The Big Ten began conference play last week. Iowa got a huge win in State College, the Buckeyes got their second consecutive shut-out against a supposed high powered offense, Wisconsin looked solid in victory, and Michigan outpaced the Hoosiers in a shoot-out in the Big House.
I went 3-3 for the week. I did predict the Hawkeyes would "upset" the Nittany Lions, but missed on Northwestern, who forgot how to tackle in a loss to Minnesota, Michigan State's continuing fall and loss to Wisconsin, and the Boilermakers defeat in the final seconds to Notre Dame.
Big Ten conference play continues this week with every team but Iowa facing conference foes.
Two very big rivalry games take place this week in conference action. Wisconsin will travel to Minneapolis to battle the Gophers for Paul Bunyan's Axe and the annual contest for bragging rights in the state of Michigan takes place in East Lansing this season.
In other conference action, Purdue begins league play when Northwestern travels to West Lafayette and Indiana will try to break a 14-game losing streak to Ohio State when the Buckeyes and Hoosiers meet under the lights for the firs conference game in newly renovated Memorial Stadium.
As for the Hawkeyes...they play host to Arkansas State, a team from the Sun Belt conference. Sort of a let-down from the hype that surrounded Iowa in the days leading up to last weeks media circus.
On to this weeks previews and picks...
No. 22 Michigan at Michigan State--12:00 PM ET Big Ten Network
The Wolverines go on the road for the first time this season when they travel an hour west to East Lansing. Coming off an emotional victory over Indiana, it will be interesting to see how Rich Rodriguez's young team performs in a hostile confines of Spartan Stadium. Michigan will need a big day from Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor (if available).
The Spartans, coming off another tough loss, hope to use home-field advantage and the natural excitement of its biggest rivalry game to try to right the ship. The Spartans have been very good at passing the ball, but need to show more consistency and ability on the ground in conference play and the defense must start playing to potential.
Fast Facts: Michigan leads the all-time series 67-29-5; Michigan sports a 19-10-2 all-time record against Michigan State in East Lansing, including a 17-10-1 mark at Spartan Stadium; in this series, the school that has won the running game battle has claimed wins in 37 of the last 41 contests; Rich Rodriguez owns a 2-1 record against Mark Dantonio led teams, both wins coming over Dantonio's Cincinnati team when Rodriguez was at West Virginia.
Prediction: Michigan State 38, Michigan 31
Wisconsin at Minnesota--12:00 PM ET ESPN
The Badgers have quietly become one of the teams to beat in the Big Ten championship race. Behind the very strong play of quarterback Scott Tolzien, the Badger offense clicked on all cylinders last week. John Clay, Nick Toon, and Garrett Graham are all offensive weapons that can give defenses fits.
Minnesota is riding high after another strong performance last week. The Gophers, who have arguably the best wide receiver in the country in Eric Decker, just became that more dangerous on offense with the emergence of running back Duane Bennett.
Defensively, the Gophers are an underrated bunch who, led by linebacker Nate Triplett, have played very well this season.
Fast Facts: Minnesota leads the all-time series 59-51-8; the 118 games played to date vs. the Badgers make the Minnesota-Wisconsin series the most-played series in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) history.
Minnesota is 14-of-15 scoring when in the red zone this season; Wisconsin, which has not been sacked in three of its four games this season, is tied for the NCAA lead for fewest sacks allowed (2); Wisconsin's 1.25 turnover margin leads the Big Ten and is tied for 13th in the country.
Prediction: Minnesota 24, Wisconsin 20
Northwestern at Purdue--12:00 PM ET Big Ten Network
After Northwestern's disappointing performance last week, coach Pat Fitzgerald called his team's effort "shocking" and his defense's ability to tackle "awful." The coach vowed that the issues would be fixed immediately. The Wildcats must show that improvement on the field Saturday against a Purdue offense that can put some points on the board.
The Boilermakers have lost three games this season by a combined 12 points and two of those losses came in the final seconds at the hands of top 25 teams. This Purdue team will eventually get over the hump and win one of these games, but first Purdue must correct the silly mistakes (13 penalties for 103 yards against the Irish) and cut way back on the turnovers (11 through four weeks).
