2009 Big 10 Fearless Picks, Week 6
Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien & OSU QB Terrelle Pryor
Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien & OSU QB Terrelle Pryor
Posted Oct 7, 2009

Is Wisconsin vs. Ohio State the Big Ten Championship Game? If not, then it's going to go a long way to determining who ends up going to the Rose Bowl. Do Scott Tolzien and the Badgers have enough to get by Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes? Check out the Big Ten Fearless Predictions for Week 6.

2009 Big Ten Fearless Predictions

Week 6 ... Oct. 10 Games

Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota
Northwestern | Ohio State | Penn State | Purdue | Wisconsin
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Game of the Week
Wisconsin (5-0) at Ohio State (4-1), 3:30 EST, Saturday, October 10, ABC

Why to watch: Now we get to see which team is for real. Ohio State has bounced back nicely after giving up a late touchdown drive to lose to Matt Barkley and USC beating Toledo, Illinois, and Indiana by a combined score of 101 to 14, but that was Toledo, Illinois, and Indiana. The Buckeye defense has showed its might, while Terrelle Pryor has slowly, and somewhat quietly, gotten the offense moving in the maturation process of a superstar. But the best win this year has come over Navy, and no one's doing cartwheels at the idea that OSU could get back into the national title hunt by dominating the Big Ten the rest of the way. However, a decisive, impressive win over Wisconsin would certainly open up some eyes and would mean an 8-1 start (with breathers against Purdue, Minnesota, and New Mexico State to follow) before the rough finishing kick at Penn State, Iowa, and at Michigan.

But Wisconsin isn't going to be a pushover, and it's not receiving a whole bunch of national attention for a tremendous 5-0 start. Most see the final scores of the Badger games and assume the team is struggling through a mediocre schedule, but Wisconsin has dominated and has had full control in all five wins … up until the last ten minutes. Wisconsin has a nasty habit of letting its foot up off the gas and allowing teams like Michigan State, Northern Illinois, and Minnesota to have a shot to steal wins in the final moments, but unlike last year's team that wilted under the pressure, this year's team has always come through when needed. And now it'll have to prove to a skeptical college football world that this really is a Big Ten title contender, and if the Badgers can pull this off, the Iowa game next week in Madison could turn out to be for the Big Ten title. Wisconsin's toughest remaining road game is at Northwestern.

From Pryor's late touchdown march to win last year's war in Camp Randall, to Wisconsin winning in 2004 and in 2003 to end the reigning national champions' winning run, the Badgers and Buckeyes have played some classics over the last several years. Ohio State has ruled the Big Ten roost, but it's only 7-5-1 against the Badgers since 1992. Expect another classic.

Why Wisconsin might win: This is a bad matchup for the Buckeyes. Yes, the Ohio State defense has looked great over the last several weeks and yes, the run defense leads the Big Ten and is tenth in the nation allowing just 83 yards per game, but USC was able to move the ball effectively on the ground, but inexplicably abandoned the run, and no one else on the schedule could effectively pound away on the OSU front seven. Wisconsin won't stop running the ball and the Buckeye defensive front will have to prove it can hold up well into the second half. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin offense continues to be balanced as QB Scott Tolzien has shown he can push the ball deep when needed and can make the third down throws to keep the chains moving. On the other side of the ball, the Badgers have the active defensive front seven to keep Pryor boxed in and make him a pocket quarterback. However …
Why Ohio State might win: … that might not be a bad thing for the Buckeyes. Wisconsin has only faced one quarterback who runs, and Wofford's Mitch Allen in the triple option attack doesn't really count. Pryor won't win this game by running, but he'll see plenty of soft coverages from a Badger secondary that has problems with fast, effective receivers. The corners give up way too many short to midrange passes considering the pass rush has been excellent. But Ohio State is going to try to win by being more physical. Wisconsin hasn't faced anyone with a strong ground game outside of Fresno State, and the Bulldogs spent the game letting QB Ryan Colburn dink and dunk rather than let Ryan Mathews, the nation's leading rusher, carry the offense. Ohio State might not have a Beanie Wells-type talent at running back, but Brandon Saine was able to run for 113 yards on Indiana last week.
Who to watch: This is where O'Brien Schofield has to make his money. The 6-2, 250-pound defensive end projects as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme at the next level, and he needs to have a whale of a game keeping Pryor in check. The Badger senior leads the Big Ten in both sacks (4.5) and tackles for loss (11), and he has provided constant pressure into the backfield all season long. Too quick for a Buckeye O line that has had to be shuffled and reshuffled at times over the first half of the year, he'll be moved around to force Pryor to make quicker decisions than he's used to.
What will happen: Wisconsin will get on the map. The offense will effectively pound away with John Clay and key third down play after third down play from Tolzien, while the defense will hold up just enough to pull off the tremendous upset to set up a monster showdown against the Hawkeyes next week.
CFN Prediction: Wisconsin 20 … Ohio State 17 ... Line: Ohio State -14
Must See Rating: (A Serious Man 5 … Couples Retreat 1) … 5
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Miami University (0-5) at Northwestern (3-2), 12:00 EST, Saturday, October 10, Big Ten Network

