I wonder, does the Wisconsin Badger ever smile?
He (or she) will this weekend in the big showdown game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Camp Randall.
But before we jump to the College Football Game of the Week (CFGotW), we need to stop and recognize a historic moment. Tomorrow is the day the Big Ten begins playing games using its new two-division format and with 12 teams in the conference.
There will be just five Big Ten conference games, as Purdue plays Notre Dame and Iowa gets some rest during their one and only bye week.
As we've done in the previous four weeks, we need to look at:
- Big Ten College Football Game of the Week (CFGotW)
- Chillers (sometimes called "trap" games)
- Snoozers (games you couldn't get me to watch)
- Big Ten Player to Watch
- Etc. (the rest of the Big Ten games)
What's the best way to showcase the Big Ten's new two-division alignment?
Make the best team in each division play each other on week 1 of the conference schedule and you've got the CFGotW.
It's the Nebraska Cornhuskers facing the Wisconsin Badgers in Camp Randall Stadium. A marquee match-up of the No. 8 (or 9 depending on the poll) team versus the No. 7 team in the nation.
It's the preseason favorite in the Legends Division against the preseason favorite in the Leaders Division. And it may come down to the team that is more effective throwing the football.
These two schools with red and white colors love to run the ball.
Wisconsin running back Montee Ball (pictured) enters this weekend as the No. 3 scorer in the nation with 10 touchdowns. Nebraska's quarterback Tyler Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead are No. 2 and 3 respectively in rushing in the Big Ten.
I expect that both teams will use their strong defenses to defuse the opposition's running game, which gives the edge to Wisconsin as they have the highest-rated quarterback in the conference.
Russell Wilson transferred from North Carolina State and is the No. 2 QB in the nation based on quarterback rating.
Wilson has been effective guiding the Badger running game and passing attack. He's one of the reasons the team has looked so dominant in compiling a 4-0 record.
Plus, Nebraska is playing in what may be the most hostile environment for a road team in the Big Ten. As the Wisconsin fans will remind you, Camp Randall is the home of the Badgers.
Expect a lot of noise and a Wisconsin win in week 1 of Big Ten conference play.
Wisconsin 28, Nebraska 23.
It will probably come down to how much Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller (pictured) has improved between his first start last weekend and his first conference game tomorrow against Michigan State.
Though I am a Michigan State graduate, I believe Miller will play better in his second start and the Buckeyes will beat the Spartans in Columbus.
The stars seemed aligned in Michigan State's favor in the preseason. Ohio State lost their head coach, and some of the team's most talented players were given a five-game suspension to be applied at the beginning of the 2011 season.
Then reality and the misfortunes of college football struck. The Spartans not only lost to Notre Dame in Week 3, but they also lost two starters on their offensive line.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes inserted freshman Braxton Miller into the lineup as their starting quarterback after enduring a combined 4-for-18 passing performance by Joe Bauserman and Miller in Week 3 against Miami. Miller wasn't picture-perfect against Colorado, but he seemed comfortable and confident in their 37-17 win.
The Spartans live by the run. Notre Dame demonstrated that if you shut down their running game, Michigan State has to beat you throwing the ball. Unfortunately, MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins and his receivers aren't always on the same page, and Ohio State's talented secondary might pick off a pass or two.
The Buckeyes will start out 1-0 in the conference.
Ohio State 20, Michigan State 14.
You know something's up in the metro Detroit media when the emphasis is on Michigan battling Minnesota for the Little Brown Jug in The Big House.
It's like saying: "There's a game in Ann Arbor Saturday and Michigan is going to win big."
It's not like Minnesota has no talent. They feature the sixth-ranked rusher in the Big Ten in quarterback MarQueis Gray and the seventh-ranked receiver in DaJon McKnight.
The problem for the Golden Gophers is they have no defense, and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson will move the ball at will and put plenty of points on the scoreboard.
Michigan 30, Minnesota 10
Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin appears in the picture because he's been the trigger man of whatever offense the Nittany Lions have been able to muster on Saturdays.
McGloin has quietly moved into the No. 5 spot in passing efficiency among Big Ten quarterbacks. He also has a top -0 rusher in Silas Redd and a top-10 receiver in Derek Moye.
Ultimately, it will be Penn State's defense that shuts down the Indiana Hoosier offense.
Penn State 21, Indiana 7
If I had to vote for the Big Ten player of the year, I would vote for Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson.
Wilson is the undisputed leader of the Badger offense and has the No. 2 quarterback rating in the nation at 218.4. His offense leads the conference with a 48.5 points per game average, which puts them almost a touchdown ahead of second-ranked Nebraska.
The Wisconsin quarterback has thrown 91 passes and completed 69 of them. Wilson has tossed 11 touchdown passes and only one interception. In the season-opener against UNLV, he averaged over 21 yards per play.
Look for Wilson to show the Big Ten why he's the best overall quarterback in the conference.
The attention in years past has been on Illinois' talented offense, but two of the conference's leaders in sacks play for the Fighting Illini.
Junior defensive linemen Michael Buchanan and Wiley Mercilus each have four sacks. Mercilus also has five solo tackles for losses.
Look for Illinois' offense and defense to outplay Northwestern.
Illinois 27, Northwestern 18
Two teams that are prone to untimely penalties and turnovers face each other in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Notre Dame will make fewer mistakes and present Purdue with their first loss at home.
Notre Dame 20, Purdue 17