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Predicting All of the Big Ten Conference Games for 2013

Are you ready to read what is possibly the longest blog post ever? (Well, close enough, anyway.)

Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

Do enough people hate me yet?

Because I'm about to predict every single Big Ten conference game for 2013, which will undoubtedly piss off every single fan of every other Big Ten team. I won't waste any more of your time with a pointless intro, since this post is clocking in at over 10,000 words.


(And please comment with angry disputes of my claims. Seriously. Do it.)

Also be sure to check out the Maize n' Brew roundtable of Michigan's season predictions here.

Sept. 21: Purdue at Wisconsin

Why Purdue Could Win: Darrell Hazell has a perfect opportunity to capitalize on Wisconsin’s lack of an established offense and departure of Montee Ball, Bret Bielema, and almost the entire staff that brought the program three straight Big Ten titles. Hazell has weapons at quarterback and receiver, as well as a secondary returning with plenty of experience. If he has a plan to outscore opponents, he might just do it in Madison.

Why Wisconsin Could Win: Gary Andersen may have lost Montee Ball, but he still has James White. If he plans to adhere to Wisconsin’s strengths, the Badgers have a more seasoned offensive line, and Purdue lacks the linebacker talent to stop the running game. Wisconsin plowed over them last year in West Lafayette and could easily do so again at home.

Prediction: The Big Ten’s opening game proves to have all the makings of a classic. It showcases two coaches new to their teams and new to the Big Ten, both looking to prove themselves in their first conference match. While Wisconsin may have more overall program stability, Danny Hope left Darrell Hazell more stability at skill positions. The Boilermakers have more to work with, so they get the edge.

Predicted Winner: Purdue

Sept. 28: Iowa at Minnesota

Why Iowa Could Win: Even though they ended with a season record of 4-8, one of Iowa’s few shining moments of 2012 came when they demolished the Gophers, 31-13, in Kinnick Stadium. They did this without an established starter at running back, and it happened because Iowa has more depth overall and they took the game seriously.

Why Minnesota Could Win: The Gophers have a special hatred for Iowa and beating them has been one of the few saving graces of poor seasons. They went into Kinnick Stadium a little too cocky after an undefeated non-conference run, but this time, at home, they should be ready for a fight.

Prediction: Iowa suffered a bit of a transition in 2012 due to changing offensive systems and enduring predictable running back injuries. They should be more polished this time around, but the battle with Minnesota is less a battle of talent and more a battle of heart. The Gophers have more experience in their system and their desire to win should carry them through.

Predicted Winner: Minnesota

Sept. 28: Wisconsin at Ohio State

Why Wisconsin Could Win: Bret Bielema’s Badgers were close to halting the Buckeyes’ undefeated run by taking them to overtime, and it’s possible the heartbreak of that loss could provide enough motivation for the 2013 squad. Ohio State has long learned not to underestimate Wisconsin, and if Andersen sticks with the elements of Bielema’s program that worked, he could escape Columbus with an upset.

Why Ohio State Could Win: The Badgers played in the Big Ten Championship game only because the undefeated Buckeyes were ineligible, and you have to think that didn’t sit well with the Scarlet and Gray. Columbus is a tough venue to play in even for teams that aren’t Michigan, and Ohio State has plenty of weapons to capitalize on Wisconsin’s recent coaching transition.

Prediction: The Buckeyes had to beat Wisconsin by going to overtime in 2012, but that shouldn’t be the case this time. Urban Meyer’s unit is deeper and Ohio State historically wins their Big Ten opener. If the rumors that Gary Andersen is experimenting with Wisconsin’s offense are true, this one should be a cakewalk for Meyer and Braxton Miller, now a junior and looking to win the Heisman.

Predicted Winner: Ohio State

Oct. 5: Minnesota at Michigan

Why Minnesota Could Win: Philip Nelson is Minnesota’s best emerging star at quarterback and was one of their biggest contributors in getting to bowl eligibility. With a bona fide running game to boot, it’s plausible that Nelson and the Gophers could stun the crowd in Ann Arbor the way Glen Mason’s team did in 2005.

Why Michigan Could Win: While it may have taken a little luck, Michigan won handily against the Gophers in 2012, and that was in Minneapolis. A year before Michigan shut out Minnesota 58-0 in the Big House. It’s back in the Big House for 2013, and Michigan has more than enough talent and depth to outlast Jerry Kill’s developing team.

Prediction: If you look at Kill’s history, the Gophers appear to be right on schedule in terms of their improvement. However, as 2012 showed, they aren’t fully ready to hang with their toughest opponents. Minnesota’s players and fans have long craved the Little Brown Jug, which has sat in Ann Arbor since 2006, but they have a better chance at getting their other rivalry trophies first.

Predicted Winner: Michigan

Oct. 5: Michigan State at Iowa

Why Michigan State Could Win: The Spartan defense is everything it was last year and stymied the Hawkeye offense to a grand total of 19 points, six of which came in overtime. Though Iowa arguably played their best game of the 2012 season against Michigan State, the Green and White defense could hold the Hawkeyes off and allow its offense, now backed by a more experienced receiving corps, to put the game away and control the clock.

Why Iowa Could Win: Despite facing the power of MSU’s defense, the Hawkeyes still prevailed last season because of clutch plays in the game’s final minutes. They also caught a few breaks thanks to the rainy weather and the horrific play of MSU quarterback Andrew Maxwell. If Michigan State is continuing to seek answers on the offensive side of the ball, Iowa could yet again capitalize, especially at home, now that their own offensive unit is steadily gaining depth.

Prediction: MSU’s returning defense could provide the Hawkeyes with their biggest offensive challenge of the year until they face the Maize and Blue. This matchup, however, leans in Iowa’s favor because the Hawkeyes’ linebacker corps, which returns all three starters, has to go up against an MSU running game that has just lost its biggest offensive contributor on the ground, running back Le’Veon Bell. Meanwhile, the play-making ability of Iowa’s Mark Weisman, along with some other options at tailback and tight end, should again frustrate the Green and White.

Predicted Winner: Iowa

Oct. 5: Penn State at Indiana

Why Penn State Could Win: The Nittany Lions may have sputtered in the beginning of the 2012 season, but they quickly became one of the most challenging teams in the Big Ten. Spring didn’t provide Bill O’Brien with a lot of answers, and he is still looking for a quarterback. If incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg is as advertised, he could pick up right where Matt McGloin left off.

Why Indiana Could Win: The Hoosiers may not have the same amount of talent on offense or defense as Penn State, but they have more stability and experience, and they showed in 2012 that they could hang with the best of them. Kevin Wilson’s offense was tough for Indiana’s opponents to handle, and if it continues to progress at the same rate, it may become too much.

