While the scoreboard is beginning to take shape, the competition remains in its infancy. It's still anyone's game, so step up to the plate for the fourth installment of college football's smartest picks contest.
1. MINNESOTA at NORTHWESTERN, 12:00 p.m. EST (9/26), Big Ten Network
GRAHAMFILLER10 predicts NORTHWESTERN by 7
This game might actually be more important than Penn State-Iowa, because they both want the same thing: 8 win seasons and an Outback Bowl berth. On paper, Northwestern is the favorite. They have a more efficient offense, a more talented signalcaller (the all of a sudden laser throwing Kafka), and will be at almost full strength on defense, unlike last week. But Minnesota showed extreme toughness at home against Cal, battling back when it seemed the game was turning into a blowout. The Minnesota Offensive Coordinator is showing improvement also, calling trick plays and mixing up the offense so that Weber doesn't focus so much on Decker. What will make the difference here? The Wildcats have a proven offensive system, the Gophers don't.
LAW BUCKEYE predicts MINNESOTA by 7
Considering the history of this matchup I don't think there's any question we'll be treated to a close game. The real question here is can a Wildcat defense that blows hot and cold stay stout against Minnesota's dynamic duo of Weber and Decker? I like the Gophers to steal this one on the road, in the wake of a closer than expected showing against California.
2. MICHIGAN STATE at WISCONSIN, 12:00 p.m. EST (9/26), ESPN 360
GRAHAMFILLER10 predicts MICHIGAN STATE by 10
Camp Randall, spurned last year by 5 Big Ten losses and a defensive breakdown at home against Ohio State, will be rocking this year. The Badgers have a competent quarterback and less dependence on the run game, meaning they should be 30 times better than last year. Of course they don't feature a defense, which slows down improvement. Michigan State's Kirk Cousins, the 2nd best QB in the land according to my updated rankings, is going to have a big day throwing slants and comeback routes against the sad-sack Badger secondary. Remember how calm Samuel Jackson was at the end of Pulp Fiction (the "be cool baby, be cool" statement, the gold briefcase)? That was Cousins in South Bend, right up until the horrific pick. Good news for anyone worried about this sophomore reacting badly to the thunder of Camp Randall. It also would be nice to see a stagnant MSU run game finally get off the ground and if there is any team to do it against, it's Wisconsin.
LAW BUCKEYE predicts MICHIGAN STATE by 10
One thing you can't deny is that picking games in the Big Ten is tough work this year. Varying struggles, combined with a more competitive conference landscape make matches like this one a headache. Will Michigan State live up to its reputation as an underachiever, riding two consecutive losses into a third defeat -- firmly cementing the season as a disappointment? Or, will Wisconsin, the pariah of the offseason, fall back into a few bad habits in the pass game? I see a Spartan team with a lot of potential, one that had Notre Dame on the ropes. I think Kirk Cousins has a big day in Madison, and Dantonio gets the green and white back on track.
3. INDIANA at No. 23 MICHIGAN, 12:00 p.m. EST (9/26), ESPN 2
GRAHAMFILLER10 predicts MICHIGAN by 17
None of you are going to pick Indiana, so why analyze? Because I love the matchup and it poses some interesting questions. Will Michigan's struggling defensive line, hammered by the ND run game and scored on twice by run-focused EMU, be able to stop the suddenly run-effective Pistol? Does Indiana have the defensive options, outside of Kirlew and Middleton, to slow the third best run attack in the BCS? Will Michigan show the numerous defensive formations (4-3, 3-4, 3-3-5) to confuse the steady but unspectacular Chappell? Or will all my questions be mooted by a 41-10 thrashing?
LAW BUCKEYE predicts MICHIGAN by 17
Michgian hasn't lost to Indiana in Ann Arbor in 42 years. That streak will be extended Saturday. In the easiest game of the day to pick, a Wolverine squad averaging 270 yards a game rushing will run over the Hoosiers. Not so fast? It's true that IU's run defense is solid, allowing a scant 228 yards over three games, and that Michigan will be without starting center David Molk (broken foot) and right guard David Moosman (dislocated shoulder). Still, their run block will be strong enough to overpower IU's defensive front. As Rich Rodriguez said after last week's win, "We had the intention of throwing a little bit more. But why would you when you don't have to?"
4. ILLINOIS at No. 13 OHIO STATE, 3:30 p.m. EST (9/26), ABC
GRAHAMFILLER10 predicts OHIO STATE by 14
A healthy dose of Juice Williams running and J Lehman doing his best Superman impression was enough for the Illini last time they visited Columbus. But there's no J Lehman (hell there's no MLB Martez Wilson, he's done for the year) and Juice Williams showed no comfort or passing touch against Mizzou. Although OSU is saying the right things, I can't see a hobbled 7 to 9 attack getting anywhere against the bend but don't break Buckeye defense. One other thing I'd like to discuss - USC loss aside, this is still OSU. Don't forget that until they lose more than two conference games in a single year.
LAW BUCKEYE predicts OHIO STATE by 14
The Fighting Illini always seem to put up a fight against the Buckeyes, especially in Columbus. The last time Ron Zook and Juice Williams visited the Horseshoe they ran out the clock on Ohio State's No. 1 ranking, employing an impressive Williams/Mendenhall run tandem. Not this time. The fastest and meanest defense Columbus has seen in 5 years will bury a hesitant Juice Williams. Meanwhile, the Illini will be forced to corral Terrelle Pryor without star linebacker Martez Wilson. It's a frustrating day away for the Illini.
4. IOWA at No. 5 PENN STATE, 8:00 p.m. EST (9/26), ABC
Penn State might have to go one-dimensional if the run game gets stymied early by this solid Iowa front four. Will the Spread HD's favorite routes (wheel, sit down, sideline comeback route) succeed against the healthy and talented Iowa secondary? Will Ricky Stanzi throw an inexplicable pick early and kill all Iowa momentum? How can a frosh RB succeed in Happy Valley against Sean Lee and Bowman? Will the spiritual power of one hundred thousand fans drunk on revenge somehow form a ghostly 12th man in the shape of Jack Ham who plays every down next to Bowman, making tackles and screaming"We Are" the whole game? Oh my...Well Brick, that got out of hand.
LAW BUCKEYE predicts PENN STATE by 14
Revenge is a dish best served white and at night. Iowa ruined Penn State's perfect regular season in 2008 in front of a zealous home crowd. This time, they'll have to go it alone -- in the den of 110,000 roaring Nittany Lions. Iowa is banged up on offense, with left tackle Bryan Bulaga out with an undisclosed ailment, tight end Tony Moeaki sidelined with a sprained ankle, and receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos off the depth chart. Penn State is banged up on defense, with star linebackers Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee probable. I think this game belongs to Daryll Clark, a veteran averaging 274 yards in the air. The Nittany Lions storm out to an early lead and they never look back.