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Fearless predictions: Big Ten rivalry games

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Making predictions before preseason practices kick off is like stopping at Krispy Kreme on the way to the gym. You know you shouldn't do it, but it's so tempting. Keep in mind, a ton of things could change between now and when these games are played, particularly with that team in Ann Arbor. OK, I've covered myself. Sort of. We looked at the Big Ten's top five most bitter rivalries on Hater Tuesday. Now, let's look at who will win those games.

1. Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 22 -- Rich Rodriguez will have Michigan on track by this point, and the Wolverines could do some serious damage after Oct. 4. This game will be closer than people think, a sign of things to come in this rivalry with Rodriguez coaching Michigan. But Ohio State's defense will be too much for the Wolverines, and Beanie Wells eventually will wear down a talented Michigan defensive front. A special-teams touchdown or a touchdown off a turnover could seal it for the Buckeyes. Prediction: Ohio State 24, Michigan 17

2. Michigan State at Michigan, Oct. 25 -- If Michigan State ever plans on beating Michigan again, this would be the year to do so. The Spartans have lost six straight in the series, four by eight points or fewer, but they return the more experienced team in Mark Dantonio's second year. With a senior offensive backfield (Javon Ringer and Brian Hoyer) and a defense adjusted to Dantonio's demands, all signs point to a Michigan State win. But Michigan will have things together by this point in the season, and the Wolverines' defense will limit damage, setting up a dramatic fourth quarter. This could go either way, but Michigan breaks Sparty's heart again. Prediction: Michigan 28, Michigan State 27

3. Ohio State at Illinois, Nov. 15 -- This is quickly becoming one of the Big Ten's must-see games. Ron Zook's recruiting has put Illinois' talent relatively on par with Ohio State's, and the Illini match up well with the Buckeyes. Ohio State's ability to defend the spread offense will be questioned throughout the preseason, and Juice Williams provides a major test in Champaign. But after last year's stunner in Columbus, I can't see Ohio State losing another one to Illinois. Prediction: Ohio State 24, Illinois 21

4. Wisconsin at Iowa, Oct. 18 -- With so much talk about how the spread offense has swept up the Big Ten, I'm always looking for matchups that reflect the league's rock-ribbed roots. This is one of them. Wisconsin's stable of running backs go up against a sturdy Iowa defensive line fortified by tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul. If Iowa figures out its situation at running back by this point, an upset is possible. But I don't see it. Prediction: Wisconsin 27, Iowa 17

5. Minnesota at Wisconsin, Nov. 15 -- Minnesota will be better, especially if a capable running back emerges alongside talented quarterback Adam Weber. But it will take more than a year to fix the Gophers' defense, and P.J. Hill, Zach Brown and John Clay will make them pay. Minnesota stays in this one for a while, but Wisconsin eventually pulls away at home. Prediction: Wisconsin 34, Minnesota 20

Just for good measure, here's one more rivalry that could have made the list ...

Penn State at Ohio State, Oct. 25 -- The more I research Penn State, the more I think the Lions will have a solid season, making the decision about Joe Paterno's future even more difficult. The problem here is the game's location. Penn State hasn't scored more than 10 points in any of its last seven trips to Ohio Stadium. I don't see this year's Buckeyes defense budging much, especially with a new quarterback leading the Lions. Prediction: Ohio State 21, Penn State 10