By JOHN SEARS - BIG TEN INSIDER
1. Ohio State (3-0) at Michigan State (3-0): This weekend,the Spartans and Buckeyes will tangle in a Big Ten showdown full of title implications. Both come in with a single, non-conference loss, tied with Penn State on top of the conference. Luckily for both teams, the loser still survives as Penn State remains on both of their schedules.
Key Match-ups: Ohio State rushing vs. Michigan State rushing – Both teams bring great ball-carriers to the table (Michigan State’s Javon Ringer and Ohio State’s Beanie Wells) and are even in yardage on the ground (177 yards/game). But the Spartans yield more on defense (140 yards/game). Both teams use the run to set up the pass, but Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor will rely on the ground game a bit more to set up the pass. Otherwise, the Buckeye offense may struggle like they did against Purdue (222 total yards, 97 yards passing). Or, understanding that Michigan State is near the bottom of the Big Ten in pass defense (227 yards/game), Ohio State may consider using a passing scheme that can help set up the run. As for the Spartans, they will certainly need their run to set up the passing attack for Brian Hoyer who, despite showing steady improvement, has not faced the Buckeyes’ top ranked passing defense (165 yards/game). If Ohio State can keep the Spartans (eighth with a 37% 3rd down conversion rate) in third and long situations and out of the red zone (Spartans hold the top two scoring slots in the Big Ten – Ringer  and kicker Brett Swenson ), they have a better shot at leaving East Lansing with their heads held high in victory. Ohio State’s defense will pull through and keep the Spartans out of the end zone…barely.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 27, Michigan State 23
2. Michigan (1-1) at Penn State (3-0): First things first--the only number in Michigan’s favor is their nine game winning streak against the Nittany Lions. Other than history, there is nothing statistically that can prove this game will be close. One thing that is certain is that there will be a great deal of emotion emanating from both sidelines. Penn State’s Daryll Clark, Deon Butler and Penn State coaches talked the talk last week after their big win over Wisconsin claiming that Michigan is a tough, competitive group. Further, no current Penn State player has beaten the Wolverines which will allow the Lions to stay focused on the task at hand. From Michigan’s perspective, as much as they bottomed out against non-conference Toledo, they still believe they have enough fight left in them to get through the rest of the conference schedule successfully. This sort of speak seems to be coming mostly from the defensive side of the ball, which begs the question--how resilient can Rich Rodriguez’s offense be at this point of the season? Character, confidence, emotion, and pride are the catalysts for victory for both teams, albeit for different reasons. All the white that will blanket Happy Valley Saturday will not only lend support to the home team, but also inadvertently symbolize the Michigan surrender.
PREDICTION: Penn State by, uh, I can’t make a prediction now- my wife just told me she bought a $500 purse. PSU 500, Michigan broke
3. Wisconsin (0-3) at Iowa (1-2): After losing their first three games in the conference, the Badgers now get to head out to Iowa City to face the 4-3 Hawkeyes. Wisconsin needs: character, confidence, emotion, pride (yes, I am being redundant)…and a dash of some consistent passing. Tight ends Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham have been very quiet during their losing streak and their play must improve if Wisconsin is to cure their offensive ills. The Hawkeyes (98 yards/game) are solid at stuffing the run and that, coupled with Wisconsin’s decimated offensive line, will keep the Badgers sputtering in Kinnick Stadium.
PREDICTION: Iowa 24, Wisconsin 10
4. Purdue (0-2) at Northwestern (1-1): The future of quarterback Curtis Painter could very well be in the hands of the Wildcats. Purdue Coach Joe Tiller is hinting that his patience will soon run out on the senior, forcing a quarterback change for the future in junior Joey Elliott. This will finally light the fire under the senior signal caller, but he will remain in the hot seat.
PREDICTION: Purdue 29, Northwestern 17
5. Indiana (0-3) at Illinois (1-2): This game will look very similar to Illinois’ victory against Michigan two weeks ago. Lots of scoring and yardage and not much competition from the competition. Illinois stumbled last week, yielding costly sacks and committing untimely turnovers against Minnesota, but the Hoosiers do not hold the same big-play defensive capability as Minnesota. Thus, same result as the Michigan game, and the Illini will continue to confuse us concerning their true potential.
PREDICTION: Illinois 38, Indiana 23
Friday, October 17, 2008
By JOHN SEARS - BIG TEN INSIDER