So it has come to this, the final week of the regular season, with neither of the Indianapolis visitors yet to be determined. It has been, in so many ways, an amazing season for Big Ten football. What started off in dust and disarray now clearly shows that a Big Ten team (the usual suspect) has a better than decent shot to make it to the title game -- and even win.
Along the way, contender and pretender have been thoroughly sorted (except somehow Michigan is in the Top 5 without a single signature victory) and some narratives have been flipped. Tom Allen, it turns out, is highly dependent on his coordinators. Odd-Year Northwestern is still a thing. Penn State will take more of what it’s been getting from James Franklin. And nobody can catch Ohio State even when it looks mortal.
Maybe the most shocking thing of all is that I think there’s at least a chance every Big Ten team will have the same coach in 2022 that it had in 2021. The buzzards aren’t circling over anyone and I don’t think anyone’s going to get hired away either, even though LSU did real well for itself the last time it hired Michigan State’s coach.
And even though we’re all mad as crap that the gum wrapper-sized offensive playbook returned to Iowa City, be honest: few if any of us thought that this Iowa team would even have a chance to win ten games. They may have made us angry, depressed, and loopy in equal measure, but this team’s record is not what we thought it would be, is it? I remember when I made my preseason every-game predictions and came up with 9-3 Iowa I thought I was being a ridiculous homer. I saw several areas where I thought the Hawks would struggle -- and they struggled in all those areas. But now? 9-3 is the worst case scenario.
None of this is to say I’d care to replay this season, or that the two losses couldn’t have easily been wins with a merely competent offense, making this season a very different one indeed. But I am thankful that Iowa is in a position which, back in August, made me feel naive and optimistic. And I think next season will be a vast improvement.
Now, to recap last week:
- Minnesota at Indiana: I said Minny 34, IU 12; actual score, Minny 35, IU 14. Indiana was a Top Ten team at one point this season. That point was August, and it proves early polls are for doofuses.
- Illinois at Iowa: I said Iowa 23, Illinois 13; actual score, Iowa 33, Illinois 23. My scopes need calibrating, it seems.
- Michigan at Maryland: I said UM 41, Maryland 24; actual score, UM 59, Maryland 18. Okay, but is dropping half a century on Maryland really that big a deal if Iowa also did it?
- Purdue at Northwestern: I said Purdue 38, jNWU 10; actual score, Purdue 32, jNWU 12. Both these teams will be in different positions next season, I can feel it.
- Michigan State at Ohio State: I said aOSU 45, Sparty 21; actual score, aOSU 56, Sparty 7. This could have easily been 77-7 or worse.
- Rutgers at Penn State: I said PSU 27, DORKS 17; actual score, PSU 28, DORKS 0. Shutting out Rutgers got James Franklin $7.5 million per year, I guess.
- Nebraska at Wisconsin: I said Wiscy 44, Nebby 20; actual score, Wiscy 35, Nebby 28. Nebraska is the best bad football team I’ve ever seen.
Now on to the picks. All games are on Saturday except for You-Know-Which.
#2 OHIO STATE AT #5 MICHIGAN (11 am CST, FOX)
I’m going to spill some tea here: I don’t think Michigan deserves to be #5 at this point of the season any more than Iowa deserved to be #2 lo those many weeks ago. It’s not that the Wolverines have an obvious, crippling flaw like the Hawkeyes do. It’s that they’ve played one unquestionably good team all season (Michigan State), they lost that game, and last week that team got mashed into bright pink goo by Ohio State, which is this week’s opponent.
The Buckeyes are so clearly the best team in the Big Ten that I’m kind of ashamed I ever thought it might be possible anyone else was. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that Ohio State never has fallow periods, because Ohio State knows how to hire head coaches. And how to recruit. If the Buckeyes looked mortal in September, they’ve got the look of inevitability written all over them now. Of the likely College Football Playoff participants, I’d say they’re the one with the best shot of beating Georgia (speaking of inevitability …).
That’s gonna make it all that much worse when Nick Saban Thanos-snaps them out of existence in the first round. But that’s for then. This is now, and I don’t think this game is going to be all that close.
We Literally Want Bama 48, Pasadena AGAIN? 20.
MARYLAND AT RUTGERS (11 am CST, BTN)
This is the week’s most compelling game, in the sense that something more than pride is up for grabs. Both these teams are 5-6, so the winner gets a bowl bid and the loser gets a longer Christmas break.
