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2010 Big Ten Fearless Predictions - Sept. 18
Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins
Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins
Posted Sep 15, 2010

Is Michigan State ready to become a national player? After two mediocre outings, the Spartans will get the spotlight with a huge game against Notre Dame. It's just one of several interesting games for the Big Ten in what could be a statement weekend. Check out the Week 3 Big Ten Fearless Predictions.

2010 Big Ten Fearless Predictions

Week 3 ... Sept. 18 Games

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Notre Dame (1-1) at Michigan State (2-0) Sept. 18, 8:00, ABC

Here’s The Deal … Ever since they first battled it out in 1918, a 13-7 Michigan State win, it always seems like these two play interesting, compelling battles. Outside of the 1966 classic, the rivalry hasn’t taken on the mythic proportions of Michigan-Notre Dame, and it doesn’t get the love that the Irish’s rivalry with USC brings, but it’s always very, very entertaining. There were two clunkers in 2007 and 2008, both Michigan State blowouts, but last year’s 33-30 Irish win was one of the best games of the entire season. Eight of the last ten games have been decided by a touchdown or less, and this year’s game shouldn’t be any different.

Michigan State needs a prove-it game. The Spartans have just enough talent to be sneaky-good in the Big Ten race, but sluggish wins against Western Michigan and Florida Atlantic has brought a collective yawn. The mediocre crowd in Ford Field for last week’s win over the Owls didn’t help matters. But a win over the Irish would change things in a hurry and would mean a 4-0 record, with Northern Colorado coming up next, before the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin and with a trip to Michigan to follow. Considering the Badgers and Wolverines look terrific, there’s a chance that a loss this week will lead to an extremely disappointing 3-3 start .

For Notre Dame, all the good things that came from the win over Purdue, and for all the positives in the gut-wrenching, thrilling loss to Michigan, a loss would mean a 1-2 start to the Brian Kelly era with three very tough dates against Stanford, at Boston College, and Pitt to follow. Helped by some big pass plays, the Irish had the Wolverines in trouble before Denard Robinson had ideas, and now it’s time to show that last week’s loss was just a bump in the road. A win this week on the road would show that the Kelly era should be a success early on.

Why Notre Dame Might Win: The Spartan secondary is going to be a problem all season long, and it’s going to be under fire against Dayne Crist and the Notre Dame passing attack from the start. Western Michigan and Florida Atlantic had to throw to try to stay alive, and they were successful with the two teams combining to connect on 60% of their passes for 494 yards and three touchdowns with just one interception. Crist might have been conservative against Connecticut and had to sniff the salts after suffering a concussion against Michigan, but he has made the offense go completing 19-of-26 passes against the Huskies and nailing two huge passes against the Wolverines. If he gets time to throw, he should pick the MSU secondary clean.
Why Michigan State Might Win: The Notre Dame defensive front made four sacks against Connecticut, but it was shut out by Michigan and hasn’t been able to get into the backfield against the run. MSU doesn’t have a Denard Robinson, but the backfield has been terrific so far with Edwin Baker cranking out 300 yards in the first two games and freshman Le’Veon Bell pounding away as a nice No. 2 option. UConn might have been stuffed on the ground, but it doesn’t have the passing game the Spartans have to balance things out. The Spartans are going to try to control the game up front with its great twosome, but it can bomb away if needed, even if it hasn’t happened yet.
What To Watch Out For: Kirk Cousins is overdue. MSU chucked it well throughout last year with one of the Big Ten’s most dangerous passing games, but it hasn’t shown up yet because it hasn’t needed to. Cousins has only thrown for 328 yards and two touchdowns with a pick, but he’ll have to come up with a few big pass plays early on to keep the Notre Dame safeties from cheating up. For the Irish offense, Kyle Rudolph showed with a 95-yard touchdown play against Michigan why he’s a top pro prospect, but he also made several other plays over the first two weeks with 13 catches as the key target so far in the Brian Kelly offense. MSU has to use the linebackers to help out against Rudolph; the Spartan safeties need to spend their time helping out the corners on Michael Floyd and the Irish wideouts.
What Will Happen: MSU will get physical and will control the clock. It has to. Notre Dame will strike quickly and the Spartan secondary will get lit up, but Cousins will finally start to connect off the play action pass and will keep the chains moving just enough to keep Crist off the field. For the second week in a row, the Irish will be done in by its run defense.
CFN Prediction: Michigan State 31 … Notre Dame 27 … Line: Michigan State -3.5
Must See Rating: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – 5 … The Event - 1 … 4.5
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Massachusetts (2-0) at Michigan (2-0) Sept. 18, 12:00, BTN

