Big Ten Football 2012
Big Ten Football Preview - Week 7
Big Ten Week 7 Football Schedule
Illinois at Michigan
Ohio State at Indiana
Iowa at Michigan State
Wisconsin at Purdue
Northwestern at Minnesota
Week seven of the Big Ten season does not represent a particularly electrifying collection of games, but it will certainly add clarity to the league's two division races, especially in the Leaders division.
As soon as Wisconsin fell to Oregon State by the low and ugly score of 10-7 in week two back on Sept. 8, it immediately became clear that the Badgers were a far cry from the 2010 and 2011 teams that marched smartly to the Rose Bowl as the freshly-minted Big Ten champions. Wisconsin's offensive line blasted holes for running back Montee Ball to burst through. Quarterbacks such as Scott Tolzien and Russell Wilson were able to push the ball down the field in the passing game. Wisconsin owned a generally lethal offense that could compete with the other top teams in the county. The Badgers established themselves among the nation's elite. However, the Oregon State loss showed that Wisconsin is in the midst of a rebuilding year. It's just that simple, with the only plot complication being that quarterback Danny O'Brien, a transfer from Maryland, hasn't worked out for coach Bret Bielema's club. Backup Joel Stave has been the better player, but the point remains that O'Brien was supposed to be the man that gave this program the ability to reload. The Badgers haven't, and that's why they're performing at a level that's much worse than many pundits initially expected.
Because Wisconsin declined so sharply in September, relative to preseason expectations and its 2011 level of performance, it was thought in some quarters that the Purdue Boilermakers would be able to overtake the Badgers in the Big Ten Leaders Division. With Ohio State and Penn State both ineligible for postseason play, it's clear that in a division with bottom-rung teams such as Illinois and Indiana, Wisconsin and Purdue are the only two contenders for the Leaders crown and a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 1. When these teams meet this Saturday on the Purdue campus, the stakes will be considerably high. This is the first big pressure moment for each team within the context of Big Ten-specific goals. Wisconsin and Purdue clearly fail to match up with the upper-tier teams from other power conferences. Mediocrity is a defining characteristic of each team, but now, the Badgers and Boilermakers must clash on the same field and define themselves within the more narrow confines of Big Ten competition.
The fact that Purdue is playing at home should help the Boilermakers, but Purdue hasn't won a share of the Big Ten championship since the 2000 season, while Wisconsin has been a model of consistency. The fact that the Badgers have appeared in each of the past two Rose Bowl games should give Wisconsin a certain measure of confidence in this meeting. That level of emotional capital should come in handy when the fourth quarter arrives. It will be up to Purdue to produce something special and hold its nerve in this game's late-stage moments, when the pressure of the occasion will weigh heavily on the Boilermakers' shoulders.
The other big game in the league comes from the Legends division, where Iowa visits Michigan State. Neither team has played well this season, at least not on a consistent basis. This is more of a "vote-the-loser-down" game than a "bolster-the-winner" contest. The Hawkeyes and Spartans have just not brought a lot to the table this year, especially on offense. A breakout game is sorely needed for each squad on the offensive side of the ball.
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