Week 1 Fearless Predictions - Big Ten, Part 2

Posted Aug 28, 2013

Week 1 Fearless Predictions & Analysis - Big Ten, Part 2

Week 1

- Northwestern at California
- Thursday & Friday - UNLV at Minn. & More
- Part 1, Buffalo at Ohio State & More
- Part 2, NIU at Iowa, Wyoming at Nebraska & More

Central Michigan (0-0) at Michigan (0-0) Aug. 31, 3:30, BTN

Why You Should Give A Hoot: There's no way this won't be a night-and-day different opening act for Michigan after getting blasted 41-14 by Alabama last year. There's still a bit of a prove-it factor with the Wolverines under Brady Hoke – even with the Sugar Bowl win a few seasons ago – and while beating Central Michigan won't exactly move the needle, it's a good chance to see how quickly the team has come around despite the loss of several key parts. Most importantly, it's a key warm-up before diving into Notre Dame next week with a chance make a big national splash early. For Central Michigan, after stunning Iowa 32-31 last season, it's a chance to come up with a huge upset with a win over a Big Ten team for the second year in a row. Red hot to finish last season, closing out with four straight wins and five in the last six, the Chippewas will take their payday before facing New Hampshire next week.
Why Central Michigan Might Win: The running game has the potential to work if the receiving corps can stretch the field a bit. The Chippewas have a tough back in Zurlon Tipton to operate the offense around, and he could be effective if the big play threats on the outside can challenge the Wolverine secondary. Defensively, CMU brings the pressure with an experienced and athletic group. However …
Why Michigan Might Win: CMU still has to prove it can get into the backfield. The defense came up with a miniscule 49 tackles for loss and just 18 sacks on the season, and the lack of production in the backfield showed with too many big passing days allowed and too many problems against the better running teams. Defensively, the Wolverines will use this game to unleash the line in an attempt to find a pass rushing replacement for Jake Ryan.

Who To Watch Out For: Junior Cody Kater will take over the Central Michigan quarterback job from Ryan Radcliff. The 6-3, 220-pound former JUCO transfer from Grand Rapids Community College has time logged into the system. A big bomber with good rushing skills, he can make things happen with his arm as well as his legs. He only completed 2-of-4 passes for 12 yards in his limited time, but he has the tools to be the main man.

- Okay, Devin Gardner, now it's your shot. The Michigan starting quarterback took over the reins last season, but it took a full offseason for him to become the leader and face of the franchise. This is his team now, and he knows it. He's ready, but he can't come out and try to make too many big things happen on his own. Spreading the ball around will be the key.

- How much will all the star freshmen play for the Wolverines? Jehu Chesson could potentially turn into a key target right away, while running backs Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith will each get their chances to push Fitzgerald Toussaint. There won't be much of a learning curve.

- It's only the third time the two programs have met each other. The last matchup was in 2006, a 41-17 Wolverine win after a 45-7 win in 2003. The first meeting was a 27-0 Michigan win in 1931.

What Will Happen: Central Michigan will scare the Michigan secondary. The balance on offense will make this a fight for around a half, but the Wolverines will hit a few big home runs in the third to ever keep it from being a true scare.
Prediction: Michigan 45 … Central Michigan 17
Line: Michigan -31.5 o/u: 52
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 2

Penn State (0-0) vs. Syracuse (0-0) Aug. 31, 3:30, ABC/ESPN2

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Having lost more than 30 seniors, its leadership core, to graduation, Penn State is determined to keep surging forward under the direction of second-year head coach Bill O'Brien.

Long gone are the linchpins of last year's storybook eight-win season, like Mike Mauti, Michael Zordich and Matt McGloin. New leaders are being developed as the Nittany Lions prepare to face one-time Eastern rival Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in a throwback to the old Kickoff Classic days. Not unlike this time last year, Penn State is a wild card, with its direction dependent upon a few key positions, such as quarterback.

Syracuse finished last season on a roll, winning six of its final seven games, including a Pinstripe Bowl rout of West Virginia. But the newest member of the ACC won't have head coach Doug Marrone or QB Ryan Nassib around to keep the program surging forward. New head man Scott Shafer, who was promoted from defensive coordinator, has been in no hurry to name his successor to Nassib.

