2009 Big Ten Fearless Predictions
Week 1 ... Sept. 6 Games, Part 2
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Big Ten Fearless Predictions
Week 1, Part 1
Towson (0-0) at Northwestern (0-0),12:00 EST, Big Ten, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: Past Northwestern teams have blown games they were supposed to win with ease. There was a gaffe against Indiana last year. Duke got its lone win in Evanston two years ago, and there was a shocker against New Hampshire on the résumé. But this would be a loss at a whole other level. Towson is expected to be the worst team in the Colonial Athletic Association and is coming in on a five-game losing streak going back to last season. The defense was abysmal, there was no running game, and there was little consistency. This year's team starts anew with first-year head coach Rob Ambrose, and there's a massive rebuilding job to be done. Northwestern is looking at this year as a chance to make the big step that head coach Pat Fitzgerald has been planning for, and it has a nice and easy non-conference schedule to prepare for the Big Ten slate starting against Minnesota in late September. This is a true scrimmage game, and Northwestern's offense could use it.
Why Towson might win: The Wildcats are breaking in a new running game with several backs trying to help out running quarterback Mike Kafka. This isn't going to be a consistent Wildcat offense and there isn't going to be an efficient passing game to rely on for a few weeks. Towson's defense isn't good enough to stop anything Northwestern will try, but the score isn't likely to get out of hand.
Why Northwestern might win: The Northwestern defensive front should camp out in the Towson backfield. Corey Wootton is close to 100% from the knee injury suffered in the Alamo Bowl, but he won't be the only one beating up the Tiger runners. Towson's main problems to work on are defensively with no pass rush and not enough of a run defense to keep NU from tearing up at least 300 yards on the ground, but this will be a blowout if the Tiger O line that allowed close to three sacks per game isn't night-and-day better.
Who to watch: Everyone knows that Kafka can run, and in a pinch he'll be taking off to get the offense moving, but a game like this is vital to see if he can throw on a consistent basis. He and the coaching staff have insisted that he'll be effective and he has improved since last season, but if he can throw on the Tiger secondary, it could be uh-oh time for things to come down the road.
What will happen: Northwestern will get plenty of chances to play around with the offense as it marches up and down the field, and then the depth will start to be developed midway through the third quarter.
CFN Prediction: Northwestern 45 … Towson 9 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 1… Free Expert Football Predictions
Montana State (0-0) at Michigan State (0-0),12:00 EST, Big Ten Network, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: Montana State isn't a total pushover. Sure, it should be an easy win for Michigan State if it's bringing its B game, but the Bobcats should be a player in the Big Sky race. Last year, Montana State got obliterated by Kansas State 69-10 but battled well in a 35-23 loss to Minnesota. This year's team isn't likely to get blown out and it could keep this close for about a half. Michigan State has to prove that all the pieces are in place, but that's a bigger question mark than it might appear with a new quarterback, no Javon Ringer to hand off to, and a suspect receiving corps that has to live up to its potential. There's a tough stepping-stone game next week against Central Michigan, but realistically, the Spartans have two games to hit their stride before going on the road to face Notre Dame and Wisconsin.
Why Montana State might win: The run defense is the real. The Bobcats get seven starters back from a group that finished eighth in the nation among FCS teams in run defense and ninth in sacks. Dane Fletcher and the MSU front should get into the opposing MSU's backfield just enough to be disruptive, and they're not going to be pushed around too much by a good, but not great Spartan O line.
Why Michigan State might win: Montana State had problems hanging on to the ball last season and that's expected to be an issue yet again. The Bobcats were equal opportunity givers with 16 fumbles and 19 interceptions, and MSU's defense should be able to come up with at least three turnovers. Montana State has to be perfect to keep this close, and it won't be. The Spartan short to midrange passing game will keep the Bobcats on their heels, and there won't be the takeaways needed to get the D off the field.
