IlliniPlaybook Picks -- Version 2.0

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 a number Big Ten games, as well as provide insight into other various storylines involving Illinois or from 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...

How we fared last week: The crew got off to a rocky start, thanks to close victories by Michigan State and Northwestern (both failed to cover the spread). Here's to better luck this weekend...

Fletcher: 2-3 - "Hey, does anybody remember that time Taylor picked Michigan to cover against Alabama?"
Ryan: 2-3 - "Strong words from someone who picked Penn State..."
Taylor: 1-4 - "I can only get good trash talk going when I'm winning, but feel free to trash talk me Fletcher. For now!"

Also -- We'd like to invite you into the competition. Post your picks from the following list of games HERE on the premium IlliniPlaybook message board. We'll keep track of the standings and award the winner with two free months of premium content!


Penn State vs. Virginia (-10)

Taylor Rooks
Why: "I see Penn State losing the game by 11, so Virginia will cover the spread."
Fletcher Page
Why: "Last week's game versus Ohio may be the embodiment of the next four years of Penn State football. The team played well in The Opening half, but didn't have the depth to stay in the game. This Penn State team has to play near perfect football and catch some breaks to beat teams in 2012. I don't see that happening this weekend."
Ryan Easterling
Why: "Penn State looked bad against Ohio. Now they have to travel to a Virginia team that's really on the rise. I'm no psychic, but I see an 0-2 start in the Nittany Lions future."


Purdue @ Notre Dame (-14.5)

Taylor Rooks
Why: "Notre Dame will win the game, but will not cover the spread."
Fletcher Page
Why: "Oh, so Notre Dame is back? After drumming Navy the Irish are ranked again and are favored to beat Purdue by double digits. Just like that? Excuse me if I'm not on board yet, but this happens every time Notre Dame wins a game. I picked Purdue as my sleeper team in the Big Ten this year, so I'll take the points."
Ryan Easterling
Why: "Each of these teams lit up the scoreboard in their first week matchup. I think the key here will be the pressure Purdue can get up front. Notre Dame will get the win, but it should be closer than two scores and could turn into a shootout."

Iowa State vs. Iowa (-5)

Taylor Rooks
Fletcher Page
Why: "All I know is, I'm glad I don't have to watch this football game."
Ryan Easterling
Why: "NIU isn't a bad team, but it's a team Iowa should be beating by more than a point. And rivalry games are always a fight. I think Iowa struggles again this week and the Cyclones take one home."

Wisconsin @ Oregon State (+8)

Taylor Rooks
Why: "Two words: Montee Ball."
Fletcher Page
Why: "Two words: Oregon. State. Yuck." Wait...
Ryan Easterling
Why: "Oregon State had last week off, which could be a blessing or a curse. I'm going to go with curse. Northern Iowa stacked the box against Montee Ball, but it's only a matter of time before Ball breaks loose and runs wild. This should be that game."

Nebraska vs. UCLA (+5.5)

Taylor Rooks
Fletcher Page
Why: "I was impressed with Brett Hundley -- UCLA freshman quarterback -- last week. But Nebraska is a different kind of opponent with a much better defense. Huskers by double digits.
Ryan Easterling
Why: "UCLA really put on a show last week, but they really didn't face someone with a defense like Nebraska's. On the other hand, Nebraska had Southern Miss, a much more formidable opponent. "T-Magic" (Taylor Martinez) looked like he got some of his swagger back and got the Huskers rolling."


Vanderbilt @ Northwestern (+3.5)

Taylor Rooks
Fletcher Page
Why: "The helmets and jerseys still say Vanderbilt, but these Commodores sure aren't playing the way we're used to seeing them. Vanderbilt will still probably lose five or six games this year, but the 'Dores going to scare some good teams (like they did against South Carolina last week) and beat some average teams (like Northwestern) this season.
Ryan Easterling
Why: "It probably goes without saying that Vanderbilt was furious following last week's ending against South Carolina. I'd sure hate to be Northwestern this week, because the Commodores are going to take out that frustration on a team that may not even have the lead to squander this week."


Illinois @ Arizona State (-3)

Taylor Rooks
Why: "Arizona State will win and cover the spread. This, of course, is contingent upon which quarterback plays. I think the heat and the time zone change will also play a factor. If the defense plays at its absolute best, Illinois stands a good chance to win, but with uncertainty on offense and at quarterback, I'm picking the Sun Devils."
Fletcher Page
Why: "Thanks to offseason coaching changes, both of these teams are hard to get a read on this early in the season. I like the Illini defense, but there is too much uncertainty on offense -- with or without quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase -- to take Illinois on the road.
Ryan Easterling
Why: "I was conflicted about this one, mainly because of the uncertainty. Even if Scheelhaase plays for Illinois, will he be 100% and if not, how will it affect the team. The spread is 3. Illinois has a new kicker and Sun Devil Stadium is a hostile environment. Illinois defense will play well, but it won't be enough to beat the spread."


This and That

Would you play Nathan Scheelhaase if he were only at 90 percent?


Taylor: "Yes. Nate at 90 percent, in my opinion, gives Illinois the best change to win. Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei are two are quarterbacks that could become dependable as the season progresses, but this is the second week of the season and it's on the road. Nate's experience, even if at 90 percent, prevails."

Fletcher: "Nathan's long-term health is most important, but with Charleston Southern on the schedule next week, Scheelhaase will have two weeks to get ready for a sneaky good Louisiana Tech team. This game against Arizona State is a good chance for Tim Beckman and his staff to make a statement -- I say tape Nathan up good and tight and give him the ball."

Ryan: "I think you have to play Scheelhaase, even if he is only 90 percent. Why? Because Scheelhaase at 90 percent is better than any of your other QBs at 110 percent. It doesn't sound like Scheelhaase's injury is something you don't risk, and even if he ends up a little sore, he should be able to have plenty of time to recover next week when the team plays Charleston Southern.

If Scheelhaase can't play, would you start Miles Osei or Reilly O'Toole? Why?


Taylor: Miles Osei should start. Worse comes to worse, Miles can run the ball. I think that would keep the offense more wide open and with more options. I like O'Toole to progress long-term -- he just needs some polishing.

Fletcher: I'd go with Reilly O'Toole. Starting Osei sounds good in theory because he can run and is such a good athlete. But he spent preseason camp all over the place -- quarterback, wide receiver, running back, special teams and adjunct professor in the biology department (I only made one of those up). I'd go with O'Toole because he's gotten the most reps at quarterback and should be more comfortable with the playbook.

Ryan: O'Toole was the one who went in last weekend when Scheelhaase went down, but in terms of keeping the flow of the offense, I think Osei is the better fit. He's still a dual threat, he's still tough, and his passing has improved significantly from last year.

Do you like the new helmet rule (player has to sit out one play if helmet comes off)? Why?


Taylor: It is definitely annoying, but I think it is a very necessary safety precaution.

Fletcher: I don't really have an opinion, so I'll defer to defensive lineman Akeem Spence: "I don't really care for it because you know me, my helmet is really tight or whatever so it's not coming off much. I think it's a bad rule. I think they should just give them time to snap back it up and play."

Ryan: Both the NFL and NCAA are making a push to improve player safety this year. The rule may seem ridiculous, but this one isn't actually all that bad. Standing in front of Block I at the end of last game, when WMU players lost their helmets on 2-3 consecutive plays, the students chanted: "Wear your chinstrap!" On the other hand, if you ask me about the new kickoff and touchback rules... don't even get me started.


Well, there you have it -- IlliniPlaybook Picks Version 2.0. Check back next week for the results and next installment. And don't forget to make your picks on the message board.


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