Big Ten Races
INTERESTING RACES IN BOTH LEGENDS AND LEADERS DIVISION IN BIG 10
The Big Ten has been in the headlines for some very wrong reasons this year. From the unbelievable to the unspeakable. Without in any way diminishing the importance of transgressions, today does give us a chance to look forward to some potentially very exciting finishes in both the Leaders and the Legends divisions of this marquee conference. Handicap the football...then don't forget about the non-football stuff as justice takes its course.
Both the Leaders and Legends divisions of the Big Ten are still up for grabs with only two games left in the regular season. Remember, there is now a championship game in this conference that will be played on Championship Weekend about nine days after Thanksgiving. We still don't know who will be representing the two divisions in that big game...let alone who will be representing the conference in the Rose Bowl come New Year's.
Let's take a look at the standings...then we'll crunch the numbers as promised in games that have the largest bearing on the races.
BIG TEN LEADERS
Penn State 5-1
Ohio State 3-3
Penn State controls its own destiny in football terms, but is obviously very much out of control of its destiny in human terms at the moment. You have to assume the pall over the state will take a toll in this team as they close the 2011 campaign against two tough opponents. Today they visit Ohio State. Next week, they're on the road at Wisconsin facing the team that many computers say is best in the Big Ten even if the standings don't currently agree.
The most likely scenario is that Penn State-Wisconsin next week determines the Leaders champion. Things get a little tricky if Wisconsin is upset by Illinois today in a game we'll be previewing in a moment. The Badgers are a 14-point favorite though...suggesting that it will come down to the top two teams you see listed. Even if Penn State loses to Ohio State, a win over Wisconsin would put the Nittany Lions in the championship game (scheduled for the Indianapolis Colts home field this year on 12/3).
BIG TEN LEGENDS
Michigan State 5-1
Michigan State holds a one-game lead on the field and will be favored to win out against Indiana and Northwestern. It's impossible to pencil in a win at Northwestern though...as many Big Ten power have learned over the years. Nebraska couldn't pencil in a win at home over Northwestern as 17-point favorites! That means Michigan State still has some work to do. Nebraska can catch them from behind by knocking off Michigan today and then beating disappointing Iowa next week. Nebraska owns a heads-up win over Michigan State, which would give them the tie-breaker if both teams finish 6-2. Michigan doesn't have that tie-breaker edge...which means they would need the Spartans to lose to Indiana today as 28-point home favorites to have a shot.
Given projected pointspreads next week, we're probably looking at a Wisconsin-Michigan State rematch in the title tilt. You'll recall that Michigan State beat Wisconsin on a Hail Mary at the buzzer in their first meeting. It's probably fitting that those two teams go at it again given how this season has played out.
Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves though. November football is rarely as simple as it seems...
GAMES THAT MATTER IN THE LEADERS DIVISION
Penn State at Ohio State
Wisconsin at Illinois
GAMES THAT MATTER IN THE LEGENDS DIVISION
Nebraska at Michigan
We've compiled the stat rankings for you, and the strength of schedule rankings from Jeff Sagarin's computer data at USA Today. Let's crunch those numbers in the order we just presented.
Penn State: 89th on offense, 8th on defense, vs. the 42nd ranked schedule
Ohio State: 108th on offense, 15th on defense, vs. the 38th ranked schedule
Very similar teams here in terms of great defenses and horrible offenses. Plus, we have very similar schedule strengths too...as these teams did give themselves a tough non-conference challenge (vs. Alabama and at Miami of Florida) in addition to some cakewalks. Ohio State's offense has been better than that ranking would suggest since they put in a the running quarterback and let him run! They would have defeated Nebraska at Nebraska if he hadn't gotten hurt in the second half. They did beat Wisconsin with him...though efforts the last two weeks vs. Indiana and Purdue have been substandard.
The best expectation is another Penn State grinder...with both teams struggling to move the ball consistently and find the end zone. JIM HURLEY is working closely with his sources to guage the Nittany Lions mindset heading into this game. If the burden of the last several days has been too much for them...then there will be run defense breakdowns that will allow Ohio State to pull away. Penn State just doesn't have an offense that can readily play catch up unless you hand them field position. If we get involved in this game on our client service, it will be because of information provided by our sources.
Wisconsin: 7th on offense, 5th on defense, vs. the 82nd ranked schedule
Illinois: 65th on offense, 9th on defense, vs. the 45th ranked schedule
You may be surprised that the Illinois defense grades out that well. We don't buy it either! Give them credit for being better than you realized, if not quite a true top 10 caliber defense. They've faced some shaky quarterbacks this year...but they surely won't be facing one today. Wisconsin has the most dominant stats in the Big Ten...and is generally rated #1 in the league in most respected Power Ratings that we see. The team certainly suffered bad luck with two last second TD passes against them. But, they still have a good chance to win out and return to the Rose Bowl anyway.
You regulars know we can't post our official selections here in the NOTEBOOK. We can say there's a good chance this game will show up in the mix...possibly in the TV Triple Crown. Our computer simulations spit out some very interesting things here!
Nebraska: 50th on offense, 37th on defense, vs. the 36th ranked schedule
Michigan: 40th on offense, 16th on defense, vs. the 39th ranked schedule
Brady Hoke turned out to be a nightmare for Rich Rodriguez...as the new coach came in and showed just how bad the old coach has been! Michigan went from having a laughingstock defense to ranking in the top 20 in a finger snap! Yes, the stat rankings are being influenced some by poor quarterback lay in the Big 10. But...you can see with your own eyes in the TV games that they're much better than they used to be. In fact, the numbers above suggest they have a better defense than Nebraska because the teams have played such evenly matched schedules.
This has the potential to be the most exciting Big Ten game of the day. Both quarterbacks can make plays with their legs. Both can complete long passes if you worry too much about their legs. Both defenses are getting the job done as a general rule. Both teams will probably put up good showings in bowl games this year too, given that Michigan State has the inside path to the prime spot from this division. We strongly suggest you watch this game because it will influence your picks next week in Ohio State-Michigan and Iowa-Nebraska, as well as a couple of marquee bowls.
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Back with you tomorrow to talk about the NFL. Another SUPER SATURDAY is moments from getting started. GO FOR THE GOLD WITH JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!
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