This is also the week’s least compelling game, because it is between Maryland and Rutgers. I would rather retake middle school health class than bother thinking about this game any more, so …
“Magic 8 Ball, will Rutgers (+1.5) cover?”
“So will Rutgers win?”
ASK AGAIN LATER
See? Even the Magic 8 Ball doesn’t care about this game.
Just Outside The Nation’s Capital 24, Pork Roll Egg And Cheese 23.
NORTHWESTERN AT ILLINOIS (2:30 pm CST, BTN)
I live in downstate Illinois. Saturday is supposed to be a dang near perfect day here. It’s a holiday weekend. And there’s nothing at all but pride on the line in this game.
It is, therefore, the perfect college football game: just a pleasant experience on a fall day with no reverberations whatsoever. The fans will come, they will tailgate, someone will win, everybody goes out for dinner and then goes home to switch gears into basketball. Well, the Illinois fans will start caring about basketball, anyway. And they’ll go home happy, since Illinois is going to win this game.
We Be Illin’-ois 27, FInnegan Begin Again 13.
PENN STATE AT #12 MICHIGAN STATE (2:30 pm CST, ABC)
I had to blink.
The line on this game, as of this writing, is Sparty +1.
It’s kind of a cliche that “Vegas always knows” but in this case … what does it know that I don’t? Sparty is tough. Penn State has had a disappointing season. And this game is being played in East Lansing. I don’t think it’ll be a blowout but man, I have a tough time seeing Michigan State losing this game, even if the Big Ten’s two most creative passing offenses ripped them apart. Because even when Sean Clifford was healthy I didn’t see Penn State as an Air Raid type of team. So I’m skeptical and I’ll take Sparty.
Pay The Man 38, We Just Did 32.
INDIANA AT PURDUE (2:30 pm CST, which could be anywhere from 3:30 pm to 4 am Tuesday in whatever time zone Indiana is in, FS1)
Indiana is sort of bad at football this year, you guys.
Back Brohm In Indiana 42, Basketball School 10.
#14 WISCONSIN AT MINNESOTA (3 pm CST, FOX)
Iowa fans find themselves in the unfamiliar and highly uncomfortable situation of having to root for the (gulp …) Golden Gophers in this game, in order to keep the Hawkeyes’ chances of making it to Indianapolis alive. Well, actually, we’ll know before kickoff whether we have to give a rat’s bonkus about this game or not. So we could be in the comfortably uncomfortable position of being able to root against the team that hates us because it can never, ever beat us.
You will see below whether I think Iowa fans will need to sleep with the enemy here. Let me just say that I think Wisconsin is on an entirely different level than the chicken-wire-and-bubble-gum Gophers. Like Ohio State, Wisconsin had a shaky September. Also like the Buckeyes, the Badgers have done nothing but get better since. So it’s only fitting that they should be the ones to go to Indy and find out they don’t belong at the grownups table after all.
Guess We Beat Dose Gice Pretty Good, Hey? 34, Row For Cryin’ Out Loud 20.
And of course …
#16 IOWA AT NEBRASKA (Friday, 12:30 pm CST, BTN)
When the opening line dropped at Nebraska -4, it shocked everyone and no one. A ranked, 9-2 team a four-point dog on the road to a 3-8 team that fired half its coaching staff in a desperate attempt to avoid firing all of it again? Well, that team was the 2021 Iowa Hawkeyes, so.
It took Husker QB Adrian Martinez being ruled out for the line to switch back over to Iowa’s side, which is comical. Quarterback play was never going to make the difference in this game and if Adrian Martinez could win a game single-handedly for this team, he would have done so already. It will come down to defense and special teams, battles that strongly favor the Hawkeyes. There will be nothing pretty about this game. Usually when football commentators say that while previewing a game, they mean you should expect a physical, low-scoring game.
Let me be clear: I do not mean that. I mean there’s going to be nothing beautiful about this one, except maybe for all the punting. It’ll be one of those frustrating “if either team wins this game, it’ll be a miracle” kind of contests. Someone, somewhere along the line, will make a fatal mistake that swings the balance to the opposition.
And I don’t know who the bleep would ever think that a Scott Frost team would be less likely than a Kirk Ferentz team to make that kind of mistake. Iowa, in one we’ll all try to forget, just like ten of the eleven other games this season, eight of which Iowa actually won.
In Kirk We Trust 20, In Scott Disgust 13.
Last Week: 7-0 (1.000)
Season: 65-23 (.739)