PURDUE (+3) at OHIO STATE
** After Purdue’s big win over Iowa last Saturday (ASA's seventh straight Midwest Game of the Year winner!), the Boilermakers must now travel to Columbus and play an improving Ohio State team. That will be a tough "back-to-back" task as the Buckeyes are 50-8 straight up at home since the start of the 1996 season. It sounds funny to say that the third-ranked team in the BCS rankings is improving (makes it sound like they weren't good to begin with). However they are, especially on offense. The Buckeyes offense put up a balanced effort last week versus Michigan State, picking up 182 yards on the ground and 213 through the air. The defense also held MSU to just five yards rushing in the game. Ohio State now gives up just 46 yards per game on the ground, and a miniscule 1.5 yards per carry. Thus, while the Boilers ran on Iowa at home last weekend (154 yards), we don't expect them to have near the same success this Saturday in the Horseshoe. If Purdue wants to win this game on the road, quarterback Kyle Orton will have to carry the burden. The OSU pass defense can be had as they give up 222 YPG, including a whopping 373 yards last week to Jeff Smoker and the MSU Spartans. However, the Boilers will have to develop at least a decent running game to have a chance. We feel that will be the key to the game if Purdue wants to have a chance to win.
** Purdue's best defensive player, safety Stuart Schweigert, has a cast on his leg. He didn't practice Sunday, and was not expected to on Tuesday. Schweigert has a high-calf injury that was sustained during the Northwestern game two weeks ago, and then re-aggravated last week versus Iowa. There apparently is a lot of swelling involved, however Schweigert is expected to be ready to go for the OSU game.
** Both teams have a TON to play for this Saturday, mainly a Big Ten championship. However, the Buckeyes may have even more incentive as they now are positioned with a chance at a return trip to the National title game. OSU moved up to third in the BCS rankings behind Oklahoma and USC due to the fact that Miami, Virginia Tech and Florida State all lost last weekend. If Ohio State beats Purdue and Michigan to close out the season, it's conceivable their strength of schedule could vault them ahead of USC to the second spot. There are many outside factors, such as how the opponents these teams have played fare the rest of the season. If OSU can jump ahead of LSU in the top-25 "media polls" would make a difference, etc... Either way, the Bucks are in a position they never thought possible just a few weeks ago.
INDIANA (+18.5) at PENN STATE
** Back from a concussion that kept him out of the Minnesota game, Indiana QB Matt LoVecchio had one of his better games of the season in beating Illinois last week. He completed 17-of-24 passes for 161 yards, and had 36 yards on 14 rushing attempts. That included an eight-yard scamper for a touchdown with less than 30 seconds left in the game. His passing efficiency was even more impressive considering one of his top receiving targets, senior Glenn Johnson (29 receptions, 357 yards), did not suit up against the Illini due to violating team rules earlier in the week. Head coach Gerry DiNardo did say Johnson will be back in the lineup this Saturday. Last Saturday’s win over Illinois was IU's first victory over a Division 1A opponent this year. The Hoosiers beat only Indiana State earlier in the season. What really looks odd is, that win actually put the Hoosiers ahead of Penn State in the Big Ten standings.
** The Nittany Lions dropped to depths they have NEVER seen under Paterno with their 17-7 loss at Northwestern last Saturday. It was the first time that a Joe Paterno coached team has ever lost eight games in a season (and they still have two games left). It was also the first time since 1931 that PSU has lost six consecutive games. The Lions were up 7-0 with less than 7:30 to go in the game, but gave up 17 points from there on out. PSU had their chances, missing two chip-shot field goals that could have helped extend the lead. Then things got worse, as one of NU’s two TD’s actually should have never been. The Wildcats QB Brett Basanez lofted a pass toward WR Brandon Horn and two PSU defensive backs, Rich Gardner and Yaacov Yisreal, broke on the ball. Both looked like they would get the interception, but the two ran into each other going for the easy pick and tipped the ball up in the air. Horn then grabbed the deflection and waltzed untouched into the endzone.
** PSU starting tailback Austin Scott did not play in the game, neither did backup Tony Hunt. Both are true freshman, and Paterno simply thought they had been too tentative running the ball as of late, so he kept them on the bench. Do it all Michael Robinson (who has played QB, WR and RB this year) took over and had 15 carries for 40 yards. Robinson, who is one of PSU’s best athletes, for whatever reason didn’t even play at all versus Ohio State the week before. Paterno wanted to make sure he got Robinson heavily involved against Northwestern. Robinson is sounding a bit frustrated with his “non descript” role on the team, never really knowing where he will play from week to week. “I have no idea, I’m clueless,” Robinson said of his position situation. “I don’t know what position I play. Seriously. They tell me on Monday what my role is and I try to go in and fit in the best that I can.”
MICHIGAN (-18) at NORTHWESTERN
** Most people would automatically think that because Michigan is coming off a bye, they should be rested, prepared and simply play better. Don’t necessarily include Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr in that majority. While the players have been saying they needed the time off after 10 straight weeks of games, Carr is concerned that their momentum may be affected. He’s worried about how they will play after a week off. “My recollection is sometimes you come out of a bye week, and sometimes you’re not as sharp as you were before,” Carr stated earlier this week. “For the most part, we have not played as well after a bye week as I would have liked to. That’s a challenge for us.” Carr’s comments don’t necessarily coincide with his record after a bye week, which is 7-2. On a side note, Michigan starting safety Marlin Jackson, who has now missed three straight games with a leg injury, should be back on Saturday. They will monitor how he feels in practice this week before making a final decision.