Prediction: If ever there was a chance for Kevin Wilson to pull a monumental upset, this is it. The Hoosiers were inches away from beating Ohio State in Bloomington last year, and you have to think they’re going to get some lucky breaks eventually. Penn State also lost a great deal of the leadership that rallied them to go 8-4. Indiana is more experienced and less of a mystery on offense.

Predicted Winner: Indiana

Oct. 5: Ohio State at Northwestern

Why Ohio State Could Win: It’s simple—Urban Meyer has the name recognition, the power of five-star recruits, and the program funding to win national championships. Pat Fitzgerald does not. The Buckeyes are rarely intimidated by high-powered offenses, and while they might at times be caught off guard, they have a frustrating amount of talent needed to stage a comeback.

Why Northwestern Could Win: The Wildcats present the conference’s best chance to shatter Urban Meyer’s winning streak early if the Buckeyes roll through their non-conference schedule and defeat Wisconsin as expected. Fitzgerald’s defense has improved leaps and bounds from the mess it was two years ago, and his offense can steal the show from anybody when it’s playing at full speed.

Prediction: Although Northwestern hasn’t traditionally been a scary opponent of Ohio State, they do have the firepower necessary to spoil the Buckeyes’ dreams of a national championship this year. Indiana came within a hair of beating Ohio State last season, and had they possessed a better defense, they might have actually won. Northwestern has a high-powered offense to rival Indiana’s and has the defense Indiana would have needed to beat Ohio State. Expect an upset in Evanston.

Predicted Winner: Northwestern

Oct. 5: Illinois at Nebraska

Why Illinois Could Win: Tim Beckman decided to go back to the drawing board on the offensive side of the ball and hired former WMU head coach Bill Cubit to coordinate the Illini offense, which looks like it will be a combo of spread and pro-style. Cubit has plenty of tools needed to move the ball, and if his offense clicks, he could surprise a Nebraska team that struggled to stop opponents last season.

Why Nebraska Could Win: The Cornhuskers were 1st in total offense last year, while Illinois was 10th in total defense. Nearly all of Nebraska’s offensive contributors are back, and while the Huskers might have some issues on defense, the Illini don’t have the offense (yet) to seriously challenge (or pull close to) Big Red in Lincoln.

Prediction: This is Nebraska’s sixth straight home game and their Big Ten opener. The fan base is itching to see Big Red return to the Big Ten championship game, and Nebraska will view Illinois as a punching bag to which they can prepare for tougher conference opponents. The Husker offense should run wild on the Illinois defense, putting the game too far out of reach for Beckman’s team to stage a comeback.

Predicted Winner: Nebraska

Oct. 12: Indiana at Michigan State

Why Indiana Could Win: The Hoosiers put a scare into the Spartans in 2012 when they jumped to an early lead and were ahead 27-14 at the end of the first half, an effort marked by Wilson’s gutsy playcalling which included an early onside kick. However, the Hoosiers’ failure to execute in the second half allowed Michigan State to claw its way back. Given a more developed team and a desire to get a bowl, Indiana will make another aggressive run at the Big Ten’s best defense.

Why Michigan State Could Win: The Spartans might have surrendered almost 300 yards in the first half, but they held Indiana to only 37 in the second. Michigan State may have lost starters on the defensive line, but their replacements are more than capable. The Green and White look particularly strong in their secondary, where 4-5 players with starting experience are expected to return. That’s a bad sign for an offense that wants to frequently air it out.

Prediction: I originally had this pegged as an Indiana win only because of how much they owned the Spartans in the first half of the 2012 game and I figured they were probably going to do that for an entire game in 2013. However, Michigan State’s defense will be sure to take Indiana’s offense seriously this go-round and, with their secondary, will stifle any attempt the Hoosiers make at an aerial attack.

Predicted Winner: Michigan State

Oct. 12: Nebraska at Purdue

Why Nebraska Could Win: Taylor Martinez and the entire offense are far more experienced in their diverse system than is whoever ends up taking snaps at Purdue. The Boilermaker defense similarly has a long way to do to match up against the explosive power of Nebraska’s play-makers. Purdue’s offense is also expected to be a work in progress, and even with all of Nebraska’s issues on defense, it should be contained.

Why Purdue Could Win: Nebraska fans should be leery of this game because it has all the makings of a trap. Purdue is looking to adopt the same offense that Wisconsin used to curb-stomp the Huskers in the Big Ten Championship game, but there’s a question of how ready the offensive line will be to handle such a task. If the Huskers fail to stop the Boilermakers’ increased ground game, this could be a signature upset for Hazell.

Prediction: This game is in a precarious position for Purdue, coming after bouts against both Wisconsin and Northern Illinois, but it's less so for their opponents. Nebraska could very well enter West Lafayette (their first road game of the season) undefeated at 5-0 and possibly looking to prepare for the Legends division contenders. Purdue’s offense should be a watered-down, less efficient version of Michigan’s or MSU’s, meaning that the Cornhuskers should have little difficulty in stopping it and outscoring it.

Predicted Winner: Nebraska

Oct. 12: Northwestern at Wisconsin

Why Northwestern Could Win: At this stretch in its schedule, Northwestern will be coming off playing a big game against Ohio State at home, in which they either scored a shocking upset or suffered a heartbreaking loss. In either case, Pat Fitzgerald has enough motivation to give his team when they go to Camp Randall. NW is a seasoned team on both sides of the ball and should be able to handle a transitioning Badgers squad.

Why Wisconsin Could Win: The Badgers, too, will have just played Ohio State, albeit in Columbus, and could be looking to rebound or sustain the momentum of a possible victory. Wisconsin has a bit of an edge in its preparation, with a bye week coming before the Northwestern game. Depending on the outcome of NW’s game against OSU, the Badgers could catch the Wildcats in the blind euphoria of glory or the hangover of defeat.

Prediction: This is an intriguing matchup, not only because of its placement on the schedule but also because the strength of each team is opposite each other. Northwestern’s offense and Wisconsin’s defense have each been underrated for years, and it’s only recently that people have begun to take notice. Andersen may have the more talented unit defensively, but NW’s offense can corral it. The tipping point comes down to coaching, and Pat Fitzgerald’s staff is more experienced in the Big Ten.

Predicted Winner: Northwestern

Oct. 12: Michigan at Penn State

Why Michigan Could Win: The Wolverines are not the defensive mess that they were when they faced the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley two years ago, and knocking them down won’t be quite as easy for a first-time quarterback at PSU. The Penn State defense, meanwhile, has lost a great deal of its senior linebacking power, which could spell trouble for a team looking to stop the run.

Why Penn State Could Win: It’s tough to say whether Michigan could have handled the Bill O’Brien/Matt McGloin offense that put a lot of tough Big Ten defenses on their heels. The Nittany Lions will be a less experienced team under center when they do play Michigan, but O’Brien has shown that he can develop quarterbacks. With wide receiver Allen Robinson in tow, Penn State’s offense could exploit weaknesses in Michigan’s secondary.

