Big Ten Football 2012
Big Ten Football Preview - Week 9
Week 9 Big Ten Football Schedule:
Ohio State at Penn State
Indiana at Illinois
Michigan State at Wisconsin
Purdue at Minnesota
Michigan at Nebraska
Iowa at Northwestern
Week nine of the Big Ten season is loaded with significant games. In a considerable irony that is hard to fully comprehend, the two best teams in the league will play a game that has absolutely zero significance in connection with college football's postseason and the Big Ten's upcoming title game on Dec. 1 in Indianapolis.
Yes, the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Penn State Nittany Lions have been the two best teams within the context of Big Ten competition. They're both undefeated within the league and sit atop the Leaders division entering week nine. Michigan is unbeaten in the Legends division, but the Wolverines were fortunate to escape with a 12-10 win over Michigan State in an acutely ugly affair last Saturday. Ohio State and Penn State have established themselves as the two teams to beat in the Big Ten, but because of NCAA penalties handed down to each school in the wake of two separate scandals in recent years, neither program can participate in either the Big Ten Championship Game or the Rose Bowl (or any bowl game, for that matter). Ohio State and Penn State are playing for the Leaders division championship; Wisconsin will almost surely be the Leaders division representative in the Big Ten Championship Game, but the focus on that term ("representative") makes it clear that the Badgers are merely a placeholder and not a true champion. The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions will play for the right to be called "division champion" this weekend in State College, Pa.
The central mystery surrounding this game is the health of Ohio State's dynamic quarterback, Braxton Miller, who was knocked out of last week's game against Purdue due to an upper-body injury that was sustained in the third quarter. Ohio State athletic officials released statements over the weekend which said that Miller had been put through a battery of tests that did not indicate any severe or worrisome health condition, but the pain Miller suffered was still evident, making it quite possible that in a season when Ohio State cannot compete in a bowl game, the prudent move might be for head coach Urban Meyer to sit him for this game.
Should Miller play and exhibit fairly normal capabilities and instincts, Ohio State would be at a considerable advantage against Penn State's slower defense. If Miller cannot play, backup quarterback Kenny Guiton would face a tall task in trying to score a lot of points against the Nittany Lions on the road. Penn State's offense should have success throwing the ball against Ohio State's leaky defense, which means that the ability of Miller to play – and light up the scoreboard – is the central factor in this contest.
The other particularly large showdown on the week-nine slate is Michigan's visit to Nebraska. As mentioned above, Michigan was fortunate to beat Michigan State last week. Against big-name teams, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson simply hasn't played well. The fascinating aspect of this game is that while Nebraska is a brand-name program, it does not have a brand-name defense. Ohio State collected 63 points against the Cornhuskers while Northwestern moved the ball all day against coach Bo Pelini's defense as well. Wisconsin scored 27 points against Nebraska, and the Badgers have struggled on that side of the ball for much of 2012. If Michigan's offense wants to get healthy, Nebraska could offer the Wolverines just the ticket.
As something of a postscript, Michigan State and Wisconsin will meet in the third-biggest game of the weekend. That's really rather improbable, because the Spartans and Badgers met in last year's Big Ten Championship Game and were expected to be very good teams this season. Wisconsin might get back to Indianapolis, but only because Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible in the Leaders division. Michigan State is out of the hunt, but the Spartans need to beat Wisconsin if they want to have a reasonable chance of becoming bowl eligible.
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