Fast Facts: Purdue leads the all-time series 48-26; for the second straight week, Mike Kafka threw for more than 300 yards, completing 32-of-47 passes for 309 yards and tossing a pair of touchdowns last week against Minnesota; Northwestern has won three of the last five meetings with the Boilermakers, including last year's meeting in Evanston, 48-26.
Purdue, with head coach Danny Hope, will be Northwestern's fourth opponent in five games this season to have a first-year coach; Purdue is riding a three-game losing streak, but the losses have come by a combined 12 points.
Prediction: Northwestern 27, Purdue 24
Arkansas State at No. 13 Iowa--12:05 PM ET ESPN2
The Hawkeyes are riding an eight game winning streak and coming off a huge, emotional victory over a top 5 team must guard against a let down in week five.
Arkansas State, a 1-2 team from the Sun Belt conference should pose no threat for the Iowa squad we saw on Saturday. That Iowa squad sported a suffocating, turnover forcing defense, a powerful running game, and a special teams unit that made a couple brilliant plays.
Fast Facts: This is the first meeting between Arkansas State and Iowa; with a win over Arkansas State, the Hawkeyes would capture their first 5-0 start since 1995; Iowa has won 40 of its last 48 games (.830) in Kinnick Stadium, dating back to the 2002 season; Iowa's eight-game winning streak is currently tied for second best in the nation with Texas and behind Florida (14).
Prediction: Iowa 34, Arkansas State 17
No. 15 Penn State at Illinois--3:30 PM ET ABC
The Nittany Lions must put the heartbreak of last week behind them to go on the road to face an Illinois team that has been utterly embarrassed in the two games they've played this season against BCS competition. The Lions will test their weak offensive line again this week against a fairly athletic Illini front.
Illinois has got to be sick of losing. Not only that, but Juice Williams and Arrelius Benn have got to be sick of not putting points on the board. The biggest surprise this season has been Illinois inability to move the football considering the amount of talent on that side of the ball.
The challenge doesn't get any easier against a sound and stingy Penn State defense that will be out to prove something.
Fast Facts: Penn State leads the all-time series 13-3; Illinois quarterback Juice Williams can break the Illinois career total offense record with 76 yards against the Nittany Lioins. In doing so, he also would crack the top-10 on the Big Ten's career total offensive yardage list.
The Illini are 3-7 vs. top-25 opponents over the past three seasons, including a win over No. 19 Penn State in 2007; in his first full game this season, junior linebacker Navorro Bowman recorded a career-high 13 tackles; Penn State has a 23-6 record against teams from the state of Illinois, including a 13-3 clip against the Illini.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Illinois 10
No. 9 Ohio State at Indiana--7:00 PM ET Big Ten Network
Ohio State has turned a corner since a heartbreaking three-point loss at home to USC three weeks ago. The Buckeyes have not allowed a single point since that game, the offense and especially the running game have improved, and the Buckeyes (and their coach) are playing with swagger and a killer instinct, something fans in Columbus have not seen in quite some time.
Bill Lynch acknowledged this week that though he still feels the wrong call was made in last week's Michigan game, his team had to move on to the next challenge. The Hoosier's have been a good story this season, but Lynch just doesn't have to players to compete with an Ohio State team with more playmakers and depth.
Fast Facts: Ohio State leads the all-time series 65-12-5; Ohio State dropped Indiana, 41-10, the last time the teams faced off in Bloomington on Oct. 22, 2005; Ohio State is riding a 15-game Big Ten road winning streak.
The Hoosiers' defense is solid, ranking second in the Big Ten in rushing defense, giving up just 94.7 yards per game; the Buckeyes have forced nine turnovers (six interceptions, three fumble recoveries) through the first four games, an average of 2.2 per contest; Darius Willis' 154 yards against Michigan were the most by an Indiana running back since Chris Taylor put up 176 against Kentucky in 2005.
Prediction: Ohio State 38, Indiana 6
My record: 28-10 (.737)
This article is featured on First and Big Ten, a Bleacher Report and Chicago Now blog dedicated to everything Big Ten Football! Stop by and visit Kristofer, as well as other BR writers Tim Cary and Kevin Paul.
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