Six teams are facing must-win situations in the Big Ten's undercard games this week. Foremost among them is a noon EST game in Iowa City where the Hawkeyes host the Badgers. Iowa finally showed some life last week in blowing out Indiana, but needing three more wins to make it to a bowl game won't be easy and they are going to have beat quality teams now. Of course the question of whether Wisconsin is such a quality team is now in serious doubt, with UW staring at an 0-3 conference record and a quarterback controversy on its hands. No announcement has been made, but Jeff Potrykus of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that freshmen Dustin Sherer has been practicing with the first team. While I don't think Wisconsin is as bad is they looked last week (mainly because such would be impossible), I think it's naive for Wiscy fans to assume a quick resurrection to the season now that Ohio State and Penn State are passed. This is a struggling team and is traveling to a place that has not been friendly. I suspect Iowa's weaknesses are even more acute, so I'll pick the Badgers in a nail-biter, but this is a game with considerably less juice then might have been expected just a few weeks ago.
Northwestern hosts Purdue in another noon game, this one on ESPN2. The Boilermakers might attribute their 0-2 league record to having drawn the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes to start conference play. Fair enough, but they weren't playing great in non-conference play as it was. The Wildcats were also a shaky 5-0 team that was undressed last week by Michigan State. As the Big Ten season unfolds in a chaotic manner, this might be one of the few places NU can turn to get the wins they need to get to a bowl. As for Purdue, Tom Kubat of The Journal Courier opines that getting the offense untracked is the key to a turnaround.
Illinois goes to Indiana in a prime-time 8 EST kick on the Network. Juice Williams says both teams desperately need the win, and he's right. But all desperation isn't created equal, and the Hoosiers do not have the defense to contain Williams. If the Illini don't beat themselves like last week, they will win easily. A more interesting test will be whether Ron Zook's defense plays well. They have not had a truly outstanding game yet, and Indiana did ring up the points against a comparable team in Michigan State. Illinois is one of several teams we're still waiting to really get a bead on and the defense is key to that.