Here’s The Deal … All of a sudden, Michigan matters again. With one late drive and two scintillating performances from Denard Robinson, the Wolverines are the must-see team of the 2010 college football season and now get a few weeks off to fatten up the record while trying to improve a shaky secondary and a defense that has given up the most yards of any team in the Big Ten. UMass isn’t very good, but it’s 2-0 with wins over William & Mary and Holy Cross. The offense has been terrific and the defense is coming off a great performance, but dealing with Michigan is a whole other animal. The Wolverines get the FCSer this week and Bowling Green next week before starting out the Big Ten schedule against Indiana. The goal over the next two weeks has to be to find playmakers in the secondary and a second offensive weapon to take the heat off Robinson, the nation’s leading rusher.
Why UMass Might Win: Michigan can’t stop the pass and UMass is clicking early on. With defections, injuries, and eligibility issues, the Wolverine defensive backfield has had a hodge-podge of problems early on. The Minutemen don’t exactly have Peyton Manning under center, but Kyle Havens is a good, sound veteran with a live arm and a good command of the attack. Interceptions were a problem last season pitching 15 with just nine touchdown passes, but he has been on from the start this year completing 65% of his throws for 516 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in his first two games. He’ll keep throwing, and throwing, and throwing some more.
Why Michigan Might Win: If you can’t stop Robinson in the backfield, you can’t stop Michigan. Sacks and plays behind the line were a major issue for UMass last season, and things haven’t changed much early on this year with just one sack and a mere six tackles for loss in two games. The run defense has been great, but it’s impossible to make plays five yards past the line of scrimmage against the Wolverine running game at the moment. The line has played too well and has been too sharp to not crank out yards in chunks both on the ground and in the air. Robinson will get time to work and bad things will happen.
What To Watch Out For: Considering Michigan got out to a good start last year, it’s right to be skeptical, but if the team plays like it did over the first two weeks, beating UMass in a walk shouldn’t be a problem. The Wolverines not only have to get the running backs more involved, with Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw combining so far for 41 of the team’s 102 carries, but this is a time to get the backup quarterbacks some work. It might seem crazy now, but there really was a battle for the starting job, and the more that Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner can see action and get time behind the improved line, the better. Robinson doesn’t need more reps right now.
What Will Happen: Michigan won’t be fully focused, but it’ll still get the ground game rolling with the running backs doing more and Robinson throwing it more than he did in the first two games. This will be a game for about 20 minutes, and then one home run from the running game will break things open.
CFN Prediction: Michigan 41 … Massachusetts 13 … Line: No Line
Must See Rating: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – 5 … The Event - 1 … 1.5
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Ohio (1-0) at Ohio State (2-0) Sept. 18, 12:00, BTN

Here’s The Deal … Ohio gave the Buckeyes a shove in 2008 in a 26-14 loss that was even closer than the final score. OSU needed a late punt return and a fumble recovery to put the game away, but if it’s playing up to its capabilities, it shouldn’t have too many problems this week. The Buckeyes are coming off a strong win over Miami thanks to a swarming defense that kept getting in the way of Jacory Harris passes and an offense that took advantage of every mistake. This begins the MAC portion of the slate with Eastern Michigan up next after facing the Bobcats, and it’s time to tune up the passing game and get better on special teams. Ohio suffered a major setback last week in a tough 20-13 loss to Toledo, and now it’s road trip time with three straight games away from Athens playing Marshall next week and Eastern Michigan to follow.
Why Ohio Might Win: The Bobcat offense hasn’t shown up yet, but it gets some key pieces back this week. Boo Jackson is a veteran quarterback and the safest option, but Iowa State transfer Phil Bates is the runner with the explosion and pop to throw a wrench into the OSU defensive gameplan. After missing the Toledo game with a thumb injury, he’s back and should be a part of a quarterback rotation to mix things up a bit. Also back is LaVon Brazill, who came back from a leg injury to play against Toledo, but he was held to just 25 yards on six catches. Defensively, the secondary is good enough to hang around with the Buckeye receiving corps.
Why Ohio State Might Win: Bates, Jackson, Brazill … it doesn’t matter. The Ohio offense wasn’t able to get anything out of its passing game against Wofford and Toledo, two teams without much of a pass defense, and it’s not going to suddenly break out this week against an OSU secondary that picks off passes in bunches. Ohio has one of the nation’s least efficient passing games, and the ground attack hasn’t picked up the slack.
What To Watch Out For: Terrelle Pryor has been fine, but he hasn’t exactly been razor sharp with the passing game completing just 29-of-52 passes. While he hasn’t thrown any picked and has come up with four touchdown passes to go along with a team-leading 113 rushing yards, he needs to up the completion percentage and it has to start in a game like this. That’s nitpicking, though. The special teams are the biggest issue for the Buckeyes at the moment after Miami ran wild on returns and Marshall returned a blocked kick for a touchdown. On the plus side, Devin Barclay hit 5-of-6 field goals against Miami and has been solid, but the coverage teams and the punting game have to be far better.
What Will Happen: Ohio will provide a slightly bigger test than OSU might like early on, but the Bobcat offense won’t be able to overcome any deficit in the second half. The Buckeye ground game will roll for over 250 yards.
CFN Prediction: Ohio State 40 … Ohio 17 … Line: Ohio State -31.5
Must See Rating: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – 5 … The Event - 1 … 2
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Kent State (1-1) at Penn State (1-1) Sept. 18, 12:00, ESPN2/ESPN3