Who to watch: Cousins or Nichol, Nichol or Cousins? That was the big offseason question for the Michigan State offense, and the answer might be both Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol at quarterback. Cousins will get the start, but head coach Mark Dantonio said that Nichol will get a few series of action early on. Nichol is better, at least he will be in time, but Cousins has more experience and knows the offense better. There's no real controversy here, but if one doesn't shine, the other will get more work going forward.
What will happen: The passing game will get most of the attention for the Michigan State offense, it needs to be sharper than last year, but redshirt freshman Caulton Ray will be the star. The new starting tailback will run for 100+ yards as the Spartans put it on cruise control in the second half.
CFN Prediction: Michigan State 31 … Montana State 6 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 1.5
… Free Expert Football Predictions
Toledo (0-0) at Purdue (0-0),12:00 EST, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: It's the beginning of the Danny Hope era at Purdue and the Tim Beckman era at Toledo. Hope already knows what he's doing having served as the right hand man and the hand-picked successor by Joe Tiller, while Beckman is being asked to revive a program that used to be one of the stars of the MAC. Which program will rebound faster? Toledo is loaded with dangerous offensive weapons, but it's the defense that needs to come up big after struggling so much last year. Purdue needs to find playmakers after struggling with its consistency last year, and while this might be a Big Ten vs. MAC battle, it's more dead-even than it might appear. Toledo is more than good enough to pull off the win, and it might need it with Colorado and Ohio State to follow. Purdue has to go to Oregon next week and will be a huge underdog. There can't be a slip here.
Why Toledo might win: Purdue's talent level offensively is suspect, at best. The line should be fine and Joey Elliott is a veteran who should step in and be fine at quarterback, but there's a big hole at receiver and there might not be an efficient passing attack early on. Toledo, if everything works the way it's supposed to, has far, far more firepower than it showed last year. Purdue might not be able to keep up if this gets into a shootout.
Why Purdue might win: Toledo's biggest weakness might not be much better right away. Purdue's skill players need time to work, and they should get it with a mediocre Toledo pass rush to deal with. The Rockets were next-to-last in America in sacks and didn't do nearly enough to get into the backfield, and while Beckman is a defensive coach, having been Oklahoma State's defensive coordinator last year, he's not great at getting his lines to the quarterback. Elliott isn't going to be Peyton Manning, but if he gets five days to throw, the problems at receiver might not be so glaring.
Who to watch: It's Elliott's time. After waiting in the wings for the last few years as the main backup behind Curtis Painter, Elliott is more than ready to step in and lead an offense that was hit-or-miss throughout last season. Will this be an attack that bogs down against any defense with a pulse, again, or will it be a more consistent offense with more pop. After finishing ninth in the Big Ten in passing efficiency, Purdue's passing game, and Elliott, have to show early on that things have changed.
What will happen: This should be a fun shootout. Neither team has a solid enough defense to keep the other from moving the ball, but neither one has a consistent enough attack to take advantage of key opportunities. Purdue will be a little bit better with a running game that will take over in the fourth quarter and hang on to the ball for a majority of the final frame.
CFN Prediction: Purdue 34 … Toledo 30 ... Line: Purdue -11
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 2… Free Expert Football Predictions
Northern Iowa (0-0) at Iowa (0-0),12:05 EST, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: Iowa is going for the State Champion status with its date with FCS powerhouse UNI this week and at Iowa State for the annual rivalry game next week, and while it might seem like these should be layups, they could be tough for a team limping into the season. The hopes are high for the Hawkeyes with a not-that-bad schedule and a veteran team coming off a breakthrough season, but there were so many key injuries in practices and so much sudden turnover that this game might suddenly be interesting. UNI has a nasty defense and a high-powered offense that almost turned out to be enough to win the national championship, losing to Richmond in a 21-20 playoff thriller. If the Panthers were ever going to come up with the monster upset, this might be the time because …
Why Northern Iowa might win: … the Hawkeyes are scrambling a bit on offense. Jewel Hampton was supposed to be the team's new rushing star to replace Shonn Greene, but he suffered a torn up knee and is out for the year. Making matters worse are the issues on the O line with expected starting left guard Julian Vandervelde out, needing time to recover from an offseason surgery, and with starting right tackle Kyle Calloway missing the game after being suspended for an offseason DUI. UNI, led by pass rushing star James Ruffin, could be disruptive all game long.
