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October 14, 1999 - Image 21

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The Michigan Daily, 1999-10-14

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Thursday, October 14, 1999 - The Michigan Daily - 21A


Ten undefeateds hopeto avoid potential upsets

By Dan Williams
Daily Sports Writer
During the off week, Michigan gets
to sit back and watch the other Big Ten
teams beat up on each other and see if
any more of the nation's undefeateds
This October has been especially
pivotal in the Big Ten, with the depth of
the conference resulting in important
games every week. This week six of the
conference title contenders go head-to-
Nationally, this Saturday has a major
bowl contender facing one of its two
toughest opponents of the season, while
other teams with high expectations
fight for their New Year's Day bowl
No. 18 OHo STATE AT No. 2 PENN
Since 1993, the Big Ten has had three
football superpowers in Penn State,
Ohio State and Michigan. Each year,
matchups between the big three have
been central in determining the confer-
ence champ.
This week the No. 2 Nittany Lions,
the top-ranked team in the Big Ten, try
to regain bragging rights in the series
against the Buckeyes. Last year, Ohio
State dominated on defense and cruised
to a 28-9 victory.
Though question marks have arisen
around Penn State in the last month, the
Lions still enter the contest with a 6-0
record and a clear advantage in person-
On defense, the Lions may not be liv-
ing up to their larger-than-life expecta-
tions, but the team has generated big
plays when necessary. Last week, a key
fourth down stop of Iowa en route to a
31-7 victory was one of many times the
defense has risen to the occasion.
On offense, the Lions have survived
by relying on their big-play ability. But,
against the Buckeyes, their porous
offensive line needs to have a return to
classic Penn State form. Joe Lorio, a
freshman walk-on, has taken over for
Frank Spano at the starting center spot.
Poor run blocking has prevented the
team from establishing a consistent
ground attack. Red zone turnovers have
been an Achilles' heel, and it will prob-
ably cost the Lions a game somewhere
down the line if the giveaways persist.
On the other hand, the Buckeyes are
going into the game with the "we get no
respect" approach, an unusual perspec-
tive for the team. Ohio State coach John
Cooper fired his team up by telling the
press that they couldn't beat Penn State
if both teams played their best game.
In reality, skill isn't the major differ-
ence between Penn State and Ohio
State, but depth and experience are
areas of concern for the Buckeyes. With
so many new starters, and injury and
academic problems plaguing the roster.
Ohio State will have to raise the level of
its game to win.
Though the Buckeyes aren't lacking
star players at skill positions, mobile
quarterback Steve Bellisari needs to
have his top performance, running as
well as passing, to neutralize the over-
pursuing Penn State defense.
Ohio State has two great receivers in

Ken-Yon Rambo and Reggie Germany.
Whether or not they can get open
against Penn State corners Anthony
King and David Macklin may decide
the Buckeyes' fate.
On defense, Na'il Diggs is the play-
maker for the Buckeyes, but halfway
through the season, the rest of the front
seven has come under criticism. The
secondary has been solid thanks to the
play of Nate Clements, Gary Berry, and
Ahmed Plummer.
An intangible that must be consid-
ered in this game is that this is the
young Buckeyes' first game in hostile
territory. A. loud Beaver Stadium crowd
should be enough to put Penn State
over the top, if the Lions fix their
turnover problem.
There's a reason why Nick Saban
gave his team just one day to celebrate
after its huge in-state win. The
Spartans' upcoming trip to West
Lafayette has all the elements of an
First, no matter what the team pro-
fesses in the media, Michigan State is
coming off its best game in its biggest
game of the year. Avoiding a let-down
will be nearly impossible.
Secondly, the Boilermakers were a
top-10 team just two weeks ago until
Michigan and Ohio State took the wind
out of its sails. Purdue is now a quality
team that has its back against the New
Year's Day Bowl wall, and it needs to
make a stand. .
The Spartans can rest a bit easier
knowing they have a great upset-fight-
er in their top notch defense. The
Spartans' ravenous defense will likely
try to stop Joe Tiller's offense in the
same way the previous two teams have.
They will try to flush Purdue quarter-
back Drew Brees out of the pocket and
then hold the Boilermakers' teams of
receivers to short gains.
The Spartans offense was so success-
ful against Michigan that some mem-
bers of the media, with the shortest of
short-term memories, have gone so far
as to declare Bill Burke a Heisman can-
Though Plaxico Burress was the star
wideout last week, past evidence has
shown he gets alligator arms once he's
been hit hard. Gari Scott has been the
Spartans most consistent receiver
throughout the year and the
Boilermakers better not forget about
Still, as long as Michigan State can
successfully run against Purdue with
TJ. Duckett and Lloyd Clemens, it will
initiate the flow of the game. Saban
probably wants to control the -empo
and not get into a score-fest.
Purdue's defense is nowhere near
good enough to win a game, so the
offense will have to get back into
rhythm for the Boilermakers to have a
chance. Brees has found a big play man
in track star Vinny Sutherland and a
possession receiver in Chris Daniels.
But if Purdue's offense is going to be
back to full strength, it will need to
rediscover its best overall wideout in

