Big Ten Fearless Predictions, Sept. 1
Posted Aug 22, 2007

And away we go. The season finally starts up next week, and we kickoff with the Fearless Predictions for all the Big Ten games, highlighted by the intriguing matchup between Illinois and Missouri. Is Juice Williams ready to lead the young Illini to a big early win? Check out all the picks and predictions over the next several days.

Big Ten
Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota
Northwestern | Ohio State | Penn State | Purdue | Wisconsin

Big Ten Week One Fearless Predictions, Part 2

Big Ten Fearless Predictions Sept. 8 | Sept. 15Sept. 22 | Sept. 29 
Oct. 6Oct. 13 | Oct. 20Oct. 27 | Nov. 3Nov. 10 | Nov. 17    

Big Ten Game of the Week

Missouri at Illinois (in St. Louis) 3:30 pm EST Big Ten Network
Saturday, Sept. 1
Why to Watch: Of all the Big Ten and Big 12 week one games, few are more intriguing when it comes to two programs in search of a 2007 identity. Missouri appeared to finally be on its way to turning the corner and becoming a Big 12 powerhouse, at least in the North, and then it lost four of its final five games, bottoming out with a choke (there's simply no other word for it) against Oregon State in the Sun Bowl. If it's ever going to happen in the Gary Pinkel era, it has to happen this year with the most talented and loaded team Missouri has had in decades. It's a different story for an Illinois program that's won just four games in the Ron Zook era, including a seven-game losing streak to end last year. However, the buzz around Champaign is deafening with a few jaw-dropping recruiting classes yielding as many good young players as anyone in the Big Ten. Basically, if Missouri is as good as it's supposed to be, it wins a game like this without a problem, and if Illinois is as good as it's expected to become, it finds a way to pull off an upset here and announces that things have finally changed.
Why Missouri Might Win: For all the headlines and all the hullabaloo around the Illini, there are still mega-question marks for the young team. The passing game will be an ongoing work in progress, the running game, outside of the scrambling of QB Juice Williams, should be mediocre, and the defensive line should have problems with a good Missouri O line. The Tigers are just good enough defensively to keep the Illini from exploding, while the Mizzou offense should be able to mix it up just enough to keep control of the game throughout. Until Williams, one of 2006's most inefficient passers, can prove he can throw the forward pass with any semblance of consistency, Mizzou should be able to load up against the run.
Why Illinois Might Win: Even with all the expectations on Zook and the Illini, all the pressure is on Missouri, and over the last few years under Pinkel, that hasn't been a positive. You can almost see Mizzou tighten up when the heat is on as it tries to do too much, tries to make too many plays that aren't there, and misses on the plays it needs to make to pull off the tough wins. At least that's been the past for the Tigers. It might be cliché, but the longer the Illini can hang around, the looser it should be, thanks to a playmaker like Williams who can make things happen with his legs and his arm, and a defense that should be able to keep the Tigers from running outside, thanks to J Leman and the great linebacking corps.
Who to Watch: Can the Illinois linebackers handle the Missouri tight ends? The Tigers have a special tandem in Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman, who should allow QB Chase Daniel to dink and dunk to his heart's content against most teams with mediocre linebackers. The Illinois secondary is decent, but nothing special, and if it has to cheat up to help out on the tight ends, Will Franklin should be able to make big plays deep. The 210-pound Antonio Steele is more like a safety playing linebacker, and he has to come through with a strong performance against the pass, while Leman has to be able to focus as much as possible on keeping Daniel from roaming.
What Will Happen: Illinois still has to prove it can win against anyone, much less against a team good enough to contend for the Big 12 title. By the end of the year, the young Illini might be mature enough to pull off a win like this, and it'll certainly tag one of the Big Ten's big boys along the way, but Missouri is simply too good all across the board.
CFN Prediction: Missouri 27 ... Illinois 17
... Line: Missouri -5
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 3.5
Final Score: 

