A Buckeye win keeps the pressure on fellow co-leaders Wisconsin and Michigan State. The latter has an easy game against Purdue, but the Badgers go into Ann Arbor. John Clay's health remains a concern for UW, but the play of backups Montee Ball and James White has quelled that somewhat. Wisconsin has the depth at running back to pound the Wolverines on the ground, and an improved receiving corps should have a big day against Michigan's poor pass defense. The challenge the Badgers face is containing Denard Robinson. The UW defense isn't fast, at least by the standards of other Top 10 teams and Robinson could break them down most of the day. Then there's the psychological factor--like most Big Ten teams, Wisconsin has a lot of bad memories of playing in the Big House. Unlike most Big Ten teams, they've got some bad memories in the Rich-Rod era too, blowing a 19-0 lead here in 2008, a game that's still left emotional scars on this Wisconsin fan (I went to my brother-in-law's for dinner with the 19-0 lead, came back and found out that our perfect season was in ruins). Denard will keep Badger Nation on the edge of its seat all day, but in the end there's too many weapons on Wisconsin's side and they win a 52-31 shootout.
The bright lights of ABC prime-time are shining down on College Park, MD and it's not for basketball. Maryland's football team hosts Florida State in a huge game at the top of the ACC's Atlantic Division. The two teams join N.C. State in a three-way tie in the loss column. Tonight is FSU's last conference game, while N.C. State comes to Maryland next week, so this is the first of a two-game championship run for the Terps. I like their chances here, so long as they stay within the game plan and let freshman quarterback Danny O'Brien manage the offense in a patient way. Where Florida State presents a problem is their ability to dominate on the ground, between Jermaine Thomas and Chris Thompson. The latter is particularly explosive, giving the Seminole offense the potential of big plays with low risk. It's that explosiveness against Maryland's overall steadiness and I'm leaning to the home team in this one, 28-24. Note that if Florida State does win, that victory, coupled with an N.C. State loss at North Carolina (a circumstance I think will happen), would clinch the division for Jimbo Fisher's team. Virginia Tech controls its destiny to wrap up the other side of the ACC as they travel to Miami in a Coastal Division battle. Miami is still without Jacory Harris, but their own freshman quarterback Stephen Morris has played pretty well since being inserted halfway into the Virginia game a couple weeks ago and nearly pulling out a lost cause. Without Harris tossing up interceptions it won't be as easy for the Tech defense here, but in the end Morris also lacks Harris' big-play capability and that's what it will take to pull an upset of the Hokies. The visitors clinch the division with a 24-10 win.
Today's also novelty day in college football as the new Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field host football games. The game in Wrigley is where ESPN's Gameday crew will settle in and that turned out to be fortunate planning. Because yesterday it was announced that due to safety concerns in one end zone, Northwestern and Illinois will have to go the same direction. At each change of possession they'll turn around and move to the end zone the Big Ten has deemed safe. The conference looks foolish for having to do this at the last minute and...well, they are, because it's a flagrant lack of planning. But kudos to the league for being more concerned with safety than with how they came off appearing. After the tragedy at Notre Dame with Declan Sullivan, we don't need another one here today with a player hitting a brick wall in the back of the end zone.
Amidst all this, Illinois is 5-5 and needs one more win to get bowl-eligible. Out east, Notre Dame is also 5-5 and playing Army in the Bronx. The Illini have lost steam in recent weeks, with an inexplicable loss to Minnesota putting them in a bind. But with Northwestern missing quarterback Dan Persa, who keys the running game along with the passing game, Illinois will get this win. Notre Dame doesn't want to see their bowl hopes come down to a trip to Southern Cal next week, heightening the urgency in this one. But don't underestimate the Cadets, who are 6-4 and a program on the upswing under Rich Ellerson. Their option attack led by quarterback Trent Steelman is going to cause all kinds of problems for the soft ND defense and I'm calling the upset for Army, 31-20.
*The Big 12's showcase game is Nebraska-Texas A&M, where the Cornhuskers can clinch the Big 12 North (though they can also do it against Colorado next week) and A&M can keep alive in the South. I like what Mike Sherman has going in College Station and he's at home here, but I also think Nebraska's Taylor Martinez is too much for the Aggie defense and the Huskers get the road win. Also look for Oklahoma to win a shootout at Baylor and Oklahoma State to bury Kansas, setting up a Sooners-Cowboys showdown for the South division title next week.
*Quiet week in the SEC & Pac-10, with the Stanford-Cal game being the main one on the docket.
*Boise State keeps thundering along, burying Fresno State 51-0 for an ESPN audience last night. They'll get another national showcase against Nevada to make their case over and above TCU if a berth opens up in the national title game.
Image from buckeye50.com
Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.