Here’s The Deal … Penn State got a chance to face the best in the land, and the results weren’t pretty. Alabama had no problems in the 24-3 win as the Nittany Lions weren’t able to generate much on offense and didn’t come up with the defensive stops needed to make it a ballgame. There’s a lot of work to be done by Penn State before realistically having any hope of contending for the Big Ten title, and that’s what the next two weeks are for with Temple up next week after facing the Kent State. The Golden Flashes are trying to find their ground game after battling hard in a 26-13 loss to Boston College, and while they’re going to have to battle to make this a game, they have a strong, aggressive defense that should make this more interesting than Nittany Lion fans might like.
Why Kent State Might Win: KSU has the nation’s No. 1 run defense. With an aggressive front that flies into the backfield, the Golden Flashes have come up with seven sacks and 20 tackles for loss in the first two games. The Boston College offensive line is as good as Penn State’s, if not better, and KSU allowed a mere 87 rushing yards against the strong Eagle ground game. The Nittany Lion rushing attack has been mediocre so far, and if Roosevelt Nix, Cobrani Mixon and the boys can get into the backfield on a regular basis, PSU QB Robert Bolden could be in for a long day.
Why Penn State Might Win: The Kent State attack is missing its best runner, Eugene Jarvis, who’s trying to fight through a groin injury. The rest of the offense isn’t picking up the slack and has had to press a little bit; and it has shown. The offense has turned it over a whopping seven times in the first two games, giving it away twice against Murray State and five times against Boston College. Penn State hasn’t been too much better with five turnovers in the first two games, but KSU can’t win this game without being at least +3
What To Watch Out For: Penn State knows all about great linebacking play, and they’re about to see a good one. Senior Cobrani Mixon is an all-around playmaker who has followed up his fantastic 2009 with a terrific start to 2010 with eight stops against Murray State and 15 against Boston College with a sack and a tackle for loss. He’s big, tough, and gets all over the field, and he’s the player most likely to blow up the Penn State ground game that hasn’t broken out yet. For the Nittany Lions, the season is all about the progression of Robert Bolden, the true freshman quarterback who started out hot against Youngstown State and predictably struggled against Alabama. He’s going to be inconsistent, but he needs to keep getting better and he has to show he can hold up under Kent State’s pressure.
What Will Happen: Penn State’s offense is going to fizzle against the nasty KSU defense, but it’ll do just enough to get by. The Golden Flash offense isn’t going to be able to take advantage of some key opportunities, and it’ll give the ball away three times leading to easy Nittany Lion points.
CFN Prediction: Penn State 31 … Kent State 10 … Line: Penn State -21.5
Must See Rating: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – 5 … The Event - 1 … 2
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Northern Illinois (1-1) at Illinois (1-1) Sept. 18, 12:00, BTN

