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Thursday, November 10, 2011
Predictions: Big Ten Week 11

By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett

Let's take a much-needed break from the Penn State mess to focus on the games. There will be some good ones around the Big Ten this week, including several that should shape the division races heading into the final two weeks.

Without further ado, here are the predictions:

RICE at NORTHWESTERN

Brian Bennett: Beware the Owls. Just ask Purdue. But Northwestern got a much-needed confidence boost in last week's win at Nebraska, and I can't see the Wildcats dropping the ball now with a bowl bid within sight. Rice allows more than 30 points a game, so the Northwestern offense should have a good time with or without a full day from Dan Persa. ... Northwestern 41, Rice 27


Adam Rittenberg: Both of these teams can put up points, and I think we'll see plenty at Ryan Field on Saturday. Dan Persa's health will be an interesting story line, but Northwestern's offensive line is finally coming together and Rice will struggle to contain Kain Colter, no matter where he lines up. Colter accounts for three more touchdowns as the Wildcats prevail. ... Northwestern 38, Rice 28

NO. 19 NEBRASKA at NO. 12 PENN STATE

Adam Rittenberg: I would have picked Penn State before Wednesday night's news that JoePa is out. I actually like this matchup for the Nittany Lions, who have a front seven that can contain Nebraska and a running back (Silas Redd) who can attack the middle of the Huskers' defense. But it's just hard to see Penn State playing a focused 60 minutes of football after all that has happened. ... Nebraska 20, Penn State 17

Brian Bennett: Penn State players say they will block out the distractions, but I don't see how that's possible. Give me the team that's had a normal week of preparation and which has an offense that's explosive enough behind Taylor Martinez to score on the Penn State 'D.' ... Nebraska 21, Penn State 14


NO. 17 MICHIGAN STATE at IOWA

Brian Bennett: Michigan State's offense has been putrid on the road, but the Spartans have played some very good defenses away from home (Ohio State, Nebraska and even Notre Dame). Despite a solid performance last week against Michigan, Iowa does not have a great defense. Michigan State focuses on running the ball for a change as Le'Veon Bell goes over 100 yards, and the Spartans assume a tighter grip on the Legends lead. ... Michigan State 23, Iowa 17

Adam Rittenberg: Michigan State is the better team, but the Spartans haven't been the same on the road. Iowa, meanwhile, has performed very well on its home field. The Hawkeyes should move the ball well with a balanced offense led by Marcus Coker and James Vandenberg. This isn't the blowout we saw last year, but I like Iowa to come away with the win. ... Iowa 27, Michigan State 24

OHIO STATE at PURDUE

Adam Rittenberg: This has been a tricky game for Ohio State in years past, and the Buckeyes stumbled in West Lafayette two years ago. But I think Luke Fickell's squad had its hiccup last week. Dan Herron records another big performance as Ohio State's run game shows up and the Buckeyes defense performs better than it did against Indiana. ... Ohio State 27, Purdue 17

Brian Bennett: Purdue has had trouble stopping the run the past couple of weeks, and that's not good news against a team that's doing its best impression of a Woody Hayes powerhouse. Herron and Braxton Miller each go over 100 yards and John Simon leads a stout defensive effort as the Buckeyes stay in the Leaders hunt. ... Ohio State 24, Purdue 10


NO. 18 WISCONSIN at MINNESOTA

Brian Bennett: Minnesota is improved, but I remember that Marcus Coker 250-plus yard performance from a couple of weeks ago. That's a scary thought with Wisconsin's powerful ground game coming to the Twin Cities. Montee Ball gets three scores before the third quarter ends to break the Big Ten record and Wisconsin swings the axe in its first true road victory. ... Wisconsin 42, Minnesota 20


Adam Rittenberg: The Battle for the Axe has become much more interesting in the past few weeks, as Minnesota is making progress, particularly on offense. Minnesota will be fired up for this game and MarQueis Gray will make some plays, but Wisconsin's offense is simply too much for the Gophers. Montee Ball records two touchdowns to tie the Big Ten single-season record as the Badgers prevail. ... Wisconsin 34, Minnesota 21

NO. 24 MICHIGAN at ILLINOIS

Adam Rittenberg: I don't have much confidence in either team heading into this one. While Illinois' defense has performed well against the streak, the Illini aren't as strong against spread offenses like Michigan's. Illinois actually gets off to a fast start in this one, but Michigan makes enough adjustments and Denard Robinson comes through in the second half. The Wolverines rally for a win. ... Michigan 28, Illinois 24

Brian Bennett: Upset special. Illinois comes out with a new focus and intensity after its bye week, and Paul Petrino surprises Michigan with some new offensive wrinkles. Jonathan Brown knocks out Denard Robinson with a big hit and the Illini get back on the winning track at long last. ... Illinois 21, Michigan 17.

SEASON RECORDS

Rittenberg: 59-20 (.747)

Bennett: 58-21 (.734)