Friday, September 18, 2009

Big Ten Picks: Week 3

First, I am crying uncle. I am tapping out. I am admitting defeat. I am a quitter. Picking against the spread has owned me since I started doing it last year, and since these picks are, as Nacho Libre would say about a man wearing stretchy pants in his room, "just for fun" I'm going to just pick winners and losers straight up from now on. I will hand in whatever manliness I have left after getting married and admit I'm just not man enough to pick against the spread.

Second, what a difference a couple of weeks makes for the perception of teams around the Big Ten. We've seen more than a few opinions change from the start of the year to here in week 3. For each squad, we'll tell you what their coaches and fans were saying before the season started, and what they're saying now that a bit of reality has set in...

Illinois (bye week)
Today: maybe Florida was right...think the Motor City Bowl would take us right now?

The Illini didn't just lay an egg in their opener against Missouri, they took a collective dump on the field. Then this week devastating news that their best defender, LB Martez Wilson, is out for the year with an injury. In less than three weeks Illinois have gone from darkhorse Big Ten title contenders (at least according to me) to wondering if they'll even make a bowl game. At Florida The Zooker brought in great recruits but couldn't convert them to wins on the field. At Illinois? Let's just say we're starting to see a pattern developing here.

Eastern Michigan @ Michigan (11am Big 10 Network)
Preseason: Wolverines fans were waiting outside RichRod's house with pitchforks and torches
Today: Wolverines fans wait outside RichRod's house to carry him to practice and games like an ancient Egyptian king complete with grapes, giant palm leaves and a flying V headdress.

Two weeks ago there was division in the locker room, and coach Rich Rodriguez was absolutely, positively NOT a Michigan Man. After blowing out one of the many Michigan directional schools in week 1 and then knocking off the overrated Irish in week 2, coach RichRod absolutely, positively IS a Michigan Man! The same streets Michigan fans were threatening to spill his blood in are now being named after him, and instead of cursing his name now every new newborn baby in Ann Arbor is being named Rich or Rod or RichRod. What a difference two weeks makes.

Temple @ Penn State (11am Big Ten Network)
Preseason: Who cares about all the guys we lost to graduation? We're the best team in the Big Ten!
Today: So far, it's hard to argue with them.

To be fair, they haven't played anybody yet, and I don't think they would have fared any better against USC than Ohio State did, but the JoePa's have taken care of business so far against their usual slate of non-conference patsies. The one concern, and one JoePa himself expressed in the offseason, is how good an almost entirely new offensive line would be, and so far, it's hurting their running game big time. Can you believe a Joe Paterno team has won two games easily while averaging barely three yards per carry? And this is with perhaps the best tailback combo in the conference of Evan Royster and Stafon Green? It doesn't make sense and I can't see it lasting, and while they won't need to run against Temple to win, but they sure as heck will starting next week against Iowa.

Ohio State at Toledo (11am ESPN360)
Preseason: Terrelle Pryor is our Savior and he will lead us to the promised land
Today: Waiting outside head coach Jim Tressell's house with the torches and pitchforks Michigan fans have thrown out

Ok so it's not quite that bad yet in Columbus, but it's amazing how fast the "What have you done for me lately" approach has caused Buckeye nation to turn on Tressell. Look I get it, you guys are fed up with beating up the Big Ten but losing to top 5 teams. While I imagine that might be frustrating, please keep in mind the other ten teams in the conference would love to be in your position. Seriously, if you want to trade four straight Big Ten Titles, the 2003 national championship and a trip to four straight BCS bowls in for a couple of Music City bowls, an 0-12 season, and a coach who bans then doesn't ban his team from going on a local radio station because that station has the gal to be critical, let me know. We'll even throw in the Timberwolves so you guys can have your very own pro basketball team if you could give include a couple of cash registers for the new stadium. It's really all we ask. It's part of that "Minnesota Nice" you've heard so much about.

Wofford at Wisconsin (11am Big Ten Network)
Preseason: What's stronger: Badger fans love of their team and all things beer, brats and cheese, or their hatred of coach Bret Bielma?
Today: No really, which one? It's too close to call right now

Some idiot on some Gopher blog said in the preseason that Badger fans needed to calm down, that Wisconsin would win at least eight games and probably nine, and everything would be fine. Two weeks in and the Badgers ARE 2-0, but it's been anything but pretty. They've survived two big scares with a defense looks shakier than Green Bay right tackle Alan Barbre (seriously, did you see that guy Sunday night against the Bears? I was waiting for him to pull a red flag out of his pants and yell "OLE!!!" like a matador every time Adewale Ogunleye ran by him to bludgeon Aaron Rodgers). Bielma needs to get a few things figured out this week in their last preseason game, because if they play like this against Big Ten teams, well, Bielma will be more hated in Wisconsin than a certain old, indecisive, spotlight-hogging #4-wearing, gunslingin' quarterback who nows plays professionally in Minnesota.

Northern Illinois at Purdue (11am Big Ten Network)
We are NOT the worst Big Ten team in Indiana!
Today: We are NOT the worst Big Ten team in Indiana- or Illinois!

