2009 Big 10 Fearless Picks, Week 5
Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien
Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien
Posted Oct 1, 2009

Air Badger? The best quarterback in the Big Ten so far hasn't been Daryll Clark, Juice Williams, or Terrelle Pryor. Scott Tolzien has come from out of nowhere to give Wisconsin another element to its offense, but can he produce on the road against Minnesota? Check out the Big Ten Fearless Predictions for Week 5.

2009 Big Ten Fearless Predictions

Week 5 ... Oct. 3 Games

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

Wisconsin (4-0) at Minnesota (3-1), 12:00 EST, Saturday, October 3, ESPN

Why to watch: It's not just for the Paul Bunyan Axe, and it's not just the longest running rivalry in major college football, and it's not just a matchup that's almost always extremely entertaining year after year. It's the only Big Ten battle between two teams undefeated in conference play. Minnesota is back in its shiny new palace after outlasting Northwestern 35-24 in a nice revenge game road win. The Gophers have been decent so far, but even with solid victories over Syracuse on the road and against Air Force, there's still a general lack of respect after Jahvid Best and Cal ran wild in TCF Bank Stadium two weeks ago. For Wisconsin, this is the first road game of the year after starting out the season well. While the Badgers needed double-overtime to beat Fresno State, and beat Northern Illinois and Michigan State each by eight points, they played far better than the final scores might indicate. UW takes this game very seriously, but there are bigger fish to fry over the following two weeks at Ohio State and against Iowa. A loss this week could be the start of a downward spiral, while a win could set the tone for the key two-game stretch. Minnesota gets Purdue next week before going to Penn State.
Why Wisconsin might win: Minnesota doesn't have the defense to pull this off. The Gophers are fine against mediocre running games, but Wisconsin and John Clay, despite problems with fumbles, have gotten it revved up over the last few weeks with the ground game starting to take control on regular basis. The key the 2009 Badgers, though, is that the offense doesn't have to rely on the run. Scott Tolzien has been one of the nation's most efficient passers. He doesn't make mistakes, he keeps the chains moving, and he should spread the ball around well against a Minnesota secondary that gave up 309 yards to Northwestern's Mike Kafka last week and allowed Cal's Kevin Riley to complete 16-of-25 passes for 252 yards.
Why Minnesota might win: The Gopher defensive front will get to Tolzien. The Wisconsin offensive line is starting to get healthy again, but it's been a patchwork group so far that isn't anywhere near what it will likely be by the end of the season. Shockingly, UW has only allowed two sacks even though NIU and Michigan State can get into the backfield, and part of that has been due to Tolzien doing a great job of getting rid of the ball. However, the Gophers have a steady pass rush and is solid at making third down stops along with drive-killing plays behind the line. Wisconsin will come up with its share of interceptions, but it can also get dinked and dunked on by a quarterback who isn't greedy and doesn't take chances. That's why …
Who to watch: … Adam Weber has to play like the veteran he is. The Gopher junior has all but stopped running, after leading the team with 617 yards as a freshman and running for 233 yards last year, but his problems with interceptions have increased throwing five including three against Cal. Against the Badgers, he has to be decisive with his throws, take what's given to him by the soft corners, and he can't hang it up in the air on deep balls to Eric Decker, or UW safety Chris Maragos will make him pay. The senior has made 24 tackles so far, but his real worth has been as a deep ball pick-off man taking two away from Michigan State last week and being in the right place at the right time against Fresno State in overtime.
What will happen: The Wisconsin offensive balance and advantage in turnover margin will overcome a big day from Weber. The Badgers might give up over 250 yards through the air, but they'll pick off two passes.
CFN Prediction: Wisconsin 31 … Minnesota 27 ... Line: Minnesota -2.5
Must See Rating: (Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami 5 … The Jay Leno Show 1) … 4
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Michigan (4-0) at Michigan State (1-3), 12:00 EST, Saturday, October 3, Big Ten Network

