Predictions: Big Ten in Week 1

It's prediction time!

The 2012 season kicks off Thursday night -- in Big Ten country, it means Minnesota-UNLV in Vegas -- and your fearless forecasters are ready for another season of brilliance (or buffoonery). Brian Bennett looked nothing like a Big Ten neophyte in 2011, claiming the regular-season and postseason titles. But a new season brings a new opportunity and a chance for Adam Rittenberg to rebound.

We're raising the stakes this season. The loser buys the winner dinner at St. Elmo in Indianapolis during Big Ten championship weekend. The loser also will post a poem on the blog encapsulating the winner's awesomeness.

All 12 Big Ten squads are in action this weekend, so let's get to the picks ...



Brian Bennett: The Gophers win on 21 in Vegas. MarQueis Gray throws for two scores and runs for another to get Year 2 of the Jerry Kill era off to a lively start. ... Minnesota 21, UNLV 17

Adam Rittenberg: Minnesota flexes its muscles on offense and eclipses 30 points for the first time in the Kill era. Gray and the Gophers hope what happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas. ... Minnesota 31, UNLV 23



Adam Rittenberg: Both defenses show up to play, and the team that makes the fewest mistakes prevails on a big stage. Andrew Maxwell delivers a strong second-half performance, and Johnny Adams records an interception in the closing minutes to seal a big win for the Spartans. ... Michigan State 20, Boise State 16

Brian Bennett: It's an old-fashioned slugfest as two stout defenses battle it out against offenses led by rookie starters at quarterback. The Spartans' D is just a little better, and a late Dan Conroy field goal makes the difference. ... Michigan State 17, Boise State 14



Brian Bennett: In one of the most exciting games of the weekend, the Wildcats survive in overtime when Syracuse misses a field goal. Kain Colter throws three touchdown passes. ... Northwestern 33, Syracuse 30 (OT)

Adam Rittenberg: Tough one to predict as Northwestern hasn't lost an opener under Pat Fitzgerald and typically plays well away from home. But it'll take the Wildcats' young secondary some time to get settled, and Ryan Nassib and his receivers will make enough plays to win a shootout. ... Syracuse 35, Northwestern 31


Adam Rittenberg: Penn State rides the emotion of a historic opener to an early lead and then relies on its defense, led by Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, to stay in front. Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton makes some plays in the second half, but the Lions prevail thanks to a fourth-quarter touchdown pass by Matthew McGloin to Allen Robinson. ... Penn State 20, Ohio 13

Brian Bennett: The Nittany Lions trail at halftime, but the defense gets its emotions in check and pitches a shutout in the second half. A late Bill Belton touchdown run seals Bill O'Brien's first victory. ... Penn State 20, Ohio 10


Adam Rittenberg: Illinois' banged-up secondary really concerns me, especially against a good quarterback such as Western Michigan's Alex Carder. But the Illini defensive front seven will do enough to fluster Carder, and running back Josh Ferguson keys a good second-half effort from the offense as Illinois survives. ... Illinois 27, Western Michigan 24

Brian Bennett: Upset special. The Broncos have a star quarterback in Carder and plenty of familiarity with both the Illini -- whom they played tough in Champaign last year -- and former MAC coach Tim Beckman. They spoil Beckman's debut in a shootout. ... Western Michigan 34, Illinois 31


Brian Bennett: A dominating defensive performance highlights the first game of the Urban Meyer era. The Buckeyes get a pick-six and a blocked punt to make up for a so-so offensive showing. ... Ohio State 28, Miami (Ohio) 7

Adam Rittenberg: Braxton Miller connects with three receivers for a touchdown, and Johnathan Hankins keys a strong defensive effort as the Buckeyes roll in Meyer's debut. ... Ohio State 34, Miami (Ohio) 10


Adam Rittenberg: I'm tempted to pick the Huskies, but James Vandenberg will do enough to get Iowa over the hump in an exciting game along the shores of Lake Michigan. Vandenberg eclipses 300 passing yards as the Hawkeyes rally for a win against the defending MAC champs. ... Iowa 31, Northern Illinois 27

Brian Bennett: The Hawkeyes survive a scare at Soldier Field from a game Northern Illinois team. Rookie Greg Garmon has a breakout performance with 80 yards rushing and a long TD, and Iowa needs every bit of it. ... Iowa 23, Northern Illinois 20


Brian Bennett: Danny Hope's alma mater is no match for his current team as the Boilers cruise past their Football Championship Subdivision foe. Raheem Mostert returns a kickoff for a touchdown to break the game open. ... Purdue 35, Eastern Kentucky 13

Adam Rittenberg: The Boilers' defense comes out strong as Ryan Russell sparks a big day from the defensive line. Akeem Shavers rushes for 150 yards as Purdue cruises in its opener. ... Purdue 31, Eastern Kentucky 9


Adam Rittenberg: A more composed Taylor Martinez delivers an efficient passing performance and breaks off a 60-yard touchdown run to spark the Huskers in the second half. Ciante Evans records an interception as Nebraska starts slowly but finishes well. ... Nebraska 35, Southern Miss 17

Brian Bennett: The Huskers avoid a repeat of 2004 with encouraging outings by both the defense and an improved Martinez. The latter completes 65 percent of his passes, and Rex Burkhead runs for 150 yards to usher in the revamped Memorial Stadium in style. ... Nebraska 31, Southern Miss 14


Brian Bennett: The Badgers don't lose at Camp Randall and won't need to sweat much against the FCS Panthers. Montee Ball scores three touchdowns before sitting most of the second half, and Danny O'Brien throws only three incompletions in his Wisconsin debut. ... Wisconsin 42, Northern Iowa 10

Adam Rittenberg: The FCS Panthers are no pushover, and they take an early lead at Camp Randall before Wisconsin takes control. O'Brien has a few early hiccups but settles down, and running backs Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon combine for five rushing touchdowns. ... Wisconsin 38, Northern Iowa 17


Adam Rittenberg: The Hoosiers display a more balanced offense as Tre Roberson throws for two touchdowns and rushes for another. The defense has a few breakdowns but finds itself in the second half as IU pulls away from the Sycamores. ... Indiana 34, Indiana State 20

Brian Bennett: The Hoosiers' passing game shows improvement as Roberson connects with Ted Bolser on a pair of scores. Indiana wins its first game since last September. ... Indiana 27, Indiana State 17

No. 8 MICHIGAN vs. No. 2 ALABAMA (at Arlington, Texas)

Brian Bennett: The Wolverines score first on a Denard Robinson big play, but it's pretty much all Tide after that as Alabama's superiority in the trenches takes over. ... Alabama 27, Michigan 14

Adam Rittenberg: Michigan can't match Alabama at the line of scrimmage as Tide running back Eddie Lacy has a big day on the ground. Robinson briefly rallies the Wolverines in the second half before an interception turns the momentum and Alabama pulls away. ... Alabama 30, Michigan 17