Big Ten week 8 football previews
No. 13 Michigan (6-1, 4-0) at No. 12 Purdue (5-1, 2-1)
2:30 p.m. CDT – ABC
Daily Line: Purdue minus 4.5
Michigan player to watch: Running back Michael Hart had a career game last week rushing for 234 yards against Illinois. He won’t find the ground game as easy this week against a Purdue defense that ranks in the top 10 nationally.
Purdue player to watch: Quarterback Kyle Orton was held to “mere mortal” numbers for a second straight week in the Boilermakers’ loss to Wisconsin. He will have to return to early-season form against a solid Michigan defense.
The inside scoop: The Boilermakers were three minutes away from being undefeated on the season until the costly fumble against the Badgers last week. Will Purdue be able to bounce back against a strong Wolverines team? Michigan has been playing dominant football since its scare against San Diego State, running off four straight conference wins. The Wolverines can attribute much of their success to a solid defense, but they have been suspect against the pass, only ranking near the middle of the pack. Purdue receiver Taylor Stubblefield will be called on to have a big game against the Michigan secondary, and if he is able to find man-on-man coverage, Orton could get healthy in a hurry.
Michigan will win if: it is able to run the ball. Hart is averaging more than 100 yards a game, and any success he has will take pressure off of quarterback Chad Henne.
Purdue will win if : Orton and the rest of the offense return to early-season form. The Boilers will also have to find an answer for the Wolverines freshman phenom running back.
The pick: Michigan 24, Purdue 21
Northwestern (3-3, 2-1) at No. 6 Wisconsin (7-0, 4-0)
11:00 a.m. CDT – ESPN
Daily Line: Wisconsin minus 12
Northwestern player to watch: Defensive End Loren Howard makes his 2004 debut after ankle surgery sidelined him for the first six games. He could make a major impact if he can draw double teams when rushing the passer, allowing other rushers to get free.
Wisconsin player to watch: Defensive lineman Anttaj Hawthorne is going to have to have a big game with Erasmus James out of the line-up for this game. Hawthorne and the rest of the Badgers front line have been one of the best units in the NCAA and will need to have another big game to stay in the BCS hunt.
The inside scoop: Many experts had Wisconsin as a darkhorse for the Big Ten title, but now it appears to be the team to beat. Running back Anthony Davis moved into ninth place in career rushing yards in the Big Ten. Look for Davis to have a big day against a Northwestern run defense ranked near the middle of the conference. The Wildcats are rested and healthy coming off a bye week and will look to continue moving the ball with quarterback Brett Basanez. He ranks 10th in the nation in total offense and his favorite target, receiver Mark Philmore, is averaging 11.8 yards a catch, despite only reaching the end zone once.
Northwestern will win if: it can stuff Wisconsin's running game and make Stocco beat it with his arm. The Cats' potent offense will likely put some points on the board, and it will be difficult for Wisconsin's 105th-ranked passing offense to match it score-for-score if it’s not successful on the ground.
Wisconsin will win if : it continues playing the same style of suffocating defense. The Badgers rank in the top-10 in every major defensive category and will need to continue the trend against a surprising Northwestern offense.
The pick: Wisconsin 24, Northwestern 17
No. 25 Iowa (4-2, 2-1) at Penn State (2-4, 0-3)
12:00 p.m. EDT – ESPN2
Daily Line: Penn State minus 2.5
Iowa player to watch: Quarterback Drew Tate is coming off of another 300-yard game after leading the Hawkeyes over Ohio State last week. With the problems at running back continuing for Iowa, he will be the focal point for the offense.
Penn State player to watch: Quarterback Michael Robinson. He's back in the lineup after being knocked out of the Wisconsin game with a severe concussion. Joe Paterno, however, won't say where Robinson will be playing (quarterback, wide receiver, or running back).
The inside scoop: Since the beginning of the conference schedule, the Nittany Lions have only rushed for 36.3 yards a game with no touchdowns. This will be bad news for Penn State, facing the No. 5 rushing defense in the country this week. Hawkeye linebackers Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway have both averaged more than nine tackles a game while defensive lineman Jason Babineaux leads the conference in tackles for loss. The Hawkeyes have more concern on the offensive line, where they lead the league in the unenviable statistic of sacks allowed.
Iowa will win if: Tate continues playing the way he has the past couple of games. If Iowa can get up early on Penn State like it did last week against Ohio State, this game could be over in a hurry.
Penn State will win if : It plays with the intensity is showed against Purdue. The Lions need to score early (for once) and get some confidence. If they do that, it could be a long afternoon for the Hawkeyes.
The pick: Iowa 28, Penn State 17
Indiana (2-4, 0-3) at Ohio State (3-3, 0-3)
12:00 p.m. EDT – ESPN Plus
Daily Line: Ohio State minus 14
Indiana player to watch: Quarterback Matt LoVecchio will need to carry the offense for the Hoosiers. Head coach Gerry DiNardo has realized that the ground game is not going to be where he wants it due to numerous injuries on the offensive line, so LoVecchio will have to shoulder the burden.
Ohio State player to watch: Quarterback Troy Smith may get the start for the Buckeyes this week after Justin Zwick injured his shoulder in the loss against Iowa last week.
The inside scoop: If you like offense, this might not be the game for you. The Buckeyes rank near the bottom of the conference in every major statistical category, and with questions at both quarterback and running back, things are not looking much better going into this week. Things are not much better for the Hoosiers, who have given up 147 points in their last four games, and have struggled to move the ball on the ground with running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who is averaging 3.2 yards a carry.
Indiana will win if: Ohio State can not move the ball. In a comparison of depth and talent, this game would be a blowout for the Buckeyes, but OSU has proven it can’t move the ball on anybody. That could be just enough for the Hoosiers to pull the shocker in Columbus.
Ohio State will win if : its offense shows up. The Buckeye offense has been downright awful this season. Couple with that an uncharacteristically average defense for Ohio State, and that spells a three-game losing streak. If the Buckeye offense can not put points on the board, the defense will not be able to save the day.
The pick: Ohio State 16, Indiana 10
Illinois (2-5, 0-4) at Minnesota (5-2, 2-2)
1:00 p.m. CDT – No TV
Daily Line: Minnesota minus 18
Illinois player to watch: Linebacker Mike Gawelek had 16 tackles against Michigan and will be busy in trying to stop the Minnesota running game.
Minnesota player to watch: Running back Marion Barber III has been held under 100 yards for the past four games and only gained 36 yards against the Michigan State defense.
The inside scoop: The Illini quarterback situation is still up in the air with Jon Beutjer and Chris Pazan gunning for playing time. Running back E.B. Halsey may return to the starting lineup to replace Pierre Thomas. The Minnesota offense has gained more than 300 yards in 24 straight games dating back to the 2002 season. If the Gophers running game is going to get back on track, this would appear to be the game for it to happen. The Illini rush defense is last in the conference, allowing more than 200 yards a game.
Illinois will win if: it catches the Gophers still reeling from their past two losses. The Illini just don’t have the horses to keep up with Minnesota if the Gophers get back in gear, but if Minnesota comes out flat and lets the Illini stick around, Minnesota could be looking at a three-game losing streak.
Minnesota will win if : it can put the past two games in the rearview mirror and focus on running the ball. The Minnesota offense is scary when it is clicking, and this might be the game it needs to regain confidence and make a late-season push.
The pick: Minnesota 31, Illinois 14
Bye Week: Michigan State
Last week: 1-3 Overall: 37-15