Dienhart: Weekend Football Selections

Week 9 is here, and my picks are in. It’s a huge Saturday with a myriad of storylines. Can Michigan State win its fifth in a row while navigating through a brutal gauntlet of games? Will Wisconsin rebound from the adversity of its first loss? Can Illinois stop the bleeding of a two-game losing skid? Could Purdue win at Michigan for a second time in a row? I pick those games and the others.

Dienhart’s Quick Hits
Ducat to die for: Michigan State at Nebraska
Must win: Nebraska over Michigan State
Offensive explosion: Northwestern at Indiana
Defensive struggle: Illinois at Penn State
Upset alert: Purdue over Michigan in Ann Arbor
Lock: Iowa over Minnesota in Minneapolis
Plenty of good seats remaining: Northwestern at Indiana
Intriguing coaching matchup: Nebraska’s Bo Pelini vs. Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio

Michigan State at Nebraska: Back in August, no one envisioned the Spartans being the team to beat in the Big Ten. But here they are. Michigan State rides the league’s top defense into Lincoln. It also rides the hot hand of QB Kirk Cousins, who still has the nation buzzing over his iconic last-second, game-winning touchdown heave last Saturday night vs. Wisconsin. But can Sparty get up for another emotional contest in what has been a brutal four-game stretch? The Cornhuskers have won two in a row and know if they lose, they likely are out of the running in the Legends Division.

Tom’s pick: Nebraska

Wisconsin at Ohio State: Mike Tyson always used to say: “Everyone has a plan … until they get punched in the nose.” Well, Bucky got belted in the snoot last week in its first true road game at Michigan State. Now, this: Another trip to a hostile environment against a hungry Buckeye team that’s looking for a signature victory. You thinking what I’m thinking? You know, that offensively-challenged Ohio State has little chance to score enough to topple the still-mighty Badgers?

Tom’s pick: Wisconsin

Illinois at Penn State: Illinois’ 6-0 start has melted into a sobering 6-2 reality. Enter: A trip to Happy Valley to play a hot Penn State team that’s on top of the Leaders Division. A struggling Fighting Illini offense will have difficulty getting traction against a tremendous Nittany Lion defense. More bad news for Illinois: The Penn State attack may be coming to life with Matt McGloin at the controls.

Tom’s pick: Penn State

Purdue at Michigan: The Wolverines, who were off last week, are at a crossroads of sorts. Michigan jetted to a 6-0 start before losing at Michigan State two weeks ago. Is this the start of a second-half swoon that plagued the program the past two years (2-5 finish last year; 0-5 in 2009)? The Boilermakers will provide a test with their solid defense, developing quarterback and momentum of winning two of their last three. And Purdue prevailed the last time it visited Ann Arbor. Hmmmm.

Tom’s pick: Michigan

Iowa at Minnesota: The Golden Gophers are trying to retain possession of Floyd of Rosedale in consecutive seasons for the first time since a three-year run from 1998-2000. But this is a struggling Minnesota team that has allowed 181 points in losing four in a row. How will the Gophers slow down a hot Iowa offense that has led the charge during a modest two-game victory scheme? They won’t.

Tom’s pick: Iowa

Northwestern at Indiana: The only thing on the line for the 2-5 Wildcats, losers of five in a row? Withering bowl hopes. The only thing on the line for the slumping Hoosiers, losers of five in a row? Pride. Yes, it’s not pretty, but the game must be played. And the good news: Someone is going to win. For what it’s worth, history favors Northwestern, which has won six of the last seven meetings.

Tom’s pick: Northwestern

Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for BTN.com. Find all of his work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow Dienhart on twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, and click here to subscribe to his RSS feed. You can send him your football questions to his Big Ten mailbag, too.

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G. Briggs on 10/29/2011 @ 10:15am EDT Said:

This week Michigan will once again rise or fall with the performance of DeRob. Last year he was a flash-in-the-pan. His inability to pass accurately has cost the Wolverines more games than he has won with his legs. Many of the games Michigan has won were in spite of Robinson, not because of him. When you have to overcome two or three interceptions per game by a quarterback who simply cannot pass, you either lose or hope to come up with more the jump-balls he throws up time and time again than your opponent. Hoke has dead-lined DeRob’s strength, the run, by placing him in this new, west coast offense. Denard needs to run outside the tackles to gain yardage but his lack of size gets him hurt too often and this year there is no Tate to fall back on. As long as Denard Robinson is the QB, Michigan will continue to beat the MAC early in the season and then come up short in conference play.