Saturday is still five days away. But it isn’t too early to sneak a peek at the matchups. There’s a lot riding on the line for the last weekend of regular-season action. Penn State and Wisconsin will play to decide who will advance to play Michigan State in the Big Ten title game; Purdue is trying to become bowl eligible; and it’s Ohio State-Michigan week. The storyline: The Wolverines are trying to end seven years of misery and enhance their BCS at-large resume.
Penn State (9-2, 6-1) at Wisconsin (9-2, 5-2). This is it: A de facto Leaders Division title game, as the Nittany Lions and Badgers battle in a winner-takes-all clash that will send the victor to the Big Ten championship game to face Michigan State. Penn State clinched at least a share of the division title with a win at Ohio State last week, but it wants more. Wisconsin has won three in a row after its season looked sunk following consecutive last-minute October losses on last-minute touchdown passes.
Ohio State (6-5, 3-4) at Michigan (9-2, 5-2). No one needs to tell the Wolverines that they have lost seven in a row to the Buckeyes and generally have been embarrassed during the losing streak. Michigan is motivated to stop the bleeding and also earn a 10th victory, which will enhance the Wolverines’ BCS at-large bowl profile, as Brady Hoke and Luke Fickell get their first tastes of this rivalry as head coaches.
Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) at Northwestern (6-5, 3-4). There isn’t much on the line for two hot teams. Last Saturday, the Spartans wrapped up the Legends Division and a berth in the Big Ten title game. But Mark Dantonio has said he wants to keep the momentum rolling as Michigan State—winners of three in a row–heads to Indianapolis for the championship game. The Wildcats, winners of four in a row following a five-game losing streak, secured bowl eligibility with a win over Minnesota last week.
Iowa (7-4, 4-3) at Nebraska (8-3, 4-3). This has the makings of a great season-ending rivalry. With the Legends Division already wrapped up by Michigan State, the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers are left to play for pride and to enhance their bowl profile. Iowa got its first road win of the season last week at Purdue, while the Huskers are coming off a demoralizing 45-17 loss at Michigan.
Illinois (6-5, 2-5) at Minnesota (2-9, 1-6). The Golden Gophers will limp across the finish line, looking to end 2011 on an up note as they head into the offseason looking to build on Year One of the Jerry Kill era. After opening 6-0 with dreams of a Leaders Division title, the Fighting Illini are riding a five-game losing streak that has brought unwanted scrutiny onto the program.
Purdue (5-6, 3-4) at Indiana (1-10, 0-7). It’s the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket. And, it means something—at least for Purdue, which hasn’t won back to back games in 2011. This is the Boilermakers’ last chance to become bowl eligible, a feat they haven’t achieved since 2007. The Hoosiers’ bowl hopes died weeks ago, as Indiana has lost eight in a row. And the defense has struggled all season, allowing 55 or more points three times in the last five games. But the chance to spoil Purdue’s postseason dreams and retain the Bucket are ample motivation for the Hoosiers.