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NITTANY NOTES: Ineligible Edition of Around the Big Ten


February 19. 2013 1:41PM
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Penn State and Ohio State are a combined 7-0 in Big Ten play. The rest of the league is 13-20. Not the best of branding for the a conference trying to regain a foothold on the national scene.

But despite the fact that neither of these teams can help out the Big Ten during bowl season, the buzz hasn't been diminished for this one. Especially not in State College, where a record 1,200 students are camping out at Beaver Stadium for the game.

I was on campus in 2005 when the phenomenon really took off leading up to that famous game against Ohio State. That people still around up there are comparing the energy this week to that situation is pretty impressive.

Lions-Buckeyes isn't the only big game this weekend, though. Here's a look.

—derek

 

WEEK 9


IOWA (4-3, 2-1 Big Ten)
 at NORTHWESTERN (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten)

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Noon, Saturday

Ryan Field,
Evanston, Ill.

 

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LINE: NU by 6. The Hawkeyes are still looking for the number of that truck that hit them on Saturday. They went into that one fully expecting an altogether different Penn State team than the one they had dominated in recent years, but they weren't ready for *that* exactly. Iowa's biggest problem headed into this second half of the season is not the typical spate of crippling injuries at running back, but the mediocre play of senior quarterback James Vandenberg. This was a guy who a few years back nearly beat a very good Ohio State team while filling in for an injured Ricky Stanzi. Some 20 starts later, the guy just looks lost. He has three touchdowns and five interceptions through seven games, and when Iowa has needed him the most, he had come up woefully short. But Kirk Ferentz was adamant that he was sticking with Vandenberg, who should have an easier time against Northwestern's inviting secondary. It was that poor pass defense that helped allow Nebraska back into last week's game, sending the Wildcats to yet another come-from-ahead loss. It's a serious concern for the Cats, who are fighting to regain some identity on offense. It won't help things if Venric Mark, who ripped off an 80-yard touchdown run against the Huskers, keeps getting banged up and the merry-go-round continues between Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter. The loser of this one gets their Big Ten title hopes put on life support. There's certainly not much keeping Iowa's offense alive right now, and the Hawkeyes aren't going to be able to score enough to keep up with the Wildcats in this one.

INDIANA (2-5, 0-3 Big Ten)
at ILLINOIS (2-5, 0-3 Big Ten)

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Noon, Saturday

Memorial Stadium,
Champaign, Ill.

 

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LINE: UIUC by 2. Oh, c'mon. Do I have to?

MICHIGAN STATE (4-4, 1-3 Big Ten)
at No. 25 WISCONSIN (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten)

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/

 

3:30 p.m., Saturday

Camp Randall Stadium,
Madison, Wis.

 

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LINE: UW by 6. Yeah, I guess that's better. Thought for sure I had that Michigan State over Michigan pick nailed last week with how well the Spartans defense was continuing to play. Sparty didn't allow a touchdown to archrival Michigan. And still lost. We can now safely say that Michigan State is one of the biggest disappointments in the entire country, already well out of the picture to return to Indianapolis for a second straight season. So the Spartans will have to settle for another crack at the Badgers, who edged them out in that inaugural Big Ten title game. Wisconsin is now pretty safely out of that most disappointing category, even rising up into the BCS top 25. But while the Badgers are all but guaranteed to be back in the title game themselves, they have the hardest games on the schedule still yet to come. That still includes this game, as the Spartans are going to be a tough out regardless of what their record is. Wisconsin also has meetings with Ohio State and Penn State mixed into what will be a difficult November. One thing the Badgers have done very well is shutting down the run, and Le'Veon Bell is pretty much the only thing Michigan State has going for it on offense right now. Only Penn State and, yes, Michigan State have been more stubborn against the run in the Big Ten. Spartans quarterback Andrew Maxwell holds a narrow lead in passing yards over Matt McGloin for the Big Ten lead, though Maxwell has played an extra game. Those yards haven't turned into points, however, and the team's frustration feels about ready to boil over as the defense starts to resent the offense's lack of production. Especially after last week. That's not a good sign, especially headed into a place like Camp Randall, which won't be forgiving. It's another loss looming for the Spartans as the spiral continues.

PURDUE (3-4, 0-3 Big Ten)
at MINNESOTA (4-3, 0-3 Big Ten)

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3:30 p.m., Saturday

TCF Bank Stadium,
Minneapolis, Minn.

   
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LINE: PU by 3.5. I guess this would be a good time to start preparing that eulogy for the Danny Hope Era. Man, even typing out that phrase is depressing. The Boilermakers were 47 seconds away from a huge victory, one that theoretically would have put them back in the running to emerge out of the Leaders Division because of Wisconsin's rockier schedule. Instead, the Boilers just threw away the golden opportunity, as has been their M.O. in recent years. Purdue's entire upstart season was supposed to be built on a veteran defense that would close out tight games. But despite some excellent individual talents, the unit as a whole remains underwhelming. That's how a backup named Kenny Guiton drives from behind midfield in less than a minute and throws a soul-crushing touchdown and a 2-point conversion with three seconds to spare. From there, it was a foregone conclusion that Ohio State would win in overtime. Where the Boilers go from here is anyone's guess. Could they actually miss the postseason? The good news for them is that they will (likely) be favored in three of the remaining five games, including this one. Win here and matchups against Illinois and Indiana are also out there for the taking. The Gophers, despite entering last week at 4-2, weren't headed anywhere this season. And Jerry Kill recognized it. That's why he made the decision to start freshman Philip Nelson at quarterback with MarQueis Gray still beat up and backup Max Shortell still, well, kinda awful. Gray is going to play receiver full-time when healthy and Minnesota is going to try to build for the future with Nelson. If the Gophers want to go bowling themselves, this is one they're probably going to have to win. Right now, neither of those things seems likely as Purdue is set to get back on track this week.

