Zultan's Fearless College Football Forecast: Big Ten Plus Five in Week 9

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Zultan's Fearless College Football Forecast: Big Ten Plus Five in Week 9
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Zultan suffered an almost mortal blow last weekend as he was stampeded by a herd of pesky badgers in Iowa, spending the rest of the weekend picking turf out of his teeth. 

The Mighty One suffered another blow when the BCS No. 1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners lost. It should be obvious by now that those ranked No. 1 by the BCS are cursed. Woe is Auburn.

When asked last week, 46 of you volunteered to stand in Zultan’s shoes to predict winners starting In Week 10.  Zultan was touched that so many were willing to take the bullet for the Mighty One. More on that at the end of this article.

In order to test the waters, Zultan has invited a substitute soothsayer to make selections this week. The question is—will our guest prognosticator sent by the football gods be able to discern Zultan’s subtleties in picking winners?  He offers a clue to his identity:

"I am the first great 21st Century Seer, Michel Auguste Dupin. The masses who know of my mental acuity and follow my intricate machinations simply refer to me by my initials; they style me MAD. I think it rather fits, for if you pick against me, surely you must be insane!"

Zultan will allow MAD to make his picks without interruption or ridicule, although the temptation will surface, rest assured.  The Mad One's selections will stand as if Zultan made them himself.

Click here to make your picks for Week 9 and see if you can send the “lean and hungry” Mad One back to the Bleachers by surpassing him in picking winners.

Only ten of you by-passed Zultan in Week 8 by going 9-1.  These very astute people, along with the season-long leaders in outguessing the Mighty One, will be listed at the end of this article.

As written by MAD:

Big Ten Game No. 1: Purdue Boilermakers at Illinois Fighting Illini

Purdue (4-3, 2-1) was in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time last week, getting thumped 49-0 by a hungry Ohio State team at the Horseshoe, a week after the Bucks suffered a stunning upset at the hands of Wisconsin. Plus, in 2009 the Boilers upended the Buckeyes at home, 26-18. Classic double-whammy—saw this beat down coming from miles away.

While it's easy to explain Ohio State's motivation behind the pounding the 'Makers took last weekend, 49-0 is 49-0. That doesn't bode well as the Illini (4-3, 2-2) prepare to welcome Purdue to Champaign on Saturday. Illinois defended its house last week to the tune of a 43-13 rout of Indiana.

It's tough to get worked up about this match-up. Beyond the Big Ten rivalry, there is no real enmity here. It's not like we're talking about a pair of traditional football powers. If you're a fan of either program and I've offended you, in the words of heavy metal band Suicidal Tendencies, "Maybe you need to be offended." I'm just calling 'em like I see 'em.

In a match up between mediocre teams, momentum and home field advantage are frequently the deciding factors. Each favors the home-standing Illini.

Pick: Illinois

Big Ten Game No. 2: Northwestern Wildcats at Indiana Hoosiers

Once, the Northwestern Wildcats (5-2, 1-2) were an easy mark, a virtual guaranteed 'W' for the opposition.

Not so today.

Michigan State put on a furious second-half rally to top the Cats, 35-27, last week, protecting its top-10 national ranking. Meanwhile, Indiana (4-3, 0-3) out-played Illinois in the first half of their 43-13 defeat, but three first half turnovers and a poor second half led to the unsightly final.

Indiana has an impressive aerial attack (sixth in the country at 313.6 yards per contest) while scoring a healthy 31.1 points per game. But with wins versus Akron, Arkansas State, Towson State, and Western Kentucky, it's awfully hard to take them seriously.

Senior Ben Chappell has already piled up 2,137 yards and 17 touchdowns through the air, but Northwestern counters with senior Dan Persa, who has amassed 1,850 yards of his own in his first season as a starter. The Wildcats have a more physical, balanced attack.

The Hoosiers are at home, but this game is pretty close to a pick 'em. In cases like that, I ride with the better defensive team, which is clearly the ‘Cats.

Pick: Northwestern

Big Ten Game No. 3: (5) Michigan State Spartans at (18) Iowa Hawkeyes

You can look at Michigan State in two ways: either as the grittiest, most resilient 8-0 team in the country—having rallied from a 17-7 halftime deficit to clip Northwestern, 35-27, this past weekend—or as a team that's going to fool around and soon dig themselves into one hole too many.

Iowa, behind senior Ricky Stanzi (1,732 yards passing, 16 TDs) could easily muscle them into the latter category should the Spartans not come to play until the third quarter.

