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Big Ten Week 6 predictions

Austin Ward scored an 8-1 week and moves into a tie with Mitch Sherman for the top record overall. Not as many games this week, but Michigan once again divides our experts. On to the picks ...

Why Michigan State will win: Improvement was expected all along on offense, but seeing the Spartans on top of the league in scoring at this point still qualifies as a surprise. Connor Cook’s development at quarterback makes Michigan State even more dangerous than it was a year ago, when it won the Big Ten relying heavily on its defense, and the roster looks capable of winning either a slugfest or a shootout. Heisman Trophy candidate Ameer Abdullah might be able to make this one the latter, but the Spartans are the most talented team in the league, their playoff hopes are on the line and they’re at home. That’s too much to overcome for the Huskers. Michigan State 34, Nebraska 24. -- Austin Ward

Why Nebraska could win: The Huskers, under Bo Pelini, usually find a way to match up well with Michigan State because the Spartans, especially on defense, coach with a mindset similar to the Nebraska style. MSU lost to Nebraska in 2011 and 2012 and beat the Huskers 41-28 last year, with help from five Nebraska turnovers. Such understanding helps the Huskers find weaknesses. There’s no doubt Nebraska will attempt to establish the running game. Likely, though, it’ll need help from quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. to extend the field -- his strength in the passing game. If it works, Nebraska can eat clock and play keep-away from Cook. -- Mitch Sherman

Why Rutgers will win: Well, first things first: Have you seen Michigan play lately? The program is in total disarray behind the scenes, and the Wolverines haven't shown that they can beat -- or even compete credibly with -- any team with a pulse. Plus, Rutgers has had a terrific pass rush this season, which should frighten the bejeezus out of Devin Gardner given the state of the maize and blue offensive line. Michigan's defense will keep it in the game, and Gary Nova has to make sure he doesn't play Rutgers out of the game. But no sane person can possibly pick the Wolverines with any confidence right now. Rutgers 21, Michigan 14 -- Brian Bennett

Why Michigan will win: Of course the resident contrarian is going with the Maize and Blue. Rutgers sees all the turmoil at Michigan and clearly will overlook the Wolverines (now there's a sentence that has never been typed). In all seriousness though, Michigan can't be done this early, can it? A loss in Piscataway, New Jersey, effectively ends the season for the Wolverines, who have yet to lose in the East Division and still can hope for a stunning turnaround. I expect a big night from Frank Clark, Blake Countess, possibly New Jersey native Jabrill Peppers and the Wolverines' defense, which records two pick-sixes against Nova. Gardner avoids the turnover bug and leads two field goal drives as Michigan prevails in Piscataway. Michigan 20, Rutgers 17 -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Purdue will win: I just can't shake the idea that Darrell Hazell can push his Boilermakers to at least one conference win this season. The Illini (or Northwestern on Nov. 22) might be their best chance. Illinois ranks 109th nationally with 11 turnovers at the end of September. A couple more on Saturday could give Purdue the opportunities it needs to stay close and pull out a big win. If that doesn't sell you, Jim Cornelison of Chicago Blackhawks anthem fame will be singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before kickoff. Something interesting is bound to follow. Purdue 26, Illinois 24. -- Dan Murphy

Why Illinois will win: Neither team is particularly good, but Illinois shouldn't struggle putting up points in this game. Quarterback Wes Lunt, tailback Josh Ferguson and wideout Geronimo Allison combine to form one of the more underrated trios in the Big Ten, and Purdue's defense gave up 72 points to the directional Michigans. As for Purdue's offense? Well, Hazell still isn't quite sure who's going to start at quarterback Saturday. It won't matter; Illinois pulls away in the second half. Illinois 35, Purdue 21. -- Josh Moyer

The other unanimous selections

Ohio State 42, Maryland 30: Maryland's first-ever Big Ten home game is a doozy as the Buckeyes come to town. The Terrapins are strongest where Ohio State is weakest, with their electric receivers capable of causing all sorts of trouble for Chris Ash's still wobbly pass defense. Expect lots of fireworks, but in the end a rapidly improving Buckeyes offense has too much speed for Maryland to handle.

Wisconsin 28, Northwestern 17: Wisconsin hasn't won in Evanston, Illinois, since 1999, and the Wildcats are riding a sudden urge of confidence after knocking off Penn State on the road last week. Tanner McEvoy will have to be sharp, but the combination of the Badgers' defense and Melvin Gordon will rule the day.

Indiana 31, North Texas 24: Indiana can beat almost anybody if its offense is clicking (see: Missouri) and lose to just about anyone because of its defense (see: Bowling Green). Still, the Hoosiers should bounce back against the Mean Green.

Our records:

Mitch Sherman: 47-12 (.797)

Austin Ward: 47-12 (.797)

Brian Bennett: 46-13 (.779)

Adam Rittenberg: 46-13 (.779)

Dan Murphy: 16-6 (.727)

Josh Moyer: 42-17 (.712)