Prediction: This prime-time game is being considered a toss-up by both sides, and appropriately so. Michigan and Penn State might have the edge over each other in individual areas, but the Wolverines have the better overall team, if you consider the kicking game. Michigan will also be hungry for revenge from the embarrassment suffered in 2010.

Predicted Winner: Michigan

Oct. 19: Minnesota at Northwestern

Why Minnesota Could Win: The Gopher offense and defense is gradually becoming both balanced and effective and could put together enough of an effort to keep this high-powered, experienced Northwestern team at bay. It’s also possible, however unlikely, that Minnesota could catch the Wildcats looking past them, having just gotten out of the ring against tougher, more talented teams. If Northwestern has a ‘trap’ game, this is probably it.

Why Northwestern Could Win: If the Wildcats have dropped both contests against Ohio State and Wisconsin, this is simply a must-win. With the offensive weapons they boast, the Wildcats have no excuse not to test a developing Gopher defense in every way that ends up putting 40+ points on the scoreboard, and with a defense that should be at least as good as last season’s, they should hold off Philip Nelson and Donnell Kirkwood.

Prediction: Although some could argue that this is a cool-down game for both teams, it is a much stiffer test for Minnesota. Coming off a bout with Michigan, which was also on the road, the Gophers will likely have an easier time putting together drives against the Wildcat defense, but their own defense will still be struggling to keep up with Northwestern’s explosive offense.

Predicted Winner: Northwestern

Oct. 19: Indiana at Michigan

Why Indiana Could Win: Anyone who thinks that Kevin Wilson’s offense will not challenge Michigan’s defense is going to be in for a rough surprise when the Hoosiers come to the Big House. Indiana should be much improved on both sides of the ball, and there is a question if their defense can stop Gardner and company, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Hoosier offense overtakes the Maize and Blue in the fourth.

Why Michigan Could Win: Indiana’s offense was effective but not invincible last season. The Spartans halted the Hoosier attack completely in the second half, and Wisconsin held them to a mere two touchdowns while putting up 62 points. The Wolverines look to have one of the conference’s better defenses that should perform similarly while the offense puts the game out of reach.

Prediction: Had the Maize and Blue played Indiana in 2012, they may have been surprised, like many Big Ten teams, at how effective the Hoosiers were at moving the ball. However, Michigan is by this point well aware of the danger Indiana’s offense presents to even the best defenses, and they’ll be ready to stop it, while it’s not so certain that Indiana can or will stop Michigan.

Predicted Winner: Michigan

Oct. 19: Iowa at Ohio State

Why Iowa Could Win: In Columbus? Seriously? Never say never, I suppose, but there’s not much working in Iowa’s favor when they don’t seem to have the capability to stage an upset, with so many questions offensively and defensively. However, the Hawkeyes were the 2nd best team in the conference in turnover margin (OSU was 4th), and if the Buckeyes are feeling overconfident, Iowa might just force them to make a few game-changing mistakes.

Why Ohio State Could Win: One doesn’t normally like to say ‘This team is just more talented’ when doing previews, but that seems to categorically be the case here. Ohio State has an All-Big Ten returning starter at quarterback, All-Big Ten playmakers at running back and receiver, and a ton of experience on the offensive line. At the very least they should put significant distance between themselves and Iowa by the third quarter.

Prediction: It’s always tough to predict which game Ohio State will loaf their way into a surprising loss, and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that it could happen against Iowa. Yet there’s just too much evidence, when matching starter vs. starter, in Ohio State’s favor to predict that this homecoming game going to be anything other than a solid victory for the Scarlet and Gray.

Predicted Winner: Ohio State

Oct. 19: Purdue at Michigan State

Why Purdue Could Win: While Purdue will need to improve leaps and bounds defensively to match the type of turnaround that Hazell pulled off at Kent State, the offense for the Boilermakers was one of the team’s biggest hindrances from a year ago and, given the talent at skill positions, has the potential to break out. Michigan State has typically not done well in shootouts, and no one should be surprised if Purdue has dramatically improved in moving the ball.

Why Michigan State Could Win: Darrell Hazell is looking to run the same type of pro-style offense that MSU typically sees every day in practice. The Spartan defense is stout enough to stop its own offense, which means that a Boilermaker unit who is still learning the offense doesn’t stand much of a chance. The Purdue defense was also one of the worst units in the conference last year, so even a struggling Spartan offense should put a few drives together.

Prediction: Unless Hazell’s pro-style run offense really takes off, this contest should be no contest for the Michigan State defense. The Spartans have generally edged out their opponents in low-scoring games, and while the two offenses might be on par with one another (although MSU has six years of system development on the Boilermakers), the two defenses are not.

Predicted Winner: Michigan State

Oct. 19: Wisconsin at Illinois

Why Wisconsin Could Win: The Badgers are still more or less the same team they were a year ago, with only the notable absence of Montee Ball as the discernible difference. The question is not whether Wisconsin has the tools to run the table against teams like Illinois, it’s if they will maintain the same scheme that allowed them to do previously. Assuming there is very little change, the result will not change either.

Why Illinois Could Win: The Illini have a long way to go to beat a team like Wisconsin, even at home, and even with a lot of factors working in their favor. Andersen could be working out the kinks of his first year, and Beckman’s team could pull a massive upset if they give Wisconsin the same kind of trouble Oregon State did in 2012.

Prediction: Part of me wants to give Illinois the nod here just because it is Andersen’s first year and you have to think he’s going to drop some games that Wisconsin would have won under Bielema’s staff. However, the Illini are just too far behind on both sides of the ball at this point to realistically expect that they can pull a surprise upset of a team that, barring some serious schematic deviations, should crush them.

Predicted Winner: Wisconsin

Oct. 26: Michigan State at Illinois

Why Michigan State Could Win: There’s no question which team has the better defense in this game, but even if the Illini have improved offensively, it still probably won’t be enough to put up many points. On the other side of the ball, Michigan State might have its struggles, but even the most inconsistent offenses last year were able to run over or pick apart the Illini.

Why Illinois Could Win: Sandwiched right between a home Purdue game and the contest with Michigan, this road bout for MSU could potentially be a trap game. The Spartans typically focus all of the season’s energy on beating their in-state rival, and it’s not unlikely that they would look past the Illini. Michigan State found themselves behind in games against Indiana and Eastern Michigan in 2012, and it’s possible that a few offensive trick plays could put Illinois similarly ahead on the scoreboard.

Prediction: The best case scenario for Illinois in this game is that it’s a low-scorer and the Illini bust off the winning touchdown in the final minute. The more realistic scenario, however, is that Michigan State’s defense holds the Illini off and wins the game by two, possibly even three, field goals.

