Big Ten: Rivals
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Making predictions before preseason practices kick off is like stopping at Krispy Kreme on the way to the gym. You know you shouldn't do it, but it's so tempting. Keep in mind, a ton of things could change between now and when these games are played, particularly with that team in Ann Arbor. OK, I've covered myself. Sort of. We looked at the Big Ten's top five most bitter rivalries on Hater Tuesday. Now, let's look at who will win those games.
1. Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 22 -- Rich Rodriguez will have Michigan on track by this point, and the Wolverines could do some serious damage after Oct. 4. This game will be closer than people think, a sign of things to come in this rivalry with Rodriguez coaching Michigan. But Ohio State's defense will be too much for the Wolverines, and Beanie Wells eventually will wear down a talented Michigan defensive front. A special-teams touchdown or a touchdown off a turnover could seal it for the Buckeyes. Prediction: Ohio State 24, Michigan 17
2. Michigan State at Michigan, Oct. 25 -- If Michigan State ever plans on beating Michigan again, this would be the year to do so. The Spartans have lost six straight in the series, four by eight points or fewer, but they return the more experienced team in Mark Dantonio's second year. With a senior offensive backfield (Javon Ringer and Brian Hoyer) and a defense adjusted to Dantonio's demands, all signs point to a Michigan State win. But Michigan will have things together by this point in the season, and the Wolverines' defense will limit damage, setting up a dramatic fourth quarter. This could go either way, but Michigan breaks Sparty's heart again. Prediction: Michigan 28, Michigan State 27
3. Ohio State at Illinois, Nov. 15 -- This is quickly becoming one of the Big Ten's must-see games. Ron Zook's recruiting has put Illinois' talent relatively on par with Ohio State's, and the Illini match up well with the Buckeyes. Ohio State's ability to defend the spread offense will be questioned throughout the preseason, and Juice Williams provides a major test in Champaign. But after last year's stunner in Columbus, I can't see Ohio State losing another one to Illinois. Prediction: Ohio State 24, Illinois 21
4. Wisconsin at Iowa, Oct. 18 -- With so much talk about how the spread offense has swept up the Big Ten, I'm always looking for matchups that reflect the league's rock-ribbed roots. This is one of them. Wisconsin's stable of running backs go up against a sturdy Iowa defensive line fortified by tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul. If Iowa figures out its situation at running back by this point, an upset is possible. But I don't see it. Prediction: Wisconsin 27, Iowa 17
5. Minnesota at Wisconsin, Nov. 15 -- Minnesota will be better, especially if a capable running back emerges alongside talented quarterback Adam Weber. But it will take more than a year to fix the Gophers' defense, and P.J. Hill, Zach Brown and John Clay will make them pay. Minnesota stays in this one for a while, but Wisconsin eventually pulls away at home. Prediction: Wisconsin 34, Minnesota 20
Just for good measure, here's one more rivalry that could have made the list ...
Penn State at Ohio State, Oct. 25 -- The more I research Penn State, the more I think the Lions will have a solid season, making the decision about Joe Paterno's future even more difficult. The problem here is the game's location. Penn State hasn't scored more than 10 points in any of its last seven trips to Ohio Stadium. I don't see this year's Buckeyes defense budging much, especially with a new quarterback leading the Lions. Prediction: Ohio State 21, Penn State 10
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
If you haven't caught on already, we're giving you heaping helpings of hate today. There's already some debate as to the Big Ten's most hated team. Is it Ohio State hands down, or do Michigan and Penn State enter the discussion? You can weigh in.
Let's take a look at the league's top 5 rivalries:
1. Michigan vs. Ohio State -- Nothing else comes close. From the Snow Bowl to the Ten-Year War to John Cooper's struggles to Lloyd Carr's struggles, this rivalry has had it all. The 2006 meeting that paired the nation's top two teams was arguably the most anticipated regular-season contest ever, certainly in the last decade. Most Ohio State fans think Michigan fans are arrogant; most Michigan fans think Ohio State fans are classless. It makes for one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports.
2. Michigan-Michigan State -- Both teams have other rivals (Ohio State and Notre Dame, respectively), but the intra-state matchup has become increasingly more intense. Though Michigan has won six straight in the series, six of the last nine meetings have been decided by eight points or fewer. Last year's game further fueled the rivalry, as Mike Hart referred to Michigan State as Michigan's "little brother," prompting an angry response from Spartans coach Mark Dantonio.
3. Wisconsin-Iowa -- One of the league's most competitive rivalries has some bitterness as well, especially after Bret Bielema, a former Iowa player with a Hawkeye tattoo on his ankle, became Wisconsin's coach. The Badgers hold a 41-40-2 edge in the series, which is strikingly close despite Iowa's string of 18 straight games without a loss between 1977-96.
4. Illinois-Ohio State -- Buckeye dominance has marked most of the series, but the bitterness is building. Illinois nearly stunned Ohio State two years ago and then completed the upset of the top-ranked Buckeyes last year in Columbus. If the Illini continue to recruit like a powerhouse, they'll continue to fuel this rivalry.
5. Minnesota vs. Wisconsin -- It might not reek of bitterness, but in terms of longevity, this game stands alone. The Golden Gophers and Badgers have played since 1890, making it the most played rivalry in Division I-A. The teams originally played for a slab of bacon and now try to claim Paul Bunyan's Axe. Hailing from bordering states, the two programs are always competing for talent, giving the game some added spice.