Ah, so we leave the bye week and get back to work. Northwestern had its time off and had the chance to reset the battery some. Nick VanHoose should be back. Quinn Evans should be back. And the Wildcats should be ready for the stretch run.
November will be a critical month for Northwestern as it always seems to be. Last year, the Wildcats needed a strong November just to get to bowl eligibility. For much of the last five years though, Pat Fitzgerald has used strong Novembers to help Jim Phillips out and get Northwestern to better and better bowl games. It seems that every year the Wildcats are able to jump over a team with a better record in the bowl pecking order.
This week’s matchup at Michigan is all about bowl pecking order. The winner has the inside track at the Capital One Bowl (it would seem) and an outside chance at the Big Ten Championship Game. The loser… the loser still has bowl positioning to fight for but mostly internal motivation to play and to win.
For Northwestern, in other words, a win would be very very good. It would mean a win at The Big House, something that still holds a bit of cache, and a big statement to the bowl representatives. That is something Northwestern wants to do. And, selfishly, I want to see them come to my and Trevor Siemian’s hometown in Orlando (sorry Brett, I know you want to see them out in Tempe).
You don’t get there unless you win though.
So on to the picks. Last week, LTP was stuck in bed on lots of pain pills. So he might have been the real winner. Without him, I went 5-0 last week, to bring my overall record to 62-17 (.784). LTP is at 54-20 (.730). How will things shake out this week? On to the picks…
Wisconsin (6-3, 2-2) vs. Indiana (4-5, 2-3) — 11 a.m. CT/ESPN2
PRR: If I had told you back in August that this game would determine the Big Ten’s Leaders Division champion, you would have probably thought Wisconsin would have it wrapped up by now. I would have said, you are probably right. But the Badgers inability to get the offense going until a few weeks ago has muddied things up in the division. Wisconsin is not quite the team everyone thought it would be. The Badgers however are back to their scoring and running ways despite the quarterback questions. Wisconsin had a string of four out of five games with 30 points before losing at Michigan State in overtime two weeks ago. Indiana will turn this game into a shootout, but Wisconsin can play that game and win it.
Wisconsin 34, Indiana 27
LTP: Wisconsin clinches the Leaders Division slot in Indianapolis with a win. I’ve found myself becoming a Hoosier fan since we played them and I’m going to go against the grain and pick with my heart as the Hoosiers can still make it to Indy with a win over Wisconsin and winning out. Yes, it would make a mockery of the B1G this year, but so what.
Indiana 30 Wisconsin 28
Purdue (3-6, 0-5) vs. Iowa (4-5, 2-3) — 11 a.m. CT/BTN
PRR: The Boilermakers have fallen off the map and have failed to win a Big Ten game yet. The Hawkeyes too are a team that seems a bit lost and unable to find the punch it needs to win. I cannot make heads or tails about either of these teams right now. I don’t think I want to attempt to. The Boilermakers are not playing with any confidence. Maybe though, Ricky Stanzi’s inconsistency might be enough for Purdue to squeak through. But I have no clue.
Purdue 24, Iowa 21
LTP: Two weak teams heading in the wrong direction. I’m going with Iowa in the delusional hope they can gain momentum and knock off Nebraska in a few weeks.
Iowa 27 Purdue 17
Penn State (6-3, 4-1) vs. No. 17 Nebraska (7-2, 4-1) — 2:30 p.m. CT/ABC
PRR: This should be a very intriguing matchup. Perhaps even including Ohio State, no team is playing as well in the conference as Nebraska. Taylor Martinez has things rolling and seems to be fulfilling his promise from earlier in his career. With a nice group of backs and contributions from Rex Burkehead and Ameer Abdullah, the Cornhuskers offense is splendidly balanced. Now, add in the sort of magic that Nebraska has conjured up in the wins over Northwestern and Michigan State and this team has that sense of destiny about them. Certainly much more than Penn State has despite the strong play from the Nittany Lions.
Nebraska 31, Penn State 24
LTP: We all know what needs to happen if we want to keep our slim hopes of winning the division alive. It starts with a win in the Big House and then continues with Penn State beating Nebraska to get us one of the two more losses we’d need the Huskers to suffer. I don’t think the Nittany Lions have the firepower to stick with this dangerous offense, but it won’t prevent me from rooting with self interest.