Predicted Winner: Michigan State

Oct. 26: Northwestern at Iowa

Why Northwestern Could Win: The Hawkeyes will have just faced dual-threat Ohio State quarterback, Braxton Miller, in the previous week and will now have to face Kain Colter, a similar quarterback in a similar offense. If Iowa’s defense has not figured out a way to successfully prevent big plays from the man under center, this one could slide in the Wildcats’ favor quickly.

Why Iowa Could Win: Even though Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis will attempt to pick up the tempo, Ferentz’s team should still be pretty conservative running the ball. One of Northwestern’s potential problems is their defensive line, which is playing young players with little game experience and unknown talent. By contrast, Iowa’s offensive line should be solid enough to produce an effective running game.

Prediction: Compared to the Wildcats, the Hawkeyes were a mess on offense last year, and it’s hard to say they’ve improved enough to not be as much of one this year. Iowa’s defense may go through 2013 overlooked and underrated, but Northwestern has more than enough playmakers to push past even a stout defensive effort from the Black and Gold.

Predicted Winner: Northwestern

Oct. 26: Nebraska at Minnesota

Why Nebraska Could Win: The Cornhuskers creamed the Gophers last year, 38-14, in Lincoln because their explosive offense was no match for the Maroon and Gold’s secondary and linebacker corps. Nebraska has the more talented unit to put the game out of reach again, and although they have question marks defensively, it’s not enough for the Gophers to catch up.

Why Minnesota Could Win: Gopher fans are hoping for a monumental upset to come sometime in 2013 that will show Jerry Kill can eventually compete with the conference’s better teams. Kill has shown tenacity against teams that were far superior, and both his playcalling and preparation have kept the Gophers competitively in games. If the defense can force a few turnovers, they might just get Nebraska on its heels and pull this one out.

Prediction: Minnesota is steadily getting better and deeper on both sides of the ball, and this looks like Kill’s deepest overall team since he was hired. It is still developing, however, and Nebraska has far more explosive potential on offense for the Gopher defense to stay in the game for very long. Unless Minnesota gets an egregious amount of luck thrown their way, it’s unlikely they’ll beat the more efficient team.

Predicted Winner: Nebraska

Oct. 26: Penn State at Ohio State

Why Penn State Could Win: Bill O’Brien found some success in year one by identifying and exploiting weaknesses against opposing defenses, which is what you would expect from a bona fide NFL coordinator. Ohio State’s defense is talented but has its share of weaknesses, and the Nittany Lions come in with just enough offensive weapons to seriously threaten the Buckeyes’ winning streak.

Why Ohio State Could Win: The Buckeyes showed last year just how far ahead of Penn State they were on offense, winning a close 31-23 game in Happy Valley. In this contest, they’ll square off in Columbus, and OSU has the edge on offense in terms of experience at crucial positions like quarterback and offensive line.

Prediction: Overall, this is a mismatch that slides in OSU’s favor. The Buckeyes are more sound, more consistent, and more experienced on offense, and even if their defense isn’t elite they’ll still have the support of the home crowd, which is typically enough for Ohio State to push themselves to get the victory.

Predicted Winner: Ohio State

Nov. 2: Minnesota at Indiana

Why Minnesota Could Win: The Golden Gophers have been looking forward to this one for a while, as in both 2011 and 2012 they did not have a chance to play the Hoosiers, one of the conference teams who finished with worse records, as an opportunity for another win. Indiana has struggled at times against confident, developed quarterbacks, and by the time they face Philip Nelson, he should have accumulated enough experience to present a challenge.

Why Indiana Could Win: The Hoosiers are getting better year by year, and while it’s arguable that they might have been worse than Minnesota and possibly would have lost to the Gophers in the previous two seasons, they are far less of a pushover today. Minnesota’s defense struggled to contain the conference’s better offenses, or at least offenses that were more fluid and consistent, like Iowa and Wisconsin. Indiana’s offense projects to be even more dangerous than the ones that destroyed the Gophers in 2012.

Prediction: This is likely a key game for both teams seeking bowl eligibility. Minnesota snagged the crucial sixth win last season with a victory against an inept Illinois, but Indiana, despite ending at 4-8, will not be so easy to defeat. The Hoosiers will be moderately tested against the Gophers’ secondary, which is far sounder than MN’s run defense. However, at home, it is the Hoosiers’ explosive, efficient offense that will prevail in a possible shootout.

Predicted Winner: Indiana

Nov. 2: Ohio State at Purdue

Why Ohio State Could Win: Even without Braxton Miller in the final minutes, Ohio State was still able to put up enough points to squeak this one out. Now, one of the two teams is experiencing an offensive transition, and it isn’t Ohio State. With far more experienced playmakers and a more cohesive scoring unit overall for OSU, the Boilermaker defense (ranked 11th in the conference in 2012) won’t be able to keep up.

Why Purdue Could Win: The Boilermakers nearly upset the Buckeyes in Columbus by forcing the game to overtime, and it was a lack of execution that cost Purdue the win. Now, the game is being played in West Lafayette, the only road Big Ten venue where Ohio State has had a losing record since 2000. For whatever reason, Purdue just seems to have that intangible factor against OSU when playing in at home.

Prediction: Don’t rule out an upset here, but I’m inclined to give Ohio State the nod despite the team’s history in playing in West Lafayette, if only because Hazell has quite a project on his hands and knocking off both Wisconsin and Ohio State seems like a pipe dream. The Boilermakers should undoubtedly keep it close, however.

Predicted Winner: Ohio State

Nov. 2: Michigan at Michigan State

Why Michigan Could Win: The Spartan defense is not impenetrable, but the Wolverines have yet to put up a thorough offensive performance against it. Michigan has the better offense on paper, and their defense should be at least somewhat on par with MSU’s. Gardner is far improved from the quarterback he was in 2011, but the Spartans don’t think so, and that’s the thought that will doom them.

Why Michigan State Could Win: Last season, the Michigan State defense prevented the Wolverines from scoring a single touchdown and largely corralled Denard Robinson. In 2011, they manhandled Michigan’s O-Line and completely shut down Devin Gardner. Even if Maxwell and the running game don’t jell to overtake the Wolverines, a defensive battle might not slide in Michigan’s favor.

Prediction: If this is a low-scoring battle like it was in 2012, I’m actually more inclined to pick the Spartans on this one. However, the Wolverines should have the edge in the running game this time around, and with the balance that it will set up for the passing game, MSU’s defense should be in for a tough match. The Spartan offense, however, left much wanting in 2012 and expects to do much of the same in 2013.

