Big Ten Predictions: Is Penn State on Upset Alert?

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Predicting every game in the Big Ten this week

The first College Football Playoff ranking had five Big Ten teams in the top-12, with Michigan ranked third and in line to make the Playoff. It’s a testament to how good the conference is this year.

The Iowa Hawkeyes are coming off a bye week and will have a chance to upset the 12th ranked Penn State Nittany Lions. Although, the biggest game in the conference this week involves two top-10 teams — Ohio State and Nebraska.

That game and many others have huge implications on how the conference will play out this year. With this being most teams ninth game on the year, many teams will have their division hopes shattered this week with a loss, which includes Iowa.

After a plethora of great games last week, the Big Ten is in line for another great week. The conference is solidifying themselves as the best football conference in the nation, and it shows by how the committee ranked them this week.

Here’s a look at each game in the Big Ten this week, as well as who will win.

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Indiana Hoosiers (-14) @ Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Indiana got back on track last week with a win over Maryland. On the other hand, Rutgers continued their downfall a couple of weeks ago with a close two-point loss to Minnesota. The Scarlet Knights are coming into the game on a five game losing streak, but they did have off this past Saturday.

Indiana had a tough three game stretch before Maryland, and they couldn’t pull out a win. That makes this a crucial game for them if they want to end the season bowl eligible. They’ll likely beat Purdue at the end of the year, but with Penn State and Michigan still on the schedule, the Hoosiers can’t sleep walk against Rutgers.

The Hoosiers are coming off a game in which they gained 650 yards on offense, including 414 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. Considering Rutgers ranks 118th out of 128 FBS teams in scoring defense and gives up 5.7 yards per carry, Indiana has a chance to have three running backs rush for over 100 yards in a second straight week.

That being said, Indiana’s defense can’t let up just because Rutgers was held to 14 points through their first four Big Ten games. The Scarlet Knights scored 32 points before their bye week and had a week to prepare for a defense who has been anything but dominant this year.

It’s hard to trust that Giovanni Rescigno or Chris Laviano can help Rutgers’ offense to score enough points. Not to mention they’ve rushed fewer than 40 times in three of the past four weeks, despite their run game being the strong part of their offense early in the season.

Prediction: Indiana 45 Rutgers 17

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Michigan State Spartans @ Illinois Fighting Illini [Even]

Both teams enter 2-6 and with all hope lost this season. Illinois continued their dreadful first season under Lovie Smith with a 40-17 loss to Minnesota, and Michigan State lost 32-23 to Michigan in a game that was never close in the second half.

Despite the train wreck of a season that Michigan State has experienced, they still have a little hope that they can make a bowl game if they go 5-7. Illinois can crush that dream with a win, though.

Champaign, Illinois isn’t a nightmare to play at, but anywhere but home is tough for the Spartans right now. Neither side of the ball is playing well and they still have a quarterback controversy after eight games.

In fact, Tyler O’Connor and Brian Lewerke each attempted double-digit passes against Michigan. Even junior quarterback Damion Terry came in and attempted four passes. While it might not make a huge difference this season, the Spartans need to find a way to end their quarterback controversy and go into next season better prepared and knowing who their guy is.

Although, Illinois’ quarterback situation is not much better. The Illini are down to their third string quarterback in Jeff George Jr., and he has not fared well. The freshman quarterback has completed just 20-of-49 passes for two touchdowns and an interception.

In the end, it will come down to who has the better quarterback play. Both defenses rank outside the top-80 in scoring defense and allow opponents to complete more than 63 percent of passes against them. Even if it takes three quarterbacks, George hasn’t shown me enough in two games to pick Illinois.

Prediction: Michigan State 27 Illinois 24

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Wisconsin Badgers (-7) @ Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern has a chance to come away with their signature win of 2016. Despite being 4-4, the Wildcats are one of the hottest teams in the conference right now. They’re 4-2 since their slow start and both losses came to teams currently in the top-10. That makes their game against Wisconsin one of the more intriguing non-ranked matchups in the nation this week.

Even with the loss of Jack Cichy, Wisconsin’s defense didn’t lose a beat against Nebraska. They hounded Tommy Armstrong Jr.  and held the Cornhuskers to just 17 points. The Badgers’ defense winning them games have become a norm this year.

The Wildcats want to run with Justin Jackson on offense, but the Badgers only allow 3.3 yards per carry. Therefore, it adds more pressure on quarterback Clayton Thorson, who is on the best stretch of his career. In fact, Thorson completed 52.4 percent of his passes against Ohio State for 256 yards, one touchdown and an interception last week.

Even though the Badgers only allow teams to complete 54.1 percent of passes on the year, teams need big plays against them to win, and it’s near impossible to break one on the ground. Although, Northwestern has only scored 44 points in the past two weeks after scoring 54 against Michigan State, so a big play might help spark the offense.

Plus, their defense has had problems of their own this year. The Wildcats did hold Ohio State to 24 points, but a poor start by the defense could cost them. Wisconsin doesn’t give up a lot of points, therefore Northwestern can’t try to force this game into a shootout.

Northwestern’s usually great defense is still a little skeptical, and Wisconsin knows they can’t afford another loss this season. Being at home will help the Wildcats, and it will be closer than people think.

Prediction: Wisconsin 27 Northwestern 20

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Maryland Terrapins @ 3 Michigan Wolverines (-31)

It seems like Jabrill Peppers is playing every position as Michigan continues to roll. They had no problem beating Michigan State last week, although did score fewer than 40 points for just the second time this season. Still, teams have yet to figure out their defense or how to stop their offense.

