The last Saturday in October is upon us, the first official BCS rankings were released later in the week and that means the race for conference championships and bowl bids is in full swing. TheSportsNotebook’s college football coverage is breaking down the week with a separate post for each conference. Let’s take a look at Big Ten Week 9…
Nebraska-Minnesota (Noon ET, ESPN)
Northwestern-Iowa (Noon ET, Big Ten Network)
Michigan State-Illinois (3:30 PM ET, ABC/ESPN2)
Penn State-Ohio State (8 PM ET, ABC)
Michigan State and Nebraska are each undefeated in league play and in a race atop the Legends Division and each facing road tests. The Cornhuskers’ visit won’t be easy. While quarterback Taylor Martinez is reported as available to play, he’s also reported as not likely to start. Minnesota’s had some disappointing moments this year–a 16-point loss to Iowa being the most notable–but the Gophers are 5-2 and playing at home, won’t easily succumb to a backup quarterback.
The road test for Sparty is a bit more manageable, given Illinois’ porous defense, but the Illini do now have a functioning offense and are no longer the joke of the Big Ten they were a year ago. The Northwestern-Iowa game is a Legends Division matchup. The Wildcats desperately need a win, with their loss to Minnesota being added on to earlier defeats against Ohio State and Wisconsin. Pat Fitzgerald’s team has never gotten off the canvas, running back Venric Mark will miss Saturday with an ankle injury and this team is watching a once-promising season go down the drain.
Ohio State’s two biggest rivals–Wisconsin within the Leaders Division and Michigan in the world at large–both have off on this relatively quiet week, but the Buckeyes have a prime-time battle with Penn State, under the watchful eye of ABC’s Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit. While I have my share of doubts about the Buckeyes, this Penn State defense can’t stop anyone and I see no reason Ohio State shouldn’t hang 50.
The Nittany Lion offense, led by freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg is very good in its own right, but it won’t be nearly enough. Suffice it to say, this game in Columbus won’t resemble the 2008 battle these two teams played at the Shoe to settle the Big Ten title, a defensive grind that Penn State won 13-9.