Picks, Predictions and Prognosis for Every Week 6 Big Ten Football Game
Pretenders to the left of me, Contenders to the right....here I am stuck in the middle with you.
Sorry, I digress...apparently I've been watching too much "Reservoir Dogs" here. (Side Note: Five dollars to the person who can name the band that did the song, without looking it up)
However, that take on the famed song is dead on for this week in the Big Ten as there are some massive "where are we" matchups this weekend.
Of course, it wouldn't be Big Ten play without a trophy on the line, and for the second straight week it is Minnesota playing for one as they take on Michigan for the Little Brown Jug.
It wouldn't be a big weekend in Big Ten country without the return of ESPN's College GameDay and that's exactly what happens this weekend as Ohio State travels to Evanston, Illinois to take on Northwestern.
Needless to say this is the first venture on to the campus of Northwestern for the show, so expect an interesting adventure or two.
Of course, it wouldn't be the start of my weekly picks without reminding you all just how awesome I am at these things (wink, wink).
Last Week: 3-1 (3-1 ATS)
2013 Picks: 40-10 (28-22 ATS)
*All Lines are courtesy VegasInsider.com.
Penn State (-3.5) at Indiana
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
Saturday, Oct. 5 at noon ET (BTN)
What to make of these two teams, right?
Both beat down on opponents they should've won against and came away with questions from a loss (or losses in the Hoosiers case) in non-conference play.
However, as the weeks go by the home loss by Penn State to UCF looks better and better, simply because UCF is showing they are a team that is for real—nearly pulling off an upset against South Carolina last week.
This game happens to be the lone all-Leaders Division matchup in Week 6 and the implications are big for both teams. Following a bye week both will look to prove they are at least in the mix to cause some problems for the perceived leaders of the division, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Some will look at this matchup on paper and point to an interesting quarterback matchup between PSU's star freshman, Christian Hackenberg, and Indiana's Nate Sudfeld and they are right—the QB's are going to be fun to watch.
However, the biggest area to watch in this game will be the ground game. Yes, Penn State can play with pace offensively, but if they want to win the game they've got to slow down the IU offense just a bit and with the three-headed monster of Zach Zwinak, Akeel Lynch and Bill Belton at running back they have an opportunity.
Don't sleep on the Hoosiers' Tevin Coleman, who is one of my candidates for breakout player of the year in the conference. He adds a scary dimension to the offense and can really keep opponents off-balance.
Look for the team that gets more out of the run game to be the team that wins and surprisingly I think that's Indiana.
Prediction: Indiana 33, Penn State 27
Illinois at Nebraska (-9)
Saturday, Oct. 5 at noon ET (ESPNU)
Will Taylor Martinez be a go in Week 6?
If you have the definitive answer to that question I have a crisp $100 bill in my hands for you, because you know more than anyone else in the media or even the coaching staff as we sit here on Wednesday morning.
Without an answer to that question it becomes a matter of who's defense can stop the others more often and sadly (for Nebraska's famed blackshirt history) it is Illinois that has been more impressive there.
Add in a quarterback who's supremely confident in Nathan Scheelhaase and you have a recipe for victory.
Scheelhaase leads the Big Ten in passer rating at 174.8 and in passing yards a game at 290.5 going into conference play. Oh, and he is completing a ridiculous 67.2 percent of his passes as well.
He is a difference maker and if Martinez isn't a go he's the best player on the field bar-none.
So, with the information at hand and a guess that Martinez doesn't play this week in favor of getting him ready for the weeks ahead, I'm taking the upset in this game as the balance of power in the conference begins to shift to the Leaders Division.
Either way, I see them covering the spread, which is way too high if you ask me.
Prediction: Illinois 31, Nebraska 28
Michigan State (-1) at Iowa
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Saturday, Oct. 5 at noon ET (ESPN2)
The Hawkeyes proved last week that the improvement in non-conference play wasn't a joke, crushing Minnesota to keep Floyd of Rosedale in their possession.
Now, in Week 6, the challenge will be proving that they've got enough to go toe-to-toe with one of the best defenses in the country, let alone the Big Ten—at least according to the numbers.
Of course, on the flip side Michigan State has to prove it actually has an offense that can score enough points to win them football games (sorry, that Youngstown State game doesn't count here).
If the Hawkeyes can win at home in Kinnick it will set them up nicely for a good run in the conference, and certainly put them in the drivers seat early in conference play with a 2-0 record.
That will be easier said than done and watching the matchup between Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun and Iowa's Brandon Schreff up front will tell us a lot about this game as both are coming off amazing starts to their seasons.
Schreff is part of the reason the Hawkeyes offense will have a chance in this one, as the O-Line as a whole has been playing some pretty good football as of late, and may be the most improved O-Line in the conference.
However, the Spartans defense is giving up just a ridiculous 58.2 yards a game on the ground. Could that mean tough sledding for Mark Weisman and Co.?
Don't let the gaudy MSU defensive numbers fool you, they haven't faced a good running game all season long (sorry Notre Dame fans, it's the truth) and this Iowa unit will challenge what we all think about Michigan State.
As long as Iowa doesn't turn the ball over I expect them to win at home as they continue to defy my thoughts on them from the very beginning of the season. They simply have a more well-rounded team and that wins out at home for me.
Prediction: Iowa 27, Michigan State 17
Minnesota at Michigan (-19.5)
Saturday, Oct. 5 at 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
The Little Brown Jug has been in the possession of the Michigan Wolverines for all but one year since 1986 and most aren't giving the Golden Gophers a chance in this year's version either.
Who can blame them after that lame performance at home last week against Iowa? I know I certainly wouldn't.
However, Jerry Kill coached teams have a strange way of finding a win out of nowhere in his third seasons (he did it at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois—his last two stops).
Could it happen this week?
A lot of that depends on which Michigan team comes out on Saturday afternoon.
If it's the version of the last two weeks there's a good chance of an upset, but if the bye week fixed what was ailing the Wolverines then look for this one to be over quickly.
The biggest issue for Michigan has been its offensive line, and that could be trouble against perhaps the most athletic and frightening defensive tackle in the Big Ten—Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman.
According to reports there could be changes coming along the line and that has me a bit nervous about calling for a win for the Wolverines here.
However, I just see Michigan having too much fire-power in the run game themselves to allow an upset in this one.
If it does happen, look out in Ann Arbor, that's for sure. It may be back to the drawing board for a team everyone thought was on the rise.
Prediction: Michigan 33, Minnesota 23
Ohio State (-7) at Northwestern
Saturday, Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. ET (ABC)
When was the last time Northwestern actually expected and got ESPN's famed College GameDay on campus?
That changes this Saturday in what a lot of people are calling the Wildcats' biggest game of the modern era.
It may well be true, as it is Northwestern's biggest stage to pull off a win with the eyes of the college football world fixated on Ryan Field for a change.
However, its season won't come to an end if they lose this game—let's be real folks, there's plenty of football to be played.
That said, the Wildcats present some very intriguing matchup issues for Ohio State on both sides of the ball.
Casual observers may not think much of the Northwestern offensive line, but a closer observation discovers a unit that is very underrated in my book.
So, I give the Wildcats (with a full complement of offensive weapons btw) a better than 60 percent chance to pull off the upset on Saturday night.
Unfortunately, I just don't see the defense matching up well against the Buckeyes' Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde and Dontre Wilson in space.
Northwestern will need to capitalize on opportunities defensively if they want to win this one and I just don't see the Buckeyes giving them that many chances. However, go with the Wildcats to cover as they will hang offensively all game long.
Prediction: Ohio State 37, Northwestern 31