Here's the latest installment of the Obligatory Predictions Competition. Starting this week, select conference picks will be supplemented with insights from the experts at BigTenPortal.com.
Big Ten Portal is a website devoted to the culture and trends associated with following and betting Big Ten football. Each week their team will provide recent and historic analysis so you have all the data you need to make your picks. They'll also comment on the light-hearted side of things, whether it be keg-stands at tailgates or Tim Brewster's play-calling.
Don't forget, picks are due by 11:00 a.m. tomorrow to play.
1. NORTHERN ILLINOIS at ILLINOIS, 12:00 p.m. Big Ten Network (9/18)
GRAHAM predicts ILLINOIS
Do you have faith in Ron Zook? No. The simplified Illini offense seems to fit their personnel a tad better than past years however. It's a real interesting offensive formation, not Pistol, not base Spread, not Split Back....In fact, it would be helpful if someone told me where this originated and what it's called. Either way, the power backs of Illinois will plow over the uninspiring Salukis. And yes, that means I'm bettin' on the Zooker. God help us all. I don't blame you for picking SIU, by the way, I think Chandler Harnisch gives them a good chance to win.
JON predicts ILLINOIS
Nathan Scheelhaase appeared to finally get control of the offense in last week's 35-3 win over Southern Illinois. The Illini won't be afraid of Northern Illinois' passing offense -- they currently rank 110th in the FBS. As a general rule of thumb, don't pick teams that lose to Iowa State.
Illinois -7.5 vs Northern Illinois
Big Ten Portal says "Ron Zook is 1-5 against the spread vs non-BCS conference opponents..."
2. GEORGIA TECH at NORTH CAROLINA, 12:00 p.m. (9/18), ESPN 3
GRAHAM predicts GEORGIA TECH
Here's what you need to know: GT isn't running on all cylinders. UNC isn't running on all cylinders. CRIPPLE FIGHT! The Option fell apart at the end of the ugly Kansas loss; fumbles and the inability to convert on third down pretty much rendered the Yellowjackets worthless. I'll take GT anyways; UNC is hiring/firing/replacing, and their best answer to the option isn't on the field.
JON predicts NORTH CAROLINA
I don't pick teams that lose to teams that lose to FCS competition. I do pick teams that almost beat ranked teams while half their starting lineup is sitting on the bench.
3. ARIZONA STATE at No. 11 WISCONSIN, 3:30 p.m. (9/18), ABC
GRAHAM predicts WISCONSIN
Wisky should run over AZ State, but I am given pause by Scott Tolzien. I've been watching Tolzien and he's shortarming throws, not showing the confidence of last year. But is that a consequence of his limited arm strength, or is it something else? At least we know that the patented Wisky sweeps are running strong; the pulling guards are getting their money's worth and John Clay is patiently waiting for the blocks to set up. Or maybe he's just slow. We'll know more in a few weeks about this top 25 team, but the Badgers win.
JON predicts WISCONSIN
Sure Wisconsin gave up 252 passing yards to San Jose State, and yes (former Michigan quarterback) Steven Threet has experience upsetting the Badgers, but I think this is the week Bielema's team plays up to its potential. That starts with limiting turnovers. Wisconsin takes care of the football and grinds down the clock on the heels of another solid rushing performance from John Clay.
Wisconsin -15.5 vs Arizona State
Big Ten Portal says "Bret Bielema is 14-0 straight up vs non-conference opponents (2-0 in 2010)."
4. NOTRE DAME at MICHIGAN STATE, 8:00 p.m. (9/18), ABC
GRAHAM predicts MICHIGAN STATE
Michigan State has been holding back. Cousins isn't struggling, he's just not been unleashed. It's in East Lansing, everyone will be getting blitzed by the tennis court and jacked up for the first REAL Spartan game of the year. Strategy wise, MSU isn't one dimensional like last year; the laser rocket arm of Cousins is complimented by a two headed backfield and even some run blocking! HEYYY Notre Dame you're improved, but you have less cohesive talent than the Spartans.
JON predicts NOTRE DAME
I really want to pick the Big Ten to win the rubber match against the Irish, but the Spartans don't have Denard Robinson, and Dayne Crist will have 20/20 vision when he takes the field Saturday night in East Lansing. Plus Kick Cousins only completed 53% of his passes last week against Florida Atlantic. Prove me wrong Spartans.
Michigan State -3 vs Notre Dame
Big Ten Portal says "Mark Dantonio is 3-0 against the spread vs Notre Dame."
5. No. 9 IOWA at No. 24 ARIZONA, 10:30 p.m. (9/18), ESPN
GRAHAM predicts IOWA
Iowa's defensive toughness is as good as advertised. Fantastic talent + experience playing together = One of the nation's five best defenses. Arizona has been efficient against bad defenses. In fact, because I'm a tremendous football nerd, I watched Zona v Toledo, and saw a quarterback (Nick Foles) quite comfortable in his leadership role. Iowa's not blowing this game though.
JON predicts IOWA
The last time the Wildcats faced a program with a dangerous defensive line they were embarassed 33-0. It's one thing to get shut out by Ndamukong Suh, but to give up 33 points to the 2009 Nebraska offense is just plain terrible. You really think I'm going to pick them against a senior-laden Iowa bunch with weapons on both sides of the ball? Didn't think so...
Iowa -1.5 @ Arizona
Big Ten Portal says "Kirk Ferentz is 9-12 ATS vs BCS-conference opponents (1-0 in 2010), and has gone Under 12 of 16 times since 2001."