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Change has come to America, which hopefully means, among other things, that would-be sports prognosticators will no longer get all their picks wrong.
I know, I know—this isn’t about me. It’s about all of us together, and it’s about erratic quarterback play and the middle and bottom of the Big Ten being up for grabs on a given Saturday.
But who’s complaining? It’s been a wild and exciting week, and mine started auspiciously last Saturday, when within a few minutes Northwestern beat Minnesota with an interception returned for a touchdown, Purdue edged out Michigan with an old-school hook-and-ladder play, and Michigan State came back from 11 down in the fourth quarter to top Wisconsin by a point—all in the last 30 seconds of their games. And that wasn’t all: a bit later Illinois kicked a game-winning 46-yard field goal in the final minute to get past Iowa, and Indiana lost a second-half advantage—and the game—to Central Michigan, falling by a field goal.
In the middle of all that, Notre Dame dropped a four-overtime game to Pitt.
So what happens for an encore? Alas, we can’t look forward to electing Barack Obama again (not yet, at least), and on paper/computer screen this Saturday’s football matchups don’t appear as even as last’s. That said, here are a few thoughts on each:
· Illinois at Western Michigan: Once upon a time, Big Ten teams scheduled games against Mid-American Conference squads so they could pick up another W and make a few more bucks in ticket sales. But only the cash appears to be a sure thing now. The top MAC schools—and Western appears to be one of them this year—can be fierce competitors, especially for higher-touted teams who might be tempted to think they’ve got a week off from Big Ten-level competition—ask Indiana. I still think the Illini should win this one, but they’re playing on the road against a tough Bronco team thinking upset. It could happen.
· Wisconsin at Indiana: Their records don’t show it, but both of these teams have some talent. Given the way they’ve both swung wildly from impressive to truly rotten, sometimes within the same series, I have a sense this will either be a last-minute, one-point victory for one of them (and the latest demoralizing collapse for the other), or somebody will suddenly get it together and work out a season of frustrations before winning by 30. If I were a betting man, and I’m not on this game, I’d go with Wisconsin.
· Michigan at Minnesota: Was the cupboard so bare? Was the cupboard actually stocked? We’re 75 percent through the regular season, but I don’t think anyone has figured out why and how the Wolverines have sucked so bad and the Gophers have mostly looked like winners. It’s hard to imagine that Minnesota won’t reclaim the Little Brown Jug for just the second time in the last 22 years.
· Purdue at Michigan State: Both teams pulled wins out of their asses last week, but it’s pretty clear these two programs are going in opposite directions. I’m guessing MSU will come out flat, but the Boilers will be flatter, then flattened.
· Ohio State at Northwestern: Replacement QB Mike Kafka shocked the league last week with a performance that was decidedly un-Kafkaesque. NU coach Pat Fitzgerald isn’t saying whether it’ll be him or banged-up first-teamer C.J. Bacher who gets the start Saturday, but I doubt it’ll matter. Ohio State is too fast, especially considering several of the fiercest Cats have suffered injuries in the last couple weeks. Seven days ago Northwestern might have caught the Buckeyes licking their wounds; this week I’m afraid they’ll find them licking their chops. I hope I’m wrong.
· Penn State at Iowa: The Hawkeyes are unquestionably the toughest and hardest-luck 5-4 team in Iowa, and probably beyond, their losses coming by 1, 5, 3, and 3 points. They’ll hit the Nittany Lions hard and scrap for some points before being handed their first defeat by more than a touchdown.
And out of the league:
· Notre Dame at Boston College: God loves all of His children and probably all of His Catholic schools, but His ways are often mysterious to mere mortals, and BC has beaten the Irish five times in a row. This should be the sixth.
Last week: was before history was made.