Big Ten Fearless Predictions, Aug. 30, Part 2
Michigan State RB Javon Ringer
Michigan State RB Javon Ringer
Posted Jul 16, 2008

Previews and Predictions for the Week 1 Big Ten, Part 2

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ACC | Big East | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA
| M-West | Pac 10 | SEC | Sun Belt | WAC
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| M-West | Pac 10 | SEC | Sun Belt | WAC

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- Big Ten Week One Fearless Predictions

Saturday, August 30

Akron at Wisconsin, 12:00 EST, Big Ten Network
Why to watch: Is Wisconsin ready to make the leap from the very good to the elite? Beating up on Akron wouldn't prove much, but it would show that the Badgers are more focused and ready to for a good first part of the year after struggling so much last season against teams like UNLV and Citadel. The Big Ten detractors out there would pounce all over a rough home performance against a Zip team that should be better, but should struggle to make this a game. Akron went from being the MAC champion to an also-ran in just two seasons, but head coach J.D. Brookhart has put together a more athletic, more talented team that should be pesky if the Badgers play down to their competition.
Why Akron might win: The Zips have just enough on offense to keep pace if the Badger offense is struggling. The O line should be the best in the MAC, while the receiving corps gets a boost from West Virginia transfer Jeremy Bruce and former safety Andre Jones. Throw in the expected reemergence of RB Dennis Kennedy after a down year, and the skill players have to potential to be annoyingly productive.
Why Wisconsin might win: The Akron secondary will have no answers for the Wisconsin tight ends. The Badger passing game will be the team's early concern, but with one of the nation's best tight end tandems in Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham, Wisconsin should be able to pick apart a patchwork Zip secondary. The more the Akron linebackers have to key on the tight ends, the more room there will be for P.J. Hill and the ground game.
Who to watch: The Badgers could get a huge piece of the defensive puzzle back as star end Matt Shaugnessy is just getting back into the swing of things after breaking his leg in spring ball. He also suffered the loss of his brother late this summer, but he's back with the team and is just starting to get back in the rotation. The coaching staff isn't going to push him, needing him healthy for Fresno State and Michigan in a few weeks.
What will happen: Wisconsin suffered injuries throughout last year; Akron got hit hard this summer. There weren't any vital, big-time bang-ups that will end seasons, but there were enough dings and bumps to make Zip practices hard to get through. Expect a sloppy game from Akron as Wisconsin's defense makes up for lost time.
CFN Prediction: Wisconsin 45 ... Akron 16 ... Line: Wisconsin -26.5
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 1.5
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Maine at Iowa, 12:00 EST, Big Ten Network
Why to watch: There should be a few good FBS vs. FCS matchups throughout week one. This won't be one of theme. Iowa, after a rough off-season with an alleged sexual assault case casting a cloud over the athletic department, while the team tries to rebuild after getting many of last year's injured players back. Sitting and stewing on the choke job to Western Michigan that cost the Hawkeyes a bowl game hasn't been a plus, and neither have the storms and floods that have ravaged the state. Fortunately for Hawkeye fans, Maine will provide nothing more than a bunch of live bodies prepared for the slaughter. There's a lot of pent up Iowa angst ready to come out.
Why Maine might win: The only chance the Black Bears have to keep this close is if last year's Iowa offense shows up. Ravaged by injuries, the attack often went nowhere, and now it could take a game or three to get everyone back into the swing of things. It's almost as if last season never happened; the Hawkeyes are basically starting anew after getting so many players back.
Why Iowa might win: Maine had one of the nation's worst FCS offenses last season and it doesn't appear ready to be appreciably better this season. It might not take too much for Iowa to put this away, and if tradition holds, things aren't going to be pretty even when the outcome is no longer in doubt.
The Hawkeyes have won seven straight opening day games by a combined score of 281 to 41.
Who to watch: Iowa's post summer depth chart didn't provide much in the way of a pecking order for the quarterback situation. Last year's starter, Jake Christensen, is the most likely choice to start considering he has the most experience and had to make chicken salad out of chicken spit receiver-wise, but Ricky Stanzi has been getting every opportunity for playing time. The two will be expected to play throughout the game as the tryout continues. The more consistent of the two will get the nod against FIU next week.
