Big Ten: Warren Norman

Big Ten predictions: Week 1

September, 2, 2010
9/02/10
9:30
AM ET
Let's get picky.

My Year 2 record dipped a little -- 69-26 (.726) -- but I vow to do better this fall. Every Thursday during the season, I'll identify a Game of the Week and explain my selection in a video blog post later in the day.

All 11 Big Ten teams make their season debuts this week, and here's how I see things shaking out.

THURSDAY

Minnesota 26, Middle Tennessee 20: My pick changed when Middle Tennessee star quarterback Dwight Dasher was ruled out for the game. Dasher made MTSU a lot more dangerous. The Gophers get a boost from Duane Bennett in the run game and keep their new-look defense off of the field just long enough to escape Murfreesboro with a big win.

Ohio State 37, Marshall 7: Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes' offense deliver an efficient performance in the opener, jumping out to a 24-0 lead. Marshall struggles to move the ball against the Buckeyes' stout defense, which gets big performances from linebacker Brian Rolle and defensive lineman John Simon.

Indiana 31, Towson 14: Even without All-Big Ten selection Tandon Doss, Indiana flexes its muscles in the passing game against an FCS foe. Quarterback Ben Chappell and receiver Damarlo Belcher hook up for two touchdown passes as the Hoosiers roll.

SATURDAY

Michigan State 41, Western Michigan 17: There will be no MAC disaster this year in East Lansing. Quarterback Kirk Cousins lights up Western Michigan and finds Keshawn Martin for several big plays as the Spartans roll to an impressive opening victory.

Penn State 30, Youngstown State 6: Evan Royster and the Penn State run game take the pressure off of true freshman quarterback Robert Bolden, who wows the crowd on several throws in his first career game (and start). Penn State plays all three quarterbacks and gets solid play from Devon Still and the defensive front seven in a win.

Iowa 34, Eastern Illinois 9: The Hawkeyes learn from last season and refuse to let an opponent hang around. Ricky Stanzi turns in a clean performance and tosses a pair of touchdown passes, one to Marvin McNutt. Adrian Clayborn and the Iowa defense make it a rough day for the visiting Panthers.

Missouri 35, Illinois 23: It's tough to beat Missouri with a healthy secondary, much less one as banged up as the Illini's. Illinois holds its own for two and a half quarters, but Blaine Gabbert proves to be too much and fires three touchdown passes. Redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase shows some promise in his first career start, but it's not enough.

Michigan 28, Connecticut 27: The first game in the renovated Big House should be a great one. This certainly could go either way, but Michigan wins the game at the line of scrimmage with its size and athleticism. An improved offensive line creates enough room for its talented ball-carriers to make plays. Denard Robinson leads the winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.

Notre Dame 31, Purdue 27: This is my Game of the Week. Check the blog later for a video breaking down my selection.

Northwestern 23, Vanderbilt 17: It'll be tough for Pat Fitzgerald's crew, but the defense comes up big against a Vanderbilt team that won't have star Warren Norman at 100 percent even if he plays. Northwestern's run game doesn't do much, but new starting quarterback Dan Persa earns his stripes in the second half to secure win No. 1.

Wisconsin 41, UNLV 17: I could see the Rebels starting fast as they open the Bobby Hauck era, but Wisconsin is simply too strong and too balanced on offense. The Badgers mix in Montee Ball and James White with starting running back John Clay and wear down UNLV in the second and third quarters. Defensive end J.J. Watt has a big night for Wiscy.
We're less than 100 days from the start of the 2010 football season, and every Big Ten team will place a premium on starting strong. Teams often set the tone for the season with how they perform in Week 1. Last year, Illinois never got on track after flat-lining against Missouri in St. Louis. Iowa's Week 1 scare against Northern Iowa foreshadowed a season of drama for the Hawkeyes.

Now I'm not going to lie: the Week 1 slate in the Big Ten isn't overly impressive, and I'd be surprised if more than two Big Ten squads lose their openers. It wouldn't be a total shock if all 11 Big Ten teams started 1-0, but no one wants to start 0-1.

