week’s win. He is expected to be back this week. Defensive lineman Jared Clauss may not be so lucky. Clauss, who leads the Iowa defensive lineman in tackles, also hurt his ankle against. PSU. He is not listed on this week’s two-deep chart for Iowa, which usually means his chances of playing are not good. Top WR Mo Brown, who has been out now for a number of weeks, will most likely return this Saturday.
** The Illini rush defense has been horrible since the start of Big Ten play. They have given up almost 1,350 RUSHING in their five conference games, thus surrendering 270 YPG on the ground per contest. That is not a good sign against an Iowa team that loves to run the ball and does it quite well. Iowa is averaging just under 170 YPG rushing this year, and it would be much higher (over 180) had Ohio State not held the Hawkeyes in check with just 66 yards on the ground. Look for Iowa to run all over a battered Illinois team this weekend. The only problem when it comes to the spread of minus 26, is that the Hawks are off two big games versus Ohio State and Penn State and travel to Purdue next. Thus while they should win easily, will they be completely focused is the question.
OHIO STATE (-7 ½ ) at PENN STATE
** Penn State got starting QB Zack Mills back in the lineup last weekend after he had missed 11 consecutive quarters of action due to a knee injury. Mills didn’t start the game, but came in early in the first quarter after Michael Robinson opened the game with two incomplete passes. Mills (who had a knee brace on) wasn’t as mobile as he had been in the past, which could be a problem. He finished the game 14-of-25 passing for 138 yards and one TD. The Lions top WR, Tony Johnson, who we reported last week was charged with DUI, was suspended for last week’s game. His status for this weekend is unknown as of this writing. Also PSU’s top RB, freshman Austin Scott, returned to action much earlier than expected after a bout with mononucleosis. Scott, who didn’t start practicing until last Thursday, caught a 24-yard TD pass while running the ball just three times. Expect him to be much more involved in the offense this week with a full slate of practices.
** The Buckeyes blasted Indiana last week, 35-6, but lost a key cog in their offense as WR Drew Carter hurt his knee and could be lost for the season. Santonio Holmes will replace Carter (who is second on the team in receptions and yardage). Holmes had six catches for 153 yards last week. Also, expect defensive back Chris Gamble to get more reps at WR now that Carter is injured. We know Gamble has been pushing for more time on offense, and now has a chance to get it.
** After amassing just 767 total yards in its first three Big Ten games, Ohio State put together its first real good offensive showing. The Buckeyes racked up 603 yards of offense last Saturday versus lowly Indiana. Ohio State thoroughly dominated the overmatched Hoosiers, and actually held a whopping 461-to-51 total yard advantage after three quarters of play. The Bucks came into the game 114th (out of 117) in total offense, but vaulted to 99th with their performance on Saturday. We’re not convinced OSU has turned the corner on offense just yet, as Indiana has the nation’s 97th best defense and gave up 507 yards to Connecticut earlier this year. We’ll find out soon if they’ve improved because the Buckeyes have one tough stretch of games to end the season. Ohio State travels to Penn State this weekend before hosting Michigan State and Purdue before. The regular season ends with its rivalry game at Michigan. The Buckeyes control their own destiny, and if they win out they will again be Big Ten champs.