Why to watch: Call it the Randy Walker Bowl. The late head coach at both schools was the common link between the two familiar foes, but instead of coming within the first few weeks of the season, it's now a key game for each team for vastly different reasons. Northwestern is coming off a nice road win against a dangerous Purdue team, and at 3-2, can take a major step towards a bowl if it doesn't blow the layup. Miami is on a ten-game losing streak with no production coming in the first five games of the Mike Hayood era. The RedHawks played relatively well in a loss last week to a loaded Cincinnati team, but they have yet to come closer than double digits to anyone. The offense isn't working and the defense has been miserable, but the season can take a dramatic turn with an upset.
Why Miami might win: Northwestern has a bad habit of playing down to the competition. Eastern Michigan stinks, but it took a late score for the Wildcats to get by in a 27-24 win. It's not like the NU attack is cranking out big numbers, it's not going to put up 50 on the board, while the defense will give up yards in chunks to anyone who gets hot. Miami has yet to be hot, but the passing game is putting up yards (mostly in comeback mode) and could put the pressure on the mediocre Wildcat corners.
Why Northwestern might win: Miami can't score. Dead last in the nation in scoring, averaging 11.6 points per game, the RedHawk offense can't consistently put up points. The offensive line has been miserable and should be dominated by a not-that-bad Northwestern defensive front that holds up relatively well against the run. The Northwestern offense could use as many breaks as it can get, and it'll have a few short fields to work with thanks to turnovers. MU has turned it over 18 times so far, worst in the nation, and the defense doesn't do anything to force bad plays with a mere four takeaways.
Who to watch: Does Northwestern have a running back? Freshman Arby Fields has been thrown to the wolves, and he has been mediocre running for 163 yards and four scores in five games of work … that makes him Northwestern's leading rusher. Stephen Simmons is trying to come back from a leg injury, backup Matt Concannon is out with a concussion, and promising speedster Alex Daniel was lost for the year a few weeks ago with an ankle injury. This needs to be the game that gets the Wildcat running game on track, because if it doesn't work this week, it's not going to work against Michigan State next week.
What will happen: Northwestern will go through the motions and get the win. Miami's offense will have just enough decent moments to keep this from getting ugly, but four turnovers will keep the game from being interesting into the second half.
CFN Prediction: Northwestern 38 … Miami 20 ... Line: Northwestern -20.5
Must See Rating: (A Serious Man 5 … Couples Retreat 1) … 2
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Purdue (1-4) at Minnesota (3-2), 12:00 EST, Saturday, October 10, ESPN2