Wilton Speight might not be a great quarterback, but he gets the job done when paired with their dynamic backfield. He’ll have a challenge this week against Maryland, a defense that only allows teams to complete 51.9 percent of passes against them. However, Maryland has yet to play an offense like Michigan has.

Maryland has been one of the surprise teams of 2016, however they’ve only gone 2-3 in conference play. They have yet to prove that they can beat good teams, let alone great teams like Michigan. Now, the Terrapins go on the road in Ann Arbor against one of the best teams in the nation.

Perry Hills and Lorenzo Harrison have each had solid seasons, but they’ll have to play the game of their life’s to beat Michigan.

Even if this game turns into a blowout, it’s worth watching. Peppers is one of the most exciting players in college football, and Michigan is as athletic and fun as any team in the nation. Until Ohio State in the last week of the regular season, the only team who can beat the Wolverines are themselves.

Jim Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in terms of getting his team ready to play. You know a team is good when a 31-point favorite seems low.

Prediction: Michigan 48 Maryland 10

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Purdue Boilermakers @ Minnesota Golden Gophers (-17)

Give credit to both teams. Gerad Parker has kept Purdue fighting until the end of the season, despite being one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. Also, even though Minnesota has had an underwhelming 2016 campaign, Minnesota is right in the thick of things and can still win the Big Ten West if they win out.

Minnesota bounced back against Illinois last week after a close win over Rutgers the week before. Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks combined to carry the ball 32 times compared to Mitch Leidner throwing just 19 times. That attack should work against Purdue, who is giving up 5.8 yards per carry this season and 6.8 yards per carry against Penn State a week ago.

Purdue has gone against the grain in the Big Ten and has relied on David Blough‘s arm. Blough has 12 interceptions on the year, including at least one in seven of eight games. Although, since his five interception meltdown against Cincinnati in week two, Blough only has one multi-interception game.

The Boilermakers can’t turn the ball over if they want to win another game this season, though. Their defense hasn’t been able to hold teams in check this year, but they have played very good first halves. In fact, the Boilermakers led Nebraska 14-10 at halftime two weeks ago and were tied with Penn State last week at the half.

Now, the Boilermakers finally don’t take on a ranked team under Gerad Parker. Purdue isn’t a good team yet, but it’s hard not to love what Parker has done in his short time. Minnesota is the better team, but if Blough protects the ball, and Purdue plays a full game, they have a chance to pull the upset.

Prediction: Purdue 31 Minnesota 30

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10 Nebraska Cornhuskers @ 6 Ohio State Buckeyes (-17)

Ohio State should be favored in this game, but being a 17-point favorite seems a little disrespectful to the season Nebraska has had.

The Buckeyes are still the team that scored 45 points against Oklahoma and 30 points against Wisconsin, but their offense has struggled over the past two weeks.

J.T. Barrett has been in the worst funk of his Ohio State career, and it will say a lot about him as a football player by how he reacts to it and plays the rest of the season. He still completed more than 65 percent of his passes in each of the past two weeks, but the once Heisman candidate has ruined his chances by only scoring one touchdown in those games.

That being said, Nebraska’s offense has struggled in their own right. Getting Jordan Westerkamp and Devine Ozigbo back from injury will help Tommy Armstrong Jr. not have to do as much and force throws, because he started to become more turnover prone. Still, Ohio State has one of the best defenses in the nation, and the Cornhuskers did not fare well against Wisconsin a week ago.

At one point this was expected to be a high-scoring game. Now, with two defenses ranked top-15 in the nation in scoring defense, along with owning struggling offenses, the winner might have less than 25 points.

It will come down to which team can ignite their offense first and forget about the past two weeks. Nebraska’s 22 points per game and Ohio State’s 22.5 points per game over the past two weeks are very unlike both teams, although the struggles might continue when considering the defenses both teams own.

17 points is disrespecting Nebraska, and I think they’ll use that as motivation. But J.T. Barrett is a player that’s very hard to bet against, even when he’s struggling.

Prediction: Ohio State 38 Nebraska 27

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Iowa Hawkeyes @ 12 Penn State Nittany Lions (-7.5)

Penn State probably isn’t the 12th best team in the country, but they’re still a very good football team. James Franklin finally got his signature win at Penn State, and the Nittany Lions followed it up by hanging 62 points on Purdue, including 45 in the second half.

Penn State owns one of the most explosive offenses in the nation, and faces a defense that has been susceptible to giving up big plays. Even though the Hawkeyes fared well against Wisconsin, the Badgers moved the ball on big third down conversions or a big play that got them in the red zone.

With the weapons Penn State owns on offense, that can’t happen this week. Even though Penn State has a 12 next to their name and enter the game as a touchdown favorite, the Hawkeyes still have a chance.

Josey Jewell, Jaleel Johnson and Desmond King have to step up as the leaders of the defense and prevent big runs or throws that can swing the momentum towards Penn State.

On the other hand, Penn State’s defense allows 4.5 yards per carry and teams to complete 63.3 percent of passes against them. Although, Penn State does have 23 sacks, which means C.J. Beathard needs to be smart in the pocket and deliver quick, accurate throws and know when to throw the ball away. He did that against Wisconsin, and it helped the offense.

The biggest key is that Kirk Ferentz must be aggressive on third and fourth downs. He can’t play conservative on the road against a top-15 team.

Iowa needs to find the end zone this week, and I think they will. Yes, the win over Ohio State was huge for Penn State, and it obviously changed a lot of people’s opinion on them. Although, if Penn State comes in over-confident against a team coming off a bye week ready to pull an upset at night on the road, the Nittany Lions will be in trouble.

Prediction: Penn State 24 Iowa 20

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