What will happen: If you're in the stands and wearing an Iowa jersey, there's a chance you'll get in the game in the second half.
CFN Prediction: Iowa 52 ... Maine 9 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 1
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Utah at Michigan, 3:30 EST, ABC
Why to watch: Of all the storylines and all the big debuts in week one, none will generate more of a buzz and get more people talking than whatever Rich Rodriguez's Michigan team does against a Utah team good enough to win the Mountain West title. If Utah wins, many will say Michigan is in a rebuilding mode until Rodriguez gets the right players to fit his system. If Michigan wins, the expectations will start to rise with Miami University, arguably the MAC's best team, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Illinois to follow. If Michigan wins easily, then the entire focus of the season might change. This isn't an Appalachian State situation of last year; a Ute win wouldn't be a monster upset. The defense is expected to grow into one of the Mountain West's best, Brian Johnson is a veteran quarterback who has been through it all, for good and bad, and the team is used to winning. Only a miraculous fourth down play by BYU kept Utah from being one of the nation's hottest team outside of Athens over the second half of last year, and there are enough veterans to start out on high note.
Why Utah might win: The spread. Michigan adapted and adjusted to the spread over the second half of last year with wins over Illinois and Florida, and Rodriguez certainly knows all the ins and outs of the offense, but this should be a crisply run Ute attack with good balance and an offensive line that'll be able to handle the strong Wolverine defensive front. All four starters in the secondary return to the nation's most efficient pass defense.
Why Michigan might win: Oh yeah, the defense. While all the attention has been paid to the Michigan offense, the defense should be the real star.
The line has the potential to be among the best in the nation, but now all the talent needs to turn into more production with tackles Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson and ends Tim Jamison and Brandon Graham needing to dominate. The secondary should be strong enough to lock down on the Ute receivers.
Who to watch: There are quarterback controversies and there are quarterback concerns. Michigan has both. It's not like Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan are in some epic battle for the job. Basically, neither one has stepped up and taken it over, and that means that both are going to see time because the coaching staff can't decide which one should have the gig. Threet will likely get the most playing time, but the coaches will go with the one who's producing.
What will happen: Michigan isn't going to get fancy. It'll run the ball and hope the defense can take care of the rest, but the Utah offense will be just good enough to keep things close while the defense will come up with one big late takeaway to swing the tide of the game. When in doubt, go with the veteran quarterback over the quandary.
CFN Prediction: Utah 23 ... Michigan 20 ... Line: Michigan -4
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 4
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Northern Illinois at Minnesota, 7:00 EST, Big Ten Network
Why to watch: An argument could be made the these were the two most disappointing teams of 2007 not named Notre Dame. Northern Illinois was supposed to be a MAC title contender, but it got hit with a barrage of injuries and finished 2-10, while Minnesota somehow found a way to get even worse on defense after a horrible 2006 and finished 1-11. While the Gophers lost several close games, their only win came in overtime over Miami University and there was a loss to Bowling Green. NIU gets most of the injured stars back and should be far better, while Minnesota had an influx of JUCO talent and is hoping for a more experienced team to be an improved one. Can year two of the Tim Brewster era get off to a good start, or will the Jerry Kill regime at NIU kick off with a bang? This could be one of the most interesting under-the-radar games of week one.
Why Northern Illinois might win: Has Minnesota figured out how to stop anyone's running game? There's been a lot of talk about being better, and the linebackers are far more experienced, but NIU should be even better pounding the ball this season. Kill will use a fullback this year to pave the way for Justin Anderson, who could be the most talented offensive player in the game. The NIU run defense should be better with several injured players returning, but ...
