2009 Big Ten Fearless Predictions
Week 1 ... Sept. 6 Games
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Big Ten Fearless Predictions
Week 1, Part 2 (WMU at
Michigan, NIU at Wisconsin, and More)
Game of the Week
Missouri (0-0) at Illinois (0-0),3:40 EST, ESPN, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: Oh, this will be fun. Fans of tough defensive battles look away; this should be an up-and-down shootout with the numbers rolling up like a pinball machine … at least in theory. These are two of the nation’s biggest X factor teams with more question marks than sure-things to rely on, but one thing is for sure, these two teams will put up yards and points, and no lead will be safe.
Missouri is 4-0 in the series in St. Louis that started in 2002 highlighted by a 2007 40-34 shootout between two BCS bowl-caliber teams, and last year’s 52-42 firefight was one of the opening weekend’s wildest games. But now the Tigers are in a massive rebuilding mode, even though the coaching staff thinks of it as reloading. There’s no immediately replacing the lost firepower of WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Chase Coffman, and not having a heady field general like Chase Daniel around anymore certainly isn’t a plus, but the cupboard is hardly bare. Mizzou QB Blaine Gabbert is considered a far better pro prospect than Daniel was, and there are plenty of big weapons returning led by RB Derrick Washington. A win against the Illini would show that head coach Gary Pinkel might just have the program on cruise control, and that the talent flowing through Columbia will keep the recent success rolling.
Illinois, by the admission of its own players, coasted last year assuming that the success of the Rose Bowl-bound 2007 season would continue. Instead, the Illini had an uneven season complete with a clunker against Western Michigan and four losses in the last five games. The team didn’t put in the work necessary, and again, from the mouths of several of the players, the hunger wasn’t there. That doesn’t appear to be the case going into this season with so many thinking the breakthrough season of two years ago was a fluke. With the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the nation, a veteran QB in Juice Williams, and a defense that’s expected to be far better, the sky is the limit for a team picked to finish in the middle of the Big Ten pack. But now the Illini has to go out and produce, and it all starts in St. Louis.
Why Illinois might win: Missouri’s defense is going to be better, it can’t be much worse than last year, but the secondary is suspect going into the season. The Tigers could’ve desperately used a tune-up game before dealing with this receiving corps. Arrelious Benn is shooting for a big season with NFL millions waiting for him, but he’s hardly alone. Jeff Cumberland and Michael Hoomanawanui are more than just running mates for Benn, they’re dangerous targets who’ll make the Tigers pay for all the attention given to Benn. Williams has been rock-solid sharp with his receivers throughout the offseason and he could be in for a 350+ yard game if he’s not under consistent pressure.
Why Missouri might win: The Illini defensive front could get pounded on. While this will likely be a track meet, Missouri has the better ground game and should be able to use its talented offensive front to crack open huge holes for Washington. Illinois has never been stingy when it comes to stopping the tougher ground games, and there’s just enough turnover in the front seven to have problems to start the season. The Illini defensive front will get pressure into the backfield, but it’s not going to be consistent enough to keep Washington under 100 yards.
Who to watch: The answer for the Illinois running game will be … not even the coaching staff is sure. Thanks to the mobility of Williams, the Illini put up good rushing numbers last season, but the running backs weren’t consistent and there wasn’t any one back who took the job by the horns. The offense will go with the hot hand against the Tigers with veteran Daniel Dufrene trying to go on a gimpy ankle and underclassmen Mikel Leshoure, Jason Ford, Justin Green, and Troy Pollard all trying to earn work. The bread will still be buttered with the passing game, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have more balance. Illinois will try to find it in the opener.
What will happen: The script will be flipped. In past games it was Missouri who set the pace with the Illini needing to furiously rally to come back. This year, Illinois will jump out early as the Tigers try to settle in, but the gap will be closed with a huge second half from Gabbert. It won’t be enough.
CFN Prediction: Illinois 45 … Missouri 31 ... Line: Illinois -7
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 ... NYC Prep 1) … 4.5 … Free Expert Football Predictions
Eastern Kentucky (0-0) at Indiana (0-0),6:00 EST, ESPN, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: Indiana won three games last season. One came in a shocker against an injured Northwestern, and the other two came against non-FBS teams Western Kentucky and Murray State. This year’s Hoosier team will likely struggle to get wins again and it needs every chance it can get to make the fan base happy. This is one of those games. Eastern Kentucky is a nice team coming off an Ohio Valley Conference title, but there’s some big turnover in key spots and the team is expected to take a slight step back.
Why Eastern Kentucky might win: The IU defense did a whole bunch of nothing last season, especially against the pass, and while EKU might not have a high-octane passing game, it should be efficient. The IU corners are a major concern, needing last year’s leading receiver, Ray Fisher, to move over to the secondary, and EKU has just enough talent at wide receiver to come up with a few big plays.