Big Ten Saturday, September 1

Appalachian State at Michigan  12 pm EST Big Ten Network 
Why to Watch: There's a leader and best in the house, and it sure isn't the team wearing Maize and Blue. Yeah, Appalachian State isn't in the BCS version of D-I (I'm not doing this, D-IAA is D-IAA), but it's the two-time defending national champion with 17 starters returning. Of course, if Michigan has any real dreams of being good enough to win the national title in the big league, it needs to dispose of the Mountaineers with little trouble. After all, this is Michigan, the early favorite to win the Big Ten title, and with the talent returning on offense, on the short list of teams to end up in New Orleans in early January. With Oregon, Notre Dame and Penn State to follow, this is a better-than-it-looks tune up to get all the new defensive faces in place. However, don't just assume ASU, playing its first game ever against a Big Ten team, is going to roll over and play dead in this apparent mismatch.
Why Appalachian State Might Win: If Michigan wants a nice test early on from a strong running game, it'll get it from the ASU backfield. Kevin Richardson and QB Armanti Edwards each crank out yards in chunks, with Richardson rushing for 1,676 yards and 30 touchdowns last season, and Edwards rushing for 1,153 yards and 15 scores. This is a very quick, very athletic offense that isn't going to blow the Wolverines off the ball, but it has the experience factor in its favor and knows exactly what it's doing. All Richardson and Edwards need is a little bit of daylight, and they'll keep the chains moving. 
Why Michigan Might Win: Slow down the ASU running game, and it's over. While the Mountaineers ran for 48 scores and gave up just nine, they don't have a big enough line to shove around the Wolverine front four, and they're not so quick that the speedy Michigan back seven can't clean up any messes the line can't take care of. Yeah, the ASU offense can come up with big plays through the air from time to time, but it all stems from getting the ground game rolling first. For the most part, the Michigan defensive line is bigger than the ASU offensive line, so forget about any runs coming up the gut.
Who to Watch: The last time we saw Michigan, the offensive line was having a nightmare of a time keeping QB Chad Henne upright against the tough USC defense. Appalachian State is hardly USC, but it has a quick, aggressive defensive front led by end Gary Tharrington, who cranked out 7.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season. While ASU won't generate consistent pressure, it bears watching for future Wolverine games if Henne is given time to operate. If you see him having to hurry his throws against the Mountaineers, you can bet the Oregon defensive coaches will be licking their chops. Basically, the Michigan defense will get all the attention, but its the offensive line that has to shine from game one.
What Will Happen: ASU will have its moments on offense, but it simply doesn't have the bulk to hold up for a full sixty minutes. It'll take a quarter, and then the Wolverine offense will roll at will. 
CFN Prediction: Michigan 38 ... Appalachian State 10
... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 1.5
Final Score: 

Youngstown State at Ohio State  12 pm EST Big Ten Network 
Why to Watch: OSU head coach Jim Tressel gets to face the program he helped make into a national powerhouse, and while the Buckeyes should be able to show up and win without breaking too much of a sweat, Youngstown State is one of the better FCS (that's D-IAA to you and me) teams, ranked as high as fifth in the nation to start the year. Of course, all eyes are going to be on a Buckeye team that's still woozy from getting run over in Glendale. Call this the first step back on the road to what should be another tremendous season.
Why Youngstown State Might Win: The edge in quarterback experience is decidedly in YSU's favor with the return of Tom Zetts, one of the program's most successful passers. He's not big, but he's accurate and has 36 starts under his belt. No, YSU won't win, but if Zetts is on, the game could be a bit closer than expected. Defensively, the Penguins were great last year at coming through when they absolutely had to. They might give up a ton of yards, but with the Buckeye attack still needing time to get its feet wet, YSU should be able to come up with a few early stops.
Why Ohio State Might Win:  OSU isn't the only team breaking in a slew of new starters. The Penguins have to replace 12 starters, and while several key players are in place, this is not the time to try to jell and tune up. The formula should be simple for the Buckeyes. Pound the ball at will with a great offensive line and Chris Wells running for big yards, give the passing game time to operate, go home and prepare for Akron.
Who to Watch: Everyone will be focused on new Buckeye QB Todd Boeckman, who not only has to replace a Heisman-winning legend, but has to play well or risk getting pushed aside for Robbie Schoenhoft or Antonio Henton. In a perfect world, Boeckman is sharp and OSU gets out to a big early lead so the backups can show what they can do, but if there's even a hiccup along the way, there will be some grumbling about the starting quarterback situation going into the Akron game.
What Will Happen: Youngstown State has one 11 straight season openers. The streak will stop there. Even though it might just be against YSU, watch for the Buckeye D to try to make an early statement after the way last season ended. Considering Tressel's past at YSU, he won't run up the score if humanly possible.
CFN Prediction: Ohio State 40 ... Youngstown State 0
... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 1
Final Score: 

Florida International at Penn State  12 pm EST Big Ten Network
Why to Watch: It's hard to find a bigger disparity in coaching age and experience than the matchup in Happy Valley. On one side is Joe Paterno., the legend who's going into his 42nd year as the Penn State head man. On the other is Mario Cristobal, the 36-year-old tireless recruiter who's trying to make FIU into another Miami. The Golden Panthers appeared to be all set for a big 2006, but it couldn't come up with a close win, got into a fight with Miami, and lost most of its team on the way to a winless season. Now Cristobal is looking to make a big splash right off the bat with a decent showing. The Nittany Lions have Notre Dame next week and need to use this game to tune up.
Why FIU Might Win: Defense, defense, defense. The offense didn't do anything last year, and will need a while before it's even remotely average, but the defense has enough experience and enough athleticism to be tough from the opening snap. The secondary isn't better than Penn State's but corner Lionell Singleton might be the best defensive back in the game, while there's good enough size on the interior to gum things up against the run. This is a better defense than last year's group that didn't give up more than 38 points in any game (Alabama), and that came the week after the suspensions from the Miami game. Unfortunately for the Golden Panthers ...
Why Penn State Might Win:  ... you can't win if you don't score. Last year's FIU attack finished dead last in the nation in scoring and 116th in yards. Eight starters might be back, but it's going to take a while before there's any production. The strength is in the running game, and Penn State's linebackers will put a stop to that from the start. There won't be any passing game whatsoever for the Nittany Lion defensive backs to worry about.
Who to Watch: O.K. Austin Scott, here's your last shot. The superstar Penn State running back recruit has had a star crossed career due to injuries and ineffectiveness, but it's his show now and it's his final chance to carry the workload. While he's not going to be Larry Johnson, a one-time disappointing prospect who went ballistic in his senior season, he should be just good enough to take the pressure off Anthony Morelli and the passing attack. If he struggles in the opener, watch for the panic alarms to go off among the Nittany Lion faithful.
What Will Happen: FIU will be flying all over the field defensively, and will come up with a few big moments to make the 100,000+ in the stands to grumble, but eventually, Morelli will come up with a few big pass plays and the running game will get good enough field position to always be in scoring range.
CFN Prediction: Penn State 34 ... Florida International 6
... Line: Penn State -38
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 2
Final Score: 