Penn State 34 Nebraska 30
Minnesota (5-4, 1-4) vs. Illinois (2-7, 0-5)
PRR: The Golden Gophers and Illini got crushed last week in their respective games against the Wolverines and the Buckeyes. No doubt, that was not what either planned. And this season has quickly deteriorated into a grave disappointment for both. Minnesota though still has a show at bowl eligibility and the pressure to win that one game will increase as the season goes on and deliver Jerry Kill to a bowl game. The Illini and Tim Beckman should feel that pressure too to get the first Big Ten win. If they do it, it will have to be at home. This might be the last chance. With everything Illinois is fighting through, eventually the team will get something going. Who knows when that will be. I give them this week out of pity.
Illinois 21, Minnesota 17
LTP: Minnesota has quietly put together a successful second season under Jerry Kill, by Minnesota standards anyways. The Gophers are playing for a bowl game while the Illini are fighting to save face. The Gophers new QB seems to be getting his promising future started now and the Illini have exhibited all season long how little offense they have. I like the Gophers in this one.
Minnesota 27 Illinois 13
No. 24 Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) vs. Michigan (6-3, 4-1) — 11 a.m. CT/ESPN
PRR: This game just feels weird. Northwestern and Michigan have not quite established clear identities. The Wolverines have relied so heavily on Denard Robinson that it is weird to see them playing against a quality defense and succeeding without him. He is that much of a weapon. Devin Gardner is not someone Northwestern should overlook. For the Wildcats, the team is seeking its identity with Kain Colter as the quarterback after that two quarterback experiment in the mid season. Northwestern does well late in the season and I think the bye week came at the perfect time to help the secondary recoup a bit and to get this team to settle down. The Wildcats need a big upset win to add to their bowl resume.
Northwestern 21, Michigan 20
LTP: Somehow this game is lacking the big game buzz I feel it should have. I’m tired of being underdogs based on program perception and a BCS ranked Wildcat team is a 9.5 dog in Ann Arbor against the unranked Wolverines. Michigan has been one dimensional on offense as it has been the Denard Robinson rushing show this season. The defense has bailed them out all season long, but Denard’s health is a major question mark for this game. Meanwhile, Kain Colter helped NU define its identity last week as NU again played a stellar three quarters. They’ll need all four to beat Michigan as I expect a defensive blueprint that mirrors Penn State and Nebraska. Colter will have to complete some passes to open things up and I’m confident he can do it. The ‘Cats get that signature win they so badly need.
Northwestern 23 Michigan 17
And Jack Marshall’s pick…
That says Northwestern 28, Michigan 24. Jack always has our back!
Other Games to Watch
Syracuse (4-5) hosts No. 11 Louisville at 11 a.m. CT on ABC. Syracuse lost to Cincinnati 35-24 last week giving up 21 points in the second half and 14 unanswered after taking a 24-21 lead in the third quarter. Ryan Nassib continues to tear it up for Syracuse, passing for 286 yards and a touchdown last Saturday. That could be key as Nassib keeps his team in any game. Particularly in the Carrier Dome, where the undefeated Cardinals travel this week.
Vanderbilt (5-4) travels to Mississippi at 6 p.m. CT on ESPNU. The Commodores got a 40-0 win over Kentucky last week to get one win closer to bowl eligibility. Vanderbilt has turned things around after a rough start to the season, including that NU loss. Ole Miss is not an easy team to play but the opportunity is out there for Vanderbilt to do it this week.
Boston College (2-7) hosts No. 4 Notre Dame at 7 p.m. CT on ABC. Boston College lost 28-14 to Wake Forest last week to continue its disappointing season. Does anyone have any hope of the Eagles upsetting the Irish?
South Dakota (1-8) hosts Northern Iowa at 12 p.m. CT. South Dakota lost to Youngstown State last week 13-10, giving up 203 rushing yards to Jamaine Cook of YSU.
Looking Ahead to 2013
California (3-7) hosts No. 2 Oregon at 9:30 p.m. CT on ESPN. California lost last Friday to Washington 21-13. The Golden Bears got 160 rushing yards from running back C.J. Anderson.
Western Michigan (4-6) travels to Buffalo at 2:30 p.m. CT. The Broncos defeated Central Michigan 42-31 behind Tyler van Tubbergen’s 362 yards passing and four touchdowns.
Maine (3-6) hosts Georgia State at 1 p.m. CT. James Madison defeated Maine 31-7 last week.