It's the home stretch of Big Ten play, and Adam Rittenberg already has the champagne on ice. Rittenberg holds a commanding five-game lead against Brian Bennett, who seems likely to suffer the same fate as his beloved St. Louis Cardinals this fall.
There's still time for Bennett to catch up, but he needs to make a major push beginning this week. Fortunately, the Big Ten has a full slate of games, as every team is in action.
Let's get picky ...
NORTHWESTERN at MICHIGAN STATE
Brian Bennett: Both teams have struggled to finish games in the fourth quarter, so which one will do so this week? Northwestern matches up well with the Spartans in a lot of ways, but I just have a hard time believing Michigan State will go winless at home in Big Ten play. The Spartans' outstanding run defense will slow down Kain Colter and Venric Mark, holding them both under 100 yards. Le'Veon Bell scores two touchdowns in perhaps his home finale, including the game winner in the final 90 seconds. ... Michigan State 21, Northwestern 20
Adam Rittenberg: Someone has to finish, and I think it'll be Northwestern. This is a good matchup for the Wildcats, who have moved the ball on just about everyone, including Michigan's stout defense, and do much better against teams with good run games and shaky pass attacks. Mark records 110 rush yards and two touchdowns and S Ibraheim Campbell records an interception down the stretch as Northwestern wards off another late collapse. Michigan State fights hard on senior day, but it's the same old story. ... Northwestern 20, Michigan State 17
IOWA at No. 21 MICHIGAN
Adam Rittenberg: All signs point to a big Michigan win, and like a good driver, I obey the signs. Iowa is a mess right now, and the Hawkeyes don't match up well against Michigan on either side of the ball. Yes, Iowa has a three-game win streak in the series, but that will fuel Michigan's seniors more in their final home game. QB Devin Gardner fires three touchdown passes and racks up 275 pass yards, and Jordan Kovacs records two sacks of James Vandenberg as the Wolverines march on to "Ohio." ... Michigan 38, Iowa 17
Brian Bennett: The Hawkeyes have beaten Michigan three straight times, but they couldn't do much of anything right in the past few weeks. I don't like the way Iowa is trending, and it is going to have a hard time scoring on Michigan's defense. I like Gardner to have a big game here and Denard Robinson to line up at least once at a different position. Big blowout in the season finale at the Big House. ... Michigan 38, Iowa 10
INDIANA at PENN STATE
Brian Bennett: Both teams are dealing with different types of hangovers. One thinks it has been worked over by the refs, while the other knows it was worked over by Wisconsin. I see Indiana bouncing back a bit with a better offensive performance. The Nittany Lions get out to a two-touchdown lead, but Cameron Coffman brings the Hoosiers back in the third quarter with a couple of scoring drives. Ultimately, the Lions win it on a Zach Zwinak touchdown run and a key interception from Adrian Amos. ... Penn State 31, Indiana 23
Adam Rittenberg: It's been a long season and I need some ZZs, as in Zach Zwinak touchdowns. Zwinak goes for 130 rush yards and three scores as Penn State capitalizes on the woeful Hoosiers rushing defense. I also see the Hoosiers hanging in there for a while and getting touchdown receptions from Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes. But Michael Mauti and the Penn State defense buckle down in the second half and the Lions prevail. ... Penn State 34, Indiana 23
MINNESOTA at No. 14 NEBRASKA
Adam Rittenberg: Nebraska has had letdown games at home under Bo Pelini, and this would qualify following a grueling stretch against Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State. But the Huskers can taste a Big Ten title, and they'll respond well against a Gophers team that should play loose after getting bowl-eligible. Minnesota jumps ahead behind a Donnell Kirkwood touchdown run, but the Huskers are once again too much in the second half as RB Ameer Abdullah and QB Taylor Martinez combine for 225 rush yards and four touchdowns. ... Nebraska 33, Minnesota 20
Brian Bennett: Here's the biggest upset pick of the week -- Nebraska won't need a second-half comeback. The Legends Division title is too close now for the Huskers to mess up, and they will overwhelm the Gophers on senior day. Martinez and Abdullah both eclipse 100 yards on the ground, and Rex Burkhead gets a ceremonial carry in his final game at Memorial Stadium. ... Nebraska 37, Minnesota 16
OHIO STATE at WISCONSIN
Brian Bennett: The Badgers looked ridiculously good last week in rushing for 564 yards at Indiana, but the Buckeyes are not the Hoosiers. They will bring safeties down into the box and make Curt Phillips beat them over the top. He'll find Jared Abbrederis a couple of times for big plays but will also get picked off by Travis Howard and Bradley Roby. Meanwhile, Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde have fresh legs after the bye week and combine for four touchdowns. ... Ohio State 28, Wisconsin 25
Adam Rittenberg: I seriously considered picking Wisconsin, perhaps putting some faith in the Vegas oddsmakers, who favored the Badgers. But the Buckeyes twice have burned me when I've lost faith in them. This time, it won't happen. Both Miller and Wisconsin RB Montee Ball turn in big performances, and Ball sets the NCAA career touchdowns record with his second score in the third quarter. But it'll be too much Miller in the fourth quarter, and for the second consecutive year he finds Devin Smith for the game-winning touchdown to beat the Badgers. ... Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 28
PURDUE at ILLINOIS
Adam Rittenberg: I don't know if I've correctly picked a Purdue game in Big Ten play, but the bad luck can't last forever. Illinois will show some life offensively in the first quarter, scoring on a Donovonn Young run. But Purdue settles down behind QB Robert Marve, who fires two more touchdown passes and avoids a turnover. The Boilers take their first lead midway through the second quarter and never look back, scoring a special-teams touchdown in the second half. Illinois' misery continues. ... Purdue 27, Illinois 14
Brian Bennett: Believing Purdue can win two straight games is a dangerous activity. But I'd rather have an inconsistent team capable of playing well than a reliably bad one like Illinois. The Illini have shown some faint signs of competitiveness the past two weeks but still have major problems on the offensive line, which Kawann Short will exploit for three sacks. The Purdue defense scores a touchdown, and Akeem Shavers runs for two more. ... Purdue 24, Illinois 14
Adam Rittenberg: 65-19 (.773)
Brian Bennett: 60-24 (.714)