Why to watch: Is this when Minnesota goes into the tank? Last year, the Gophers were among the nation's hottest teams over the first half of the season, lost in painful fashion to Northwestern, and never pulled up out of the nosedive. Last week, the Gophers showed great heart in fighting back against a Wisconsin team that was winning in a walk, but that loss now makes this game a must-win. If the Gophers lose this, it's uh-oh time with at Penn State and at Ohio State to follow. It's not a stretch to say that Minnesota's bowl hopes might die with a loss, while Purdue has to win and win now or else the season might be over. Danny Hope's club has been the hard luck losers with the four straight defeats coming by two, seven, three, and six, all coming down to the final moments. Ohio State is up next, and three of the last four games are on the road, so there's no margin for error.
Why Purdue might win: Minnesota's offense is the worst in the Big Ten. There's no running game and the passing game is all about WR Eric Decker. Purdue's secondary has struggled at times, but it has enough talent to load up to stop Decker to force QB Adam Weber to look elsewhere, and that's when things tend to bog down. Purdue's run defense has been an Achilles' heel in key stretches, but there's no reason to worry about that this week against a punchless Gopher attack that's trying to get a pro style going and has been completely ineffective trying to run it. On the other side of the ball, if Purdue commits to the run and stays with it, it'll have success.
Why Minnesota might win: Minnesota has a huge advantage in the return game. Purdue's returners have been decent in some area with Aaron Valentin doing a nice job on punt returns, averaging a tremendous 13.7 yards per punt return, but he's under 20 yards a pop on kickoff returns. Troy Stoudemire has been consistent and dangerous for the Gophers on kickoff returns helping the team averaged 27.23 yards per try, while the new outdoor stadium hasn't hurt a punting game that's averaging 40.43 yards net. Making the punting game more impressive is that it's working with starter Dan Orseske out with mono. Minnesota, with its mediocre offense, needs to win the field position battle, and it will.
Who to watch: After doing little more than return kickoffs and be a part-time deep threat last year, Purdue senior Aaron Valentin has turned into a dangerous all-around weapon catching 21 passes for 276 yards and four scores, highlighted by a nice four-grab, 101-yard, and two touchdown day against Northwestern after making a 36-yard scoring grab against Notre Dame. He's also been the team's top return man, but he needs to get the ball more in the open field on offense to take the heat off Keith Smith, the team's No. 1 target.
What will happen: This should be a fun, down-to-the-wire battle. Purdue has enough offensive balance to keep the heat on all game long, but Minnesota will get yet another monster game out of Decker, who'll catch double-digit passes including the game-winner in the final minutes.
CFN Prediction: Minnesota 35 … Purdue 30 ... Line: Minnesota -3.5
Must See Rating: (A Serious Man 5 … Couples Retreat 1) … 2.5
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Eastern Illinois (4-1) at Penn State (4-1), 12:00 EST, Saturday, October 10, ESPN Classic

Why to watch: Penn State is finishing off its brutally killer non-conference season with a BCS Championship-caliber showdown against Eastern Illinois. Fine, so the Nittany Lions are getting yet another cupcake, but they could continue to use some tuning up for an offense that's not exactly humming on all cylinders. The running game got going against a woeful Illinois team last week, and there's a chance to go on a nice run with Minnesota up next before the second test of the year (after failing the first one, miserably, against Iowa) at Michigan. EIU isn't awful, going 4-1 this year with a nice defense and just enough offense to get by, but this is a light scrimmage.
Why Eastern Illinois might win: The Panthers won't win, but the defensive front has done a good job all year of getting into the backfield and has been great against the run. Penn State is obviously at another level than Austin Peay and SE Missouri State, but the O line hasn't jelled yet, even after blasting through Illinois for 338 yards and five touchdowns. Eastern Illinois is allowing 94 yards per game on the ground and might not be a total pushover … for a half.
Why Penn State might win: The Penn State defensive front will shut the EIU offense down cold. The Panthers have no prayer of getting the running game going on a Nittany Lion line that's giving up just 86 yards per game and is camping out in opposing backfields. The EIU offense has been fine, but it's not potent enough to push the Nittany Lion defense around in any way. It shouldn't take more than a few early touchdowns for Penn State to put this away.
Who to watch: Is Evan Royster finally going to start playing like the first round draft pick many expect he'll be? He finally broke out against a decent team rushing for 105 yards and a score on just 17 carries last week against Illinois, and while the problems on the offensive line have had something to do with that, he needs to play up to his talent level and make more things happen on his own. He's not going to get a ton of work in a game like this, with Stephon Green likely to take over early on and handle most of the work, but Royster is the star … allegedly.
What will happen: Penn State will put up its 30+ points, the defense will give up a late score and be grouchy about it, and everyone will move on with their lives.
CFN Prediction: Penn State 38 … Eastern Illinois 7 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (A Serious Man 5 … Couples Retreat 1) … 1.5
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- Week 6, Part 2 (Michigan at Iowa, & more)