** Michigan has been a lousy road favorite as of late. Although they are 2-2 ATS this year in that role, the Wolves spread record as a road ‘chalk’ is a horrible 6-18 (25%) since November of 1997. Northwestern, on the other hand, has been solid when getting points at home. They are 19-10 (65%) in that role since the start of the 1995 season. Northwestern needs to win one of its last two games to be bowl eligible. The Wildcats host Michigan this week, then travel to Illinois to close out the regular season.
** Wildcat starting RB Jason Wright has been hampered by a sprained ankle the last few weeks. Wright, who has 866 yards rushing this year, has been noticeably slower the last two weeks. He simply has had trouble getting up to full speed and cutting quickly. Wright has carried the ball just 13 times for 54 yards the past two games combined. Noah Herron, his replacement, had a career best 35 carries for 180 yards last week versus Penn State. We’re not sure what to make of that performance, as Penn State has allowed a 100-yard rusher in every game this year but one (Kent State).
MICHIGAN STATE (+2) at WISCONSIN
** The Badgers have now lost three straight games (Purdue, Northwestern and Minnesota), and are in dire need of a win. The problem has been, their once vaunted rushing attack has really struggled the last three games. During their first seven games, the Badgers were 6-1 including beating Ohio State for the Bucks only loss so far this season. UW rushed for an average of 211 YPG in those first seven outings. During their last three games, all losses, Wisconsin has rushed for just 97 yards versus Purdue, 135 against Northwestern and 119 versus Minnesota for an average of 117 YPG. Thus, their rushing yardage per game average has dropped nearly 100 YPG over the last three outings. The fact that Anthony Davis has been unable to play has really hurt them. Backups Dwayne Smith and Booker Stanley are good backs, and each has had a breakout game (Smith 193 yards versus Illinois and Stanley 125 yards against Ohio State). However, neither have the breakaway ability of Davis who is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball. Davis is still having problems with both of his sprained ankles, and his status is still up in the air. He will practice this week, and the coaching staff will make a decision probably right at game time as to whether he will play versus MSU this Saturday.
** MSU will be without its starting left offensive tackle this week. Stefon Wheeler injured his neck in last week’s loss at Ohio State. The doctors found a protruding disc in Wheeler’s back, and head coach John L. Smith doesn’t expect him to practice this week. The Spartans hope to have him back for their season finale versus Penn State. Despite losing one key player in Wheeler, the Spartans also get one back. Starting safety Eric Smith, who was injured versus Michigan and did not play last week at OSU, should return. Smith, who has an injured shoulder, was at about 80 percent going into last week’s game and was held out of contact drills during the week. The MSU trainers expect him to be close to 100 percent for this Saturday’s game.
** One thing MSU head man Smith has been concerned about the last two games is his lack of balance on offense. The Spartans have leaned on the pass much more the last two games, both losses versus Michigan and Ohio State. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that MSU has fallen behind in those games. However in their first eight games, which the Spartans won seven, MSU ran 270 times (48.5 percent) and passed 287 times (51.5 percent) for a surprising balance. The last two games the Spartans have run just 33 times (25 percent) and passed 97 times (75 percent). Look for them to attempt to balance their attack this weekend at Wisconsin.
MINNESOTA (NL) at IOWA
** As of this writing on Tuesday, there is still no line on this game due to the question mark at QB for the Gophers. Starter Asad Abdul Khaliq injured his shoulder on the last play of the first half versus Wisconsin and did not return. Khaliq did not separate his shoulder as originally was feared. Minny head man Glen Mason also said the injury wasn’t as severe as he first thought. Backup senior Benji Kamrath, who played the entire second half in last week’s win over Wisconsin, will take the majority of the snaps in practice this week, but that doesn’t rule out Khaliq. Mason is optimistic that Khaliq will be able to play in the season finale. One a more sour noted for Gopher fans is that starting TE Ben Utecht, one of the best in the Big Ten, will not play this weekend after straining an abdominal muscle last Saturday.
** The Hawkeyes could get a big boost this weekend with the potential return of two key defensive players. Starting defensive tackle Jared Clauss and starting LB Grant Steen could both return this Saturday. Both were out last week versus Purdue. Clauss leads the Iowa defensive lineman in tackles while Steen is fifth on the team overall in tackles. Those two being out of last week’s game versus Purdue really hurt Iowa’s rush defense, which came in giving up an average of just 72 YPG. The Boilers rushed for 154 yards. Their return will be needed against a Minnesota team that averages over 300 YPG on the ground, which is good for first in the country.
** The Gophers had been lambasted for their weak schedule all the way up to last week’s win over Wisconsin. Going into that game, Minny had beaten ONE team with a winning record this year and that was Tulsa who is now 6-4. The Gophers four Big Ten wins before last week had come against teams with a combined 2-19 conference record. The only two decent Big Ten teams they had played up until the Badgers were Michigan and Michigan State. Both of those schools beat the Gophs in the Metrodome. Something else to keep in mind for this weekend’s game, Minnesota has not had a bye week this year. This Saturday will be their 12th consecutive week with a game. The Gophers bye actually is next week, which really does them no good since the rest of the Big Ten teams finish their schedule.