When one Pelini brother lost his job this week, many wondered why it wasn’t two. Bo Pelini is deep in the weeds in Lincoln after that loss to Minnesota, and everybody knows it.
Nebraska can tolerate losses to teams that go to BCS games two years out of three. It can’t handle losses to teams that consider a Buffalo Wild Wings bowl berth a major accomplishment. Even though the Legends Division does have that “anybody can win any game at any time” flavor, it’s more because of parity than because of collective mediocrity.
This was supposed to be Nebraska’s year, just like last year was. The division title is still a very real possibility and the Huskers control their own destiny. So do two other teams in the Legends, with two more that only need a little help to get to Indianapolis. One of them is playing in a very unexpected game this week.
Minnesota at Indiana
If you thought back in August that this game would feature the Big Ten’s two most intriguing teams, I know you’re a liar. This has never been a compelling matchup, ever. But it is now, not just because both these teams are better than many thought they would be, but because this game matters as much for bowl positioning as it does for bowl eligibility.
The Gophers already have a ticket to the postseason. The Hoosiers need three wins in their last five games to make it. This game is darn close to a must-win for IU’s postseason chances because without it the Hoosiers will need to knock off either Wisconsin or Ohio State while avoiding a stumble against Illinois and/or Purdue. The pressure is on the Hoosiers, who need to prove that they aren’t just getting better on paper.
This game will come down to which defense can stop the other offense. Can the Gophers match IU’s speed? Will the Hoosiers be able to contain a frisky Minnesota running game? I don’t know. I do know that Minnesota has held six of its seven opponents under 25 points. Indiana has allowed 35 points or more in five of its seven games. That looks to favor the Gophers, I’d say.
The pick: Minnesota 34, Indiana 27
Wisconsin at Iowa
I think this is the Big Ten game to watch this weekend if you’re only watching one. But why are you only watching one?
Even though the Badgers are coached by someone who has nothing to do with Hayden Fry for the first time in 25 years, these are in so many ways the same team: punishing ground game, stout defense, brutal offensive lines, not a whole bunch of vertical passing. If you miss mid-1980s college football, you won’t want to miss this game.
Iowa is a far better team than it’s getting credit for being right now (a problem it wouldn’t have if the first digit in Kirk Ferentz’s salary was a 2 instead of a 3). But Wisconsin is simply more complete and playing better while also possessing a slightly better passing game. That should be enough to make the difference here.
The pick: Wisconsin 28, Iowa 26
Michigan at Michigan State
I’ve said it before and I’m saying it now: Michigan State is a pretty good football team that somehow never manages to look like one. The same team that utterly pasted Illinois last week could only manage 14 measly points against Purdue the week before. That’s as many points as Indiana State hung on the Boilermakers.
Meanwhile, I wouldn’t want to say that Michigan has completely lost its early-season yips (they did lose to Penn State after all), but Brady Hoke appears to have smoothed the troubled waters a little bit. Unlike the Spartans, the Wolverines have actually won a couple close games this season. Granted, they were games that shouldn’t have been close, but competition creates competitors, and I am willing to believe the Wolverines have learned from their mistakes.
Michigan also has wins over Notre Dame (which beat Sparty) and a pretty good Minnesota team. Michigan State’s two best wins are over Iowa and … I don’t know, Indiana? Sparty fools me all the time, but I’m going with Blue here.
The pick: Michigan 23, Michigan State 20
Northwestern at Nebraska
Raise your hand if you had this game circled seven or eight times in black ink and surrounded with a bunch of yellow highlighter. Yeah, me too. This one sure looked like it would be for all the marbles in the Legends Division back when we thought there was still a slight chance that Northwestern wasn’t a two-person team.
Of course, we were wrong. The Wildcats really aren’t a two-person team, they’re a one-person team, as not even having Kain Colter taking all but seven snaps against Iowa was enough. Without Venric Mark to provide a credible running and returning threat, Northwestern just isn’t very good.
Neither is Nebraska, which appears to have all the resilience of used toilet paper. At least the Huskers’ roster is more than one person deep.
The pick: Nebraska 30, Northwestern 23
Illinois at Penn State
Illinois still has postseason hopes but they’re thinner than the cheese on a $1.49 frozen pizza. The season started off strong but, just like last year, the Illini don’t appear to be improving. It’s not like Penn State is a whole lot better but the Nits have at least beaten a pretty good team this season, unless there’s something about Cincinnati and its all-pastry schedule that I am missing. I do think Illinois should give Tim Beckman at least one more season but I am expecting the Illini to lose this game badly, perhaps even humorously.
The pick: Penn State 44, Illinois 21
Ohio State at Purdue
You can get tickets to this game, but you have to log on to a darknet and pay in Bitcoins.
The pick: Ohio State 70, Purdue 6