Why Indiana might win: EKU won’t be able to stop the Indiana ground game. The spread offense has undergone a change in Bloomington with the big, tough line potentially able to barrel over the Colonel defensive front that wasn’t consistent last year and isn’t expected to be a brick wall this season. Defensively, the IU defensive front should be able to camp out in the EKU backfield.
Who to watch: Indiana has a pair of NFL defensive linemen, and now the talent needs to shine through. Jammie Kirlew was one of the nation’s best pass rushers last year, and Greg Middleton was dominant two years ago before coming up with a disappointing 2008. For the Hoosiers to have any sort of success this year, they’re going to need their two stars to carry the defense starting this week.
What will happen: Indiana will roll at will. Eastern Kentucky isn’t that bad, but the Hoosiers will have all things clicking with a balanced offense while the defense will take advantage of the changes in the Colonel backfield.
CFN Prediction: Indiana 41 … Eastern Kentucky 10 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 1
… Free Expert Football Predictions
Navy (0-0) at Ohio State (0-0),12:00 EST, ESPN, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: Ohio State is considered the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten title, and gets the lofty No. 6 preseason ranking, because it’s Ohio State. Quick, name one other player other than Terrelle Pryor (not you, OSU fan who writes it tOSU). This is as about as much of a rebuilding year as Ohio State might have with so much turnover in the linebacking corps, at receiver, and with a no-name group of future stars at so many key positions. Considering the way the Buckeyes have struggled out of the gate over the last few years, needing everything it had to get by Ohio and with the problems against Troy, Navy has a puncher’s chance. The Midshipmen are undergoing a massive talent overhaul as well, but it might be a case of plug ‘n’ play … it’s the system. Navy will be Navy again, but for all the big things it has done over the years and for all the wins, it doesn’t have a monster victory to hang its hat on (and that includes the Notre Dame win of a few years ago). A win in Columbus could qualify as the program’s biggest in roughly 50 years.
Why Navy might win: USC. With so many new starters and so many players trying to figure out what they’re doing, Ohio State might really be focusing on trying to get past Navy. However, these 18-to-22-year-olds wouldn’t be human if they didn’t at least have a sizeable portion of their attention span on what’s coming up next. The date with USC next week should be the non-conference game of the year, and when the task at hand is dealing with the Navy option game, there could be problems. Ohio State is going through a wholesale change at linebacker and the last thing a green group needs to do is show enough discipline to handle what the Midshipmen will throw its way.
Why Ohio State might win: Nate Frazier. The undersized, undertalented (no, it’s not a word, but it works here) Navy defensive front wasn’t going to be a brick wall against the Ohio State running game, but it was going to at least be feisty and annoying. It’s not a stretch to say that Frazier, the former Navy nose guard, was going to be the best lineman on the field for either side, and he was the one player the Midshipmen couldn’t lose. They lost him. Kicked off the team for unspecified reasons, the loss of Frazier leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the Navy D. End Jordan Stephens will give it a shot on the inside, but now the OSU gameplan changes a bit. The offense should be able to hammer away as much as it wants to on the inside, and it couldn’t do that with Frazier clogging things up.
Who to watch: Can Terrelle Pryor throw? He worked his tail off this offseason to become a more consistent passer and a playmaker who can make his receiving corps better. It’s this simple: if he can’t make things happen against the Navy secondary, he’ll have no chance whatsoever next week against the USC defensive backfield. This needs to be a rebirth type of game where he shows more downfield passing skills. On the other side, Ricky Dobbs has to be a superstar. The new starting quarterback for Navy has a green group of running backs to work with, so every decision has to be sharp and every run has to be decisive. He can’t afford to make any mistakes.
What will happen: The Navy offense will annoy the heck out of the Buckeyes and it’ll hang on to the ball for over 35 minutes, but the Midshipmen won’t have any answers on defense to stop the Buckeye running game. The OSU offense won’t be crisp, but it’ll be strong enough in the second half to pull away and be able to start thinking about the bigger fish to fry next week.
CFN Prediction: Ohio State 37 … Navy 13 ... Line: Ohio State -22.5
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 2.5… Free Expert Football Predictions
Akron (0-0) at Penn State (0-0),12:00 EST, Big Ten Network, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: The Penn State death march of non-conference games begins here. The Akron game should prepare the Nittany Lions for the showdown against Syracuse, which all leads up to the epic battle ahead against Temple and the mid-season slugfest with Eastern Illinois. No, JoePa’s program isn’t exactly extending itself before dealing with the Big Ten, and while Paterno would never think about putting up big scores or try to blow teams out for cosmetic purposes, that’s what Penn State needs to do. If this isn’t a four-touchdown blowout, there will be whispers that the rebuilding and reloading job might take a while. Akron isn’t bad, the offense is just good enough to provide a nice scrimmage, but all the attention and most of the focus will be on next week when it gets to open up its shiny new stadium against Morgan State.
