Fearless Predictions: Big Ten's Big Moment

Week 1 Big Ten Fearless Predictions - Wisconsin vs. LSU, Jacksonville State vs. Michigan State & More

- Big Ten Week 1 Fearless Predictions - Part 1 (Wisconsin vs. LSU, & More)
- Big Ten Week 1 Fearless Predictions - Part 2 (App St vs. Michigan, UNI vs. Iowa, & More)
- Big Ten Week 1 Fearless Predictions - Part 3 (Ohio State vs. Navy, Cal vs. NW & More)


Wisconsin (0-0) at LSU (0-0)
in Houston, Aug. 30, 9:00 ESPN

Here's The Deal: It doesn’t get much better than this for fans of tough running games and hard-nosed football. With these two teams, welcome to offensive line porn.

It’s also going to be an interesting case study in how two teams can do the same thing – for the most part – but one gets top-shelf recruits and the other recruits to a type. Obviously there are differences, but LSU and Wisconsin have each managed to rely on great defense, enough timely passing to get by – give or take a Russell Wilson here and a Zach Mettenberger there – and brutish, powerful running games working behind massively talented O lines that pummel defenses into submission. No matter what happens, it’s going to physical.

With Braxton Miller going down for Ohio State, in terms of national perception, the Big Ten could really, really use this. Wisconsin hasn’t been all that bad against the SEC in bowl games, but the defense couldn’t stop Connor Shaw and the South Carolina passing game in a Capital One Bowl loss – the Badgers’ first double-digit defeat since 2010 – and are on a two-game losing streak coming into the season. Second-year head man Gary Andersen did a decent job since coming over from Utah State, but his biggest win last season came against Iowa – he still needs to prove he can win the really big one. For a program that’s lost four straight bowl games, a win over a big-time LSU team would all of a sudden change the narrative for the program and would quickly change the narrative on the season. If Wisconsin is good enough to win this game, with a mediocre schedule ahead, it’ll be good enough to go 12-0.

LSU owns opening day, winning 11 straight since a loss to Virginia Tech to start the 2002 season. After two straight 10-3 seasons, the Tigers have maintained their superpower status after losing the 2011 BCS championship to Alabama, but this year could be a bit of a fight. There’s no questioning the talent or athleticism across the board, but the quarterback situation needs to be settled, the D line has to prove it’s back up to its normal snuff, and the top receivers of last year have to be replaced. A dominant and decisive win would show that it’s business as usual, and it would also mean a 3-0 start with Sam Houston State and ULM to follow before hosting Mississippi State.

This is just the third meeting between the two schools with LSU winning 27-7 in 1972 and 38-28 in 1971.

Why Wisconsin Might Win: Is the LSU run defense back up to its normal snuff? The regular season finale against Arkansas was a big strange – with Zach Mettenberger getting hurt and the team needing to scratch and claw its way to a win over an inferior team – but one of the big keys was the effectiveness of the Razorback running game. The 182 yards might not have seemed like much, but Arkansas was coming up with over five yards a crack. If Bret Bielema’s Hogs could do that, could his old team come up with more power against a Tiger D replacing its two starting tackles? Wisconsin will certainly give it a try. It’ll have to because …
Why LSU Might Win: There might not be any passing game to rely on. The Tigers should be able to tee off on Melvin Gordon and the Badgers backs until new starting quarterback Tanner McEvoy can prove he can produce. Even if McEvoy is Peyton Manning right out of the box, where are the UW receivers? Nothing happened when now-Green Bay Packer Jared Abbrederis wasn’t coming up with big plays, and there isn’t a sure-thing top target who’ll make the strong LSU secondary worry.
Who To Watch Out For: Everyone will be paying attention to each team’s respective quarterback situation – will McEvoy produce, and will LSU rotate Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris? – and the spotlight will be on the LSU super-recruit running back Leonard Fournette going against a true Heisman candidate in Gordon. But the real stars will be up front for each team. LSU’s front five of tackles La’el Collins and Jerald Hawkins, guard Vadal Alexander and Fehoko Fanaika and center Elliot Porter is as good as any in America. Collins and Alexander should be in the NFL, as should Badger tackles Rob Havenstein and Tyler Marz along with guard Dallas Lewallen. Center Dan Voltz guard Kyle Costigan have all-star potential, too.
What’s Going To Happen: The lack of a dangerous downfield passing threat will be a killer for the Badgers. Kenzel Doe and Jordan Fredrick are okay, but they’ll be erased by the LSU corners, allowing the front seven to bottle up Gordon and keep McEvoy from taking off. LSU’s O line will be brutally effective against a new UW defensive front three that will be fine early, but rocky late.
Prediction: LSU 30 … Wisconsin 23
Line: LSU -4.5 o/u: 50
Must Watch Factor: (5 Every. Simpsons. Ever. (Up until Part 1 of “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” – 1 Every. Simpsons. Ever. (Everything after Part 2 of “Who Shot Mr. Burns?) … 5

