Illini Week in Review
Illinois opened Big Ten play on the road at Ohio State. In last week's blog, I listed this matchup as one of the top five games in the Big Ten this season, and this one didn't disappoint. The Illini used a first-half goal from Janelle Flaws (pictured left), her team-leading ninth of the season, to grab a 1-0 lead.
They held that lead until late in the second half, when OSU's Michela Paradiso got the equalizer with just over six minutes left in regulation. Neither team was able to find the back of tne net in the two overtime periods, so the Big Ten opener for both sides ended in a 1-1 draw.
Big Ten Week in Review
All Big Ten teams opened the season with a one-match weekend, with games sprinkled from Thursday through Sunday.
Illinois 1 Ohio State 1
Team of the Week: Indiana. It may be time to reassess the Hoosiers. They cruised through a relatively easy non-conference schedule unbeaten, but questions still remained about new coach Amy Berbary's side heading into the Big Ten opener against Minnesota. After winning 1-0 and outshooting Minnesota 17-11, consider those questions at least partially answered. Next up for IU is the always challenging Ohio State-Penn State road swing. Also considered: Nebraska.
Team of the Weak: Penn State. It may seem a bit harsh to put the Nittany Lions in this spot after opening their conference season with a win, but given the high expectations this program has built over the last two decades, I think it's appropriate. Credit Penn State for fighting back from a 2-0 deficit at home, but allowing a pair of goals to a Northwestern side that has struggled to score all season illustrates the defensive issues that PSU will have to solve to defend its Big Ten title once again. Also considered: Iowa.
To the Polls
This week's NSCAA Top 25 has Penn State at #8, Michigan #13, Wisconsin #18 and Ohio State receiving votes.
Soccer America's Top 25 lists Penn State at #9, Michigan #17 and unbeaten Indiana at #24.
Top Drawer has eschewed its Tournament 64 rankings for a more traditional Top 25 ranking this season. They show Penn State at #7, Michigan #13, Wisconsin #24 and Ohio State #25, with Indiana shown as "also receiving consideration."
This week's Soccer Times Top 25 looks very similar to the NSCAA poll, with Penn State #7, Michigan #14, Wisconsin #23, with Ohio State and Indiana receiving votes.
Our Game Magazine's weekly rankings list Penn State at #8 and Michigan #10, with Iowa, Illinois and Ohio State all listed among their "teams to watch."
And, if you'd prefer one-stop shopping for your rankings, College Soccer 360 releases their composite rankings each week, which take into account all the rankings above, plus others, such as RPI and computer rankings. In these top 50 rankings, Penn State is #8, Michigan #14, Wisconsin #30, Ohio State #32, Nebraska #34, Minnesota #35, Indiana #36, and Illinois #44.
What's on Tap
It's the first two-match weekend of the conference season, so it's time to put my predicting hat back on and see how I fare picking Big Ten conference games this season. Let's get right to it, and as always, my picks are in bold, and I won't pick any ties.
Indiana at Ohio State. A great matchup to start the conference weekend. You have the much-improved Hoosiers heading into Columbus with an unbeaten squad, facing a Buckeye team still looking for its first marquee win of the season. As usual, when I'm in doubt, I'll pick the home side. This should be a good one.
Iowa at Illinois. Last season, the Illini and Hawkeyes opened the Big Ten season with Illinois gaining a 2-1 victory. I'd expect a similar result this time around, on the night that Illinois will honor its 2003 team that claimed the program's first Big Ten Tournament championship.
Wisconsin at Michigan. Another really good matchup here, as Wisconsin appears to have a bit more offensive firepower than in recent years. The Wolverines counter with the always dangerous Nkem Ezurike. I like Michigan at home.
Minnesota at Michigan State. This is a key game for the Gophers, who stumbled at Indiana to open Big Ten play. If they don't claim a victory here, they're staring at the very real possibility of an 0-3 conference start, as Michigan looms on Sunday.
Nebraska at Northwestern. The Wildcats showed some life at Penn State last week before falling in overtime. But, with Nebraska's overall strong start, I'll take the Huskers in this one.
Purdue at Penn State. PSU's defensive struggles could allow the Boilermakers to hang around in this one, but Purdue's defense hasn't been any better. Maya Hayes and company should score enough to win this one.
Nebraska at Illinois. I'd be surprised to see either side pitch a shutout in this one. Illinois has had eleven different players score goals so far this season, and the Cornhuskers have only been shutout once this season (at BYU). I'll take the Illini, and set the over/under at five goals.
Wisconsin at Michigan State. The Spartans were shutout at Nebraska in their league opener, and I think their goal-scoring difficulties will follow them through most of the Big Ten season.
Minnesota at Michigan. Greg Ryan's squad was able to grab a 1-0 win in Minneapolis last season. They should be able to handle the Gophers at home in 2013.
Iowa at Northwestern. The Wildcats were able to knock off Iowa last season in Evanston. But, I think Iowa's defense is playing better than Penn State's at the moment, so I have a hard time seeing Northwestern scoring more than once in this one.
Purdue at Ohio State. I'd be tempted to take the Boilermakers in West Lafayette, but can't see them winning in Columbus.
Indiana at Penn State. Another interesting matchup here, as the Hoosiers' defense has been very good so far this season. Good enough to hold down the Nittany Lions' powerful attack? We'll find out, but I'll take PSU at home.
On the Air
This Sunday is SoccerFest for the Illini, and we'll broadcast their game vs. Nebraska on WDWS-AM in Champaign. Tim Ditman joins me in the broadcast booth for what should be an exciting contest.
Thanks for reading.