Predicted Winner: Michigan

Nov. 2: Illinois at Penn State

Why Illinois Could Win: The Illini are expected to be one of the most overlooked teams in the Big Ten this season, while Penn State will continue to have the eye of college football on them as they continue to weather the NCAA’s sanctions. The Nittany Lions gained a great deal of confidence throughout the season as 2012 progressed, and it’s possible that when they face the Illini, they’ll underestimate a team that could be surprisingly more improved.

Why Penn State Could Win: The Nittany Lions crushed the Illini, 35-7, in Champaign a year ago and now play them in Happy Valley, which is notoriously difficult for opponents. O’Brien’s offense and defense was far more along in his first year than was Beckman’s, and despite the change in leadership at quarterback and linebacker, there’s still enough talent and experience for them to put together a similar performance.

Prediction: Penn State spent 2012 playing spoiler to every Big Ten team they faced and finished with a very respectable 8-4 season. This year, they’ll be playing to show that last season’s record was not a fluke, while Illinois will be desperate for wins. The Illini should be improved enough to keep this contest much closer than 2012’s, but they are at a disadvantage going up against O’Brien’s streamlined, well-prepared offense and hostile PSU crowd.

Predicted Winner: Penn State

Nov. 2: Wisconsin at Iowa

Why Wisconsin Could Win: This will be a good test for Gary Andersen. His team should come into the game as potential favorites, with a strong rushing tandem in Melvin Gordon and James White leading the way. However, Andersen will likely need to air it out more in this game, as Iowa’s linebackers are experienced, than run it up the middle. Both Curt Phillips and Joel Stave are conditioned enough to handle that approach.

Why Iowa Could Win: Like the Badgers, the Hawkeye offense will likely be a non-factor in this game, despite that Greg Davis’s new implementation of a higher tempo might create problems. The Black and Gold defense, however, has the edge in this game because it was and expects to be very good against the run, which Wisconsin will attempt to hang its hat for most of the season.

Prediction: With this being Gary Andersen’s first season in Madison and Kirk Ferentz’s team being in a rebuilding stage, there are too many variables to expect this to be anything other than a low-scoring bout where defense, not offense, will decide the match. Playing at Iowa has been intangibly difficult for opposing teams, and Iowa’s run defense, especially their well-experienced linebackers, is stout enough to stop Wisconsin if they are conservative.

Predicted Winner: Iowa

Nov. 2: Northwestern at Nebraska

Why Northwestern Could Win: The Wildcats lost the game against Nebraska last year by exactly one point, part of a series of close games decided in the fourth quarter or beyond. This season Northwestern returns nearly everyone on offense, especially its most dangerous playmakers. On defense, the Wildcats showed improvement last year, and they’ll look to win this game by being the more complete team.

Why Nebraska Could Win: Like the Buckeyes (and perhaps even the Wolverines), the Cornhuskers are a different team when they play at home. In both 2011 and 2012, Nebraska was faced with a situation where they had fallen behind by three touchdowns, and it was the play of Taylor Martinez that helped them come from behind. Nebraska will likely have that type of comeback game this year as well, and at home, it will probably come against Northwestern.

Prediction: Looking at both teams overall, this one looks like a Northwestern victory. The two teams are on par offensively but, unlike Nebraska, the Wildcats have a defense that surrendered no blowout losses. However, the Cornhuskers have shown that they are one of the Big Ten’s best comeback teams, so long as they can wear down the opposing defense. Northwestern, for all that they can boast, has yet to show that they can consistently put tight, tough games away.

Predicted Winner: Nebraska

Nov. 9: Illinois at Indiana

Why Illinois Could Win: Even the most skeptical Illini fan considers this game perfectly winnable for Tim Beckman, despite the fact that Illinois lost convincingly in 2012 to the Hoosiers, 31-17, in Champaign. For a win to happen, the Fighting Illini will have to improve a lot in both putting up points and stopping opposing teams from doing so, as well as bank on the possibility that Indiana does not improve in either area at all.

Why Indiana Could Win: The Hoosiers put together one of its best games of the year against a far less prepared team in what would have normally been a hostile environment. Now, in a far more friendly setting, Indiana will just need to stay ahead to secure another win against Illinois and earn one more step towards bowl eligibility.

Prediction: Indiana was among the worst teams in the Big Ten for a greater part of a decade before 2012, but even after posting a disappointing 4-8 record, they weren’t the worst team in the conference. They shouldn’t be the worst team this year, either, and should convincingly put the Illini away, unless there’s been a seminal, overnight change in Champaign this off-season.

Predicted Winner: Indiana

Nov. 9: Iowa at Purdue

Why Iowa Could Win: The Hawkeyes’ opponent wasn’t spectacular against the run in 2012 (9th in the Big Ten), and Iowa’s rushing attack projects to be much more improved under a solid offensive line and tandem of experienced running backs. Ferentz’s team also had the second best turnover margin in the conference in 2012, while Purdue’s tied for seventh. The Hawkeyes should be sound and mostly mistake-free, while the Boilermakers will be still learning to take care of the ball.

Why Purdue Could Win: The Boilermakers won a close one against the Hawkeyes last season, 27-24, in Iowa City, and this year they have the benefit of a supporting home crowd. This game is certainly winnable for Purdue, whose offense was largely the team’s own hindrance, and under Hazell it should move towards efficiency. The defense will need to improve greatly in stopping the run, but that should be a manageable test here.

Prediction: Hazell’s team at Kent State was more known for plowing over fellow MAC opponents than for taking chances, but the Boilermakers aren’t quite ready to fly in either category. Iowa’s ground game should be much farther along than Purdue’s, which is aiming to be more traditional, and while this would be a signature win for Hazell in year one, Ferentz’s experience should allow him to take control of the game.

Predicted Winner: Iowa

Nov. 9: Penn State at Minnesota

Why Penn State Could Win: Penn State looks more athletic on offense and defense, with players that garnered all Big Ten attention, especially Allen Robinson, who led the conference in receiving. Minnesota’s secondary is good, but it doesn’t look like it could stop Penn State’s passing game, even if true freshman Christian Hackenberg is the one leading the assault.

Why Minnesota Could Win: The Gophers must pressure the quarterback if they have any chance of winning this game. Both of Penn State’s signal-callers are new to Division I football and Big Ten play. Minnesota will have to bank a great deal on the quarterbacks’ inexperience (whether it’s Tyler Ferguson or Hackenberg) and force them to make mistakes that stall the offense. If they can, Minnesota will pull the upset.

Prediction: The Gophers were fortunate to miss PSU on the schedule in 2012 because the leading passing attack of Matt McGloin would have probably been too much to handle, which might have meant a loss and prevented Minnesota from achieving bowl eligibility. This season, the Gophers might be more experienced at quarterback, but as an overall team, they do not have the playmakers needed to go head-to-head against the Nittany Lions.

