2009 Big 10 Fearless Picks, Week 4
Penn State's Jared Odrick
Penn State's Jared Odrick
Posted Sep 24, 2009

Penn State won its first three games without a problem, but the offense wasn't stellar. Jared Odrick and the defense picked up the slack, and now the Nittany Lions get a chance to show what they can do on national TV against Iowa. Check out the Fearless Predictions for this and the rest of the opening weekend of the Big Ten season.

2009 Big Ten Fearless Predictions

Week 4 ... Sept. 26 Games

Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota
Northwestern | Ohio State | Penn State | Purdue | Wisconsin
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Game of the Week

Iowa (3-0) at Penn State (3-0), 8:00 EST, Saturday, September 26, ABC

Why to watch: Penn State was in the thick of the national title chase as November started last year, but a late interception led to a field goal in the final seconds to give Iowa a stunning 24-23 win. The Nittany Lions ended up settling for a Rose Bowl berth instead of a trip to Miami, and now they want payback. At least that's how the game is being sold, but it's not really a revenge game when it comes to animosity between the two schools. This is about establishing the pecking order in the Big Ten. That's it.

Penn State is back in the BCS Championship chase with a top five team and an impressive record so far, winning its first three games by a total score of 90 to 20, but that was against Akron, Syracuse, and Temple. Not only is this the Big Ten opener, but it's a chance for the Nittany Lions to make a statement on national TV that they really are worthy of the high ranking and aren't just there because of name recognition and a squishy-soft schedule. But this is also a chance for Iowa to make some noise. On a seven-game winning streak going back to a great run at the end of last year, the Hawkeyes haven't been dominant needing two blocked field goals in the final seconds to beat Northern Iowa before getting by Iowa State and Arizona. With a home game against Arkansas State up next, Iowa can get off to a tremendous start with a win, while Penn State plays its only road game in the first seven weeks with a trip to Illinois next week.
Why Iowa might win: Penn State's offensive line has been struggling. While there hasn't been a true test yet to deal with, the Nittany Lions haven't been impressive running the ball averaging a mere 133 yards per game with too many sacks allowed bringing the net total down. A superior defense and a solid passing game have saved made things easy, but Iowa has done a terrific job against the short to midrange passing games so far. The Hawkeye run defense has been fine, but nothing special, and it's not likely to be pushed too much this week. However …
Why Penn State might win:… Iowa is having issues on the offensive line, too. Missing all-star tackle Bryan Bulaga to an illness over the first part of the season has been a problem, but the lack of respect for the Shonn Greene-less running game has been the bigger issue. Defenses have teed off on QB Ricky Stanzi and the Hawkeye passing game with an unabashed pass rush getting into the backfield time and again without much of a problem. The game comes down to this: Can Iowa stop the tremendous Penn State pass rush? The Hawkeyes have allowed eight sacks in three game and way too many pressures, while Penn State is generating pressure from everywhere to get into the backfield.
Who to watch: The two Penn State defensive superstars are banged up. All-America LB Sean Lee has been terrific since returning from a knee injury with a team-leading 32 tackles with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. He'll play, but he hurt his leg last week and was limping around a little bit. The bigger issue is the groin of All-Big Ten star Navorro Bowman, who has been out of the lineup since early on in the opener. He'll finally give it a full go for the big game against the Hawkeyes, but if he's struggling, sophomore Nate Stupar can step in after proving to be a more-than-capable fil-in with 22 tackles.
What will happen: It's not going to be a pretty game. Iowa's offense sputters too much and doesn't have enough big-time playmakers, while Penn State will play it close to the vest and let the defense come up with the victory. This isn't going to be the showcase game that'll make anyone pine for the Nittany Lions in the BCS Championship.
CFN Prediction: Penn State 23 … Iowa 10 ... Line: Penn State -9.5
Must See Rating: (I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell 5 … Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself 1) … 4
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Indiana (3-0) at Michigan (3-0), 12:00 EST, Saturday, September 26, ESPN2