Northeastern at Northwestern  12 pm EST Big Ten Network
Why to Watch: Northwestern looks to get off to a hot start against the Huskies from the Boston-based school before dealing with Nevada next week. There's plenty of optimism around Evanston with second-year head coach Pat Fitzgerald knowing what he's doing a little more, and enough experience and talent returning on both sides of the ball to make a run at a bowl bid. However, the Cats can't afford to drop a game like this, and Northeastern is just good enough to pull off the upset if everything breaks right. This is a veteran team that isn't going to be fazed by playing a Big Ten team.
Why Northeastern Might Win: 
New Hampshire. Of course, this is a different year and a different Northwestern team, but the Wildcats lost to New Hampshire last year in a game that wasn't even as close as the 34-17 final score might indicate. 16 starters return to the Huskies led by a Big Ten-sized offensive line that should be able to do a little pushing around against a suspect Wildcat run defense.
Why Northwestern Might Win: The NU offensive line should dominate. This is a scrappy 3-4 Northeastern run defense, but it's not all that great. The Wildcats shouldn't have to open up the passing game too often, but the chances will be there with the safeties all but certain to be cheating up to make sure Tyrell Sutton doesn't go nuts. 
Who to Watch: It took almost all of last year for Northwestern to get its quarterback situation in place, and now junior C.J. Bacher appears ready to become the offense's leader over the next three seasons. He's not quite the runner the NU offense might prefer, but he's a tremendous passer who'll make the offense go with more consistency than it had last tear. Getting off to a hot start is a must. For Northeastern, it goes with a two-headed quarterback attack of juniors Anthony Orio and John Sperraza. They're veterans who offer something different with Orio a runner and Sperraza more of a passer.
What Will Happen: Northwestern will pull off the battle of the compass with a balanced attack that should move the ball without much of a problem. The Huskies will keep things close for at least a quarter, but won't have enough offense to stay alive in the second half.
CFN Prediction: Northwestern 34 ... Northeastern 20
... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 1.5
Final Score: 

UAB at Michigan State  12 pm EST ESPN2
Why to Watch: It's the debut for two new coaching staffs with Mark Dantonio looking to provide some more toughness and stability to a Michigan State team that's been dying for some semblance of consistency, while Neil Callaway takes over a struggling UAB program that's all but starting from scratch. After closing out last year losing eight of the final nine games, and needing an all-timer of a comeback against Northwestern for the one win, MSU could use a big opening day performance just to build up a little confidence. UAB has to do everything possible to hold up and avoid getting run over before facing Florida State.
Why UAB Might Win: It's not like the Michigan State defense is going to throw a lot of bells and whistles at the UAB offense, which is a good thing considering the Blazers will need time to figure out what it's doing. In the opener, look for the Spartans to try to win with a pounding running game and solid defense, which in the end should work, but could also be a recipe to keep UAB in the game longer than Spartan fans might like. On the flip side ...
Why Michigan State Might Win:  ... the Spartans shouldn't need to get too fancy to pull this out. UAB is starting from scratch on offense, scrapping last year's offense for a pro-style attack despite not quite having the pieces in place. If the Spartan defensive line was ever going to have a big game, this would be it against a Blazer offensive line that might be the worst in Conference USA.
Who to Watch: UAB's question mark all season long surrounded the starting quarterback situation. Would it be the big, promising sophomore Joseph Webb, or the big, athletic senior Sam Hunt? After a summer to try to figure it out, the answer appears to be both. Each passer will get time under center, but Webb will be more in the mix, staying on the field as a wide receiver when Hunt is in. This game could go a long way to finally deciding on a main man. For MSU, Brian Hoyer is the unquestioned number one, and while he doesn't have to carry the offense, with a loaded backfield and running game to to work with, he needs to inspire confidence right away with a solid performance. He might not be as talented as Drew Stanton, but the Spartans would take more consistency over NFL potential.
What Will Happen: It'll be a stunner if the Spartans don't dominate the time of possession, or at least the tempo of the game, with a strong ground attack that wears down the Blazer defensive front. Javon Ringer and Jenuu Caulcrick should have few problems cranking out big yards.
CFN Prediction: Michigan State 42 ... UAB 17
... Line: Michigan State -19.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 2.5
Final Score: 

Big Ten Week One Fearless Predictions, Part 2


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