Big Ten Previews and Predictions: Week Four

Kristofer GreenSenior Writer ISeptember 25, 2009

Last week, the Big Ten posted a 7-3 record including a marquee win for Iowa, who knocked off former Hawkeye Mike Stoops and the Arizona Wildcats.

I did slightly better picking, going 8-2 missing the Northwestern's gut wrenching loss to Syracuse,  Michigan State's heartbreaking defeat to the Irish.

Big Ten conference play begins this week with every team but Purdue facing conference foes.

Illinois will try to make it eight wins in 11 tries at Ohio Stadium, Iowa is looking for their seventh win in eight tries against the Nittany Lions, Michigan will try to continue their early season success against an ever improving Indiana squad, a desperate Michigan State visits Wisconsin for a must win and Minnesota will travel to Evanston to take on the Wildcats with revenge in mind.

As for the Boilermakers... they play host to Notre Dame in primetime under the lights at Ross-Ade Stadium. FBT's own Tim Cary will be in West Lafayette to document the "Blackout" madness from the press box.

On to this week's previews and picks...

Indiana at No. 23 Michigan—12:00 PM ET  ESPN2

The Wolverines have put the disappointment of 2008 behind them so fast that the "Practice-gate" scandal even seems like a distant memory. Behind a resurgent running game and a freshman phenom quarterback, the Wolverines are feeling as confident as college football's most winningest program should feel.

Indiana is riding a wave of momentum themselves. Behind a sometimes mind-numbing commitment to the pistol offensive, the Hoosiers have started to click. If the Hoosiers can get a monster effort from the ever improving defense, Bill Lynch's squad could pull the upset.

Fast Facts: Michigan leads the all-time series 50-9; Indiana last downed Michigan on Oct. 24, 1987, (14-10 in Bloomington) and last won in Ann Arbor on Oct. 21, 1967 (27-20); The Hoosiers defense is in for a tough task, as Michigan leads the Big Ten in scoring offense (38) and rush offense (270.7) and ranks second in total offense (439.0); Michigan has won 23 straight conference openers at Michigan Stadium, with its last loss coming 34-0 to Michigan State in 1967.

Prediction: Michigan 33, Indiana 20

Minnesota at Northwestern—12:00 PM ET  Big Ten Network

The Wildcats are coming off a heartbreaking loss to Syracuse, but should take solace in how well first year quarterback Mike Kafka performed. Kafka, who began the game with a school-record 16 straight completions, set a single-game completion record by hitting 83.3 percent of his passes for a career-best 390 yards.

The Gophers, coming off a tough loss of their own, will have revenge in mind when the take Ryan Field on Saturday. Last season, the Gopher lost a tough one at home when Northwestern got a miraculous pick six with time expiring. Minnesota has played tough on defense this season, but will need to find some more weapons on offense.

Fast Facts: Minnesota leads the all-time series 49-30-3; In the last six years, the Wildcats own the sixth-best Big Ten record at 24-24 (.500). The 'Cats are bunched with Penn State and Purdue in the middle of the standings; The Gophers have lost three consecutive Big Ten openers, with their last win coming in 2005, a 42-35 double-overtime win over Purdue; Minnesota is 9-of-9 in the red zone this season, having scored five touchdowns and kicked four field goals, making them one of 16 teams in the nation to score on every trip inside the opponent's 20.

Prediction: Northwestern 27, Minnesota 24

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Michigan State at Wisconsin—12:00 PM ET  ESPN

Wisconsin has been challenged by Northern Illinois and Fresno State this season at home and need to get off to a fast start in the Big Ten this season. The offense has shown moments of greatness behind the performances quarterback Scott Tolzien and running back John Clay, but consistency on both sides of the ball has been an issue for the Badgers.

Michigan State has dropped two consecutive close, hard fought battles. A win is a necessity for the Spartans who still have an opportunity to challenge for the Big Ten title, which is a goal the team and coach Mark Dantonio has made public on numerous occasions. The underachieving defense must step up and help an offense that can ove the ball very well.

