It is a big weekend for the Big Ten. Here are some key games to be looking out for:
Wisconsin (8-2) vs Illinois (6-4)(Saturday, 12 ET)
Just two games separate these two in the Big Ten Leaders division. With a Penn State loss, the Badgers could be sitting atop the division at weekend’s end as long as they can come up with the goods on the road in Champaign.
This might not be such a hard task considering that Illinois has gone 0-4 after starting the season 6-0. Two of those last four losses have come at home in Champaign.
Ron Zook dodged questions this week about him being on the hot seat at Illinois, but the Fighting Illini will surely not be able to hide from the fact that Wisconsin is coming to town with a goal in mind of making it to the Big Ten Championship game. Quarterback Russell Wilson and the Badgers are bringing their fourth-ranked scoring offense to town, averaging over 46 points-per-game and must face off against an Illinois defense that ranks 12th in the country, allowing less than 19 points-per-game. Something is bound to give.
Prediction: Wisconsin – 24 Illinois – 21
Penn State (8-2) vs Ohio State (6-4)(Saturday, 3:30 ET)
Two games separate these two teams in the Big Ten Leaders division (I feel like I’m repeating myself) as the Nittany Lions of Penn State bring their game to Columbus, Ohio to face off against the Buckeyes.
Anyone in the country could argue that these two programs have gone through the most tumultuous seasons of any in the country thus far this season and they would probably be correct. A win for either program in this game would begin healing those wounds just a bit. Both teams are coming off close losses last week, each losing by three points.
Don’t look for too many points to be scored in this one as both teams rank for a combined average of 88th in scoring offense. However, the good news, if you are a fan of defense, is that both teams rank for a combined average of ninth in scoring defense with an average of just under 16 points-per-game allowed.
Prediction: Penn State – 21 Ohio State – 20
Oklahoma (8-1) vs Baylor (6-3)(Saturday, 8 ET)
Besides a shocking loss to Texas Tech back in late October, the Oklahoma Sooners have been rolling through opponents in 2011, averaging over 45 points-per-game along the way.
Meanwhile, the Baylor Bears have become a legitimate contender in the Big 12 this season and just like the Sooners their offense is the primary reason for this. The Bears currently rank sixth in the country in passing offense, averaging almost 357 yards-per-game through the air, in addition to amassing over 200 yards-per-game on the ground.
This game will be a barn-burner and truly fun to watch if you are a fan of big offense and athletic playmakers. Both quarterbacks – Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and Baylor’s Robert Griffin – could be invited to New York City in January for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Each team also features a Biletnikoff Award (given out annually to the nation’s top wide receiver) seminfinalist in Ryan Broyles of Oklahoma (currently out for the year with injury) and Kendall Wright of Baylor.
Prediction: Oklahoma – 55 Baylor – 33
Nebraska (8-2) vs Michigan (8-2)(Saturday, 12 ET)
This is quite possibly the game of the year in the Big Ten conference as both teams sit tied just behind Michigan State in the Big Ten Legends division. This is a must-win game for both teams if they have any hope left of making the Big Ten Championship game.
This will also be the first conference matchup for two historic programs now playing within the same division in the same conference.
The storyline to watch here will be the two dynamic quarterbacks – Taylor Martinez for Nebraska and Denard Robinson for Michigan. Both quarterbacks have the propensity for getting nicked up as the season progresses, but they are also both very capable of being extremely explosive when healthy.
The biggest key here is to see which defense will contain each quarterback running the football in a better manner, forcing them to throw the ball instead (neither one’s strong point). Both quarterbacks are capable of running the football (both averaging over 75 yards-per-game on the ground), however, Martinez must be able to aid his running back, Rex Burkhead in getting positive yardage and the same has to be said for Robinson and his running mate, Fitzgerald Toussaint.
Prediction: Nebraska – 31 Michigan – 42
USC (8-2) vs Oregon (9-1)(Saturday, 8 ET)
SEC defenses can seem to figure out how to slow down Oregon’s rushing attack (see Auburn and LSU), but Pac-12 teams still cannot.
The USC Trojans, although not bowl-eligible this season, come in to a hostile environment this Saturday in Eugene with thoughts of derailing Oregon’s national title and Pac-12 title hopes. For Matt Barkley and the Trojans, this is their Pac-12 title game and the chance to prove that they are just as good as anyone in the conference.
Trojan fans will be hoping that their 8th-ranked rushing defense will be able to hold up against Oregon’s powerful rushing attack which ranks fifth nationally, gaining almost 300 yards-per-game on the ground. The USC rush defense is allowing just 100 yards-per-game on the ground, but have allowed 14 rushing touchdowns this season.
For Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas it is all about consistency and efficiency. Thomas is ranked 10th nationally among quarterbacks with a 160.85 passer rating on the season. He has also thrown just five interceptions in nine games while amassing 22 touchdown passes in that same span. His opponent, Matt Barkley is not far behind, ranking 17th nationally with a 152.55 passer rating and is tied with Heisman-hopeful Andrew Luck for the Pac-12 lead with 29 touchdown passes on the year.
This game comes on the heels of Oregon’s dominating 53-30 victory over Stanford last weekend in which the Ducks looked far quicker and more athletic than the tough-nosed Cardinal defense. The Ducks will be looking to exhibit the same sort of aggressiveness and explosiveness on offense this weekend against the Trojans – who should be more “up to speed”, so to speak.
Prediction: USC – 36 Oregon – 39
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