These two teams look like they know how to put up some points up this year. The problem is they both seem to know how to give ’em up, too. Northwestern is sitting atop the Big Ten Legends division with Minnesota and is looking for its third 5-0 start since 2008. While the Wildcats have struggled crossing the goal line at times this season – nine fields goals through four games compared to just six all of last year – there should be plenty of opportunities to score points against a Hoosiers defense that gave up 41 at home to Ball State two weeks ago.
On the flip side, Indiana quarterbacks Cameron Coffman and Tre Roberson have played well under Kevin Wilson’s tutelage as the Hoosiers are putting up a league leading 326 yards per game through the air, giving them what could be a big advantage against a Northwestern defense that’s given up nearly 300 yards per game through the air so far. Northwestern should win (and cover), but a MAC-style track meet could easily go down in Evanston this weekend.
Prediction: Northwestern 44 – Indiana 31
Penn State @ Illinois (-1 1/2)
Bill O’Brien faces the team that allegedly sent its entire staff to Happy Valley to try and convince his players that Champaign is a better than rural Pennsylvania when it comes to watching everyone else compete in bowl games. O’Brien and his staff should have plenty of motivation for this one and lucky for them senior quarterback Matt McGloin has played like a functioning quarterback this year. Look for Penn State to try and feast off an Illini defense that has struggled with short passing games and gave up more than 900 yards combined to Arizona State and Louisiana Tech.
Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is apparently fully recovered from an ankle injury that kept him off the field earlier this season but you have to wonder what the mood in the locker room is after a 52-24 throttling in Champaign a week ago. This Penn State defense won’t remind anyone of some of the greats of yesteryear but it should be strong enough to get them their first road win of the season.
Prediction: Penn State 20 – Illinois 17
Minnesota @ Iowa (-7 1/2)
The Gophers have taken down the Hawkeyes in each of the last two seasons despite the black-and-gold being heavily favored in each contest. This year, though, Minnesota is off to a 4-0 start while Iowa has limped its way to 2-2. The Gophers offense has been steady even without quarterback MarQueis Gray at the helm but will face an Iowa defense that should provide the toughest test so far despite questions along the defensive line.
While James Vandenburg and the Hawkeye passing game has struggled to get going so far this season, the emergence of running back Mark Weisman has been one of the few bright spots coming out of Iowa City. They’ll face a Minnesota defense that has been stingy and opportunistic with 11 sacks and 10 turnovers forced through four games which could make for another long day for Greg Davis’ offense. This one will likely be the type of Big Ten showdown we all love to hate: slow, low-scoring and as entertaining as an episode of Whitney.
Prediction: Iowa 17 – Minnesota 14
Marshall @ Purdue (-17)
Purdue is the only Big Ten team facing an opponent from out of conference this weekend as they host Marshall at Ross-Ade Stadium. The Boilermaker offense has been explosive this season, averaging 470 yards and just under 40 points per game. The Thundering Herd have given up at least 24 points in each contest including 69 to West Virginia in the season opener which could lead to a productive day for Caleb TerBush, Akeem Shavers and crew.
While Marshall’s offense – led by quarterback Rakeem Cato – is capable of putting points up in bunches as well, they will be harder to come by against a Purdue defense that has been strong so far this season and is holding opponents to just 14 points and less than 300 yards per outing. Look for these teams to pillow fight for a few series before the Boilermakers start to pull away by the middle of the second quarter.
Prediction: Purdue 38 – Marshall 20
#14 Ohio State @ #20 Michigan State (-3)
The only conference matchup of ranked teams this week takes place in East Lansing where College Gameday will be on-site in one of the weekend’s premier games. The Ohio State offense led by Braxton Miller will face their toughest test yet as they face a Spartan defense that has given up only five touchdowns all season and is amongst the league leaders in almost every defensive category.
The Michigan State offense runs through Le’Veon Bell who ranks third in the country in rushing but you have to wonder how much of a pounding he can continue to take as he’s racked up 117 carries so far this year. The Buckeyes defense has struggled at times this season and will undoubtedly key on Bell and force Spartans quarterback Andrew Maxwell to beat them with his arm. This one should be a dogfight to the end and will likely come down to turnovers where Ohio State holds a distinct advantage (+5 vs. -1)so far this year.
Prediction: Ohio State 24 – Michigan State 23
Wisconsin @ #22 Nebraska (-12 1/2)
The 2009 season aside, Bo Pelini hasn’t fared well in games kicking off at 7 p.m. or later as the head coach at Nebraska, including an embarrassing 48-17 setback in Madison last season. This Wisconsin team, however, hasn’t shown the same firepower that propelled the Badgers to two straight Rose Bowls in 2010 and 2011. But the roles seem to be reversed in this years matchup as the Nebraska offense leads the Big Ten in most statistical categories while Wisconsin has struggled to replace quarterback Russell Wilson.
Offensively, the Badgers will likely stick to what they know best and attack the Huskers defensive front seven with a steady dose of Montee Ball (who may be limited due to a head injury), James White and Melvin Gordon while mixing in some shots downfield if the Huskers start cheating up. This one should be closer than the experts project but if Nebraska can continue to build off their defensive success in the red zone defense and limit Wisconsin’s big play ability, the Huskers should be able to escape with a victory under the lights on national TV.
Prediction: Nebraska 24 – Wisconsin 16