Eastern Illinois (0-0) at Minnesota (0-0) Aug. 28, 3:30 BTN

Here's The Deal: If you’re looking for your big FCS over FBS upset of Week 1, this has the potential to be it. Eastern Illinois doesn’t have Jimmy Garoppolo around anymore to sling it for over 5,000 yards, but the team that rocked San Diego State to start last year and came really, really close to beating Northern Illinois is loaded again and good enough to content for the FCS national title. Minnesota can’t afford to lose any winnable home game if it has any reasonable hope of getting back to a bowl game, and while the schedule isn’t too bad early on, a loss could be devastating. EIU is just good enough to pull it off.
Why Eastern Illinois Might Win: There’s just enough talent on both lines to hold up. Collin Seibert is among the best blockers in all of FCS, and fireplug defensive tackle Dino Fanti is a disruptive force inside. More importantly, even without Garoppolo, the Panthers are still explosive. The FCS leader in scoring offense and total yards will be balanced again with more than enough firepower to keep the pressure on. Minnesota isn’t built in any way to come from behind.
Why Minnesota Might Win: The Gophers can control the game and the clock with the ground game – they have to. Keeping the EIU passing game off the field is the key after holding on to the ball for almost 33 minutes a game last season. On the other side, EIU scored quickly, only keeping possession for under 28 minutes an outing. The Panthers will make mistakes and they’ll commit penalties, while under Jerry Kill, Minnesota has been fantastic at not screwing up.
Who To Watch Out For: The Gophers have to find a receiving weapon. Mitch Leidner isn’t a top-shelf passing quarterback, but he and the offense can’t just get by on running the ball. The problem is that the most promising target, Drew Wolitarsky, is banged up, and while he might play, he’ll likely be less than 100%. Expect lots of short-range passes to tight ends to go along with lots and lots of production from the ground game. However, again, that means Minnesota can’t fall behind.
What’s Going To Happen: The Gophers will get all they can handle, but they’ll grind out the clock in the fourth quarter to escape with a tough and scary win.
Prediction: Minnesota 34 … Eastern Illinois 30
Line: No Line
Must Watch Factor: (5 Every. Simpsons. Ever. (Up until Part 1 of “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” – 1 Every. Simpsons. Ever. (Everything after Part 2 of “Who Shot Mr. Burns?) … 3