Why Iowa might win: Iowa destroys inferior non-conference opponents in home openers. In the last six opening days in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes won by massive blowouts over Maine (46-3), Syracuse (35-0), Montana (41-7), Ball State (56-0), Kent State (39-7), and Miami University (21-3). Akron scored 21 points in the 2002 opener and was still blown away by 36 points. Western Michigan, in 2000, was the last team to beat Iowa in a home opener, but this Northern Iowa team isn't as good as that Bronco squad. Yes, the Iowa offense might be having problems, but the defense is more than fine and should keep the UNI offense under wraps.
Who to watch: With the loss of Hampton, the spotlight is on junior Paki O'Meara to take over the running game. While he has been a practice star, his production hasn't translated to the field in game action and he's nowhere near the talent that Hampton was. That means more will be on the shoulders of QB Ricky Stanzi, a caretaker for the offense last year, he spent the season handing off to Greene, but now he'll be asked to make more things happen downfield. If practices were any indication, he should be ready.
What will happen: Northern Iowa will provide a push for about a quarter, but this is Iowa in a home opener. It's going to come up with several long home runs while the defense is going to stuff the Panthers cold time and again to make this a late blowout.
CFN Prediction: Iowa 38 … Northern Iowa 7 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 1.5… Free Expert Football Predictions
Western Michigan (0-0) at Michigan (0-0),3:30 EST, ABC, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: It's amazing how a program as big and as powerful as Michigan could keep such a low profile this offseason … yeeeeesh. For all the controversy and all the problems Rich Rodriguez is having, everything can be made better by winning. It's that simple. If Michigan starts to win, then Rodriguez is running a tough outfit that's doing what it needs to in a battle to rebuild into a superpower. If the losses keep piling up, then Rodriguez is out of his league and is folding under the weight of the monster program. At least that's how the fans are seeing things, and nothing can make things better, or worse, then an opening day win for the first time since a 27-7 victory over Vanderbilt in 2006. There's one slight problem … Western Michigan might be good enough to win. The Broncos are neck-and-neck with Central Michigan for the honor of being the MAC's best team, and they're used to being Big Ten season-destroyers. Iowa appeared to have a bowl bid all sewn up two years ago, but Western Michigan rolled into Iowa City and came away with the win. Last year, Illinois let its guard down and got tagged, all but ending hopes of going to a bowl game. If Michigan isn't on, it's going to start the season with a disastrous loss before hosting Notre Dame. However, if RichRod can beat WMU and get the win over the Irish, there's a good chance for a 4-0 start with Eastern Michigan and Indiana to follow.
Why Western Michigan might win: Is the Michigan offense really going to be that much better? Eventually, yes, but there's a fiasco at quarterback, top running back Brandon Minor is limping with an ankle injury, and there's not nearly enough firepower in the passing game to keep up if Tim Hiller and the Bronco passing game gets hot. If the Michigan secondary isn't sharp, and if there isn't enough of a pass rush on Hiller, WMU was 11th in the nation last year in sacks allowed, it could be a long day against a talent of Hiller's caliber. He has pulled off big wins before, and he's more than good enough to be the steady leader the Wolverine offense is desperately missing.