Why Penn State Might Win: While neither JUCO transfer Tyler Ferguson nor five-star rookie Christian Hackenberg have any experience at this level, the quarterback will be surrounded by solid supporting cast. North-south RB Zach Zwinak is a 1,000-yard rusher, Allen Robinson is one of the premier receivers of the Big Ten and the Lions are deep at tight end. If the hole at center can be filled, Penn State should be able to solve a Syracuse defense still looking for answers in the pass rush and pass defense.
Why Syracuse Might Win: Depth remains a problem at Penn State, and probably will be for some time. The Orange wants to wear down the Lions with the complementary backfield duo of Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley, which combined for 2,001 yards on the ground in 2012. Penn State lost six defensive starters, which is going to force a bunch of underclassmen to perform beyond their experience level. Syracuse, on the other hand, has a veteran feel on D, headed by DT Jay Bromley, linebackers Dyshawn Davis and Marquis Spruill and CB Keon Lyn.

Who To Watch Out For: Both teams will have new starting quarterbacks. Shafer won't announce his choice before Saturday, leaving O'Brien to guess whether Terrel Hunt or Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen will get the nod.

- Whoever is taking snaps in blue ought to be just fine. O'Brien has that kind of effect on young quarterbacks. Plus, none of the Syracuse pass rushers are particularly frightening coming off the edge.

- Syracuse is going to miss LT Justin Pugh, but how much? Someone in orange better be prepared to slow down Penn State DE Deion Barnes, one of the Big Ten's best pass rushers.

- Too bad Penn State and Syracuse didn't wind up in the same league. Still, this is the kind of game that should be played every other year.

- Penn State is getting more questions these days about football and far fewer about the NCAA sanctions. Progress.
What Will Happen: Just like last season, Penn State will start slowly. This time around, though, a more confident team will find a way to survive. The Lions are a bit of a mystery, with question marks on both sides of the ball. Fortunately, the same applies to Syracuse. In the battle of first-time starting quarterbacks, Penn State will get a few more money plays from its new point man to hang on for a gut-check win.
Prediction: Penn State 28 … Syracuse 24
Line: Penn State -7.5 o/u: 51.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 3

Northern Illinois (0-0) at Iowa (0-0) Aug. 31, 3:30 BTN

Why You Should Give A Hoot: After the fun of last season, Northern Illinois is expected to do big things. One Orange Bowl whopping aside, the Huskies are a BCS team now, even if they're not in a BCS league, and they have another dangerous team returning. If they want back in on the fun, the road starts right here against an Iowa team that came up with a thrilling finish in last season's 18-17 opener in Chicago. That turned out to be the only loss of the NIU regular season, while it became one of the few high points for the Hawkeyes. Coming in on a six game losing streak going back to last year, Iowa has to come up with the home win to show that things are starting to change for the better. However, this is a rebuilding year in a lot of ways, but can NIU take advantage? It has some work to do of its own.
Why Northern Illinois Might Win: Will the Hawkeyes actually have any semblance of an offense? The passing game that was non-existent throughout last season has to come up with something that works on a regular basis to keep NIU from pinning its ears back and getting into the backfield. The Huskie defensive front might be without some key parts of the puzzle, but it should be able to manufacture a little bit of pressure.
Why Iowa Might Win: The NIU D line is going to be a concern out of the gate. The Hawkeyes aren't going to get too cute right away, pounding away with its potentially effective ground attack, and while there's athleticism on the Huskie line, there isn't enough of a good rotation to make a huge difference. This isn't going to be a pretty gameplan, but it should be effective, especially if it keeps NIU QB Jordan Lynch off the field.

Who To Watch Out For: Welcome to the Jake Rudock era at Iowa. The 6-3, 200-pound pure passer from Miami has the accuracy and arm to start pushing the ball down the field a bit more than Iowa did last season. He's a good talent with size, a great résumé and the smarts to become a good, solid producer for the next three seasons – if he can hold on to the job. He'll continue to be pushed.

