IlliniPlaybook Picks -- Version 1.0

Follow along each week as the staff at IlliinPlaybook give picks for the upcoming slate of games.

Each week the IlliniPlaybook staff will provide picks for five Big Ten games, as well as provide insight into other various storylines around the nation. Keep in mind, we're picking against the spread, which should make things interesting as we check the scores each Saturday. We'll keep track of the standings and declare a winner in December... Stay tuned...

Michigan State (-7) vs. Boise State

Taylor Rooks
Why: "In terms of homefield advantage, from what I hear, East Lansing is one of the loudest and most fan heavy football arenas to play in. Paired with the pressure of Spartan DE William Gholston and Boise State adapting to a new quarterback - it is hard to see the Bronco's taking this win."
Fletcher Page
Ryan Easterling

Northwestern (-2.5) @ Syracuse

Taylor Rooks
Fletcher Page
Why: "I recently asked a good friend of mine who attended Syracuse if he had any insight on this game. He said: "No real insight other than 'Cuse is going to be awful this year."
Ryan Easterling
Why: "Northwestern has to replace Dan Persa at quarterback, but with Kain Colter already having valuable experience from last year, and the Wildcats coming off of a bowl bid, I think they handle Syracuse in their opener."

Penn State (-6) vs. Ohio

Taylor Rooks
Why: "This will be a good chance for the Nittany Lions to shift focus from the events of the offseason to the events on the field. Granted, the team is unstable and dealing with numerous roster and position changes, I think Penn State will win the game, but lose the spread. Penn State lost their top receiver and their top running back. Outside of the quarterback, the player that had the most touchdowns was fullback Micheal Zordich...and he only had two. Yikes. If the roster was untampered, they would win the game by at least two touchdowns. However, look for a good show, and a number of decent drives from Ohio QB Tyler Tettleton."
Fletcher Page
Why: "I know Ohio is the favorite to win the MAC this season and is a trendy pick to upset Penn State in the season opener. While I'm cautious about the pick for obvious reasons, I think Penn State will come out eager to prove the team is ready to move on from the recent, terrible revelations of the past 10 months. I have the Nittany Lions winning by two scores."
Ryan Easterling

Alabama (-14) vs. Michigan (in Arlington, Texas)

Taylor Rooks
Why: " Alabama will win the game, but will not cover the spread. I feel like 14 points may be a little bit of a stretch for the first game."
Fletcher Page
Ryan Easterling
Why: "Michigan should make this one interesting, but if there's one defense in the country that can be a problem for Denard Robinson, it's Alabama. I think Bama takes this one, especially without having to face the environment at the Big House."."

Illinois (-10) vs. Western Michigan

Taylor Rooks
Why: "I think Nate Scheelhaase is developing good chemistry with his offense, and I am looking forward to a big game from Darius Millines and Josh Ferguson. With such a strong defense, I don't see Illinois allowing WMU to score more than two touchdowns. But the Fighting Illini barely defeated Western Michigan last year, so I am going to pick Illinois to win the game, but not to cover the spread."
Fletcher Page
Why: "I know last year's game was close, but I like the Illinois defense to hold the Western Michigan attack down. If weather plays a factor, I like the Ilini running game to take command. Illinois wins by 14.
Ryan Easterling
Why: "Let's be honest, the last few games against Western Michigan have all been close. I think Illinois comes out with the win in the end on some big defensive plays, but WMU will get their points."

Season Superlatives

Big Ten Champion:

Taylor: Wisconsin
Fletcher: Michigan State
Ryan: Wisconsin
Big Ten Sleeper:
Taylor: Purdue
Fletcher: Purdue
Ryan: Nebraska
Surprise team from around the nation:
Taylor: North Carolina State
Fletcher: Utah
Ryan: Louisville

National Title Game:

Taylor: Southern Cal over Alabama
Fletcher: LSU over Oregon
Ryan: Southern Cal over Alabama
Heisman Winner:
Taylor: Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson
Fletcher: Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley
Ryan: Wisconsin running back Montee Ball

Illini Predictions

Most Important Overall Player:

Taylor: Wide receiver Darius Millines

Why: If he wasn't injured last season, Millines would have been the "A.J. Jenkins." How's that for a bold statement? He had an outstanding game against Arkansas State that left Illinois fans with a glimpse of what he could do when healthy. He almost has the speed of Ryan Lankford and the hands of Spencer Harris making him the complete receiver.

Fletcher: Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase
Why: It's an easy pick -- but it's the right one. Good quarterback play can make all the difference. With Scheelhaase entering his third season as the starter, he should take his game to another level. He needs to limit turnovers and use his dual threat abilities to help lead a wide-open offensive attack.

Ryan: Scheelhaase
Why: Yes, I know, Scheelhaase is a really lazy pick, but everything runs through him. How will he adapt to a more pass-heavy offense and will he be able to stay sharp all season and not wear down after the halfway point?

Most Important Offensive Player:
Taylor: Running back Josh Ferguson

Fletcher: Offensive linemen Graham Pocic

Ryan: Tight end Jon Davis
Why: The Illinois WR corps is thin at best this year. Davis will be counted on not only as a blocker, but also as a rusher and a pass-catcher. It's important that he makes some plays this year to take the heat off of his offensive teammates.

Most Important Defensive Player:

Taylor: Defensive end Michael Buchanan

Fletcher: Linebacker Jonathan Brown
Why:: I'm tempted to put Akeem Spence here, but the lack of depth at linebacker makes Brown the smarter choice. The defense will need Brown's tackling -- and also for him to stay healthy.

Ryan: Defensive tackle Akeem Spence (pictured)

Breakout Player:
Taylor: Wide receiver Justin Hardee
Why: Hardee made outstanding catches in camp and is a sleeper in this offense. Expect big things, especially for a player who just switched to offense and is a freshman.

Fletcher: Running back Josh Ferguson

Ryan: Safety Earnest Thomas

Well there you have it -- IlliniPlaybook Picks, Version 1.0. Check back next week as we post the results/standings and the next set of predictions.

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