Fast Facts: Michigan State leads the all-time series 27-20; The Spartans lead the Big Ten and rank 14th in the NCAA in passing offense, averaging 295.7 yards per game; Sophomore quarterback Kirk Cousins leads the Big Ten and ranks 14th in the NCAA in passing efficiency with his 164.3 rating; The Badgers are tied for the Big Ten lead and tied for 14th in the country with eight turnovers gained this season (four fumbles, four interceptions).

Prediction: Michigan State 28, Wisconsin 24

Illinois at No. 13 Ohio State—3:30PM ET  ABC

The Buckeyes, coming off a much needed show of domination against Toledo, will try to shake the Illini bug on Saturday. Illinois has won in Ohio Stadium seven of the last 10 times it played there, including a stunning victory over the No. 1 Buckeyes in 2007. The Buckeye defense has been outstanding, the offense showed real improvement last week and the Buckeyes under Jim Tressel have typically kicked it up a notch once big Ten play begins.

The Illini are coming off a much needed bye week that made time for Ron Zook's superstars Juice Williams and Regis Benn get healthy. Also returning to the line-up is running back Jason Ford, but middle linebacker Martez Wilson, who is out for the season, will be missed. Can the Illini defense keep Terrelle Pryor in check? That is the key to Illinois' success.

Fast Facts: Ohio State leads the all-time series 61-30-4; Illini quarterback Juice Williams can break the Illinois career total offense record with 171 yards against the Buckeyes; Illinois coach Ron Zook was the defensive backs coach on the Ohio State coaching staff from 1988-90 under John Cooper; Saturday's game will mark Jim Tressel's 300th career game as a head coach. Tressel is 85-20 in nine seasons at Ohio State and 220-77-2 in his 24th season overall.

Prediction: Ohio State 34, Illinois 24

Iowa at No. 5 Penn State—8:00 PM ET  ABC

The exhibition season is over for the Nittany Lions who now are forced to face an opponent that has the players to challenge them. Three straight flat, unimpressive wins over inferior teams is not so reassuring for JoePa and company who must get better play from their offensive line if they have a chance at that elusive perfect season.

The Hawkeyes understand what is at stake and they know what they are in store for in Happy Valley. College GameDay, national primetime Game of the Week, Nittany White-out in full effect and the famous Penn State student section could be mighty intimidating. Add in a sprinkle of revenge and things look pretty grim for the Hawkeyes. Except that Kirk Ferentz knows how to beat the Nittany Lions and has proved it six of the last seven times the two teams have met.

Fast Facts: Penn State leads the all-time series 11-10; Iowa has won four of the last five games at Beaver Stadium; Iowa's seven-game winning streak is currently tied for fourth best in the nation with Texas; The Nittany Lions have won 30 of their last 32 (93.7 pct.) games in Beaver Stadium, dating to a 37-13 win over Michigan State on Senior Day on Nov. 20, 2004; Penn State has a 6-10 record in Big Ten opening games.

Prediction: Iowa 24, Penn State 21

Notre Dame at Purdue —8:00 PM ET  ESPN

The Boilermakers, coming off a dismal performance and loss last week to Northern Illinois, are hoping to rebound against longtime in-state rival Notre Dame under the lights in West Lafayette. The Boilers, planning a "Blackout", must reestablish their early season offensive success against an Irish defense that is spotty at best.

Notre Dame is coming off a hard fought, emotional battle with Michigan State in which Irish receiver and superstar Michael Floyd was injured and lost for the season. Can the Irish offense enjoy the same level of success without arguably the team's best player? There are still weapons, but the up and down Irish could find themselves in another tough battle with a team from the Big Ten.

Fast Facts:
Notre Dame leads the all-time series 52-26-2; Purdue is 3-6 all-time on Sept. 26, and it's fitting that the Fighting Irish are the opponent, as they have been the Boilermakers' opponent the last five times a Saturday has fallen on the date; Sophomore Ralph Bolden's 435 yards rushing on 62 carries this season not only leads the Big Ten and is second in the Football Bowl Subdivision, it also marks the best start to a year by any Boiler running back in school history.

Prediction: Purdue 31, Notre Dame 27

My record: 25-7 (.781)

This article is also featured on FirstandBigTen.com, a Bleacher Report blog dedicated to Big Ten football.


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