I had a chance to hear Pat Fitzgerald on WGN radio this morning for his weekly interview with Dave Eanet. One concern is the weather for tomorrow’s game as it looks like potential snow moving through the Happy Valley area in the morning but it will hopefully be done by noon time according to the self proclaimed “weather watcher” Fitz. He also discussed Doug Bartels being out for a couple of weeks with a shoulder injury.
Separately, Dan Persa continues to enjoy some big time pub as Teddy Greenstein continues on the Persa-returns-to-show-up-the-team-that-spurned-him angle with this doozy of a piece that implies Penn State was not exactly straight up with Dan in high school according to Dan Persa Sr. More noteworthy though is Teddy’s assessment that Persa is the leading candidate to win the Big Ten’s MVP award – the Chicago Tribune Silver Football. Check it out here.
On to some fearless Friday predictions. We’ll start with the ‘Cats.
Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) @ Penn State (5-3, 2-2) – 3:30 pm et/2:30 pm ct- ABC/ESPN2
By now you know the stats, the storyline and the stakes. In general, I really like the match-ups of strengths and weaknesses here. The Penn State OL has been a soft spot andn our DL has really stepped up in recent weeks, in particular on stuffing the run. Converesly, their DL has been dinged up and not been able to get a lot of pressure on QBs and we’ve got some good speed advantages over their middle of the back-7 (when was the last time you heard that). I still believe we’ll need some old school takeaways in this one to really give us a boost and hopefully we can come out early to keep the crowd somewhat subdued. Happy Valley is the type of place that can turn to Death Valley once momentum and the crowd kick it in. Buckle-up for a white knuckler – AGAIN – but this time I think we come out on top. As mentioned, I believe this is a program pivot game and a “must” for us to get to 8 wins for the 3rd consecutive year.
Northwestern 23 Penn State 21
Iowa (6-2, 3-1) @ Indiana (4-4, 0-4) 12 pm et – BTN
This one has blowout written all over it. The Hawkeyes are flying high after crushing then #5 Michigan State 37-6 keeping their Big Ten title hopes very much alive. Their defense is stout as usual and they’re giving up just 14 ppg. They’re clicking on offense as both Iowa and Indiana’s offenses resemble each other with one major difference – the Hawkeyes have a formidable ground game with Adam Robinson. The Hoosiers have struggled converting yards in to points against Ohio State, Illinois and Northwestern so there is no reason to believe they break precedent here. I expect Iowa to be blitzing with authority and blowing Indiana out setting up yet another chance for Northwestern to ruin Iowa’s Big Ten title hopes again next week in Evanston.
Iowa 41 Indiana 17
Minnesota (1-8, 0-5) @ #16 Michigan State (8-1, 5-1)
Last week we saw what Iowa plays like when they’re mad and this week we’ll get to see how Sparty looks when they have red in their eyes. Granted, Minnesota as an opponent does not exactly provide a true test for this theory, but no ‘Cat fan can condemn a team that took a Cardiac ‘Cat comeback to beat. The “same old Spartans” theorists will be keeping a close eye on this one expecting the unexpected but I’m banking on the bounce back in front of the home crowd.
Michigan State 34 Minnesota 17
Illinois (5-3, 3-2) @ Michigan (5-3, 1-3) – 12 pm et – ESPN
Amazing how two teams with the exact same overall record can have such distinctly different perceptions. The Illini are being lauded as the surprise and potentially most dangerous team in November as they’ve shored-up their “D” and are playing with an intensity not seen in the Zook era. Meanwhile, the hot seat is burning in Ann Arbor as RichRod is again commanding a ship that started 5-0 and may not become bowl eligible despite 4 games left to play. This game is HUGE for his tenure at Michigan as he hasn’t had many chances to get bowl eligible, especially at home. Add to the fact the NCAA just added a year of probation to Michigan’s self-imposed two years and while you can see here this isn’t actually that the announcement isn’t that big of a deal, it adds to the PR challenges for the very image-conscience school. This is the game outside of NU that I’m most intrigued to watch. Shoelace against a solid Illini D that has already proven it can contain an Ohio State offense. Freshman Nathan Scheelhaase is playing like a veteran and I expect a huge day out of him as Michigan has become the laughingstock of Big Ten defenses. I think it’s close, but the Illini take control early and never relinquish the lead.
Illinois 34 Michigan 26
#7 Wisconsin (7-1, 3-1) @ Purdue (4-4, 2-2) – 12 pm et – Big Ten Network
The Badgers are approaching rare air under Bielema. Just a few weeks removed from trying to shed the “can’t beat ranked teams” stats, Wisconsin promptly beat #1 Ohio State and then top-15 Iowa in back-to-back weeks. Objective observers might say the Badgers and Sparty have the easiest road to the Big Ten title and a Scotch-taped Purdue team shouldn’t be a problem for this Wisconsin team. The Boilers are again dealing with QB injuries and are even further down the depth chart than when they came to town and upset NU. However, Wisconsin just has too much offensive firepower and too good of a defense to let this one get away. The Badgers are the highest they’ve been ranked since they were #5 back in 2007 and have a 4-game winning streak over Purdue. Get this, they’ve outscored Purdue the past two seasons 61-3.
Wisconsin 34 Purdue 16
Hoop-La – ‘Cats Win Exhibition Opener 91-71
NU started very slowly but Drew Crawford and John Shurna paced the way with 16 and 19 points respectively. Click here for the NUsports.com recap. The ‘Cats open up the regular season one week from today against Northern Illinois, a team I which we had in place of the FCS game every year on the football schedule.