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Spanning The Empire...Your Saturday Conference Open Thread

It's the second to last week of the regular season, and there are some pitched battles ready to take place across the Empire that is The Big Ten.  The Big Ten championship can't be won today, but it can be lost, depending on what happens.  There's also a rivalry trophy on the line, and it will be played in one of the most historical sporting venues in the country.

For me, I get a front row seat at one of the bigger games on the docket.  By the time you read this, I will be in Iowa City, tailgating with some of the best fans in the conference, including two of my brothers, one of which has graciously given me a ticket.  Look me up, I'll be the goofy OSU guy in a sea of black and gold.  I'll have  Leinie's Sunset Wheat in one hand, and a cigar in the other.  Quick previews after the jump, and enjoy the games! 

Oh, all kickoff times are central standard time, because the east coast sucks.

Penn State (sort of) at Indiana, 11:00, Big Ten Network.  I say sort of a home game for Indiana, because yes, they are designated as the home team for this, but they won't be 'Defending the Rock'.  Unless they bring 'The Rock' to Landover Maryland, and set up a perimeter around the House of Snyder.  How's this game going to turn out?  Well, if we were going to re-enact last Monday night's NFL game held in Landover between the Eagles and the Redskins, Indiana would play the role of Washington.

What's Left of Purdue at Michigan State, 11:00, Big Ten Network.  The Rose Bowl is so tantalizingly close for Michigan State, they can taste it.  I don't see them tripping over a battered Purdue team, but as well as Penn State has been playing lately (other than the OSU game), their trip to Happy Valley will have a lot on the line.  For Purdue, they just want to get through their season with no more inju---damn, the team manager just blew out his ACL.  It's been that kind of season for the Boilermakers.  

Wisconsin at Michigan, 11:00, ESPN.  Michigan is in kind of a weird place.  They're bowl eligible with no shot at winning the conference, but they make for a potential ultimate spoiler.  If they can beat Wisconsin today and OSU next week, they could ironically open the door for their 'little brother'** to win the Big Ten title outright.  Oh, and it would dramatically improve RichRod's standing, especially a win over OSU.  Wisconsin just needs to keep doing what it's doing, which is soundly dominate most everyone they play.  Michigan can't score consistently against a good defense, of which Wisconsin has.  The Badgers should win.

**When you're playing the spoiler, they're in contention for the title, and you haven't beaten them since George W. Bush was president, you're not really the 'big brother'.  Just putting that out there...

Illinois (kind of) at Nothwestern, 2:30, ESPNU.  Scheelhaase (5-5, 3.24 ERA) vs. Watkins (0-0, No Line).  If I wasn't going to Iowa CIty, I'd be headed up I-55 to try and score a ticket for the first football game at Wrigley Field in 40 years.  Once again, this is why the Big Ten kicks ass.  We have the coolest stadiums, baseball or football, and we can roll them out just because we want to.  This is a great idea, and one that should've been used to stage the inagural Big Ten Championship game.  Looking at the field painted on Wrigley, you can just imagine what it was like when Butkus, Gale Sayers, and George Halas played there---just replace the 'Northwestern' in the end zone with white, diagonal stripes.  Just a great idea, and one I hope Northwestern and Wrigley Field can do more than once every forty years.  Oh, and just like Ho Chi Minh City will always be Saigon to me, I will always refer to this rivalry game as the battle for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk.  The Land of Lincoln Rivalry Game just rolls off the tongue like a 55 gallon drum of cat piss. 

Ohio State at Iowa, 2:30, ABC.  This game got a lot less interesting, thanks to Iowa losing to Northwestern last week.  What was essentially a title elimination game for both teams isn't.  Well, it still is for OSU, because a win against Iowa and Michigan, and conventional wisdom has them on the inside track for an at large BCS berth, if not the Rose Bowl depending on what else happens.  For Iowa, last week's loss was devastating.  A Rose Bowl/BCS game is gone, the Big Ten title is gone, so now we see what mettle this Iowa team is made of.  Can they bounce back and play ultimate spoiler in front of the home crowd against a team that struggles on the road in the Big Ten, or do they slide off the radar completely?