Published Friday, November 1, 2013 at 7:55 pm / Updated at 8:05 pm
FOOTBALL
Barfknecht: Saturday night's all right for games

Contrary to popular belief, the Big Ten does not — I repeat, does not — have a policy, rule or bylaw that forbids night football games in November.

Nor is Commissioner Jim Delany against it, as we learned when I squeezed in a line of football questions at his basketball media day availability.

“I have no agenda on it,” Delany told me. “It's more of a practice than a contract that it couldn't be done.

“We don't discourage it now. We were a conference that didn't do prime time for decades and decades. Then we were a conference that began to do that in September and October.”

The Big Ten has played 17 night games this season, but no more are scheduled until the league championship game Dec. 7 in Indianapolis.

That move to daylight football coincides with the strongest month of the schedule by far. With the Big Ten's major image problems in level of play the past few seasons, it seems awfully counterproductive not to place your best games in front of the biggest audiences.

“Saturday night is a very popular night of college football,” Delany said. “The demographics are bigger and the houses with televisions are bigger. It's a big event.”

One the Big Ten fails to participate in, to its own detriment.

Delany correctly notes that it takes three to tango for a night football game, which isn't out of the question even this season.

“It would take a TV entity that wants to do it and both schools to agree to do it,” he said. “It could happen now. Those games in November are interesting games and important games in the conference and national race. I'd be fully supportive.”

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When the Big Ten negotiates its new television agreement, which starts in 2016-17, the broadcast partners likely will want more night games.

Such as Saturday's game between No. 21 Michigan (6-1, 2-1) and No. 22 Michigan State (7-1, 4-0) at 2:30 p.m., which is where I will be.

This matchup checks all of the boxes for a high-interest game: a national brand (Michigan), two ranked teams, conference title implications and the hissing that comes with an in-state rivalry.

Michigan forever taunts Michigan State as its “little brother,” with ex-Wolverine quarterback Denard Robinson listing UM's rivals as Ohio State first, Notre Dame second and “our little brothers” third.

Michigan State counters by noting the Spartans have won four of the past five in this series.

Sadly for the Big Ten, this will be a regional ABC telecast going up against the biggest glut of games on the schedule.

As for the game itself, not much appears to line up in Michigan's favor. Michigan State has the country's No. 1 defense, while Wolverine quarterback Devin Gardner has been explosive but erratic and turnover-prone.

Even more in Michigan State's favor is the weather forecast: 48 degrees, rain, northwest wind at 15 to 20 mph.

My pick: Michigan State 24, Michigan 10

Other games

Northwestern (4-4, 0-4) at NU (5-2, 2-1), 2:30, BTN: This is a game about which team has its coach's back. Northwestern, despite four straight losses, hasn't quit. I've covered three of those four losses, and the effort is there. Nebraska needs to show far more life than last week at Minnesota. Also, look at the quarterbacks. Northwestern senior Kain Colter is playing to salvage his final season. Nebraska is using freshman Tommy Armstrong, whose statistics against FBS opponents are 13 carries for 23 yards; 14 of 31 passes (45 percent) for 178 yards; more picks (3) than touchdowns (2). Northwestern 28, Nebraska 27

Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1) at Iowa (5-3, 2-2), 11, ABC: Hawkeye fans are talking upset. But in the second half last week, Northwestern ran the ball with relative ease. Wisconsin, with the nation's No. 4 rusher in Melvin Gordon, will hit enough big plays to stretch this out. Watch, though, if UW linebacker Chris Borland (hamstring) doesn't play. That would shrink the margin considerably. Wisconsin 31, Iowa 17

No. 4 Ohio St. (8-0, 4-0) at Purdue (1-6, 0-3), 11, BTN: Somehow, Purdue has forced Ohio State into overtime the past two meetings, winning once and losing once. Don't count on any drama like that here. Ohio State 66, Purdue 6

Illinois (3-4, 0-3) at Penn St. (4-3, 1-2), 11, ESPN: Both defenses are really struggling. Penn State has allowed 40 points or more in three straight games for the first time in its history. But the Nittany Lions can still outscore the Illini. Penn State 45, Illinois 27: Minnesota (6-2, 2-2) at Indiana (3-4, 1-2), 2:30, BTN

Minnesota (6-2, 2-2) at Indiana (3-4, 1-2), 2:30, BTN: Momentum clearly is with Minnesota after back-to-back wins over Northwestern and Nebraska. But Indiana's wide-open passing attack is the offensive style that bothers the Gophers most. Indiana 38, Minnesota 27

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht

lee.barfknecht@owh.com    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

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