Why Michigan might win: It's not like Western Michigan is going to play any defense. The secondary is going to be a year-long problem and will give up way too many big plays and won't come up with nearly enough interceptions, but can Michigan's offense take advantage? The defensive front seven is smallish and could get pounded on if the Wolverines go to the power running game, but they weren't able to do that until late last year. With the quarterback situation so suspect, Michigan will likely try to take the pressure off by running Minor, or Carlos Brown and Kevin Grady if Minor can't go, but all eyes will be on …
Who to watch: Tate Forcier. And Denard Robinson. And Nick Sheridan. Rodriguez has said he'll rotate three quarterbacks to try to find which one can run the offense the best. Sheridan is the veteran, but he has one major weakness: playing football. The faster true freshmen Robinson and Forcier are ready, the better, and in a perfect world with a more patient fan base, Rodriguez would throw Forcier to the wolves and let him work out his issues. There isn't that luxury, but the chances will be there for all the quarterbacks to show what they can do and get the job.
What will happen: All that extra work will pay off for Michigan. Hiller will throw for plenty of yards, but he'll have a tough time in key situations with Wolverine star end Brandon Graham sitting on his head. The Michigan offense won't be tight, but it'll get just enough out of the running game, and one huge run by either Robinson or Forcier that'll excite the base, to escape with a tough win.
CFN Prediction: Michigan 23 … Western Michigan 20 ... Line: Michigan -11
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 3.5 … Free Expert Football Predictions
Northern Illinois (0-0) at Wisconsin (0-0),7:00 EST, Big Ten Network, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: Can Wisconsin get back its mojo? After a rough season with poor quarterback play, bad tackling, and looking every bit the slow, stodgy stereotype that wasn't true during the team's heyday, but might be now, the Badgers have to start out big to get back in the discussion of top Big Ten teams. It wasn't all that long ago that this was a fringe BCS program, but there's little margin for error with the way the team plays. If the ground game isn't dominating, and if the defense isn't a rock, the Badgers struggle. They played down to their competition last season, getting extremely lucky they didn't lose to Cal Poly to close out the regular season, and now they'll have to come up with their A game to get by a tough NIU team that should be in the hunt for the MAC title. Head coach Jerry Kill has turned around the Huskies in a hurry, and was rewarded with a contract extension that'll keep him around until 2015, at least in theory. He has the team and should have the season to justify the bump.
Why Northern Illinois might win: Wisconsin has to scramble a bit at some key spots. The offensive line that struggled so much with its consistency last season will likely be without starting center John Moffitt with a pectoral injury, meaning a true freshman, Travis Frederick, will get the call. Also out will be starting guard Bill Nagy with an arm injury, but on the plus side, top tackle Gabe Carimi should play through a knee injury. There are also problems in the secondary where starting safeties Aubrey Pleasant and Shane Carter are suspended and starting corner Mario Goins transferred. Considering the NIU pass rush should be solid and the passing game has great potential, UW's weaknesses could be quickly exposed.
Why Wisconsin might win: Depth is a concern on the NIU D. The starting 11 should be rock solid, but if the big Badger offensive line, injuries and all, can get the ground game going, the Huskies should wear down as the game goes on. There's also the pumped up factor. This is a very focused, very jacked up Badger team that's been disrespected in all the preseason prognostications. The Badgers are going to come out roaring, but can they sustain the intensity? Getting off to a hot start might be a must.
Who to watch: All offseason the discussion of the Wisconsin quarterback situation revolved around Curt Phillips, a talented freshman who's expected to be the star sooner than later, or veteran Dustin Sherer, who did next to nothing after taking over the job midway through last season. The answer was none of the above as junior Scott Tolzien came out of the summer with the starting job. Phillips will be used here and there, but for now, this is Tolzien's offense and he'll get a chance to show what he can do. Tolzien has been the most consistent of the quarterbacks in practice, but the Badgers need a playmaker, and that might turn out to be Phillips.
What will happen: It'll take three quarters for Badger fans to relax. The pounding ground game will eventually take over late, and while NIU will play like it belongs in the game and has the make-up to pull off the upset, Wisconsin will be steady enough on both sides of the ball to pull away for good in the final drive.
CFN Prediction: Wisconsin 34 … Northern Illinois 17 ... Line: Wisconsin -16.5
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 2.5
… Free Expert Football Predictions
Big Ten Fearless Predictions
Week 1, Part 1