The Hawkeyes, on the other hand, kicked off a two-game homestand in dubious fashion, taking it on the chin, 31-30, at the hands of No. 13 Wisconsin. Iowa gave up two fourth-down conversions on an 80-yard drive that culminated in an eight-yard TD run with just 1:06 remaining in the game, erasing a 30-24 advantage for the underdogs.

This is often referred to as "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory."

It could be argued, however, that MSU is not currently soaring with the eagles. So is Michigan State overrated, or was the nation sleeping on the Wildcats? I'll say that the truth always lies somewhere in the middle.

There is no shame in losing––even at home––to a strong Wisconsin team coming off a huge victory over then No. 1 Ohio State. The Badgers were riding a wave of emotion that carried them to the win. (The gutsy fake punt call didn't hurt the cause, either.)

I think the Spartans, by contrast, might be relying on the illusion that they will always find whatever they need to pick up wins. I get the sinking feeling that this weekend at Iowa City, they're going to be like Officer Hoyt from Training Day, looking out the window in the fourth quarter and being told, to their horror, "There ain't nothing out there for you."

The Hawkeyes will even their 2010 mark against teams in the top 25 at 2-2 with the upset, and return back up the polls next week.

Pick: Iowa (upset special)

Big Ten Game No. 4: Michigan Wolverines at Penn State Nittany Lions

This is an intriguing match up, and one of the most difficult to call all weekend.

On one hand, Michigan (5-2, 1-2) had a bye week to stew over a two game losing streak, including their 38-28 home loss to the Hawkeyes on October 16. On the other hand, Penn State (4-3, 1-2)  broke a two game losing skid with a 33-21 victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Minneapolis. Home field and momentum resides with Penn State.

The problem for the Nittany Lions, though, is simple: they don't have enough offense to cope with the better teams in the Big 10. They've only scored 19 points in their three losses this season (3 each versus Alabama and Iowa on the road, and 13 at home in a loss to Illinois) and they are a lowly 99th in Division I (out of 119) in total points scored (142, or 20.3 per contest). Michigan is on the other end of the spectrum. The Wolverines score prodigiously (36 ppg, 17th in the country in Division I) but give them up almost as quickly (28.4 per outing, 80th in D-I), including a total of 72 in back-to-back losses.

Look, I love and respect Joe Pa, but I don't think he can bring it week-in and week-out anymore. I respect Penn State for not pushing him out the door ignominiously (unlike the indecencies foisted upon my favorite college coach of all-time, Bobby Bowden, who was forced out by Florida State) yet I have to wonder if the school wouldn't be better served by an innovative young head coach.

With an extra week to prepare, Michigan’s offense will click on all cylinders, led by the scintillating dual-threat sophomore signal-caller, Denard Robinson. He has a respectable 1,319 yards through the air (with 9 TD tosses) and an eye-popping 1,096 yards rushing (8.0 yards per carry and 9 more TDs on the ground). He's Tim Tebow without all the hype.

Robinson makes the difference Saturday night on ESPN and ESPN3.

Pick: Michigan

Big Ten Game No. 5: (11) Ohio State Buckeyes at Minnesota Golden Gophers

Are you kidding me? You're really going to test the powers of the Almighty Seer with this match up?

My late grandmother could pick this one, God rest her soul. No offense, Granny Stella. . .

So what is there to say? Ohio State (7-1, 3-1) is one of the most explosive offenses in the country, (41 ppg, sixth nationally) yet they're also a stingy bunch (just 112 total points, 14 per game, ninth in the land). It's one of only four teams in the top 10 nationally in both categories.

They are led on offense by junior Terrelle Pryor, another dual-threat QB. Pryor was hyped as a Heisman candidate before he even stepped foot on campus in Columbus. He has struggled mightily at times, but now with 2,183 total yards and 21 touchdowns (18 passing, 3 rushing), Pryor has arrived. He is unlikely to win the Heisman this winter, but he should be a preseason fave next fall.

Minnesota (1-7, 0-4 Big 10) opened the season with a 24-17 victory over Middle Tennessee State of the Ohio Valley Conference. Interestingly enough, another woebegone team, the University of Memphis, also holds a 24-17 victory over MTSU as their only triumph of the campaign. It's not the kind of comparison you'd like to make if you're the Gophers.

Both programs need some serious rebuilding. But while the Tigers snagged Larry Porter, a two-time Rivals Recruiter of the Year, Minny landed interim coach Jeff Horton after Tim Brewster was fired just over a week ago. Advantage Memphis.

Hell, I had to say something about the Gophers, and that was the best I could do.

