This Weekend in Big Ten Football

Maybe the Spartans aren’t as good as they thought they were after beating Ohio State two weeks ago. Mighty Michigan State blew a 24-13 lead to Purdue in the closing minutes, losing 25-24 and most likely, bidding adieu to a bowl bid. Now the team is holding onto the glimmer of hope in their postseason aspirations, which may grow brighter in the form of the lowly Illini. RB Sedrick Irvin (997 yards, seven touchdowns) will look to cross the 1,000-yard plateau for the third consecutive season; he’ll likely accomplish the feat on the first play against an Illinois defense that yields over 152 yards rushing per game. QB Bill Burke (2046 yards, 16 touchdowns) has developed more consistency as a passer and will look to test a less-than-stellar Illini secondary. Meanwhile, Illinois can write this season off as another rebuilding season in coach Ron Turner’s 20-year turnaround plan. RB Rocky Harvey (987 all-purpose yards) might be the team’s lone bright spot, but he’ll get no love from Spartans’ end Julian Peterson, safety Sorie Kanu and linebacker Courtney Ledyard.
The brothers Randle El of Indiana will try to bring some glitz to their final game of the season, but it might be at the expense of bowl-contending Purdue. QB Antwaan Randle El did his best impression of Barry Sanders last week against Minnesota, and his eyes will open up even more at the thought of playing against a mediocre Purdue run defense. Boilermakers’ DE Rosevelt Colvin (11.5 sacks) and LB Willie Fells (94 tackles) will do what they can to make sure Randle El doesn’t enjoy his visit to Ross-Ade Stadium. Meanwhile, Purdue QB Drew Brees, who seems content to throw on every down, will be on the lookout for Hoosiers CB Curtis Randle El, who sealed Indiana’s victory last week over Minnesota with a sack. However, Brees also has the luxury of the deepest stable of receivers on the other side of the Mississippi, which should help him slice and dice Indiana’s lousy pass defense. This intra-state rivalry, which will likely have little to no defense, should be loads of fun to watch.

Just when Ohio State thought it was safe to put its loss to Michigan State behind them … here comes another team from the state of Michigan. The Wolverines have traditionally been Buckeye killers, beating Ohio State the last three meetings and eight out of the last ten times. Michigan, fresh off a 27-10 pasting of Wisconsin, will hand the ball off to RB Charlie Williams (475 yards), who has risen from the third string to the team’s leading rusher over the past two weeks. WR Tai Streets should continue his climb up the Michigan record books (and the NFL draft charts) with a strong performance against the Buckeyes’ secondary. However, Ohio State corners Antoine Winfield and Ahmed Plummer, two of the best corners in the nation, will likely be up to the challenge. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes will try to hammer the rejuvenated Michigan defense with the running back tandem of Michael Wiley (1,027 yards) and Joe Montgomery (654 yards). Oh, and don’t forget about WR David Boston (64 catches, 1113 yards, 11 TD), who will likely be playing for millions next year.
Wisconsin and Penn State have two things in common: Both play strong defense and each has been pounded by Michigan. With their national title hopes squashed rather unceremoniously last week by the Wolverines, the Badgers will try to redeem themselves against a Penn State team that blew away Northwestern. The Lions have re-established their ground game, thanks to RB Eric McCoo, who rushed for 127 yards on 11 carries last week. The Badgers, who have always had a ground attack, will try to pound RB Ron Dayne against the formidable Penn State defense; that may be tough, though, considering the fact that Penn State has limited its opponents to 25 yards or less rushing four times this season. Look for 5-foot-8 CB David Macklin (5 INT) to take away Wisconsin’s passing game, ranked last in the conference (114 yards per game). Meanwhile, the Badgers will unleash ends Tom Burke (17 sacks) and John Favret at Lions’ QB Kevin Thompson, who has been less than spectacular at the helm this season.