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November 15, 2007
Trophies on the line in Big Ten play
BUCHANAN'S BIG TEN PICKS
Best matchup: Michigan vs. Ohio State. No doubt about this one. Michigan and Ohio State meet for the Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth, but there are so many intriguing matchups within the matchup. For example, Ohio State DE Vernon Gholston has 10 sacks this season, but will he be able to supply pressure when facing Michigan OT Jake Long - who hasn't allowed a sack this season. Ohio State's cornerbacks are outstanding, especially Malcolm Jenkins. So are Michigan WRs Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. Ohio State's offensive line is coming off a disappointing performance last week. So is Michigan's defensive line. Michigan TB Mike Hart is one of the best in the nation, but isn't 100 percent healthy. The same can be said for Ohio State TB Chris Wells. And, of course, there are the coaches. Michigan's Lloyd Carr is one of just eight coaches to win five Big Ten championships. But he is 1-5 against Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, including losses in each of the past three meetings.
The pressure is on: Indiana. All season, the Hoosiers' rallying cry has been "Play 13" in tribute to coach Terry Hoeppner, who died during the offseason. The Hoosiers are bowl-eligible with six victories, but that might not be enough because 10 of the Big Ten's 11 teams are bowl-eligible. The Hoosiers need a victory over rival Purdue to ensure they will have a chance to play 13. Who's hot: Michigan's Manningham last week exceeded 100 receiving yards for the sixth consecutive time, which is a school record. During that stretch, he has 43 catches for 783 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has made two touchdown catches in four of the past five games. Indiana WR James Hardy has 15 catches for 223 yards and four touchdowns in the Hoosiers' past two games. He has had two touchdown receptions in five games this season. Illinois sophomore QB Juice Williams has thrown six touchdown passes in the past two games, including a career-best four in last week's upset of Ohio State. He also rushed for 70 yards against the Buckeyes. Northwestern TB Tyrell Sutton, who missed six games because of injuries, has put together consecutive 100-yard games the past two weeks - against Iowa and Indiana. He rushed for 141 yards and a touchdown against the Hoosiers, and had 213 all-purpose yards.
Who's not: Purdue's secondary, which has improved from an awful showing in 2006, suffered a relapse a week ago in a 48-31 loss to Michigan State. Spartans QB Brian Hoyer passed for 266 yards and two touchdowns and that was with several drops. The Boilermakers rank 78th nationally in pass defense, which is a concern when facing Indiana's combination of QB Kellen Lewis and Hardy. Michigan sophomore DE Brandon Graham had seven sacks in the first six games but has managed 1.5 in the past five games.
Keep your eye on: Wisconsin junior QB Allan Evridge could make his first start as a Badger if Tyler Donovan is sidelined with an injured right hand. Last year, Donovan stepped up in a similar situation when John Stocco was hurt and led the Badgers to a victory over Iowa. Evridge, a former starter at Kansas State, is 4-for-9 passing this season. Michigan State senior TE Kellen Davis has caught touchdown passes in each of the past two games. He figures to play a key role in the offense against Penn State. Ohio State TB Chris Wells has scored five touchdowns in the past two games. He'll run behind a solid run-blocking line and will test Michigan's defense, which has allowed an average of 211.5 rushing yards in its past two games. The Wolverines have surrendered 100 yards rushing to an opposing back in each of their past three games.
Freshman to watch: If P.J. Hill's leg problems continue, freshman TB Zach Brown could make his third consecutive start for Wisconsin this week against Minnesota. Brown rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns last week against Michigan. Minnesota allows an average of 220.6 rushing yards to rank last in the Big Ten in rushing defense. Injuries mean Ohio State freshman DE Cameron Heyward, who has 2.5 sacks this season, will play a bigger role in the Buckeyes' pass rush. He'll hope to provide a boost to the pass rush, which produced just one sack in last week's loss to Illinois. Michigan State freshman punter Aaron Bates averaged 41 yards per attempt last week. This week, he will be kicking to the Big Ten's top return specialist, Penn State's Derrick Williams. The Spartans are counting on Bates for more hang-time and maybe directional kicking to neutralize Williams.
Injury update: Illinois TB Daniel Dufrene (dislocated finger) and WR Arrelious Benn (concussion) are probable, but CB Vontae Davis (concussion) is questionable. Indiana CB Tracy Porter (undisclosed), G Pete Saxon (shoulder), DT Joe Kremer (leg) and C Matt Moses (knee) are questionable. Iowa CB Adam Shada (ankle) is questionable. Michigan TB Mike Hart (ankle) and QB Chad Henne (shoulder) are probable, and SS Brandent Englemon is questionable. Northwestern TB Omar Conteh (ankle) is questionable. Ohio State TB Chris Wells (thumb, leg) is probable, and LB Ross Homan (toe) is questionable. Penn State TB Evan Royster (ankle) and LB Dontey Brown (arm) are questionable. Purdue G Jordan Grimes (leg) is questionable. Wisconsin junior WR Marcus Randle El (knee) has ended his playing career. TB P.J. Hill and QB Tyler Donovan are probable.
They said it:
"We don't care what happened at the beginning of the season, we don't care what happened last week. We wanted to be in this spot. We wanted to be playing for the Big Ten championship."
"No. God, no, because I can just imagine getting pneumonia two days before the Michigan game and they'd ask why or how did I get it. What am I going to say? I jumped into a frozen lake? They'd be like , 'Great, real responsible, Kirk.' "
"We've learned our lesson. We beat a top-five team one other time (Wisconsin), then got beat by a team from Iowa that was hungry. Northwestern will be hungry, too."
Bowl implications: The Rose Bowl is at stake in the Ohio State-Michigan game. A win also keeps alive the Buckeyes' slim hopes of getting into the BCS championship game. Ohio State also could be in the BCS at-large mix if it loses, and a spot in the Capital One Bowl also is a possibility. A Michigan loss could send the Wolverines to the Cap One, Outback or Alamo bowls. Illinois, Penn State, Wisconsin and Purdue hope to improve their bowl status, while Iowa, Northwestern, Indiana and Michigan State need one more victory to enhance their bowl worthiness.
Etc.: Northwestern's victory over Indiana last week, secured on a touchdown pass with 44 seconds remaining, was the fourth time this season the Wildcats won in the final minute or in overtime. Northwestern is 14-3 in its past 17 games decided by seven or fewer points. Wisconsin senior C Marcus Coleman, who is from Minnesota, plays his final regular-season game in his home state this weekend - on his birthday. Several hundred fans greeted the Illinois team at the airport last Saturday night after it returned from its 28-21 upset of No. 1 Ohio State. Ten of the league's 11 teams will finish at least .500. The last season that even eight league teams finished at least .500 was 1999.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.