2009 Big Ten Fearless Predictions
Week 12 ... Nov. 21 Games, Part 2
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12, Part 1
Purdue (4-7) at Indiana (4-7) , 3:30 EST, Saturday, November 21, Big 10 Network
Why to watch: Purdue and Indiana might be part of the lower half of the Big Ten standings, but they're each better than their record. An argument could be made that these are the two most entertaining 4-7 teams in America, with each playing in wild shootouts week after week and each suffering heartbreaking defeats time and again. Purdue blew its shot to make this game for bowl eligibility with a tough 40-37 loss to Michigan State last week, making it the fourth winnable game it lost this year late, but Indiana has the market cornered on tough close losses. The Hoosiers battled Penn State hard in last week's 31-20 loss, making it four straight defeats with seven of the last eight. There was the Iowa heartbreaker, a collapse against Northwestern, a three-point loss to Wisconsin, and a controversial 36-33 loss to Michigan. Even with all the close calls, the loser will be 4-8; the record is the record. If nothing else, this will be a far better game than last year's 62-10 Purdue blasting.
Why Purdue might win: The secondary is playing well. Thanks to a tremendous pass rush, Purdue has been able to keep the mediocre Big Ten passing games under wraps, and while it allowed more than 200 yards to both Michigan and Michigan State in the last two weeks, it's not like it's getting bombed on. The bigger issue has been holding up against the run, and IU is hit-or-miss when it comes to getting any production on the ground failing to hit the 100-yard mark in any of its last three games.
Why Indiana might win: Mistakes. Turnovers have plagued Purdue all season long with 29 turnovers, and while there haven't been a slew of huge mistakes compared to earlier in the year, Indiana will win the turnover margin battle. Indiana is eighth in the nation in turnover margin with 29 takeaways to offset 18 turnovers including 13 interceptions. The defense gets enough of a push from the front four to get into the backfield on a regular basis and potentially pressure QB Joey Elliott into mistakes. Offensively, IU might not have much from the running game, but it should be able to keep the pressure on through the air thanks to …
Who to watch: Ben Chappell. The junior isn't on anyone's radar screen for post-season awards with 15 touchdown passes and 13 picks, including six in the last three games, but he has carried the IU offense at times and threw some major scares into Wisconsin and Penn State. Last week he threw the ball 51 times against the Nittany Lions, and he might have at least as many attempts this week to offset what Elliott will do. In his final game, the Boilermaker senior will try to stay hot after throwing for 367 yards against Michigan and 373 against Michigan State. Helped by Keith Smith, who has made 26 catches in the last two weeks, Elliott has been tremendous. The two quarterbacks will put on a show.
What will happen: This might be the Big Ten's best game this weekend. Each team will play like it's a bowl game with lots of offense, lots of big plays, and lots of game-changing moments. Purdue will get a little more from its ground game and will be a little more effective through the air on the way to a tough win.
CFN Prediction: Purdue 44 … Indiana 38 ... Line: Purdue -3
Must See Rating: (WWII in HD 5 … Old Dogs 1) … 3
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Penn State (9-2) at Michigan State (6-5) , 3:30 EST, Saturday, November 21, ABC
Why to watch: It's style point time for both teams as each is pushing for a the best bowl game possible. Michigan State became bowl eligible last week with a tough 40-37 win over Purdue, and while it has been a fight to get to six wins, there's enough talent and enough skill to close strong and put a nice cap on a disappointing season. If all had gone according to plan, this was supposed to be MSU's bright shining moment with a shot at a BCS game, and had it been able to hang on in a miracle loss to Central Michigan, and had there not been a brain cramp at the end of the Notre Dame loss, and had the defense been able to hold on for one more play against Iowa, this might have been. Penn State has that chance, but it needs to win impressively and hope for an Iowa loss to Minnesota. The Nittany Lions are going to be in a January bowl, but it's more likely to be either the Capital One or the Outback instead of the Fiesta. They have only themselves to blame, with only two tough games on the slate, Iowa and Ohio State, with losses in both. So far, Penn State has only beaten three sure-thing bowl teams: Temple, Minnesota, and Northwestern. This would be the team's best win of the ten.
Why Penn State might win: Michigan State has the Big Ten's No. 1 offense, but Penn State has the top defense. The Spartans have put up plenty of big numbers, but those haven't come against good defenses. Iowa kept the MSU attack in check until what appeared to be a last-gasp game-winning drive. Wisconsin did a strong job against MSU but allowed an oh-by-the-way 91-yard touchdown pass. MSU has no chance to run on a Nittany Lion defense that gave up 228 yards to Ohio State, but almost nothing against everyone else. Indiana was able to bomb away last week, with Ben Chappel throwing for 298 yards, but it took 52 passes to do it. In other words, the MSU defense is going to have to come up big and the Spartan offense will have to take advantage of every opportunity. It has had a hard time doing that all year.
Why Michigan State might win: The MSU offensive line should be able to neutralize the Nittany Lion pass rush. Penn State's defensive greatness has started with pressure into the backfield, both against the run and the pass, but the Spartan offensive line, very quietly, has had a terrific season. It's not a killer for the ground game like Wisconsin's O line, and it hasn't had as many big, defining moments in key situations like Iowa's, but it's been terrific in pass protection. On the other side, the MSU defensive front has played well and should get to Penn State QB Daryll Clark often. The book on Clark is easy; get pressure on him and the Penn State offense slows to a crawl. The Nittany Lion offensive line isn't playing well enough to dominate the Spartans up front.
Who to watch: It's the final regular season games for two of the league's best players over the last few years … maybe. Both Michigan State LB Greg Jones and Penn State LB Navarro Bowman are juniors, but it'll be a stunner if they're back for their senior seasons with millions of NFL dollars waiting for them. Jones has been the best linebacker in college football this season, overcoming a mediocre start that had plenty of numbers, but not enough impact plays, to be a rock and a pass rusher as the centerpiece for the defense. Bowman wasn't healthy for stretches, but he's fine now and showed off all he could do last week with 12 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, and 73-yard interception return for a score against Indiana.
What will happen: It'll be a defensive struggle early, but Kirk Cousins will overcome a shaky outing against Purdue with a sharp game for just enough key drives in the second half to give MSU its best win of the season.
CFN Prediction: Michigan State 20 … Penn State 17 ... Line: Penn State -3
Must See Rating: (WWII in HD 5 … Old Dogs 1) … 4
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12, Part 1