Week five is the start of Big Ten play, and there will be plenty of excitement in the opening week. Big matchups between Nebraska and Wisconsin as well as Ohio State and Michigan State headline this week’s games. There is also an Illinois instate rivalry game along with the battle for the Little Brown Jug in Ann Arbor. Big Ten Conference play is upon us and the competition to win the Leaders and Legends divisions will be starting.
8 Nebraska (4-0) @ 7 Wisconsin (4-0)
In the matchup of week, not only for the Big Ten but for all of college football, Nebraska will play in their first Big Ten Conference game. Both teams are off to great starts and ranked in the top 10. Nebraska has relied heavily on the running game so far, averaging a Big Ten best 272.5 yards per game. Most importantly is the production improvement from Rex Burkhead who has rushed for 290 of his 420 rushing yards in the last two games. Nebraska has had to deal with injury issues on the defense, with stars Jared Crick and Alfonzo Dennard both missing games this year. Wisconsin counters with the league’s top scoring offense and top scoring defense. Russell Wilson has been great, throwing for 1136 yards and 11 touchdowns with only one interception. The Badgers also have the best backfield in the Big Ten with Montee Ball and James White, both averaging over 75 yards per contest. There will be a lot of points in this game and Wisconsin will show they are the team to beat in the Big Ten.
Pick: Wisconsin 38 Nebraska 24
Northwestern (2-1) @ 24 Illinois (4-0)
Thankfully this game will not be played at Wrigley Field this year and we can watch a normal football game. Illinois did not play well last week, looking a little hungover from their win over a ranked Arizona State team. But the Illini did find some offensive sparks with running backs Troy Pollard and Donovonn Young, the duo combined for 233 yards and a touchdown. Northwestern has struggled on offense with the absence of Dan Persa. Persa is expected to play this week, and if healthy enough should be a huge boost to the Wildcat offense that is currently 10th in the Big Ten in scoring offense. Even if Persa does play he will be rusty for not playing in almost 10 months. It will be a close game, but Illinois will be able to score enough on Northwestern’s defense to get the win.
Pick: Illinois 27 Northwestern 24
Minnesota (1-3) @ 19 Michigan (4-0)
This game matches up two of the most dynamic quarterbacks in all of college football in MarQueis Gray and Denard Robinson. The big difference in this game is that Gray is doing most of the work himself while Robinson has had some help from other players, including big plays/games by some receivers. Minnesota is last in the Big Ten in scoring offense and scoring defense. Michigan’s offense will overpower Minnesota early and this game will be in Michigan’s control by halftime.
Pick: Michigan 42 Minnesota 17
Michigan State (3-1) @ Ohio State (3-1)
This matchup between two of the 2010 Big Ten Co-Champs has lost some of its luster with both teams suffering early season losses. Ohio State has struggled on offense as they are still looking for their answer at quarterback. Ohio State has only passed for 145 yards over the last two games, pushing them to the bottom of the Big Ten in total offense. Until the three suspended offensive starters return Ohio State will continue to have offsenive woes against good teams. Michigan State’s offense has been average this season, but the defense has been stout allowing only 12.3 points per game. Michigan State needs to improve their running game, but that won’t happen against Ohio State. Look for Kirk Cousins and BJ Cunningham to lead the Spartans to a big win on the road.
Pick: Michigan State 27 Ohio State 24
Penn State (3-1) @ Indiana (1-3)
Penn State’s quarterbacks will look to build on the success they had last week against one of the poorer defensive teams in the Big Ten. Penn State’s offense is still young and should continue to improve as the season progresses. The defense will need to replace the production of Michael Mauti, who was lost for the season with an injury. Indiana’s offense is good enough to keep them close in this game, but the talent level is currently lacking for them to win a lot of games.
Pick: Penn State 28 Indiana 17
Notre Dame (2-2) @ Purdue (2-1)
Notre Dame is taking on their third Big Ten team of the season, going 1-1 in the first two contests. Caleb TerBush has been solid for Purdue and now Robert Marve is looking like he is ready to play a large part of the offense after getting a fair amount of snaps in Purdue’s last game. Notre Dame looks to have found their groove after winning two games in a row after dropping their first two games in heartbreaking and head scratching fashion. Notre Dame has too much talent for Purdue this season and it will show on the field Saturday.
Pick: Notre Dame 31 Purdue 21
Must see game: 8 Nebraska @ 7 Wisconsin
There are many reasons as to why watch this game. From being a matchup of top 10 teams to Nebraska’s first Big Ten game to a potential Big Ten Championship preview. Both offenses have been lighting up the scoreboard this season while both defenses have the capability of shutting down opponents. This has the potential to be one of the best college football games of the season.
Upset watch: Northwestern @ 24 Illinois
Dan Persa’s return will give the Wildcats a boost on offense that is needed. If Persa is able to play the whole game and be effective Northwestern will be a much improved team to what we have seen so far this year. Remember that Illinois looked pretty pedestrian last week against Western Michigan and they haven’t been overly impressive on offense this season.
To stay updated on sporting news and analysis of the Big Ten, subscribe to receive Examiner Alerts from Big Ten Examiner Kevin Cline. You can also follow Kevin on Twitter.