Nadkarni: Week Five picks

Rohan Nadkarni

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After last week’s picks debacle, I considered giving up the craft of sportswriting completely. My two upset picks failed me, (thanks Michigan and Ohio State), and for all my jokes about the Dakotas, North Dakota put the hurt on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. This week, I hope to improve on my record from last week. I gave deep thought to pulling a George Costanza from season five of Seinfeld, and picking every game as the opposite of my original instinct. After all, if your original instinct is always wrong, then the opposite must be right. However, all was not lost last week, and I still managed a winning record. So here we go again, without much further ado, my original instinct picks for Week 5. (Predicted winner in CAPS.)

MICHIGAN at Minnesota

Last week, Denard Robinson did not play a stellar game against San Diego State, but the Wolverines nonetheless won the game 28-7. Robinson completed less than 50 percent of his passes for the second week in a row and threw two interceptions with no touchdowns. Although I’m still not sold on Robinson, I’m even more worried about Minnesota. Perhaps I put too much stock in their Week 1 near-victory at USC, since last week the Golden Gophers fell at home to North Dakota State. To make matters worse, Minnesota coach Jerry Kill reportedly suffered another seizure this past Sunday, and his status for this weekend’s game is unclear. I expect the Wolverines to earn another victory and improve to 5-0 on the year, but I’m still skeptical of Robinson.

MICHIGAN STATE at Ohio State

Against Colorado, Ohio State shut up the media (okay they shut me up) by erasing any doubt of an upset, thoroughly defeating the Buffaloes. This week, Ohio State faces a tougher opponent in conference rival Michigan State. The Spartans took care of business last week by spanking Central Michigan, a nice rebound from a tough loss to Notre Dame. Although the Buckeyes rallied in front of their home crowd last week, I still don’t have much faith in their offense. I keep looking back to the Miami game, when Ohio State could barely manage six points against a Hurricanes defense that collapsed against Kansas State. The Buckeyes are currently employing a two-quarterback system, mainly because they don’t really have one good player to start at the position. Michigan State enters this game with much more on the line than Colorado did last week. With Luke Fickell facing his first tough Big Ten matchup as head coach, I think the experience and stability of the Spartans gives them an edge at The Horseshoe.

PENN STATE at Indiana

Penn State’s offense finally came to life after lying dormant the past couple weeks, scoring 34 points against Eastern Michigan. Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno coached the second half of the game from the press box, after initially starting on the sidelines. Paterno’s health may be an issue (he reportedly moved up after feeling pain), but the Hoosiers still do not pose much of a threat to Penn State. The Nittany Lions are the better team, and as opposed to Ohio State, their dual quarterback system is the result of having two talented players at one position, in Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden, although McGloin has been the more consistent performer of the two. Penn State should be concerned about Paterno’s health going forward, but in their initial Big Ten test, the Nittany Lions will handle the Hoosiers.

NOTRE DAME at Purdue

Ah, the Boilermakers. Purdue is kind of like your cousin who’s not as smart or good looking as you. Sure they mean well, they study hard and wear makeup, but you still end up feeling bad for them. I feel kind of bad for Purdue, yeah they’re in the Big Ten, but will they ever rise to prominence? Notre Dame’s season started rough, as it lost two very winnable games. The Fighting Irish outgained USF by a boatload in their Week 1 matchup, but were sunk by turnovers. In Week 2, the Fighting Irish lost an all-time classic to Michigan, but they couldn’t hold onto a lead they took with 30 seconds remaining. But ever since Tommy Rees took over as the starting quarterback against the Wolverines, Notre Dame has looked much more like the preseason BCS bowl contender it was supposed to be. The Fighting Irish soundly defeated Michigan State in East Lansing, and although they struggled against Pitt last week, I like how Rees commands the offense. This week, as Rees gets more comfortable, and Brian Kelly settles down after the rocky start, I expect Notre Dame to put together an all-around game against Purdue. The Irish had no problem with a tough Big Ten opponent in the Spartans, and Rees and Kelly will take their talents to East Lafayette this weekend and have no problem with the Boilermakers.

Nebraska at WISCONSIN

Things are starting to heat up in the Big Ten. In a potential preview of the conference championship game, undefeated behemoths Nebraska and Wisconsin square off this week. Both teams have played their fair share of cupcakes over the first few weeks of the season, but their sheer dominance in each game proves that the Cornhuskers and Badgers have some firepower. This game is extremely tough to call (DUH) because not only are both teams undefeated, but this is not a traditional Big Ten matchup, with Nebraska in the midst of its first year in the conference. In big games like these, it comes down to who’s more clutch in tight situations. When I compare the quarterbacks, I give the edge to Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson over Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez. WIlson is currently second in the nation in passer rating, and his ability to throw and run gives him an edge over Martinez. Although Martinez is also a dual-threat quarterback, his passing skills are not as polished as Wilson’s. Some of the intangibles also go the way of the Badgers. As the first Big Ten team to face its new member, I don’t think Wisconsin can afford to lose this game. Although that motivation enters on both sides. the Badgers have a little more at stake, as they seek to avoid going down in the history books as the first new Big Ten loser against the Cornhuskers. Wisconsin’s homefield advantage should also come into play. In an evenly contested match such as this one, those crazy fans in Madison (beautiful name) should help rattle Martinez. The game will probably start off slow as the two teams feel each other out, but the offenses will click by the second half, and the Badgers should win an exciting, close contest against Nebraska.

NORTHWESTERN at Illinois

Call me a homer. Go ahead, do it, but I sincerely think the Wildcats will win this game. Northwestern has had two weeks to prepare for its biggest rival, Illinois. Along with an extra week of preparation, returning to the Cats this week is All-Big Ten quarterback, Dan Persa. I think this game will set the tone for the rest of the season. Coach Pat Fitzgerald, who is on the hook for not successfully adjusting the defense to Army’s option game two weeks ago, has had ample time to devise a strong gameplan for quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and the Fighting Illini. Persa, who before this season was a Heisman hopeful (very, very hopeful), finally makes his return from an Achilles injury that sidelined him from the end of last season through the first three games of this season. The outcome of this game rests on the quarterbacks. Scheelhaase has played well the last couple weeks, but Persa is the more talented passer. Against Army, the Cats defense wasn’t just filled with holes, it literally looked like it had one giant hole. Army dominated the point of attack, ran the ball hard and controlled the clock. With that memory fresh in their minds, the Cats defense should put up a much more inspired effort against their in-state rival. A few years ago, ABC used to run commercials for the NBA Finals with the tagline, ‘This is where legends are born.’ Well, legends will be born in this game. Fitzgerald, Persa and the rest of the Cats can start their trek toward the ultimate Big Ten prize, or stumble for the second straight year in a row against one of their mo
st hated rivals. Either way, this game should tell us a lot more about Northwestern than just whether or not they can beat Illinois.

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