Randall Lane.
Weather may be a real key to this
game. There hasn't been enough proof{
in the last two weeks to show\ that
Purdue's spread offense cant work
against good teams. Instcad the two
games have shown that with no running
game to speak of, the Boilermakers
become very ineffective in bad weather.
The third major matchup in the Big
Ten is only slightly less enticing than
the other two. Wisconsin's Ron Dayne,
one of the nation's best runners will go
up against Indiana quarterback
Antwaan Randle El, the nation's most
exciting player.
Wisconsin has a nation confused. It
has experienced both the lows and
highs of the state of Ohio. After beinga
upset at Cincinnati, 17-12. the Badgers
experienced temporary redemption
when they beat the Buckeyes, 42-17, in
the Horseshoe.
The biggest thing that can be
deduced from Wisconsin's baffling play1
is that any decent team can compete
with it by stacking the line against
Dayne and making quarterback Brooks
Bollinger beat them. Minnesota proved
that last week when they held Dayne to
80 yards and nearly defeated
Wisconsin, only to fall 20-17 in over-

WIscNIs 35,X IlmiNA 31
The Bow Championship Series is
nOT goig to b' e atfected by this game,
y et i is a vry important match-up for
two programs trying' to break into the
top half f the BYig Ten.
Mineoai is a step ahead of the
lilini Wth 4-1 overall record, the
Goidn G-opherv ven made a brief
appc:r%. in the AP top 25. Illinois
ha Fallen to 1-2 in the Big Ten, but still
has hope> of a .500 season with a 4-2
ox eral I record.
The key to this game is the experi-
ence of M innesota at the skill positions.
Quarierback Billy Cockerham is in his
second year as a starter, and back
Thomas i amner has been one of the
most consistent rushers in the league
over the past two seasons.
l inois has a two pronged running
art ck with red-shirt freshman Rocky
I u vey complimenting senior Steve
H r yard.
Minnesota gets the edge in this game
has-d on their defense. Linebacker
Seaa Hoffman and the rest of the
Gopher's defensive unit have surpassed
all expectations so far.
\iN soUi 21, ILLINOiS 14
It. almost too bad for these two

While many people believe that at
least one half of the Sugar Bowl should
come from either the Big 12 or the Big
10, killer conference schedules will
make it tough for a Nebraska or a Penn
State to remain undefeated.
With that said, Virginia Tech has an
excellent shot of playing in New.
Orleans in January. The Big East is pro-
viding the Hokies with even less com-
petition than usual, and their Saturday
night match-up with Syracuse is one of
their only two potential stumbling
blocks left.
Defensive end Corey Moore may be
the favorite for the Lombardi award for
best defensive lineman/linebacker in
the nation. Moore has accumulated
eight sacks, eight tackles for a loss, and
one touchdown.
On offense, Virginia Tech has been
getting better every week. Shyrone
Stith is the back in the conference, and
Michael Vick has been steady running
and throwing the ball. Against Rutgers
last week, Vick finally found Tech 's
best wide receiver, Ricky Hall.
The pair hooked up for 73 yards and
two touchdowns. With Hall back in the
spotlight of the Hokies' offense, it will
be even tougher to stop.
When you have as good a defense as
Syracuse does, you can be competitive
in every game.
If Syracuse can 't get Vick out of his
rhythm early, this game could be a long
one for the Orangemen. Virginia Tech is
still trying to earn national respect
since they've had little competition thus
Ground control to R.J. Soward?
Southern Cals biggest name has been
nothing short of spacy both on and off
the field so far this season. First,
Soward publicly criticized his school
for not promoting his Heisman cam-
paign and then he proceeded to make
just one touchdown reception through
five games.
The Trojans' defense has been an
oddity itself. A Pac-10 team relying on
its defense to score? The Trojans defen-
sive unit has five touchdowns to its
credit already.
Though Notre Dame would like to
get revenge on the team that knocked
them out of a BCS bowl last year, it'd
more love to get its record above .500.