Why to watch: Could life be worse for Michigan State? This was supposed to be a breakthrough season for Mark Dantonio's club with a strong defense, talented but unproven prospects on offense, and the type of schedule that's manageable for anyone who's any good. But the Spartans collapsed late in a stunning loss to Central Michigan, blew its chances in the final moments against Notre Dame, and simply lost to a better Wisconsin team last week. And now comes the Michigan game. Last year was great for MSU fans with their team in the hunt for the Big Ten title all season long and with Michigan going into the tank, but now the Wolverines are 4-0 and appearing to be a few steps away from being strong again. Michigan has been shaky, needing to fight for a full 60 minutes to beat Indiana and needing a late comeback to beat Notre Dame, but after last year, and a rocky offseason, 4-0 is 4-0, and if there can be a win over MSU, the seventh in eight years (with the one loss coming last season), then next week's game at Iowa will be one of the Big Ten games of the year. Yeah, life could be worse for Michigan State with a loss, but with a win this week, everything might quickly turn around with a shockingly bad Illinois up next and with three home games in four to follow.
Why Michigan might win: Where's the active Michigan State front four? By design, the Spartans don't do anything crazy on defense, they don't go with a variety of blitzes, but they're aggressive. However, they're not getting into the backfield against the run. The overall stats look good, but when Notre Dame actually tried to run, it had few problems, and Wisconsin pounded away for 193 yards last week. Michigan QB Tate Forcier is hurting, and while he'll give it a go, the more the running game can do, the better. If you don't stop Michigan's running game at the point of attack, and if the backs, Forcier, and Denard Robinson get on the move and have a chance to let the play develop, they crank out yards in chunks.
Why Michigan State might win: The Michigan secondary is surprisingly soft. The corners got ripped up by Notre Dame and had problems with Ben Chappell and the Indiana passing game last week allowing 270 yards. Michigan State's passing game has sometimes been deadly, and not in a good way, with a late interception against Notre Dame killing the chance to go for an overtime-forcing field goal attempt, and the three interceptions thrown last week against Wisconsin turning the tide of the close game. But the Spartan passers, Keith Nichol and Kirk Cousins, have thrown for 1,283 yards and 13 touchdowns, going over the 300-yard mark in three of the four games. Michigan is allowing 244 yards per game through the air and will have a nightmare of a time with the big, talented Spartan targets.
Who to watch: Brandon Minor might be Michigan's most talented back, but Carlos Brown has grown into the most productive. After getting stuffed for -3 yards on four carries against Notre Dame, Brown ripped up Eastern Michigan for 187 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, and he ran 11 times for 83 yards and a touchdown, and caught a pass for a 61-yard score against Indiana. The Wolverines spread the carries around, but Brown is a strong banger with home-run hitting speed who will be an even bigger part of the attack if he keeps producing like he has over the last few weeks.
What will happen: Michigan State will not only end Michigan's hot start, but it'll get its second win in the rivalry in the last two years. Forcier always has a magical trick or two up his sleeve, but he'll have to get the passing game going after the Wolverine defense allows too many early big plays to the dangerous Spartan receivers. Michigan will make a tremendous comeback and have a chance late to pull out the win, but won't come through.
CFN Prediction: Michigan State 34 … Michigan 31 ... Line: Michigan State -1.5
Must See Rating: (Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami 5 … The Jay Leno Show 1) … 4
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- Week 5, Part 2 (Penn St at Illinois, OSU at Indiana, & more)

Northwestern (2-2) at Purdue (1-3), 12:00 EST, Saturday, October 3, Big Ten Network

Why to watch: It's condition critical time for bowl hopes, and it's only October. Purdue has been fun-bad and could just as easily be 4-0 as it is 1-3 after losing heartbreakers to Oregon, Northern Illinois, and Notre Dame. Danny Hope isn't exactly doing it with smoke and mirrors, but he's getting a lot out of a little and now he and his team could use a few breaks. This is game three in a nice home stretch of five home games in six. Northwestern has also had two straight tough losses with a rough finish at Syracuse followed up by a rough Big Ten opener against Minnesota. Each team has winnable games ahead, the Wildcats get a woeful Miami University next week, but they need a road win this week to have any real hope of a 13th game.
Why Northwestern might win: The Purdue defense isn't as abysmal as it's been in past years, but it's not stopping anyone. The run defense got ripped up by Northern Illinois for 280 yards, the pass defense got torched through the air by Toledo for 423 yards and couldn't hold on late last week against an injured Jimmy Clausen, who marched Notre Dame to a game-winning score, and the defense currently ranks dead late in the Big Ten in yards and points allowed. Northwestern's passing game has been efficient, productive, and effective, and it should roll for at least 300 yards.
Why Purdue might win: Northwestern's secondary is about to get pushed. Minnesota did a good job of moving the ball through the air last week, and Syracuse's Greg Paulus was on fire in the shootout win over the Wildcats, and Purdue should be able to throw at will on a secondary that's not coming up with nearly enough key stops and can be beaten on midrange and deep passes. For all the good things Northwestern has done so far, it has only beaten Towson and Eastern Michigan, and it was a struggle to get by the Eagles. NU's numbers are good, but the production hasn't matched them.
Who to watch: Purdue WR Keith Smith had a quietly decent first season after coming over from the JUCO ranks, and then he ended his 2008 season with a bang catching 12 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown in the win over Indiana. He finished last year with 49 catches for 486 yards and two scores, and this season, in only four games, the senior has caught 28 passes for 358 yards and two touchdowns, and he has thrown a touchdown pass, highlighted by an unstoppable breakout game last week against Notre Dame with 11 catches for 136 yards and a score. Before the IU game, his best performance last year was against Northwestern with seven catches for 53 yards, and he should be in for another good game.
What will happen: This should be a fun shootout with the loser suffering yet another hard luck defeat. Purdue will finally get a few late breaks and will overcome a few big turnovers to get a tough win.
CFN Prediction: Purdue 35 … Northwestern 30 ... Line: Purdue -7
Must See Rating: (Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami 5 … The Jay Leno Show 1) … 2.5
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