Why to watch: Before the season started, no one thought this would be a battle of unbeatens. Michigan was supposed to have problems with Western Michigan and wasn't supposed to be ready to beat a veteran team like Notre Dame, while Indiana was also supposed to struggle against WMU and its solid offense and had to go on the road to play Akron. The Hoosiers haven't been world beaters, but they're unbeaten, while Michigan has to put this game away quickly and efficiently with big road games against Michigan State and Iowa to follow. Both the Hoosiers and the Wolverines finished 3-9 last year, so the winner will already come up with a better 2009 before September is out.
Why Indiana might win: The freshmen started playing like freshmen. It had to happen at some point, and IU has to hope for the trend to continue. Michigan QB Tate Forcier struggled against Eastern Michigan throwing for just 68 yards, while Denard Robinson missed on all four of his passes and pitched two interceptions. Robinson ran for two scores and the game was never in doubt, but the Hoosiers will generate more pressure than the Eagles did and should force the young players to make quicker decisions. They haven't been under fire yet like they will be against the Hoosier defensive front that brings pressure from all angles, including the linebackers, and they need to play like veteran decision makers.
Why Michigan might win: Considering Michigan has survived on the running game so far, currently ranking third in the nation averaging 271 yards per game, field position is a big deal. The Wolverine return game has been fine, but nothing special, while the punting has been terrific. Zoltan Mesko is a consistent weapon who should keep a mediocre IU offense pinned deep for most of the game, while the Hoosiers have been abysmal punting the ball averaging 27.38 yards per boot. IU is only averaging 4.33 yards per punt return.
Who to watch: Can Brandon Minor go? When he's healthy, Minor is a game-changing back with a speed burst and home run hitting ability to be the focal point of the Wolverine offense. However, he has been hampered by a foot and ankle problem that kept him out of the Eastern Michigan game, and while he'll try to give it a go, senior Carlos Brown will play a big role no matter what. He was the offense against Eastern Michigan with 187 yards and two scores on just 13 carries, and while he has been an afterthought for the offense over the last few years, he appears to be ready to be a bigger part of the attack.
What will happen: Indiana will hang around longer than Michigan might like. Jammie Kirlew and the IU defensive front will force Forcier and Robinson into at least three key turnovers, but the IU offense won't capitalize on all of its chances. It'll take about 50 minutes before the Michigan running game takes over and puts the game away.
CFN Prediction: Michigan 30 … Indiana 16 ... Line: Michigan -21
Must See Rating: (I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell 5 … Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself 1) … 2.5
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Minnesota (2-1) at Northwestern (2-1), 12:00 EST, Saturday, September 26, Big Ten Network

Why to watch: It's insane to start thinking about bowl implications in late September, but this game might turn out be a major factor in the pecking order when it comes down to the invites. The two teams a expected to be jockeying for mid-level position in the Big Ten rankings when all is said and done, and with each coming off tough setbacks (with Minnesota losing to Jahvid Best and Cal at home and Northwestern gagging late in a loss to Syracuse), this is an important game for their psyches. Minnesota was cruising along last year with a bounceback season that was one of the nation's biggest surprises, but instead of being conservative and playing for overtime in a key game against Northwestern, Adam Weber threw a painful pick six to lose the game, and from then on, the season. This game might be just as thrilling in a dead-even matchup that should go the full sixty minutes.
Why Minnesota might win: The Gophers should light up the Northwestern secondary like a Christmas tree. The Wildcat pass defense wasn't anything special to begin with, and it still might be without starting corner Sherrick McManis to a leg problem and might be missing key backups Justin Vaughn and David Arnold to injuries. Syracuse's Greg Paulus threw for 346 yards against NU last week, and Weber should have similar success this week.
Why Northwestern might win: Turnover margin. The key to the success over the first half of the 2008 Gopher season was the ability to come up with the big defensive play and the huge takeaway whenever needed. Minnesota was one of the nation's leaders in turnover margin, but that slowed to a crawl as the problems started over the second half of the season. This year there have been seven turnovers and just four takeaways in the first three games. Considering Northwestern's passing game has been among the most efficient in America, Minnesota could have a hard time coming up with the takeaways needed on the road.
Who to watch: Mike Kafka burst on the Big Ten scene last season when he came off the bench to run for 217 yards and complete 12-of-16 passes for 143 yards and two scores, with two interceptions, in the win over Minnesota. The knock on him was that he was a runner and not a passer, but that has been answered in a big way this year. After not throwing any touchdown passes in the first two games, he went ballistic on the Syracuse secondary with 390 yards and three touchdowns last week. However, he threw a key late pick that led to the loss. He'll have to mix it up a bit more to make up for the mediocre Northwestern ground game, but he'll more likely try to bomb away.
What will happen: These two always play good games, and this one won't be an exception. Northwestern's secondary is a little bit worse, Minnesota's skill players are a little bit better, and the Gopher advantage in special teams will make a difference. This should come down to a late big play with the Gophers making amends for last season.
CFN Prediction: Minnesota 34 … Northwestern 31 ... Line: Northwestern -2.5
Must See Rating: (I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell 5 … Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself 1) … 3
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- Week 4, Part 2 (Illinois at OSU, MSU at Wisconsin, & more)