Predicted Winner: Penn State

Nov. 9: Nebraska at Michigan

Why Nebraska Could Win: The Cornhuskers have an explosive rusher (and possibly passer) in Taylor Martinez, who has been able to create big plays even against the toughest defenses in the conference. He was able to successfully lead drives against Michigan’s stalwart defense a year ago, and with a reliable kicking game in his team’s pocket as well, they could muster a similar performance in the Big House.

Why Michigan Could Win: Although Nebraska fans may not admit it, the reason Michigan lost in Lincoln last season was because the offense stalled due to Denard Robinson’s game-ending injury. The Wolverines were a little too dependent on Robinson’s legs anyway and hadn’t developed much of a passing game to compliment it. This season, the Wolverines should be more balanced on offense, and the defense is strong enough to stop Nebraska like they did in 2011.

Prediction: Like in 2012, Nebraska will need to beat Michigan if they expect to win the Legends Division. The Huskers were shocked when they were destroyed, 45-17, the last time they entered the Big House. That was because Michigan’s offense and defense were extremely productive, which they were in November of 2012 as well. In this November matchup the Wolverines’ balance and battle-hardened experience will net them the victory.

Predicted Winner: Michigan

Nov. 16: Michigan at Northwestern

Why Northwestern Could Win: Many Michigan fans have this pegged as one of U-M’s losses and for good reason. The Wildcats possess one of the most dangerous offenses in the conference, and it was enough of a challenge for Michigan’s defense that it forced the bout to enter overtime. Michigan also stayed in the game because of a lucky catch by Roy Roundtree, and it’s unlikely a similar situation repeats itself.

Why Michigan Could Win: If Michigan’s running game even approaches what they put up in 2011, the Wildcats should not be able to stop it when combined with the Wolverines’ projected strong passing attack. The Maize and Blue are expected to have too many weapons on the field in various situations for the Wildcats to account for all of them. Also, if U-M can muster a pass rush, they should corral Colter and Siemian.

Prediction: The Wolverines will not overlook the folks in Evanston, but even so this should be Michigan’s greatest challenge defensively (outside of possibly Ohio State). It could also be a key deciding match for the Legends Division crown. Michigan’s running game is expected to improve this year, and with a stronger passing game to boot, they should barely outlast the Wildcats yet again.

Predicted Winner: Michigan

Nov. 16: Ohio State at Illinois

Why Ohio State Could Win: Illinois is currently entering this season as a flailing team under Tim Beckman and will scramble for wins. They have to largely get out of their own way first in order to do that, and while there is the potential for competitive play between the two teams, Ohio State is just too far ahead. The Buckeyes’ offense was the vision of efficiency in 2012 and will likely be improved this year.

Why Illinois Could Win: In-between two far more winnable games at Indiana and Purdue is the Ohio State game at home, and there’s not much pointing in the Illini’s favor of winning other than pure luck. It’s entirely possible that everyone is underestimating Beckman and Cubit, however, and Illinois could turn into 2012 Indiana this year. If that happens, they might just get Ohio State into a surprise shootout.

Prediction: The game against Illinois in Champaign is the second in a stretch of three easy tests before the Buckeyes square off against Michigan. The Scarlet and Gray have had little trouble in handling the Illini, either at home or on the road, and the same should be the case here. The projected best team of the Leaders Division should easily trounce the projected worst.

Predicted Winner: Ohio State

Nov. 16: Indiana at Wisconsin

Why Indiana Could Win: Despite getting creamed by Wisconsin, 62-14, in 2012, the Hoosiers will have grown and developed enough to keep the score much closer than a year ago. However, it is their struggling defense that will have the real test, but going up against a coach who might seek to deviate from Wisconsin’s traditional attack presents a perfect opportunity to take advantage.

Why Wisconsin Could Win: The Badgers need do no more than just run the ball at Indiana to have success. The Hoosiers were dead last in the conference in rushing defense in 2012, and while by Kevin Wilson’s third year some improvement in every department can be expected, it shouldn’t enough to completely halt the power of Wisconsin’s running backs.

Prediction: If this game becomes a back-and-forth shootout, I’m inclined to give Indiana the nod here. But even with the Hoosiers’ surprisingly good offense last season, the Badger defense kept them to a measly two touchdowns. Although this year’s defense might not be the exact same as 2012 schematically, Wisconsin has enough experience to do it again. The Badgers, at home, should upset the groove of Wilson’s offense and run all over the Hoosier defense.

Predicted Winner: Wisconsin

Nov. 16: Purdue at Penn State

Why Purdue Could Win: The Boilermakers were crushed, 34-9, in their own stadium in 2012, and it may have reached the point where Penn State is a little too confident they’ll win just as easily in Beaver Stadium. One of the reasons why Purdue fans are optimistic about Darrell Hazell is because they’re hopeful he’ll win games Danny Hope never could. This would certainly be one of them, and Purdue has the revenge factor.

Why Penn State Could Win: The Nittany Lions took full advantage of the mess that was Danny Hope’s offense and Purdue’s growing losing streak in the Big Ten after dropping four straight conference matches. Penn State will have the comfort of the home crowd to help them along, and O’Brien’s offense should be more ahead than Hazell’s. The defense, despite departures, projects to be slightly better than Purdue’s as well.

Prediction: Make no mistake, Purdue will be the underdog going into this game unless they have underwent a serious reversal of fortune from a year ago and O’Brien’s team has used up all their luck. It’s tough to make predictions based on who will be where in their season, but were they to play now, Penn State would likely win. With so many more factors in their favor, the Nittany Lions appear to clearly have the edge.

Predicted Winner: Penn State

Nov. 16: Michigan State at Nebraska

Why Michigan State Could Win: One can see many scenarios in which the Green and White halt the attack of Taylor Martinez just like they did to Denard Robinson. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Nebraska could surrender a win at home, and if Michigan State can patch together enough of a running game to match Le’Veon Bell’s production, they could surprise the Huskers and the conference.

Why Nebraska Could Win: The Huskers have won the last two straight and seem primed to keep the streak alive with the advantage of playing at home. The Nebraska defense may have been inconsistent a year ago, but there’s no better chance to gain consistency than against an offense that should struggle to move the ball, and that’s what Michigan State seems to have.

Prediction: Right now, it doesn’t look like Michigan State could fully overpower Nebraska’s defense the way Wisconsin famously did. They might have been able to with Le’Veon Bell, and they were close in 2012, but with Bell’s departure that puts a lot of uncertainty into an already questionable Michigan State offense. The Cornhuskers should force just enough stops in this game to pull away.

Predicted Winner: Nebraska

Nov. 23: Michigan at Iowa

Why Michigan Could Win: The Wolverines should have an improved running game and passing game, as well as a defense that should contain whatever Iowa attempts to throw at it. Michigan’s special teams are also no slouch anymore either, which means that even in a bizarre, defensive battle, they should still be able to score. The Maize and Blue have the more complete team with talented, proven playmakers needed to win.