Why Akron might win: Name one of the Penn State starting wide receivers. It doesn’t matter much since the Nittany Lions will win by running the ball, but until new prospects like Derek Moye, Brett Brackett, and Graham Zug, among others, can show they can produce on a consistent basis, the Zips will load up to try to stop the run. The secondary might be the strength of the entire Akron team.
Why Penn State might win: The Nittany Lion offensive line might bury the Akron defensive front. Almondo Sewell is a star who’s good enough to start for Penn State, or for an NFL team in the near future, but the Zips need a butt-kicking defensive tackle and Ryan Bain was supposed to be it. He hasn’t been able to stay healthy, and while he’ll give it a go, he’s got a back issue to deal with and could be limited if he plays. Penn State RB Evan Royster could have a breakout game that gets him on top of the national rushing rankings after one week.
Who to watch: Penn State All-America LB Sean Lee will be jumping out of his skin. The star who was supposed to be the leader of last year’s defense is coming off a knee injury but is 100% and raring to go. He has said it’ll take everything in him to dial it down a few notches and not try to go 100 miles per hour on every play, but for a playmaker of his caliber to be sitting on the sidelines for a full year, he’ll be unleashed now that he’s back on the field.
What will happen: It’s Penn State against an inferior non-conference opponents. Make plans to do something else in the second half.
CFN Prediction: Penn State 48 … Akron 10 ... Line: Penn State -27.5
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 2… Free Expert Football Predictions
Minnesota (0-0) at
12:00 EST, ESPN, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: Welcome to the first day of the rest of the Syracuse program’s life. After crashing and burning in the Greg Robinson era, the once proud Orange, a regular in the Big East title hunt and a fringe national title contender around ten years ago, will try to begin anew under head coach Doug Marrone. A true believer who openly wanted to coach his alma mater, Maronne can start to work miracles right away if he can start out his era with a home win over a Minnesota team desperate for a hot start. One of the biggest surprises of the first half of 2008, Minnesota was awful at times over a five game losing streak that wiped away all the positives of the first few months. Next week is the real opener for the Gophers as they break in their new stadium against Air Force, but head coach Tim Brewster could use a decent road win to prove that this really might be a new team with the potential to be far more consistent.
Why Minnesota might win: Does the Orange have the defensive back seven to handle the Minnesota short to midrange passing game? The Gopher coaching staff has been talking about the offense being more balanced and more effective on the ground, but the bread will be buttered with QB Adam Weber, WR Eric Decker, and the air attack. Syracuse doesn’t have the secondary to keep Weber from being ultra-efficient, while the linebackers are suspect enough to have problems whenever the passing game works wide. The linebackers were considered a problem coming into the season, and things got much, much worse with several personnel losses, including the departure of Mike Mele, a starter in the middle who’ll play for UMass, and Derek Hines, a good-looking JUCO transfer who left the team in fall practice.
Why Syracuse might win: The Minnesota secondary is fine, but nothing special, and it should have problems staying with Mike Williams and the Syracuse receiving corps. The Orange isn’t exactly going to be Oklahoma throwing the ball, but Williams, who missed all of last year after being suspended for academic issues, should have a huge day against the secondary that’ll desperately miss Tramaine Brock, the star safety who’s out after
struggling to get to class. Throw in Lavar Lobdell, Donte Davis, and tight end Mike Owen and SU should be able to overcome a shaky ground game by throwing the way Marrone wants his team to. That means the spotlight will be on ...
Who to watch: … Syracuse QB Greg Paulus. The former Duke point guard was a superstar high school quarterback prospect, but he chose to try to become the next great Blue Devil floor general. With his hoops career going nowhere, and with one year of eligibility left, he shopped himself around trying to find the right fit. Marrone sold him on the idea of playing for the Orange, and starting, and it’s all coming true for the local product. Paulus hasn’t thrown a pass yet as a collegian, but he has been surprisingly sharp in practices, knows what he’s doing, and moves like a Duke point guard would be expected to. He’s the team’s X factor this year, and the pressure of the season will fall on his shoulders.
What will happen: Paulus will be solid and will provide hope that the Orange season might not be so bad, but Minnesota’s defense will force at least four turnovers to make up for the inconsistency on offense. Each team will make this enough of a shootout to be entertaining.
CFN Prediction: Minnesota 37 … Syracuse 27 ... Line: Minnesota -7
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 2.5 … Free Expert Football Predictions
Big Ten Fearless Predictions
Week 1, Part 2 (WMU at
Michigan, NIU at Wisconsin, and More)