Rutgers (0-0) at Washington State (0-0) Aug. 28, 10:00, Fox Sports 1

Here's The Deal: It’s a Big Ten-Pac-12 showdown in Seattle, even if it’ll take a while to get accustomed to the concept of Rutgers as a Big Ten member. The Scarlet Knights got out of the American just in time, but wins could be scarce in a tougher league. They’ll also be adjusting to two new coordinators, namely Ralph Friedgen on offense. Wazzu is building under third-year coach Mike Leach, who led the team to road wins over USC and Arizona and a bowl game for the first time in a decade. The Cougars hope to continue building by finishing above .500 this season.
Why Rutgers Might Win: Pass defense is always a concern on the Palouse, especially when the secondary must be completely rebuilt. A solid Scarlet Knight O-line will afford Gary Nova the time he needs to connect with one of his gifted receivers, WR Leonte Carroo and TE Tyler Kroft.
Why Washington State Might Win: The Rutgers receivers are good. The Cougars pass-catchers are markedly better. The Knights have their own problems in the defensive backfield, missing three starters. The newcomers are about to get a crash course in tight routes from Dominique Williams, River Cracraft and a deep set of playmakers.
Who To Watch Out For: Thursday night will be the stage for a battle of beleaguered senior quarterbacks, Nova and Cougar Connor Halliday. The pair combined to throw 36 interceptions in 2013, so the new defensive backs ought to be on high alert for tipped balls and errant throws. Whichever team’s quarterback plays more consistently will get out of Century Link Field with a pivotal first win.
What’s Going To Happen: From the passing attacks to the propensity for defensive breakdowns, this opener has the ingredients of an entertaining all-night affair. Bank on a handful of turnovers and lead changes, with Washington State surviving a thriller on a late strike from Halliday to Cracraft.
Prediction: Washington State 43 … Rutgers 40
Line: Washington State -8; O/U: 61
Must Watch Factor: 5 Every. Simpsons. Ever. (Up until Part 1 of “Who Shot Mr. Burns?”) – 1 Every. Simpsons. Ever. (Everything after Part 2 of “Who Shot Mr. Burns?") … 3

Jacksonville State (0-0) at Michigan State (0-0) Aug. 29, 7:30

Here's The Deal: The Gamecocks might not be the pushovers Michigan State fans are expecting. One of the FCS’s top teams 77 letterwinners and 18 starters are back on a team that went 11-4 last season and got to the playoff quarterfinals. With a terrific rushing offense and a nasty pass defense, Jacksonville State mirrors Michigan State – sort of. The Spartans can’t look ahead to their massive showdown at Oregon next week, but for a team with Big Ten championship and College Football Playoff expectations, this has to be a layup. Don’t be stunned if it isn’t.
Why Jacksonville State Might Win: The Gamecocks have a Big Ten-caliber quarterback in Max Shortell, a former Minnesota Golden Gopher who combined with running quarterback Eli Jenkins to balance out the attack. Nine starters return on offense including four starters up front and everyone of note for the receiving corps. This is a veteran team that won’t be intimidated by going into East Lansing. This group attacks, attacks, attacks on both sides of the ball.
Why Michigan State Might Win: The Gamecocks can be run on. Teams were able to power away for close to 200 yards a game on the ground and managed to come up with way too many easy third and short opportunities. Michigan State should be able to control the game early with its power ground attack and short-range passing game. As long as the Spartans don’t start screwing up and turning the ball over, they should be fine.
Who To Watch Out For: While Michigan State has one of the best pass rushers in college football in Shilique Calhoun, JSU brings the pressure from all angles generating 52 sacks last year but with no one player needing to do everything. LB Dustin Gaylon was one of the team’s best at getting to the quarterback, but with three starters back up front in the 5-2 alignment, the Gamecocks can bring it from all sides.
What’s Going To Happen: New Jacksonville State head coach John Grass is being thrown into the fire early. His team has the ability to hang around for a little bit – especially if the Michigan State offense isn’t sharp right away – but the power of the Spartans on both lines will be too much. Sparty will run its way to a win.
Prediction: Michigan State 34 … Jacksonville State 3
Line: No Line
Must Watch Factor: (5 Every. Simpsons. Ever. (Up until Part 1 of “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” – 1 Every. Simpsons. Ever. (Everything after Part 2 of “Who Shot Mr. Burns?) … 1.5

- Big Ten Week 1 Fearless Predictions - Part 1 (Wisconsin vs. LSU & More)
- Big Ten Week 1 Fearless Predictions - Part 2 (App St vs. Michigan, UNI vs. Iowa, & More)
- Big Ten Week 1 Fearless Predictions - Part 3 (Ohio State vs. Navy, Cal vs. NW & More)

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