Are we in position to write down the names of Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State and just pencil them in as the teams to fill the top four bowl slots (conference champ, probable BCS at-large, Capital One & Outback)? Maybe. But this weekend has three games that could upset the applecart.
Illinois plays host to Penn State. I've tabbed the Illini as my preseason choice to break into the upper group and snag a New Year's Day bid. They've got the Lions traveling the second week in a row and perhaps suffering a little hangover from Michigan. Illinois has the weapons--Rashard Mendenhall has been dominant on the ground early on, including a 214-yard game against Indiana last week. The Illini also nearly beat a solid Missouri team in their opener. For their part, PSU has got to get their defense a little bit of help. They only ran 60 plays last week, in comparison to Michigan's 86. It' s no wonder the D-line looked broken in the second half. The offensive front isn't Michigan-caliber this week, but facing Mendenhall and Juice Williams while running on empty is risky business. For Illinois, these coming back-to-back dates with the Lions and Wisconsin in Champaign are their chance to finally make a statement to the conference higher-ups.
Michigan State is 4-0 and traveling to Wisconsin. The Spartans are also getting good work on the ground from Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick. Shannon Shelton at The Detroit Free Press reports that a juco influx has helped the Spartan defensive front, but they will have their work cut out against the big Badger front five. Also of concern is that State's wins over Bowling Green and a very mediocre Pitt squad were less-then-impressive.
Purdue is everybody's favorite as the dark horse possibility to not only get a good bowl bid, but maybe to win a league that lacks a clear frontrunner. With Notre Dame coming to town, there is no real danger they will lose, but it will be interesting to see if they can put the same kind of thumping on the Irish that their rivals have. That will give us a read as to what kind of team Joe Tiller has before Ohio State arrives next week. For now, the Boilermakers are playing it safe and giving ND their due.