Why Iowa Could Win: Never rule out an Iowa victory in Kinnick Stadium, as many Wolverines have learned. The 2011 Michigan team was a similarly more cohesive unit than Iowa’s, but a lack of execution in this setting, along with some misfortune at game’s end, pushed the game into Michigan’s loss column. The Wolverines seem to have off days against the Hawkeyes in Iowa City, and that could lead to a surprise upset.

Prediction: The setting of the venue aside, Michigan should by all practical measures have the better team and produce the better effort on the field. There is, of course, always the chance that the Wolverines are overconfident, but in remembering how they lost the last time they visited Iowa City, you have to think they absolutely won’t be. A stalwart defensive stand and a clean, balanced offensive push ends with a Michigan win.

Predicted Winner: Michigan

Nov. 23: Indiana at Ohio State

Why Indiana Could Win: The Hoosiers showed the world that Ohio State was not entirely invincible and their last-second nail-biter loss is one of the most convincing evidences as to why the Buckeyes were lucky to be 12-0. Indiana returns pretty much everyone who contributed to that 52-49 scare, and if OSU struggles in pass defense as they did in 2012, and struggles to develop on the D-line, the Hoosiers could pull off the win this time.

Why Ohio State Could Win: Not only are the Buckeyes at home, they also have, at least on paper, a far more talented squad than the Hoosiers. The defensive front will be young, yes, but the secondary, the primary area Indiana targeted last season, is back with more experience. The offense tore apart Indiana’s defense in 2012, and even if IU has improved in that area, Miller and company have enough firepower do so again.

Prediction: The fact that Ohio State was 2nd in rush defense in the conference but 11th in pass defense gives us a clearer clue as to why the Hoosiers (ranked 1st in pass offense) were able to gain some steam against the Buckeyes. However, this season, with Ohio State returning starters in the secondary but replacing the majority of their front seven, it looks like the reverse might happen. Unless the Hoosiers suddenly become as efficient rushing as they were passing, they won’t match their aerial shootout from 2012.

Predicted Winner: Ohio State

Nov. 23: Illinois at Purdue

Why Illinois Could Win: By this point, Illinois should have some answers on both offense and defense. The Illini have the edge at quarterback, as both Scheelhaase and O’Toole have more combined experience than the Boilermaker passers. While Illinois’ performance in this game might turn out to be an offensive mess, there’s a chance that one of the upperclassman signal-callers leads a gutsy, game-winning drive at the end.

Why Purdue Could Win: Although they are still figuring out who starts at quarterback, Purdue’s roster, top to bottom, has more depth than does Illinois. Darrell Hazell intends to bring a power-run style of offense to West Lafayette, after it took the MAC by storm while he was at Kent State. The Illini, who ranked 11th in rush defense in the conference a year ago, will struggle to stop the Boilermakers’ newfound rushing attack.

Prediction: This might be the Illini’s best chance to snap what potentially looks like a 20-game losing streak in the Big Ten, in a schedule where they already don’t have many opportunities to get to four wins. On top of that, Beckman could be coaching for his job. However, Hazell seems like a cool customer, and with a roster that appears more talented than the Illini’s, his confidence should carry the Boilermakers through a tense contest.

Predicted Winner: Purdue

Nov. 23: Wisconsin at Minnesota

Why Wisconsin Could Win: The Badgers are still a deeper unit overall than the Gophers, a fact that has allowed them to sustain a 9-game winning streak over the Maroon and Gold. Wisconsin’s defense, in particular, has shut down even the most motivated Minnesota teams. And of course, the Badgers’ running game doesn’t look like it’s going to take a step back, which means that it could run roughshod over the Gophers.

Why Minnesota Could Win: Jerry Kill is a scrappy head coach who has made gutsy calls to keep his team in games that they shouldn’t have been. The Gophers will also have a full-house crowd at home to help them stay motivated. Although Wisconsin might look like the bigger and stronger team on paper, Minnesota has developed talent at their primary skill positions to keep the contest competitive, and the Gophers could feast on the Badgers’ complacency.

Prediction: This is probably the most anticipated game for Minnesota fans coming into the season. As much as they might see Michigan as a big rival, the team that keeps the Gophers up at night is Wisconsin. Nelson faired well in his first career start, which simultaneously happened to be against a Wisconsin squad that steam-rolled his team’s defense. A year older, with more time to prepare, Nelson and company will be looking for revenge. For the first time in nine years, they’ll get it.

Predicted Winner: Minnesota

Nov. 23: Michigan State at Northwestern

Why Michigan State Could Win: Although Michigan State fans will tell you that the Michigan game is always more important, the game against Northwestern could be the one that decides the season. The Spartans were caught off guard by a highly motivated Wildcat team in East Lansing in a tough bout that ended with a loss. Because of the history, MSU has generally not taken NW seriously, but they will this year.

Why Northwestern Could Win: Pat Fitzgerald has always harped on his team needing to be able to finish out games if they want to be successful, but the bout against Michigan State last season was one of the instances where his team did. The Wildcats showed that they can overcome a very intimidating Spartan defense, and with most of the offense back with more experience, there’s enough reason to believe they’d do it again.

Prediction: Those that believe that Michigan State has an honest shot at the Legends Division crown have to circle this game in red. The Spartans seem to be behind Michigan and Nebraska in the hunt, but they’re apparently on more equal footing with the Wildcats, with a defense that is as good as the NW offense. However, it wasn’t good enough last season, and now that Northwestern has more confidence and experience it likely won’t be enough again in Evanston.

Predicted Winner: Northwestern

Nov. 23: Nebraska at Penn State

Why Nebraska Could Win: The Cornhuskers prevailed both offensively and defensively against the Nittany Lions in 2012, winning 32-23 in Lincoln. It will obviously be a stiffer test in Happy Valley, but with the majority of Penn State’s senior leadership on defense gone, the Huskers should have little trouble in putting up another offensive showcase against a potentially weaker unit.

Why Penn State Could Win: There’s enough reason to see a PSU victory here. It’s played in Happy Valley, O’Brien’s offense could overtake Nebraska’s inconsistent defense, and while Penn State might have dropped the last one, this seems like a game where they’ll once again play spoiler. Big Ten coaches should know not to take the O’Brien’s team lightly, but with Nebraska possibly more focused on its Legends Division opponents, there’s the chance for an upset here.

Prediction: Beaver Stadium in Happy Valley is a noted challenge for any visiting team, but the Cornhuskers prevailed the last time they visited there, albeit with very distressing emotional circumstances for the Penn State program. It is certainly possible that the Nittany Lions will be much more focused in this contest, and in the third game of the series, one can’t easily see PSU being 0-3. However, Bo Pelini knows that if he wants to reach the Big Ten Championship game a second time, he cannot look past the teams against which he has more to lose. He didn’t back then and he won’t now.