- NIU has to find a decent pass rush that works on a regular basis. The job will fall on 6-2, 222-pound senior George Rainey, who made his presence felt as a key backup making 26 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss, doing his most damage in the MAC title game against Kent State. Quick off the ball, he has the potential to blow up now that he has a full-time job at one end. If he isn't great, NIU's season might not be, either.

- Speaking of pass rush, watch for this to be a point of emphasis right away for Jordan Lynch as Iowa goes hard to get behind the line. The Hawkeyes finished dead last in the Big Ten in both sacks and tackles for loss, and while NIU doesn't give up a slew of sacks, and Lynch is mobile, providing pressure is a must early.

- The key matchup is Jordan Lynch vs. the Iowa linebackers. Lynch will have a hard, hard time trying to get free and clear.

What Will Happen: Can the Iowa running game get physical right away and keep the loaded Huskie offense off the field? New NIU head coach Rod Carey has to find a way to get free from the Iowa defensive front, particularly the linebacking corps, and it won't happen. NIU will bring the fight, but this will look and play like a new Iowa squad.
Prediction: Iowa 27 … Northern Illinois 21
Line: Iowa -3 o/u: 54
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 3

Wyoming (0-0) at Nebraska (0-0) Aug. 31, 8:00, BTN

Why You Should Give A Hoot: It wasn't exactly the way Nebraska might have hoped to end the season after winning six straight games to close out the regular season, losing to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship and Georgia in the Capital One Bowl by a combined score of 115 to 62. The Huskers are in tune-up mode with Southern Miss next week before the big showdown against UCLA, and after that they'll probably be favored in every game up until the November date with Michigan. But to start out they have to deal with a plucky Wyoming squad with a good quarterback in Brett Smith and potentially dangerous offense. The Cowboys could use a big, shocking win to show the new Mountain West that they deserve to be in the conference title hunt. It'll be a fight to keep this close, but the Huskers might be looking down field a ways to get to the Bruins.
Why Wyoming Might Win: Will Nebraska have problems hanging on to the ball again? Fumbles and mistakes were a problem in the losses last season, and if they're still an issue in any way, UW has to capitalize. The Cowboy offense has good size and quick options who could surprise a potentially inconsistent Husker offense.
Why Nebraska Might Win: Get ready for the Big Red Machine as the Huskers run, run and run some more. The offense loses Rex Burkhead, but it has enough great running backs to play around with the combination and keep everyone fresh, while Martinez should be able to do whatever he wants. There's no real threat of a Cowboy pass rush, so expect a bit of a balanced attack from time to time, all the while keeping Brett Smith on the sidelines. Things will start to break wide open by the second half.

Who To Watch Out For: It's not all Martinez in the backfield. At 5-9 and 190 pounds, junior running back Ameer Abdullah isn't all that big, but he holds up well, has elite wheels and is an elite kick returner and top receiver averaging 13.1 yards per punt return while catching 24 passes for 178 yards and two scores. He led the team in rushing with 1,137 yards with eight scores, but he only ran for one touchdown over the final eight games. Watch out for a breakout performance to kick things off.

- Is Martinez really the best quarterback in this game? Yes, but Brett Smith is one of the nation's most effective playmakers. He took the program by storm as a true freshman, leading the way to a bowl appearance in 2011, and last year he was even better even though the team didn't hold up its end of the bargain. He was banged up a bit in the middle of the year, but he came back roaring, throwing 15 touchdown passes and just one pick over the final six games. A great runner, he can take off and make things happen when needed, but he's better when he uses his arm and his vision to bomb away down the field

- Watch out for the Husker defensive front to come out frothing at the mouth. After the way last season ended and with some key replacements up front, experience will be made up for be drive. Everyone will be focused on teeing off on Smith.

What Will Happen: Wyoming's pluck will only last so long before Nebraska's lines start to take over. The Husker offense will explode after a rocky first half.
Prediction: Nebraska 48 … Wyoming 14
Line: Nebraska -29 o/u: 65.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 2.5