Pick: Ohio State

PAC Ten Game No. 6: (2) Oregon Ducks at USC Trojans

Don't get me wrong, the USC Trojans (5-2, 2-2) are a proud team with a tremendous pedigree of brilliant success engineered by the now-departed Pete Carroll. Early expectations for the Lane Kiffin era were off-the-charts. After two heart-breaking losses in consecutive weeks (32-31 at home to Washington, 37-35 on the road to now-No. 16 Stanford), there's next to no hope of winning the PAC-10. Trojan fans should accept that eventuality.

But don't be too quick to dismiss the Men of Troy, especially when they're at home.

The Oregon Ducks are the most explosive team in all of college football, leading the country in total offense (569.1 ypg) and scoring offense (55.1 ppg), and ranking third in rushing yards per game (308.4), while being 12th in the nation in fewest points allowed (15.9 per game). Quicksilver sophomore running back LaMichael James (134 carries, 971 yards, 11 touchdowns) has inherited the mantle at the new Tailback U.

Meanwhile, at the original Tailback U, Kiffin has yet to find a ball-toter worthy of O.J Simpson, Marcus Allen, and Reggie Bush. But their tailback-by-committee approach, led by two powerful backs, senior Allen Bradford and junior Marc Tyler, has effectively balanced a potent passing attack, landing the Trojans in the top 25 in total yards, points scored, yards rushing, and yards passing.

It's on the defensive side of the ball that this shootout will be settled. The bend-but don't break Ducks should have more than enough firepower to outscore the Trojans, remain undefeated, and stay in contention for a National Title.

Pick: Oregon

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Big 12 Game No. 7: (6) Missouri Tigers at (14) Nebraska Cornhuskers

These aren't your father's Cornhuskers (6-1, 2-1), but the results are eerily similar.

They don't line up and pound you with the Wishbone. They run a potent pro-style offense, focused around the multi-talented red shirt freshman QB Taylor Martinez (1,046 passing yards, 870 yards rushing, 20 total TDs). The 'Huskers are fifth in D, first in rushing offense with 290 per game, and 10th in points scored (38.9 ppg). Yet their old Blackshirts heritage is still intact, as they surrender a stingy 17.9 ppg. A win Saturday afternoon on ABC would likely catapult them into the top 10 nationally.

Then again, Missouri (7-0, 3-0 Big 12) doesn't want such an ascension to come at its expense. Especially not after they earned their current No. 7 ranking with a thrilling 36-27 win last weekend over then No. 1 Oklahoma, rallying from a 21-20 fourth quarter deficit. QB Blaine Gabbert led the charge, completing 30-of-42 for 308 yards and a TD, while the Tigers also rushed for 149 yards.

This should be a fantastic football game, matching two superior defenses (Mizzou is fifth in the country, allowing a mere 13.1 ppg) and a pair of exciting offenses. Nebraska scores a few more points per game, Missouri gives away fewer. Nebraska rushes for significantly more yards while Missouri passes for far more. Nebraska has the edge in total yards per game and the home field.

It's hard to see Missouri knocking off Oklahoma and Nebraska in consecutive weeks, especially with the Blackshirts at home. I also don't see the 'Huskers making as many mistakes as the Sooners did last week. Missouri cost Okie their No. 1 ranking and toppled them from the dwindling ranks of the undefeated. The 'Huskers will give Mizzou a taste of their own medicine Saturday in Omaha.

Pick: Nebraska

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

SEC Game No. 8: (1) Auburn Tigers at Mississippi Rebels

Auburn (8-0, 5-0 SEC, No. 1 BCS, No. 3 AP & Coaches' polls) has clawed its way to the top of the BCS rankings.

The way teams have swooned in that spot should give them pause on the Plains.

The numbers just don't add up right for Auburn to be No. 1 for very long. Though undefeated, they've given up 26 to Arkansas State (!), 34 to Kentucky, and 43 to then-No. 12 Arkansas. It's an offense that relies heavily on the rush game (303 ypg) to score 38.6 ppg, good for 11th in the nation.

The ring leader is Heisman candidate Cam Newton, a junior from College Park, GA and one more in a long list of dual threat QBs scorching the landscape this fall. Newton has tossed for 1,364 yards and 13 touchdowns—respectable figures—but is even better as a running threat: 1,077 yards, 6.9 yards per attempt, and 14 touchdowns. He sprinted for 217 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-17 victory over LSU that wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicated.