Here’s The Deal … If Northern Illinois really is the supposed star of the MAC, this is a game it has to shine in. 2010 hasn’t gone according to plan, including the hospitalization of head coach Jerry Kill for dehydration, and while losing to Iowa State and beating North Dakota for a 1-1 record isn’t a shock, it’s the way it has happened. The offense fell flat against the Cyclones, while it took too much of a struggle to get by the Fighting Sioux. This started a run of three straight road games, and it’s a time to step up its play and produce against an Illini team that’s rebuilding in a bit way. After waxing Southern Illinois last weekend, the Illini needs to be impressive against Northern with Ohio State, at Penn State, and at Michigan State to follow. A loss this week will almost certainly mean an ugly 1-5 start before facing Indiana. Illinois hasn’t quite been as bad as it might seem, but it needs to be far sharper and far more explosive on offense before facing the big boys.
Why Northern Illinois Might Win: Illinois is having a bad habit of giving the ball away. With five interceptions thrown and two lost fumbles, the Illini attack hasn’t exactly been stingy, and NIU has to take advantage. The Huskies have also had turnover problems, but the defense has picked up the slack and has done a great job of taking the ball away. Considering the Illinois offense isn’t clicking and hasn’t found a passing game, it’ll have to press a bit if NIU takes any sort of a lead. If the Huskies can take advantage of their opportunities, and there will be opportunities, they can pull off the upset.
Why Illinois Might Win: Stop the running game and you stop NIU. While the season is only two games old, the Illinois defense has been a strong surprise so far allowing just 144 rushing yards in two games and doing a fantastic job of getting into the backfield. Far more aggressive than it has been in the past, the Illini is being disruptive with five sacks and 17 tackles for loss as it’s stalling drives with big plays. Field position will be a big deal in a game when both teams will rely on the ground game, and the Illinois punting game is netting 42.33 yards per shot while NIU is struggling averaging 26.88 yards per boot.
What To Watch Out For: Chandler Harnish is NIU’s most dangerous quarterback option, but can he last? Injury prone, he’s coming back from a knee injury and he has to show he can keep on putting up numbers after running for 178 yards against North Dakota. He got to play the FCSer while DeMarcus Grady had to deal with Missouri, but the coaching staff will go with the one who’s moving the ball. If Harnish isn’t hot, Grady could quickly step in to provide a spark. Illinois has to get Mikel Leshoure going early. The junior back has rushed for over 100 yards in his last three outings and is the big play back who has to carry the attack to take the heat off QB Nathan Scheelhaase.
What Will Happen: Northern Illinois isn’t going to get the running game going like it needs to. The Illini defense is playing well enough to keep the scoring low, while Leshoure will come up with the two home runs needed to escape an upset. Don’t blink. With these two running attacks, the game could be one of the fastest of the day.
CFN Prediction: Illinois 23 … Northern Illinois 13 … Line: Illinois -8
Must See Rating: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – 5 … The Event - 1 … 2.5
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Ball State (1-1) at Purdue (1-1) Sept. 18, 12:00, BTN

Here’s The Deal … If it wasn’t for bad luck, Purdue wouldn’t have any luck at all. The offense was supposed to be unstoppable with a slew of star playmakers, but RB Ralph Bolden was lost this spring with a knee injury. Just as the offense was trying to find groove in the passing game, it suffered the loss it couldn’t afford as Keith Smith has been knocked out for the year with a knee injury suffered in the fourth quarter in last week’s win over Western Illinois. The Boilermakers needed to fight too hard to get past the Leathernecks, and they need to blow away a bad Ball State team, and can’t let down against Toledo, before starting out the Big Ten season against Northwestern. The Cardinals started out the season with a win over SE Missouri State, and apparently had a cupcake last week against Liberty but lost in a 27-23 clunker. And now it’s ugly time with road trips to Iowa and Central Michigan to follow this week’s date in West Lafayette.
Why Ball State Might Win: Purdue’s offense wasn’t rocking before, and now the loss of Smith takes away a go-to star who made 18 catches in the first two games and was the one player everyone had to gameplan for and worry about. Even with Smith rolling early, Purdue is last among Big Ten teams, and 101st in the nation, in passing efficiency. The problem is a line that’s struggling to do anything in pass protection allowing five sacks. If the Purdue offense isn’t working, Ball State should stay alive.
Why Purdue Might Win: Liberty 27, Ball State 23. The game was supposed to be close, but Liberty wasn’t supposed to win. The Cardinals are running well, but they aren’t getting strong play from the offensive front and aren’t going to push the Purdue front line around. BSU can’t get the passing game going averaging a mere 139 yards per game against two FCSers, and it’s not going to have any luck with the Purdue pass rush likely to dominate. After two games, Purdue leads all Big Ten teams in sacks (five) and tackles for loss (17) mainly because of …
What To Watch Out For: Ryan Kerrigan, who’s playing as well as any defensive lineman in America. The senior has the spotlight on after making 13 sacks and 66 tackles, and he hasn’t disappointed over the first two games making two sacks and 19 tackles with two forced fumbles and six tackles for loss. He has been a one man wrecking crew and can end the Ball State offense before it gets started.
What Will Happen: Purdue will try to get even more out of QB Robert Marve, even if he doesn’t have his No. 1 target to work with anymore. Ball State doesn’t have the defense to slow down the Boilermakers if they start pounding away with the ground game, even if there isn’t a star to carry the ball, and the offense doesn’t have the firepower to do anything through the air.
CFN Prediction: Purdue 38 … Ball State 16 … Line: Purdue -17
Must See Rating: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – 5 … The Event - 1 … 1.5
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