Why Minnesota might win: ... the undersized Huskie defensive tackles could have problems if the Gophers start to power the ball. QB Adam Weber is bigger, stronger, and is poised to be Tim Tebow-lite as he does a little of everything for the offense, while Duane Bennett is poised to be the program's next great running back. These two should find plenty of running room as the game goes on. NIU's defensive backs can tackle, and they'll get plenty of chances.
Who to watch: Any quarterback controversy at Minnesota was settled for game one when super-recruit O.J. Gray was declared out with an eligibility issue. Meanwhile, NIU might play musical quarterbacks for the first few games of the season. Dan Nicholson was supposed to be the main man, but after having a shoulder problem, the coaching staff went with Chandler Harnish and Brandon Rogers in recent scrimmages.
What will happen: Minnesota still won't be able to stop the run, but the offense will be more effective and more balanced. This should be a fun shootout with the Gophers pulling away in the fourth quarter.
CFN Prediction: Minnesota 31 ... Northern Illinois 23 ... Line: Minnesota -8.5
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 2.5
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Michigan State at California, 8:00 EST, ABC
Why to watch: Okay, so it’s not the Rose Bowl or Ohio State vs. USC, but it is an intriguing and important showdown between a Big Ten and Pac-10 teams with something to prove. Michigan State is looking to build on last year’s opening statement from head coach Mark Dantonio, who guided the way to a 7-6 mark (and it wasn’t far off from being much, much better) and the first bowl berth since 2003. Already excited about the path of the program, Spartan fans will be downright giddy with a victory at Cal and six winnable games to follow. Even more excited would be the Big Ten as a whole, as it’s in need of a splashy win with all the negative publicity surrounding it over the off-season. The Pac 10 could also use a big win, too. Ever since imploding down the stretch last year, the Bears have been trying to relocate its formula for success. One of the Pac-10’s biggest mysteries heading into September, they can’t afford a slow start, or even a hint of proof that there’s still a hangover from last year’s 2-5 finish. Rejoice, linebacker fans. Cal’s Zach Follett and Worrell Williams, and Michigan State’s Greg Jones and Eric Gordon each have all-conference skills.
Why Michigan State might win: The balanced Spartan offense will give headaches to a Bear defense that’s soft on the front line and doesn’t get much of an up-field push. The backfield of QB Brian Hoyer and RB Javon Ringer will thrive with the time and the space to make things happen. Hoyer is an underrated passer who made nice strides in his first season as the starter. Ringer will be the best skill position player in the stadium, a dynamite playmaker when he’s not on the shelf, and he’ll get even more opportunities this season. MSU has adopted the rugged personality of Dantonio, a no-nonsense, blue-collar approach that Cal doesn’t see often in the Pac-10.
Why Cal might win: Even with the expected emergence of Cincinnati transfer, and now burgeoning star MSU DE Trevor Anderson, Cal’s O line should be a strength. C Alex Mack and LT Mike Tepper lead the way for one of the nation’s best front walls; it doesn’t give up sacks often, or even much in the way of pressure. With all day to throw, newly anointed starting QB Kevin Riley will be able to survey the field and pick out one of his young and athletic battery mates. As good as Hoyer and Ringer are, they’re going to need more support from a patchwork offensive line and a receiving corps dangerously low on experience.
Who to watch: The Cal skill players have a slew of athletic ability, but little experience. That’ll begin to change Saturday night, but it’ll take time before the Bear attack is consistent. The spotlight will be on RB Jahvid Best and receivers Michael Calvin, Nyan Boateng, and Jeremy Ross, the heir apparents to Justin Forsett, DeSean Jackson, Robert Jordan, and Lavelle Hawkins, respectively. If Riley is really the right choice, and to look like the main man for the program over the next few years, he’ll need his supporting cast to mature in a hurry.
What will happen: Like it or not, Cal will get dragged into an alley fight that’ll go all 15 rounds. The Bears will get their nose bloodied, and in the end, the MSU pass rush will do just enough in the clutch to pull off the upset. This will be the first step back to respectability for the Big Ten.
CFN Prediction: Michigan State 27 … California 21 ... Line: California -5.5
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 4

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- Big Ten Week One Fearless Predictions