It isn't the game involving the #1 team in the country. And it isn't the one that ABC chose for the 3:30 EST television slot. But Penn State-Purdue is the most quietly significant game on the Big Ten docket this week, with both teams in the hunt for bowl bids in the Capital One or Outback.
Nittany Nation is depressed after Saturday night's home debacle, and according to Black Shoes Diaries it's not going to get better. But Penn State is still the best bet to wind up in the Capital One Bowl if they can win their last three games. They'd have wins over Wisconsin & Purdue and no bad losses to speak of if they can get to 9-3. For the Boilermakers, they've still only lost to Michigan and Ohio State. If they sneak out of Happy Valley with a win they become a serious contender for at least the Outback and maybe even the more coveted spot in Orlando at one o'clock on New Year's Day.
Key to the game is going to be whether Penn State can establish Rodney Kinlaw and Evan Royster on the ground early and get control of the tempo away from Tiller. It will also be interesting to see if PSU defensive coordinator Tom Bradley tries to attack Curtis Painter with pressure or whether he drops back. The Lions have done better the last couple seasons when they go after people, but the inability of the offense to play catchup has to give Bradley pause for turning his guys loose. Overall, it will be a good test for the Purdue offense, as Tom Kubat of The Journal & Courier reports.
The game ABC will be televising is no slouch. Michigan goes to East Lansing to take on the Spartans. UM can lose one game and still be in position to get the Rose Bowl bid against Ohio State. But they are playing to keep control of their hopes for an outright championship, as well as the chance for a BCS at-large bid if they should lose to the Bucks. Michigan State is playing to get back into a bowl game and perhaps move up the prestige ladder of December games. And when all is said and done, both teams are playing for good old-fashioned hate. Michael Rosenberg at The Detroit Free Press reports that Mark Dantonio has adopted the approach of his mentor, Jim Tressel--embrace your rivalry game, don't run from it.