Here's a ranking of which Big Ten squad has the highest chance of losing first:

Illinois vs. Missouri, Sept 4 (at St. Louis): Illinois has dropped the past five of these neutral-site rivalry games against Missouri, and the Illini enter the Edward Jones Dome with plenty of question marks. What type of team will we see after all the offseason changes? How will quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase fare in what should be his first career start? Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert provides a big test for the Illinois defense.

Connecticut at Michigan, Sept. 4: If this game were on the road for Michigan, I'd put it at the top of the list. Connecticut provides a big challenge for a Michigan defense that loses its top two players and will again be relying on a lot of freshmen and sophomores this fall. Michigan needs its offense to put up points and its home crowd to provide an extra edge as a pivotal season begins for Rich Rodriguez and the program.

Minnesota at Middle Tennessee, Sept. 2: Anyone who watched Middle Tennessee quarterback Dwight Dasher run all over the field at the 2009 New Orleans Bowl knows this will be a rough opener for the Gophers. Minnesota loses nine starters on defense and needs to hold Dasher and running back Phillip Tanner in check. The Middle Tennessee crowd will be amped up to have a Big Ten team in its house on a Thursday night, so the Gophers need to start strong.

Purdue at Notre Dame, Sept. 4: Notre Dame has more questions than Purdue, as the Brian Kelly era begins with a new starting quarterback and plenty of uncertainty on defense. But the Fighting Irish tend to summon magic in games like this, and their weapons on offense (Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph) will test an unproven Purdue secondary. Can quarterback Robert Marve win a big one in what should be his first start for the Boilers?

Northwestern at Vanderbilt, Sept. 4: Vanderbilt isn't a very good team, but Northwestern almost always loses a game it shouldn't, especially in nonconference play. Quarterback Dan Persa needs a strong performance on the road in his first career start, and the Wildcats defense must contain Commodores running back Warren Norman, the 2009 SEC Freshman of the Year.

Wisconsin at UNLV, Sept. 4: UNLV is starting over under new head coach Bobby Hauck, and aside from having to travel west to play a night game, I don't see many concerns for Bret Bielema's crew. The Badgers need their offensive line and running back John Clay to be fresh and in good condition. I doubt UNLV can handle the size and strength it will see from Wisconsin.

Western Michigan at Michigan State, Sept. 4: The Spartans crushed Western Michigan 49-14 last year and should once again be heavy favorites against the Broncos. Kirk Cousins and an offense loaded at the skill positions will look to start fast against a Broncos team that ranked 101st nationally in total defense in 2009. Western Michigan is replacing standout quarterback Tim Hiller.

Youngstown State at Penn State, Sept. 4: Joe Paterno's squad should handle the Penguins, but Penn State is breaking in a new starting quarterback and needs its offensive line to step up after a shaky spring. It's hard to think Youngstown State will do much against a stout Nittany Lions defense, especially after losing quarterback Brandon Summers.

Eastern Illinois at Iowa, Sept. 4: The Hawkeyes better not make me look bad here. No Northern Iowa repeats, please. Eastern Illinois went 8-4 last season and boasts a talented running back in Mon Williams, a transfer from Florida. As long as Ricky Stanzi plays a clean game and Iowa's defensive line shows up, the Hawkeyes should be fine against the Panthers.

Marshall at Ohio State, Sept. 2: The Doc Holliday era at Marshall begins in Columbus, where Ohio State hopes to kick off its national title push. Marshall wasn't a bad team last season, going 7-6, and the Thundering Herd might look to Clemson transfer Willy Korn as its starting quarterback. Ohio State won't take this team lightly, and I just can't see the Buckeyes losing this one, especially with all the buildup for 2010.

Towson at Indiana, Sept. 2: If Indiana doesn't start 1-0, there's a serious problem in Bloomington. Towson looked totally overmatched last year against Northwestern, and while I'm sure the Tigers have improved since then, Indiana should have little trouble putting up points in this one.

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