OHIO STATE (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten)
at PENN STATE (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten)

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5:30 p.m., Saturday

Beaver Stadium,
State College
  

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LINE: PICK 'EM. Full breakdown tomorrow. I'm still a little stunned that Braxton Miller is apparently totally fine. I missed the tackle that hurt him when it happened live, but when I finally saw the video, my first thought was that he broke his collarbone when he was driven into that turf at the Horseshoe. I mean, the guy just looked to be racked with pain, unable to get off the field on his own, needing a cart to the locker room before getting an ride in an ambulance. That it was (only?) a case of whiplash and a sore neck was surprising, to say the least. As Urban Meyer explained it, Miller had never had anything resembling a serious injury before and was mostly shaken up from being in an unfamiliar situation. So, the sophomore star hasn't missed so much as a practice and will be full-go for Saturday. Miller, more than any other individual on the field, will end up deciding this one. Miller is what Terrelle Pryor was supposed to be and without the drama and attitude issues to boot. Bill O'Brien has all but conceded that Miller will break off some big plays against Ted Roof's improving defense, and the coach said the key is to not get thrown out of the game mentally when it inevitably happens. As always, the best way to keep a star player in check is to not let him have the ball. Penn State has run a jaw-dropping 189 plays on offense in the last two weeks. It's just about impossible for the opposing offense to get into rhythm when that happens. Penn State will try to keep its backs and tight ends involved heavily in the passing game to put as much pressure as possible on a depleted group of Buckeyes linebackers. Ohio State is stunningly ranked 105th in pass defense and it will be up to O'Brien and his staff to find the softest spots to exploit.

No. 22 MICHIGAN (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten)
at NEBRASKA (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten)

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8 p.m., Saturday

Memorial Stadium,
Lincoln, Neb.

 

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LINE: UNL by 2.5. Yes, two of them are ineligible for the postseason and a third is still on probation, but the Big Ten's four flagship programs have risen to the top before Halloween. While the two traditional college powers battle it out in the Leaders Division, Michigan and Nebraska meet with control of the Legends Division on the line. The Wolverines can take the inside track to Indianapolis with a win in Lincoln. Easier said than done. Michigan won last week despite scoring just 12 points, as if a bigger sign was needed that Michigan has fully divorced itself from the RichRod regime. But given that the Wolverines had managed the unthinkable -- losing four straight times to Michigan State coming into the year -- they were happy to take the win any way they could get it. Nebraksa also rallied, but in more impressive fashion, erasing a two-score deficit on the road at Northwestern. Taylor Martinez had one of the best passing days of his career and is evolving into a, dare we say it, perfectly competent passer. Martinez actually leads the Big Ten in passer efficiency, a full 30 points ahead of Matt McGloin and Braxton Miller. Not too shabby. More concerning is the continuing knee issues for I-back Rex Burkhead. But Martinez and Ameer Abdullah running the ball should be enough to give the Wolverines problems. The home field advantage here should be significant under the lights in Lincoln, and it should lead to a Huskers win. A double-digit margin would not be shocking in these circumstances.

INDIANA (2-5, 0-3 Big Ten)
at ILLINOIS (2-5, 0-3 Big Ten)

AWAY DETAILS HOME
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Noon, Saturday

Memorial Stadium,
Champaign, Ill.

 

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LINE: UIUC by 2. OK, OK, OK. I'll do it. Just needed to get over the initial nausea. Can't hold that against me. But I mean, you're not actually going to watch this, are you? Just when you give Indiana a pat on the back for scoring seven touchdowns against Ohio State, the Hoosiers go and do something like give up 31 points to Navy and lose. Insult to injury -- the Mids won the game on a rare passing touchdown with their newly installed freshman quarterback. The loss dropped Kevin Wilson to a shockingly awful 1-16 mark as a head coach against FBS teams. The one win came this year against UMass, which just this season moved up from the FCS ranks. This is pretty much the only scenario where Illinois could be favored against another Big Ten team. And the narrow line even suggests that the Illini would be an underdog to Indiana on a neutral field. Wilson, at least, has a pedigree as a talented architect of offenses throughout his career, and the Hoosiers rank a very respectable 35th in the country in scoring and 25th in total offense despite misisng their starting quarterback and rotating between two backups. There has been no silver lining for Tim Beckman and Illinois. If it is indeed possible for players to tune out a first-year coach before November, Illinois has found away. The Illini have simply laid down in the middle of games. Their five losses have come by an average of 30 points. Thirty points! I can't imagine the off week did much good for them after suffering a particularly humiliating 45-0 loss at the Big House two weeks ago. All that being said, I simply can't pick Indiana to win a road game against a legitimate FBS opponent, no matter how gutless that team has looked. Can't do it. This may be the only league game Illinois wins all year.



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