Anyone who thought the Boilermakers would not just be 1-1, but would have done it on the strength of their running game, raise your hand...anyone...anyone at all? Yeah there was no way to see this coming. The preimenent passing team in the Big Ten the last decade has a sophomore running back that even Purdue fans wouldn't have recognize when the season started leading the conference in rushing. Ralph Bolden has 357 yards and 4 TD's while averaging 7.1 yards per carry and the defense has forced five turnovers. If quarterback Joey Elliot would start throwing to his own team more than the defense (4 TD's to 5 INT's), Purdue is going to upset some people in the Big Ten this year.

Michigan State at Notre Dame (2:30pm NBC)
Preseason: We WILL live up to the hype! We WILL live up to the hype!
Today: DAMMIT!

I like Sparty head coach Mark Dantonio and think he's doing a great job in rebuilding Michigan State. But wow, you just do not lose to a MAC team on your home field if you want to be taken seriously. Yet that's just what the Spartans did, getting shocked 29-27 by the Chippewas of Central Michigan last week. And it's not like CMU were flukes- they outgained the Spartans by more than 100 yards (481-316) and wracked up 352 yards passing on a Michigan State secondary that was supposed to be the strength of that defense. The Spartan offense, which we heard was going to be much improved despite losing a guy in tailback Javon Ringer who was pretty much their entire offense last year managed just 51 yards on the ground at 3.4 per carry. That has to improve, and quickly if Michigan State wants to play in a New Year's Day bowl, and despite all my negativity, I still like the Spartans to beat Notre Dame yet again.

Indiana at Akron (2:30pm ESPNU)
Preseason: When does basketball season start?
Today: No really, when does basketball season start?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, they're 2-0 and could very well go 3-0 if they can beat Akron tomorrow (I don't think they will, but it's possible), but considering they beat 1-AA Eastern Kentucky and a not-so-good Western Michigan squad by a combined 11 points, does anybody think they're even winning a game in the Big Ten this year? Anyone? Nope didn't think so. Hoops practice starts soon, Hoosier fans. Not soon enough, but soon.

Arizona at Iowa (2:35pm ABC)
Preseason: Same as every year- we're winning the Big Ten title!!!
Today: Ok we were nervous there for a minute...but we're still winning the Big Ten title!!

I hate giving Iowa credit almost as much I hate the team itself, but the Hawkeyes really showed something last week in Ames. Without their All-American left tackle and a top corner they destroyed a Cyclones team that seems to always give them trouble. The week 1 game they absolutely positively should not have won could just be a blip on the radar screen when we look back at this season, and if they play like they did against Iowa State they're going to be good again- not good enough to win the conference (they are NOT doing better than 2-2 on the road in the Big Ten), but good enough. And yes, I'm hoping all of my positivity reverse-jinxes them against the Wildcats tomorrow.

Northwestern at Syracuse (6pm ESPN 360/Gameplan)
We're for real!
Today: No really, we are! That near loss to Eastern Michigan? What near loss to Eastern Michigan? We're fine! Nothing to see here! Carry on, people, carry on!

If you've read us at all here, you know I'm not exactly bullish on Northwestern this year, and after destroying Towson and then surviving against Eastern, well, let's just say I haven't exactly changed my mind about them. I said to start the year Mike Kafka had a LOT to prove about being able to throw as well as he runs, and so far, he hasn't proven much. Against Eastern he 14-24 for just 158 yards and a pick, and while the team ran for 185 yards, it took them 48 carries to do it for just an average of 3.9 yards. Their defense is salty, but if the offense continues to struggle moving the ball, the Purple Smart Kids aren't going to be for real after all. And yes, I love Syracuse to pull the upset tomorrow.

California at Minnesota (11am ESPN)
Preseason: Our offense? I mean wow. Just wow. It's awesome. It's so much better. It's so much more diverse. It might be the greatest offense ever. Look at the weapons. Just look at them!
Today: Same crap as last year- it's Eric Decker and nobody else

I should probably tone down my criticism/negativity/realism about the Gopher offense or Brewster could ban his coaches and players from talking to this site too. Oh that's right, they don't talk to us regardless. Anywho, the defense has been awesome and has carried the team to two close wins thus far. Offensively, it's been the same stagnant, predictable stuff we saw last year, just in different formations. The run game has been a bit better, and like last year, the effectiveness of it depends upon how healthy Duane Bennett stays, but the passing game is actually even more titled towards Decker. Third year starting quarterbacks are supposed to look MORE comfortable not less, but Weber we're still waiting for Weber to start throwing the ball a) like he means it b) accurately and c) to someone else other than Decker. Look I love Decker, but they've more than 60% of the teams' receiving yards have gone to Decker, and as good as he is and as much as I love him, that is NOT a recipe for success. Neither is the fact the offense has scored just three offensive touchdowns (and two of them have been on VERY short fields) and are 9-28 on third down. If the Gophs want to get to even the seven wins that myself and many others predicted for them this year, the offense needs to get better, more creative, and more diverse, and it needs to happen soon.

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