Four Downs: Week 12 predictions, thoughts & truths

Saturday is almost here. Can you feel it? Can you sense it? Every team gets four downs to make something happen. So, why not me? That’s the idea here. Here’s what’s running through my mind with Week 12 of the Big Ten season on the horizon.

[ MORE: Week 12 Previews | Best of Week 12 | Pick your Week 12 winners ]

PREDICTIONS

1. Michigan State will need just 21-24 points to beat Nebraska … if that many. Look, it’s this simple: good defense almost always trumps good offense. And the Spartans don’t just have a good defense; they have a great defense. The Cornhusker offense is good, but the line is beat up and Tommy Armstrong, Jr., isn’t a playmaker like Taylor Martinez.

2. Illinois’ Big Ten losing skid will reach 20 games by Saturday afternoon, as Ohio State will rip off 50 points and 500 yards in dumping the Fighting Illini. That will put the Fighting Illini alone in second place for the second all-time longest conference losing skid. The good news for Illinois: Its next game is at Purdue.

3. Wisconsin will rush for 400 yards vs. Indiana, with three backs eclipsing the 100-yard mark. Oh, and the Badgers will score over 50 points. Hey, it would be worse if Bret Bielema still was the Wisconsin coach. Gary Andersen has shown mercy on foes; Bielema was ruthless on foes.

4. The Michigan offense will struggle again, this time at Northwestern. Hey, at this point of the season, it is what it is. Until the Wolverines can prove they can block someone, defenses will crowd the line and stuff the run. That will put Devin Gardner on the run … again.

TRUTHS

1. The Big Ten won’t be able to fill all of its eight bowl spots. Penn State isn’t eligible and Purdue already has been eliminated. Illinois, Indiana and Northwestern also don’t figure to reach six wins.

2. The bowl dreams for Illinois end this Saturday. Indiana will be one step closer to postseason elimination after losing at Wisconsin. The final step will be taken next Saturday in a game at Ohio State.

3. Purdue will be lucky to score more than seven points in State College, Pa. Yes, the Penn State defense has issues, but the Boilermakers offense has more issues. The unit averages 11.8 points and has scored 14 or fewer points in seven of nine games. Purdue has scored just one relevant touchdown in the last four games and been shut out twice. Get the picture?

4. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah has emerged as the Big Ten’s top back. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon emerged early as the league’s top runner. Then, Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde made a case to be No. 1. But, Abdullah is looking like the conference’s top runner. He paces the Big Ten in rushing with 1,213 yards and has become the fulcrum of the offense.

THOUGHTS

1. When the Michigan State job came open after the 2006 season, I recall LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini interviewing for the job—and almost getting it. How would things be different if MSU had tabbed Pelini instead of Mark Dantonio? Interesting.

2. Minnesota is the hottest Big Ten team not named “Ohio State,” but the Golden Gophers are off this week. They’ll be big fans of Nebraska in its epic battle vs. Michigan State. A Huskers’ win over Michigan State would put Minnesota a step closer to perhaps winning the Legends Division. Amazing, isn’t it?

3. Yes, Nebraska has won two in a row. But how impressed should we be? The Cornhuskers needed a miracle Hail Mary to beat a floundering Northwestern team in Lincoln. Then, the Huskers needed a late touchdown to beat what looks like one of the worst Michigan teams in years. I know, I know … a win is a win, but this Nebraska team still has many questions.

4. If Michigan State beats Nebraska, it will have a two-game lead in the Legends Division over the Cornhuskers and Golden Gophers with two games to play: at Northwestern and vs. Minnesota. MSU would have to lose both games, while the Huskers and Gophers would have to win out. As you can see, the Spartans would be in good shape with a victory on Saturday.

JOCKSTRAP GAMES

1. Ohio State over Illinois
2. Wisconsin over Indiana
3. Alabama over Mississippi State
4. Oklahoma over Iowa State

NUMBERS

9, points allowed by Michigan State in its last three games—vs. Purdue, at Illinois, vs. Michigan.

31,  Points scored by Purdue in its five Big Ten games to date, all losses. The closest the Boilermakers have come to victory was in that run as 14-0 blanking at Michigan State. The Boilers have 13 touchdowns in nine games—and one of those came on a kickoff return.

-7: Penn State’s turnover margin after 9 games. The Lions lost a fumble on their first play of the 24-10 loss at Minnesota and Christian Hackenberg lost a fourth-quarter fumble from the Gophers’ 1. The Lions’ turnover margin is worst in the Big Ten, as PSU has lost 11 fumbles and thrown eight interceptions.

19, runs of 10 yards or more allowed by Ohio State. That ranks second in the nation. Who is first? Michigan State, which has yielded only 10.

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About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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2 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (2 Comments)
maw on 11/15/2013 @ 1:06pm EDT Said:

Hm. I’m confused here. I mean, I know I wasn’t a math major at NU but…

You have NU beating UM this week but you don’t have NU getting to bowl elligibility. Assuming you think MSU will beat NU next week, does this mean you’re predicting Illinois to beat NU in two weeks? Really? I mean, I know it’s in Champaign and all but, really?

matt on 11/15/2013 @ 5:28pm EDT Said:

let’s all be clear, abdullah merely has the most yards of big ten backs, hes NOT the best. Both james white AND melvin gordon are better than him, and its not all that close. This isnt like a #1 starter and and a backup. Either back could start for any team in the nation over any team’s current starter bar none!

To date, the best defense nebraska has even played against is minnesota’s (maybe UCLA?). and although abdullah did alright, he’s had his share of carries to do it with. He’s the clear #1 there and he wouldnt even see the field at wisconsin.