Mississippi (3-4, 1-3 SEC) has an impressive rushing attack too (211.1 per contest to rank 20th in the country), but the overall level of talent on their sideline can't touch Auburn. That's going to be the difference when the Tigers invade the Grove this weekend.

Pick: Auburn

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

PAC Ten Game No. 9: (15) Arizona Wildcats at UCLA Bruins

The Arizona Wildcats (6-1, 3-1) have ridden a stout defense (13.4 ppg for seventh in the country) and a high-flying offense (298 yards per game, to rank 14th) to second place in the PAC-10. Last week they ended the Heisman hopes of Huskies' QB Jake Locker. Locker was held to 183 yards passing and negative-24 yards rushing in a rout. Wildcat junior QB Matt Scott regained his starting position and strafed the Huskies, completing 18-of-22 attempts for 233 yards and two touchdowns.

UCLA (3-4, 1-3) has been on a roller coaster, causing prognosticators fits all season long.

Thus far, its year can be divided into three sections: two ugly losses to begin the campaign (including a brutal 35-0 whitewashing at the hands of then-No. 25 Stanford); three consecutive wins (including a 34-12 shocker over then-No. 7 Texas); followed by two more stinkers (being defeated by a cumulative 95-20 to Cal and Oregon).

The Bruins' strong rushing attack (22nd in the nation) was not enough versus the Bears and the Ducks, and there's no reason to think that the run defense of the Wildcats (yielding a meager 91 yards per outing) won't stifle the Bruins and send the home team to its third consecutive defeat.

Pick: Arizona

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

PAC Ten Game No. 10: (13) Stanford Cardinal at Washington Huskies

Jake Locker of Washington (3-4, 2-2 PAC-10) saw his Heisman hopes come crashing to earth, as I just explained, last week in the loss to Arizona. The senior will likely end his career with close to 8,000 passing yards, and his potential NFL hopes should stanch the blow. Locker has prototypical size (6'3", 230 pounds) and is mobile enough to escape the pass rushes he will face on Sundays.

The Huskies will miss him, yet struggle to score points with him. Between the offensive woes (24.9 ppg, 76th in the country) and even worse defensive issues (33.1 surrendered per contest, 102nd in D-I), it's a wonder that the Huskies are 3-4 overall and .500 in PAC-10 play.

The Cardinal (6-1, 3-1 PAC-10), on the other hand, are extremely explosive on offense (42.6 ppg, fifth in the nation) and competent enough on defense (24.3, 60th) to remain on the fringes of national contention. Most of their stiffest tests lie in the rear view mirror, and with a strong closing kick, Stanford could still find themselves in the Rose Bowl or some other lucrative postseason tilt. Their balanced offense (39th in passing, 16th rushing) is led by junior Andrew Luck (1,728 yards passing with 19 TDs and 253 yards on the ground) and sophomore Chris Polk (636 yards, 5.2 yards per rush, four TDs). Stanford comes in riding the momentum of a 38-28 victory over Washington State.

Can't see the Huskies protecting the home turf this Saturday.

Pick: Stanford

The Rest of the Story:

These are the ten folks who went 9-1 in Week 8, out-guessing the Mighty One: Ken Ripp - Eau Claire, WI; Brigid Reiner - Montrose, CA;  Jack Darland Jr. - Cedar Falls, IA; Adam Gibbs - Logansport, IN; Mar Stephens - Land O' Lakes, FL; Dale Collins - Ladson, SC; Dallas Palmer - New Virginia, Iowa; Kelly Ruschman - Milwaukee, WI; Kenneth Zuerner - Iowa City, IA; Nathaniel Woods - Huntsville, AL

The Top Ten with Multiple Victories over The Zultan so far in 2010

5 Wins
Phillip Murphy – Muscatine, IA
 
4 Wins
Ryan Sparrow – Channahon, IL
Craig Bancroft – Coralville, IA
 
3 Wins
Dennis Ristau – Eleva, WI
Ryan Burk – Denver, IA
Kenneth Zuerner – Iowa City, IA
Ken Ripp – Eau Claire, WI
Rick “Turk” Steffens – Wilton, IA
Kyle Swingle – West Chester, OH
Dallas Palmer – New Virginia, IA
 
There are also 13 with 2 wins over Zultan and 72 with one win.

Because there were so many who wished to participate by picking winners for Zultan, we gave the first opportunities to those with the best record against the Mighty One.  Next week the No. 1 man, Phillip Murphy will have the honor for Week 10. Others will be notified soon of their Week to Pick!

Click here to make your picks this week and come back next week to see how you do against the cream of the Zultan crop!

Let's hear it for the Mad Man!

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