This is a scary week for the site managers. We're deadlocked in a three way tie. Someone's bound to get buried...
1. PURDUE at WISCONSIN, 12:00 p.m. EST (10/31), ESPN 2
GRAHAMFILLER10 predicts WISCONSIN by 7
It is officially "Road Favorites" week. You've got an intriguing decision to make here: Do you listen to Vegas and pick Wisky by a touch, believing the improved Boilers can keep this game close on the road? Do you have faith that Joey Elliot and his three big time playmakers (Bolden, Smith, Valentin) will dial up enough firepower to make this game come down to the fourth quarter? Or should Vegas be disregarded with the thought that Camp Randall and a greatly improved Badger defense will just be too much for Purdue? Will you disregard Purdue's 0 turnover performance v. OSU as an aberration, knowing the Boilermakers will be back to their old ways? I'll follow Vegas here; Purdue's O-Line has been excellent of late, but Wisconsin truly brings speed (Schofield) and smash mouth (everyone else) together for the win.
LAW BUCKEYE predicts WISCONSIN by 7
This game comes down to who can establish the run. Sure, Purdue needs the kind of spacial passing scheme it employed against Ohio State to sustain drives on the Badgers, but what the Boilermakers really want to do here is bleed the clock on a Wisconsin offense that's not exactly quick strike. To that end, Ralph Bolden is quietly putting together a 1,000 yard season for the Boilermakers. That being said, Purdue has to deal with a power I-Form back in John Clay, something Ohio State didn't have. I think Clay moves the chains, wearing down Purdue's defense, and a few inopportune turnovers keep a well-rested Badger's team in the driver's seat.
2. MICHIGAN at ILLINOIS, 3:30 p.m. EST (10/31), ABC
GRAHAMFILLER10 predicts MICHIGAN by 10
Will people actually pick Illinois here? If they do, it speaks volumes about the struggling Wolverines. In our annual power poll, Michigan is #6, a sad referendum on the Big Ten frankly...I had them at #8 in my individual list. MSU and PSU quickly found out how to slow Michigan (make them throw!), but Illinois has had a tough time making any Big Ten offenses uncomfortable. It's not a lack of effort - the defense showed guts against MSU and Purdue. It's more of a momentum/talent issue. When a season is so obviously done, younger players get playing time, coaches run odd substitution patterns, and the focus is less on winning games than having "good game experiences." Combine this with the injuries and the quarterback carousel, and you know why picking against the Illini big is never a bad deal, even at home.
LAW BUCKEYE predicts MICHIGAN by 10
Sure, Michigan was held to 10 points last week -- but they were up against a Penn State defense that's getting more and more in sync as the year develops. It's also clear that injuries are taking their toll on the small-framed athletes that play Wolverine skill positions. The groan you hear is the Michigan faithful, recognizing that despite being light years from 2008's rubber rodents, this team is still one of the worst the school has fielded in four decades. They need a boost in morale, and having this no-confidence Illini club on the schedule is just what the doctor ordered.
GRAHAMFILLER10 predicts MICHIGAN STATE by 14
The Spartans are rightfully downtrodden after last weeks near upset. Will they come out fired up or slothful? I don't think it matters. Simple schematic analysis of the Mini Offense versus the Spartan Defense says everything you need to know. Mini cannot throw the ball effectively against anyone, so they revert to the run game. This tendency will be even more pronounced with the loss of Eric Decker. On the opposite site of the ball, the Spartans can stop almost any run game, thanks to a solid LB corps and a hard working front four. You see where this is going?
LAW BUCKEYE predicts MICHIGAN STATE by 10
For 58 minutes last week the Spartans showed they can hold down the fort. Their reward for giving up the game with 2 seconds left? They get to play a Minnesota team that is without an identity behind center and is without its top wide receiver (Eric Decker). Whether or not MarQueis Gray sees the field en mass, I think Greg jones, and a fiery Michigan State mid-field contain a pop-rocks Minnesota offense. And while there's almost certainly no Big Ten title in the Spartan's immediate future, they can prove that they're an upper tier team. Minnesota, not so much.
GRAHAMFILLER10 predicts TEXAS by 10
Vegas loves Texas on the road, giving the Longhorns 10 points. I don't believe in this Texas team, they aren't dominating with the same panache as last year, plus The Great Golden Calf (get it? Colt? has a pick in each game this year. But the defense has been dominant, with athletes flying all over the place. So my choice is between: 1) Ignore Vegas by picking a 14 point margin, knowing that Mack Brown will gameplan effectively on defense (just like Oklahoma) and find ways to score enough to pull away in the third quarter. 2) Play this close to the vest, picking Texas by 7 and believing that Zac Robinson, spurred on by his home crowd, can scare up a couple touchdown drives to keep the suspense going late. I'll cut it in the middle - it's still Texas and T. Boone Pickens can only do so much to slow McCoy and Sergio Kindle.
LAW BUCKEYE predicts TEXAS by 10
While Texas is far from perfect, the Longhorns showed that they can score fast and at will against Missouri. My opinion of Oklahoma State is still stained by their inexplicable loss to Houston, and the suspension of Dez Bryant. This game comes down to which first half Texas team shows up: the one that slow danced with Wyoming, Colorado, and Oklahoma, or the one that piledrove the Tigers last week. If Colt and Co. let the Cowboy defense get set, and the crowd stay in the game this one could turn out like Texas Tech last year. Then again, when have we actually gotten what we wanted this season?
5. No. 5 USC at No. 10 OREGON, 8:00 p.m. EST (10/31), ABC
GRAHAMFILLER10 predicts OREGON by 7
Spread v. SoCal Toughness. Autzen v. Barkley's Sanity. One Pac 10 title on the line. Why would you bet against Oregon at home? Why have you bought into the Pete Carroll myth so easily?
I'm going to tell you something. When I pick these games each week, I do two things. First, I decide how everyone else will pick the game. Second, I close my eyes and imagine how this game should go. So here goes: I think you all fear USC's toughness and athleticism, so I think people will go with USC by 7 probably across the board. With this in mind, I try to imagine a situation where USC could lose this game. That's easily done - Oregon scores early on a quick strike drive, USC counters with a methodical drive, and this becomes a classic tit for tat showdown.
LAW BUCKEYE predicts USC by 10
Upsets are about as common this year as Ohio State touchdown drives. But, if there were ever a game I'd love to be wrong about, it's this one. It's no secret: I'm sick of seeing cardinal and gold in the Rose Bowl. I'm sick of seeing a Pac 10 race flatter than a two day old open Miller Lite. I'm sick of seeing conference minnows (Stanford, UCLA, Oregon State, Washington) nibble at Pete Carroll's dynasty, while the so-called warriors (Cal, Oregon, Arizona State) wet the bed. Still, I can't erase the memory of watching a disoriented Oregon team get disemboweled on the blue turf. All the echoes of Autzen won't bury that doubt. No matter how many times you change your uniform, you're still sitting ducks...