By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) If you haven’t noticed, divisions are fun.
Last week’s Michigan State-Wisconsin game will almost certainly go down as the game of the year in the Big Ten, but will it be the most meaningful? Probably not. In fact, both teams play more meaningful games this weekend because they face teams within their own division.
While the Badgers will once against lace them up under the lights Saturday — this time at Ohio State — it’s the Spartans that are playing in the game of the week.
Michigan State heads to Lincoln, Neb. to face the Cornhuskers in a game that can easily be called the Legends Division Championship Game. The Spartans are already in the driver’s seat in the division because their remaining schedule is much more favorable than Nebraska’s and a win in Lincoln would virtually eliminate any chance of the Cornhuskers going to Indianapolis. A win gives the Spartans a two-game lead over Nebraska, plus the tiebreaker. Michigan is still in the hunt, but Sparty has the tiebreaker over the Wolverines too.
This is clearly a must-win game for the Cornhuskers, a team that has yet to impress this season against good competition. Nebraska’s problem is their one-dimensional offense. Taylor Martinez is less than reliable through the air, so the Cornhuskers have to use the option to counter opposing defenses stacking the box.
Most are quick to point out that Michigan State has the No. 1 rush defense in the Big Ten, so it’s easy to think Nebraska is in trouble without a reliable passing game. But while the Spartans are only allowing 88.86 rushing yards per game, they allowed 220 rushing yards to the Badgers last weekend and Nebraska has a comparable rushing attack. Sure, the Cornhuskers don’t have Russell Wilson to take the pressure off the running game, but they also boast a completely different style, which Michigan State will have to adjust to.
Nebraska’s defense isn’t perfect, but the Spartans aren’t exactly running up the score this season. Their special teams helped out a lot against Wisconsin last week and they won’t get that kind of help on the road.
My pick: Nebraska 31, Michigan State 27
Meanwhile, after starting a perfect 15-0 in the first three weeks of Big Ten play, I finally got a reality check last weekend and went 2-3 (although I did warn Illini fans to watch out for Purdue). Let’s get back on track this week:
Home team in CAPS
Iowa 34, MINNESOTA 24
The Gophers have pulled off some improbable wins in this series, but it’s different this year. Recent success against Iowa will help Minnesota stay in it for three quarters, but the Hawkeyes pull away in the final 15 minutes.
MICHIGAN 28, Purdue 17
The Boilermakers are improving each week and if this game was being played in West Lafayette, I might give it to them. Unfortunately, Purdue’s offense is just too inconsistent and Michigan’s defense will be good enough at home. Denard Robinson will struggle a little bit against a decent Boilermaker defense, but the Wolverines will improve to 7-1.
Northwestern 31, INDIANA 24
Northwestern always struggles against the Hoosiers so bringing a five-game losing streak to Bloomington against an IU team that is slowly showing positive signs isn’t exactly a good thing. This game reminds me a lot of last week’s Illinois-Purdue game. I really, really wanted to take the Boilermakers in that game, but couldn’t pull the trigger. I’m not going to call for the upset in this one either, although I’m very skeptical. Dan Persa makes the difference.
PENN STATE 21, Illinois 14
For an offense that needs to get back on track, a trip to Happy Valley comes at a bad time. Add in a little snow (which is being forecasted) and it doesn’t look good for the Illini. The Lions’ offense is slowly improving while Illinois’ defense seems to be regressing.
Wisconsin 34, OHIO STATE 17
This game is going to go one of two ways. Either the Badgers come back angry and trounce a team they are much better than or they come out rattled by last week’s stunning defeat and are doomed by the same mistakes that cost them at Michigan State. The Spartans are much better than the Buckeyes though and after all the mistakes Wisconsin made, last week’s thriller still came down to a Hail Mary. The Badgers are simply better than Ohio State.
Season record: 52-15 (17-3 Big Ten)
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.