Predicted Winner: Nebraska

Nov. 29: Iowa at Nebraska

Why Iowa Could Win: The Iowa running game was eventually good but not great last season, and while it may not be great this season either, it will most likely be better. Nebraska’s defense has been hit or miss in stopping the run, from stopping MSU’s Le’Veon Bell to rolling over against Wisconsin’s Montee Ball. Unlike what happened in the previous season, a low-scoring contest looks to fit into Iowa’s favor.

Why Nebraska Could Win: The Huskers held on for the win in Kinnick Stadium last year, largely because of the inefficiency of Iowa QB James Vandenberg. The Hawkeye offense is a mystery now but will likely not be one then, but if offensive coordinator Greg Davis thinks his higher tempo will confuse or upset the Huskers, he’ll be sorely mistaken. The Hawkeyes do not have the horses or experience to handle a shootout with Nebraska.

Prediction: This will be a great way to gauge how much Iowa’s offense and how much Nebraska’s defense have each improved throughout the year. In reality, the aforementioned unit that has improved the most will likely be the deciding factor in this game. However, until such things are realized, we are forced to make predictions based on known quantities, and that lies in the reverse: Nebraska’s offense looks to be more productive than Iowa’s defense.

Predicted Winner: Nebraska

Nov. 30: Purdue at Indiana

Why Purdue Could Win: One of Indiana’s biggest weaknesses last season was in stopping the run, and Hazell looks to have more of a focused, energized ground game in the vein of Wisconsin, which hung 62 on the Hoosiers. If the Boilermaker defense can at least moderately cage Kevin Wilson’s efficient offense, they might just push through by taking enough time off the clock to prevent a comeback.

Why Indiana Could Win: With this being Indiana’s final game of the regular season, the Hoosiers could be on the cusp of bowl eligibility for the first time since 2007. Kevin Wilson’s team should have more than enough motivation to edge out a victory against a first-year head coach and a changing offense, and the home crowd should provide enough support to encourage productive play as well.

Prediction: Darrell Hazell will aim to make a statement in his final game that he is cut out for the Big Ten, but it’s Indiana who has the intangibles on their side in this match. The Hoosiers have limited opportunities to secure a bowl berth, and while there are certainly no gimmes, striking fast in a game against a rebuilding program when you’re at home is critical. Expect Indiana to play its best game of the season here.

Predicted Winner: Indiana

Nov. 30: Minnesota at Michigan State

Why Minnesota Could Win: The Gophers have one thing the Spartans don’t—a bona fide Big Ten running back. Though playing in East Lansing has been tough for the Maroon and Gold, last year a few teams broke through Spartan Stadium’s mystique. If Michigan State struggles as they did in 2012, there’s enough reason to think that Jerry Kill’s Gophers, which will have improved by season’s end, could win this one.

Why Michigan State Could Win: Mark Dantonio typically knows what does and doesn’t work by the time his Spartans play their last game of the regular season. Despite their struggles, Michigan State seems to be a little farther along than Minnesota is, which is one of the reasons why they have won the past several contests. Much like in 2011 and 2012, the Spartans’ overall depth should carry them through this one.

Prediction: Depending on how the season goes, this could end up being a very important game for both coaches. Both Minnesota and Michigan State have typically known their fates by the time they play each other, so the game is usually for little more than a better record. Kill’s program may be on the rise, but this is a perfectly winnable game for Dantonio, and he’ll make sure to win it.

Predicted Winner: Michigan State

Nov. 30: Northwestern at Illinois

Why Northwestern Could Win: Northwestern is far more talented and experienced on both sides of the ball. Pat Fitzgerald has momentum and experience on his side, and his offense should have no problem putting the game away by the third quarter.

Why Illinois Could Win: This could be Tim Beckman’s last best chance to pull an upset. It’s the last game at home, and if the Illini aren’t going bowling, it could be the last game of the season. A win over a rival to close out the season and send out the seniors on a high note would do a lot to cool Beckman’s hot seat. If his team has improved enough, they might just do it.

Prediction: A year ago, the two in-state teams seemed to be on equal footing in terms of talent and scheme. Beckman was expected to take an underperforming but talented team and make them perform. He failed miserably. Now, half of that talent is gone, especially on defense, who have to match up against Fitzgerald’s offense, one of the most dynamic in the Big Ten.

Predicted Winner: Northwestern

Nov. 30: Penn State at Wisconsin

Why Penn State Could Win: The Nittany Lions showed incredible solidarity to close out the year with a 24-21 overtime victory over Wisconsin on senior day. By the time they face the Badgers in Camp Randall, whoever is taking the snaps should have had a season’s worth of experience. And being that they are still banned from the postseason, this is Penn State’s last game and last chance to end positively in 2013.

Why Wisconsin Could Win: The Badger defense nearly corralled Penn State’s explosive offense and you have to think that without a veteran quarterback like Matt McGloin the results would have been different. Playing in Camp Randall does give Wisconsin a little bit of an edge, but it will be how far their team has come under Gary Andersen that will determine if they can succeed in this season finale.

Prediction: On paper Wisconsin has more experience on both offense and defense, which would lead you to conclude that this game, at home, pans out as a clear Badger victory. However, where the difference lies in the head coach’s experience, and O’Brien, despite this being only his second-year in charge of a program, has proven that he can handle the conference, and that Penn State will be no slouch when people expect them to be.

Predicted Winner: Penn State

Nov. 30: Ohio State at Michigan

Why Michigan Could Win: As of this writing, Brady Hoke is still undefeated at home, and there’s a good chance that streak could continue when the Buckeyes visit Ann Arbor. Hoke has done well to prepare his team in the previous two contests, and the Wolverines have the depth and talent to hang with the Buckeyes throughout the entire game. If Michigan finds a running game, Gardner develops as the coaches expect him to, and a few bounces go their way, there’s enough reason to think Michigan could triumph.

Why Ohio State Could Win: Urban Meyer has responded well to the expectations placed on him in Columbus. Even more impressively, he has found a way to maximize Ohio State’s talented players, which helped him go undefeated in 2012. Meyer underestimated Michigan once, when he was at Florida, and he has no plans to do so again. His plan will be to create an early lead that puts Michigan on their heels.

Prediction: As much as my heart of hearts wants Michigan to win this one, the Wolverines are just too much of a mystery at this point when it comes to comparing them to Ohio State. The Buckeyes are deep and talented on both sides of the ball, and the combined ingenuity of Braxton Miller and Urban Meyer caused headaches for Michigan’s coaches. Unless Michigan has answers for all of its questions, this one will be close, but no cigar.

Predicted Winner: Ohio State