Few probably realize that the Big Ten Leaders Division championship game is set for 11 a.m. Saturday when Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1) plays at Purdue (3-2, 0-1).
On Oct. 13? That's a little early, isn't it?
OK, so it's not officially the title-deciding game. But in this mess of a division that is part of an even messier conference, here is the hard truth:
The two best teams in the Leaders — No. 8 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) and Penn State (4-2, 2-0) — are ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA rules violations.
The two teams at the bottom of the division — Illinois (2-4, 0-2) and Indiana (2-3, 0-1) — have shown no sign of being able to rise up and make a surge in what might be these schools' best chance ever to play in a championship game.
So that leaves Wisconsin, which already has fired an assistant coach during the season, and Purdue, which collapsed last week in its biggest home game in a decade, to play for a spot in the Dec. 1 Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.
It's not far-fetched to think that a 4-4 record could get a Leaders team to Indy, which is why this matchup is so crucial. Two-way ties are broken by the head-to-head winner.
Purdue coach Danny Hope said he hopes that the magnitude of this game will get his players to quickly forget last week's 44-13 loss to Michigan.
“I would be disappointed if we were so weak-minded that we would let a loss linger,'' he said. “I believe we have weathered the storm. But we're disappointed we didn't win and embarrassed the score was lopsided in our own stadium.''
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema is using the UTEP game, the first half against Nebraska and the 21-point fourth quarter against Illinois as signs his offense is progressing.
Credit for that goes to former Omahan Bart Miller, who was promoted to offensive line coach when Mike Markuson was fired after the second game.
“Bart's done a nice job,'' Bielema said. “You've got to keep in perspective that the things they had been practicing, working, teaching and becoming part of who they are were dramatically changed after Oregon State.
“I knew at that point it wasn't going to change overnight. But we're going in the right direction. I'm extremely happy where it's at.''
The pick: Wisconsin 21, Purdue 17.
Ľ Iowa (3-2, 1-0) at Michigan State (4-2, 1-1), 11 a.m., ESPN: This game will resemble demolition derby more than football. Maybe we should just let MSU tailback Le'Veon Bell (6-foot-2, 244 pounds, 655 yards) and Iowa tailback Mark Weisman (6-0, 225, 515 yards) slam into each other in the parking lot.
The pick: Michigan State 13, Iowa 12.
Ľ Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) at Minnesota (4-1, 0-1), 11 a.m., ESPN2: Both teams are coming off their first loss. Who responds the best? Minnesota needs to restart its offense, while Northwestern's defense has to stop giving up clusters of points.
The pick: Northwestern 38, Minnesota 27.
Ľ Illinois (2-4, 0-2) at Michigan (3-2, 1-0), 2:30 p.m., ABC: The Illini are in a nose dive. The Wolverines are renewed after an open date and a thrashing of Purdue. This won't be close.
The pick: Michigan 49, Illinois 10.
Ľ No. 8 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) at Indiana (2-3, 0-2), 7 p.m., BTN: The Buckeyes aren't going to let off the gas now, not with talk of going undefeated and perhaps claiming the top spot in the Associated Press poll at season's end.
The pick: Ohio State 52, Indiana 17.
Contact the writer: