Every year, there's one weekend which doesn't look dreadfully significant in advance but turns out to have revealed many destinies. I submit to you that this will be that weekend for the 2018 Big Ten season. At first glance there's only one game that looks like a blockbuster but as you dig deeper, you realize there's a lot more at stake than you first thought. I'll break down these games and their significance forthwith, but first let's review last week's predictions:
Maryland at Michigan: I said Michigan 34. Maryland 28; actual score, Michigan 42, Maryland 21. Right team, but I was way, way off on the margin of victory. Maryland is confounding, for many reasons.
Northwestern at Michigan State: I said Sparty 23, jNWU 14; actual score, jNWU 29, Sparty 19. Aww. That is just too bad for Sparty. My heart just breaks for them, getting punked by the fourth- or fifth-best team in the West in front of a home crowd. I bet they all walked away disappointed. How terrible. (I'm happy I was wrong, in case the sarcasm didn't shine through there.)
Indiana at Ohio State: I said aOSU 30, Indiana 13; actual score, aOSU 49, Indiana 26. Note that this game played out about like I told you it would: uncomfortably close for a half. You're welcome.
Illinois at Rutgers: I said scoreless tie; actual score, Illinois 38, Rutgers 17. The prediction obviously wasn't serious but I'll take the L anyway. I was correct about this game being to football what joining Spinal Tap is to drummers.
Nebraska at Wisconsin: I said Wisky 56, Nebby 17; actual score Wisky 41, Nebby 24. Take careful note here, we're going to come back to this a few picks down the road, mmkay? If Nebraska is actually as bad as we want to believe it is, this game should have turned out closer to how I predicted it would.
Iowa at BORK BORK BORK: I said Hawkeyes 34, Rodents 10; actual score, Hawkeyes 48, Rodents 31. Some of you questioned whether Iowa would actually score 34 against any FBS team; it turns out I was two touchdowns too pessimistic. Let's both learn from this and move on to this week's games:
Purdue at Illinois
"Yawn," said the casual fan, not realizing that both teams (a) have had this marked as a winnable game since, like, April and (b) need this game to keep their bowl hopes alive. Purdue needs it more. It only has three losses to give if it's going to go bowling. This is its remaining schedule: OSU, at Michigan State, Iowa, at Wisconsin, at Indiana. A loss here would almost certainly keep the Boilermakers in West Lafayette for the holidays, and that's a fate worse than death. But, as I've mentioned here before, Illinois is a better team overall this year. If you don't believe me, bear in mind that it played South Florida closer than anyone else has all season, and that list includes Georgia Tech. Home field advantage should count for something here too, if anyone shows up for the game. This season might be just good enough to save Lovie Smith's bacon, and if that's not a "congratulations/I'm sorry" moment for the Illini fans ... Illinois 27, Purdue 26.
Rutgers at Maryland
Maryland 41, Rutgers 17.
Wisconsin at Michigan
We all know this game is a big deal because it's the best matchup in the conference this week. Lurking behind it all is the need for Michigan to win if it wants to keep the East a three-team race rather than the one-team race it looks to be from the outside. Michigan's schedule makes it very possible for it to go into The Game undefeated in-conference so long as it can get past Wisconsin here. (Penn State's not a gimme, of course, even if the game's at the Big House.) Wisconsin is mortal, obviously. The matchup is a pretty good one, and Michigan is improving week over week. I never like picking Harbaugh in a big game, but I think this is the best team he's had in Ann Arbor, so (holds nose very tightly) Michigan 31, Wisconsin 27.
Nebraska at Northwestern
There are two factors influencing my pick here. The first is that I don't think Nebraska actually is the totally incompetent goon squad we like to portray them as, since their fans and especially the state media cover them as though Greatness Is Imminent. I mean, Tom Shatel has made his bones over and over again, but this is just embarrassing. How are Mahomes and Martinez alike? They're both carbon-based life forms, they both play quarterback, and their last names both start with "Ma-." Nonetheless, I think the 'Skers are improving, and then there's the second factor: Northwestern usually stumbles the week after a big win. I also believe it's more likely for Scott Frost to get his first win away from Lincoln where the pressure is reduced. And so help me ... I think it happens here. Nebraska 38, Northwestern 34.
Minnesota at Ohio State
On the one hand, Minnesota QB Bag Attachment City proved his mettle against Iowa last week, and the Buckeye secondary is uncharacteristically pedestrian so far this season. On the other hand, if Iowa could drop almost half a hundred on the Gopher D in Minneapolis ... what can the Buckeyes do at home? This: Ohio State 52, Minnesota 13.
Michigan State at Penn State
Once again, it is technically not possible for both teams to lose a football game. See No Evil 38, We Really Don't Care Do U? 28.
Iowa at Indiana
IU can pass the ball, which could portend trouble, if not for the fact that Iowa's inexperienced corners absolutely showed up against Minnesota last week, going from first-quarter liabilities to "nah, we good, fam" by the end of the game. Indiana has been vexatious to Kirk Ferentz as well. The overall record against the Hoosiers is quite good but the games have a tendency to be messy and uncomfortable, particularly when they're played in Bloomington. If I were a Ferentz I'd hope for a fast start and tell my defense "Keep 'em under twenty and we've got this." But I'd also be well aware that Iowa-Indiana games never go as Iowa plans. Iowa 31, Indiana 27.
LAST WEEK: 4-2