It’s a thin week for games in the Big Ten, with only six teams in action. There are two conference games which promise to be classics or near-classics and two non-conference games which won’t be. The teams that are off this week will work on offensive incompetence (Michigan State), defensive incompetence (Indiana, Nebraska), general malaise (Michigan, Penn State), or getting ready for their closeup (Northwestern). But enough about them.
Fake Miami at Illinois
Fake Miami is Miami of Ohio, which predates the University of Miami by many years but is not the Miami people think of when they think of college football. That’s what you get when you start your season by being outscored 107-21. You get more of it when the three teams you’ve faced are Marshall, Kentucky, and Cincinnati. You’ll get even more of it after this game as the Illini continue to awaken from their decade-long nightmare.
Pick: Illinois 34, Fake Miami 10
Iowa at Minnesota
This isn’t the Big Ten game everyone is looking forward to this weekend. Don’t overlook it though, as both these teams come into this game above .750 for the first time since the Precambrian Era.
There is a little doubt as to whether Minnesota will have quarterback Philip Nelson back for this game. If he can’t go, the more mobile but less aerial Mitch Leidner will fill in. Iowa appears to be at nearly full strength, which is a miracle for a school that usually has lost three or four running backs by now.
Let’s not kid ourselves, the Gophers and Hawkeyes are largely the same team, built on downhill running, tough defense, opportunistic special teams, and little to no passing unless it’s absolutely necessary. Throw in the potential for rain in Minneapolis on Saturday and you can anticipate a throwback sort of game.
I have more confidence in Iowa’s ability to win this game since the Hawks have been pushed a bit harder than the Gophers have. Don’t take that to mean I think Iowa can’t lose. I just don’t think they will.
Pick: Iowa 24, Minnesota 23
Northern Illinois at Purdue
Northern Illinois is 3-0. Purdue is 1-3. You’d think that makes this an easy pick, but it doesn’t. The Boilermakers haven’t played quite as poorly as their record indicates, though they are far from a competent football team right now. NIU’s three victories are by a combined 17 points, and I’d take Iowa in a rematch played today. Thus, don’t assume this game will be a blowout win for the Huskies. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Purdue will take this one. NIU just doesn’t have that great of a defense, and the Boilermakers seem due for a good day on offense.
Pick: Purdue 37, Northern Illinois 31
Wisconsin at Ohio State
There is such a thing as getting too much respect for your past accomplishments. That’s where Wisconsin is right now. The Badgers are good, mind you, but the level of respect they’re getting for winning the Big Ten three years in a row is not commensurate with the circumstances surrounding those championships. The win in 2010 was fully legitimate as Wisconsin utterly crushed Ohio State. The 2011 title was the year Ohio State wasn’t any good at all, and 2012 was the year the Buckeyes were ineligible, so was Penn State (which still is ineligible) and the rest of the Leaders Division was soggy cornflakes. Yeah, Wisconsin beat the garbage out of Nebraska in Indianapolis, but pantsing Bo Pelini in a big game really isn’t that hard to do.
So you’ll pardon me if I’m not seeing all the drama and tension everyone else sees in this game. Even if the Badgers hadn’t gotten jobbed in the desert I’d still think OSU was the better team by a considerable margin. Wisconsin’s running backs will have a good day, because they are going to have good days against everybody. However, OSU is just too fast and too deep for the Badgers to avoid getting worn down. This one really won’t be all that close — but it will be the last time the Badgers lose this regular season.
The pick: Ohio State 34, Wisconsin 21
Follow Mark on Twitter (@MarkHasty) or drop him an email: pickbigten(at)gmail(dot)com.
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