Okay, so maybe the last few weeks haven't been all that exciting. There are some interesting games this weekend that will hopefully take some of the bad taste out of our mouths. It helps that Purdue isn't playing.
12:00 PM Eastern
Penn State at Indiana (BTN): After the bye week for the Hoosiers, they're going to come out looking to make a statement against a surprisingly good Penn State squad. Nate Sudfeld will have to bring a better game than he did against against Missouri; a game in which he had his worst performance of the year, throwing for only one touchdown and three interceptions. The previous three games saw him throw for 10 touchdowns and 2 INTs. I don't think that the Mizzou performance is necessarily a sign of something wrong with Sudfeld, but he clearly can't have that type of game against a Penn State defense that is allowing only 14.5 points per game. This is one of those games where a virtually unstoppable offense comes up against a very good defense. The Indiana defense should keep in mind that the Penn State offensive line has allowed Christian Hackenberg to be sacked nine times in the first four games, versus Indiana's O-line allowing only three sacks. Although Penn State running back Zach Zwinak hasn't really racked up too many yards, he does have eight touchdowns. Allen Robinson has been an absolute monster at wide-out, averaging 17.2 yards per catch. Prediction: I originally thought that Penn State would walk away with this one without any problems. Now, I'm not so sure about the ease of the victory. Indiana has something to prove; they'll still lose to the Nittany Lions, but it's going to be close...PSU 38 - Indiana 35.
Illinois at Nebraska (ESPNU): Yet another surprising team, Illinois, will try to make a statement against a Nebraska defense that has clearly had its problems so far this year. Nathan Scheelhaase is flourishing under the tutelage of Bill Cubit, but he did not play very well against the Washington Huskies. He had a solid performance against Cincinnati, but I think the jury is still out on the Bearcats as well, since they haven't played anyone. Scheelhaase is going to have to have the game of his life in Lincoln if Illinois is going to be taken seriously. Nebraska's defense is going to have to cut down on the 6.5 yards per play that they are allowing per game in 2013, too. Illinois may not be the best offensive team in the country, but they are able to exploit a suspect D. Taylor Martinez is probably out for the Huskers due to turf toe, so the offense will be turning to Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg III to get the win. The backups looked good against South Dakota State, but that was South Dakota State. The Huskers haven't been much of a passing team, but Illinois has been getting torched through the air (300+ yards per game). Prediction: Nebraska 42 - Illinois 28; the Huskers are going to be too tough to beat at home.
Michigan State at Iowa (ESPN2): Iowa is 4-1 after beating Minnesota last weekend, and their running game looked pretty darn good. The offensive line was able to control the line of scrimmage, allowing Mark Weisman to run for 147 yards on an average of 6.1 yards per carry. He didn't have any TDs, but he didn't need them as Jake Rudock took care of that part. Rudock has actually looked pretty good lately, and I hate to admit that I'm starting to get a little worried about the Hawkeyes; if they can beat the Spartans, then it will be time to look at Iowa in a more serious light. Michigan State's defense is one of the best, but they are still looking for an identity on the offensive side of the ball; they were pretty proud of putting 55 on Youngstown State, but that's what they were supposed to do. Against Notre Dame, they played less goodly. MSU has also had issues with Iowa during Mark Dantonio's tenure, going 2-4. The Spartan offense is going to have to find some way to really get things moving against a Hawkeye defense that is allowing only 4 yards per play by the opposing offense. Prediction: Iowa is a one-point favorite, but that's because the game is at Kinnick. I think MSU will find a way to win with the passing game...yes, the passing game. But, it will take OT to do it. MSU 17 - Iowa 10.
3:30 PM Eastern
Minnesota at Michigan (ABC/ESPN2): Minnesota has the ability to play tough against the Wolverines, but the Gophers have won only three times in the last 40 years. I was at the game in '05, and I'll be there on Saturday. Does my presence at the game make a difference? Let's hope not. Minnesota's offensive line laid a huge egg against the Hawkeyes last weekend, and their defensive line didn't do much better. If the Gophers want to stay in this game, the guys in the trenches will need to give Philip Nelson more time to make decisions. In lieu of that, Jerry Kill may have to make the call to put Mitch Leidner in the game; a decision that he failed to make last week. Minnesota does have a defense that can play effectively. Will they key in on the fact that Michigan has been relying on Gardner to get the Wolverines
into out of trouble, and that Jeremy Gallon is pretty much the only receiver? Perhaps. This has to be the turnaround for the Wolverines, though. Coming out flat against Minnesota (a better team than Akron or UConn) will almost certainly result in a loss. Devin Gardner will need to tuck the ball when he runs, maybe even cut down on his runs, and he definitely needs to stop with the interceptions. At this point, the only thing that can really stop Michigan from winning is the Michigan offense. Prediction: Michigan comes out of the bye and shows that they are a team to be reckoned with; Michigan 56, Minnesota 10.
8:00 PM Eastern
Ohio State at Northwestern (ABC): I don't care that the Buckeyes are undefeated and ranked #4 in the country; they look like one of the most beatable teams in the top 5, and they will lose sooner or later. Whether it comes against the Wildcats is hard to say, but I don't believe Northwestern will be pushovers. I know, I know, Northwestern has beaten OSU only two times since 1972, but maybe this can be a signature win for the Fitzgerald regime. Ohio State allowed 6.5 yards per play against Wisconsin, and almost 6 yards per play against Cal. The best chance Northwestern has of beating Ohio State is to keep OSU's offense on the sidelines. Try to have some sustained drives; they won't stop the Buckeyes from scoring, but maybe they can slow 'em down enough to stay in the game. Prediction: I'll go out on a limb and call this one a stunner for Northwestern; NW 21, OSU 20...and Brent Musberger punches Kirk Herbstreit in the face.