Quarterback Jarious Jackson might
not truly get the respect he deserves
until after he's left South Bend.
Jackson's elusiveness and all around
game presence are Notre Dame's
biggest weapons.
If the Trojans are going to get a win
this week they will have to get Soward,
their most explosive and exciting play-
er, back into the game to compete
against a resurgent Notre Dame.
No. 11 ALABAMA AT No. 22
Though Alabama is a potential top
ten team, Mississippi is once again fill-
ing the role of an SEC pretender that is
most likely to lose in a non New Year's
Day bowl.
In Alabama's two big wins over top
15 teams, Arkansas and Florida, Shaun
Alexander went for 271 yards and five
He has been awesome, he has been
consistent, he has been multi-dimen-
sional and he's done it in big wins
against great teams.
The fact that the Game Day crew and
others haven't started promoting
Alexander for the Heisman illustrates
the difference between a Heisman can-
didate on Jefferson Pilot's regional cov-
erage every week, and a candidate
who's on national TV regularly.
Besides Alexander, quarterback
Andrew Zow has added poise to his
game this year, making him an effective
Mississippi's highly touted quarter-
back, Romaro Miller, still isn't living
up to the expectations that surrounded
him coming out of high school.
Mississippi's offense has been
mediocre despite suspect opponents.
Running back Joe Gunn has been their
top threat, rushing for 637 yards.
If, Mississippi's defense can't hold
down all of Alabama's weapons, it
should be a long day for the Runnin'
ALABAMA 35, Mississippi 20

time. teams that they have to play in the
When teams take away Dayne, the loaded Big Ten. Both teams have new
Wisconsin offense has to rely almost coatches who are trying to rebuild pro-
solely on the deep ball to win. Without "iams from the ground up.
strong receivers or a great quarterback,. Untortunately, the rest of the confer-
the Badgers have no possession passing ence has no sympathy for rebuilding

Truly, Wisconsin is one of the last
Big Ten teams that is winning with typ-
ical Big Ten ugly football. Besides the
commitment to the run and the gargan-
tuan offensive line, Wisconsin wins its
games with defense and special teams.
The Badgers are second in the Big
Ten in total defense. They have received
strong performances from their best
player, cornerback Jamar Fletcher, who
has two interceptions. Wendell Bryant
is an emerging star on the defensive
line, recording six sacks on the season.
The Badgers special teams have been
THE best in the Big Ten. The Badgers
are typically able to win the field posi-
tioning game with the best kick return-
er in the Big Ten in Nick Davis and
Kevin Stemke, the best punter in the
Indiana has quietly gone 2-1 in the
Big Ten, attaining back-to-back wins
against Illinois and Northwestern.
Randle El isn't going to be a new name
to Big Ten fans, but he may be a new
name in the Heisman race if he contin-
ues to account for over 70-percent of
his team s offense. Don 't be surprised
if Randle El is a Heisman favorite next
The blueprint on how to beat
Wisconsin is laid out for the Hoosiers,
all they have to do is follow it. If
Indiana can run the ball and keep the
score close in the first half, look out for
the upset. With the threat of Randle El
on the option, the Hoosiers have been
very successful on long play action
passes late in the game.

In fact. this game may be the only
chance for these two teams to get a con-
ference win.
Both teams rank at the bottom of the
Big Ten in virtually all important cate-
gories, including total offense and total
lowa's best weapon, running back
Ladell Betts, has been easily contained
wit h no other substantial offensive
threats. Quarterback Randy Reiners
had his best game last week against
Penn State.
For Northwestern, quarterback Nick
Kreinbrink has completed just 38.3-
percent of his passes. Running back
Damie Anderson has accumulated over
500 yards rushing, but after a quick
start, he has been less effective of late.
Trying to pick a winner in this game
is unfortunately just trying to pick the
better of two bad teams. However, Iowa
did show some heart against Penn
State, that has to count for something.

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