This is the final weekend before the official start of the Big Ten conference season. It’s one last chance for teams to shore up deficiencies and tune up their program before the chase for the Rose Bowl starts in earnest.
Last week, the conference went 10-2. Unfortunately, once again the conference was embarrassed in the biggest game of the week. Can the conference repair some of its damaged reputation this week?
No.16 Ohio State vs. UAB 12:00 PM ET
Ohio State is probably the best team in the Big Ten so far this year, especially after Michigan State’s meltdown against Notre Dame last week. The Buckeyes survived a close battle with Cal last week, but prevailed all the same.
UAB is no Cal. They dropped their opener to Troy39-29 and were blasted by USC 49-6 last week. The only hope the Blazers realistically have of winning this game is if Ohio State suffers a catastrophic collapse.
Prediction: Ohio State 38 – UAB 9
Iowa vs. Central Michigan 12:00 PM ET
This game could be a lot closer than it should be. Iowa’s offense has been dreadful, but their defense has bought them enough room to eek out a 2-1 record with wins over Northern Illinois and Northern Iowa.
If only Iowa could pad their season with teams whose names begin with “Northern”…
Central Michigan squeaked out a win over Southeast Missouri State to open their season, but was blasted by Michigan State two weeks ago to the tune of 41-7. Their defense is suspect at best and their offense will find the sledding fairly tough against Iowa’s D – especially in the second half.
The Chippewas can steal a win away from the Hawkeyes if they get an early jump and bury the Hawkeyes deep. I wouldn’t expect that to happen though, unless they find a defense somewhere along the way.
Prediction: Iowa 28 – CMU 17
Wisconsin vs. UTEP 12:00 PM ET
Much is being made of Wisconsin’s offensive woes, and well it should be. The Badgers are night-and-day off of where they were a year ago. QB Danny O’Brien will take a seat this week and redshirt freshman Joel Stave will take over.
If the offensive line can give Stave time to settle into the pocket and deliver some passes, Wisconsin’s offense just might take off. That’s a mighty big “if” though and there’s little assurance Stave will be any better than O’Brien. He’s only had six attempts at throwing the ball and completed just two of those passes.
UTEP comes in with a 1-2 record that includes losses to No.6 Oklahoma and at Ol’ Miss. Their one victory came last week against New Mexico State. The Miner offense has strong potential, but the defense isn’t giving them enough options to win games.
Prediction: Wisconsin 28 – UTEP 10
Penn State vs. Temple 3:30 PM ET
The Nittany Lions picked up a big win last week over Navy. Yeah, it’s just Navy and the Midshipmen haven’t won a game yet this year. Still, after two incredibly tough weeks to start the season, Penn State needed some good news and got it in a 34-7 victory.
The offense is still a hot mess, but the defense is coming around. Will that be enough against an offense averaging 34 points per game?
Something’s going to have to start happening offensively if Penn State is going to even come close to .500 this season. This week, the offense may have an opportunity to work out some of their issues, but the defense may also have its hands full.
Prediction: Penn State 28 – Temple 24
Northwestern vs. South Dakota 3:30 PM ET
The Wildcats are off to a hot start. With wins over Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College, they haven’t exactly beaten BCS-bowl caliber opponents, but they haven’t exactly beaten up on FCS cupcakes either. Remember, Vanderbilt pushed No.7 South Carolina to the very end.
Northwestern’s offense has found a level of balance with RB Venric Mark adding a boost to QB Kain Colter. That dual threat has helped boost their average to 29 points per game. The defense isn’t fantastic, but it’s serviceable and shuts the door on opponents when it has to.
South Dakota will provide the last and easiest warm-up before the Wildcats head into Big Ten play against Indiana next week. A 5-0 start is entirely possible for this crew.
Prediction: Northwestern 38 – South Dakota 13
No.21 Michigan State vs. Eastern Michigan 3:30 PM ET
The Spartans suffered a huge letdown in the biggest game of their early season. No.11 Notre Dame didn’t even have the decency to let them keep it close, spanking Michigan State 20-3.
The defense gave up as many points in that game as they’d given up in the first two weeks combined. The offense moved the ball, putting up 237 yards of total offense, but couldn’t put together scoring drives.
It shouldn’t be so difficult against Eastern Michigan. The Eagles have yet to win a game this season and were thumped by Purdue last week 54-16.
Prediction: Michigan State 48 – Eastern Michigan 17
No.25 Nebraska vs. Idaho State 3:30 PM ET
The Cornhuskers rebounded nicely from their 36-30 loss at UCLA two weeks ago with a 42-13 win over Arkansas State last week. The offense has found new life in the legs of RB Ameer Abdullah, and QB Taylor Martinez is beginning to develop into the true dual-threat quarterback they’d always hoped he would be.
A home date against Wisconsin looms large in their near future and Nebraska would love nothing more than to start off the Big Ten slate with a big win over last year’s conference champs. They can’t look too far forward and forget the team sitting right in front of them.
However, even if that were the case, Idaho State shouldn’t present too big a challenge. While they may have throttled Black Hills State 38-5, they were handled by Air Force 49-21 in the opening week. As long as Nebraska doesn’t completely fall asleep at the wheel, they should be able to pull out a win and head into conference play with some confidence.
Prediction: Nebraska 45 – Idaho State 10
No.18 Michigan at No.11 Notre Dame 7:30 PM ET
This is easily the game of the week in the Big Ten. Notre Dame is coming off a huge win over Michigan State – a win that came more easily than most everyone predicted it would be.
Michigan is coming off a lopsided 63-13 blowout over Massachusetts.
The recent history in this legendary series has gone the way of the Wolverine with Michigan taking the last three in a row. The Fighting Irish have other plans this year though, and just might have the guns to change the flow of the series.
Michigan still has Denard Robinson captivating the headlines and RB Fitzgerald Toussaint has been decent, but this offense has always had trouble with defenses that can lock Robinson in the box. If he can’t move and run, the offense sputters to a halt.
Notre Dame has the 23rd best rushing defense in the nation (statistically speaking), allowing 96.33 yards per game, but the only team they’ve faced this year with a true running quarterback was Navy. That’s not the same as containing Robinson.
The last three games have been shootouts with Michigan sneaking out four-point wins every time. This is a better Irish team than they’ve had the last three years and Michigan appears to have taken a small step backward defensively.
That will be costly this weekend.
Prediction: Notre Dame 34 – Michigan 24
Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech 8:00 PM ET
QB Nathan Scheelhaase should return for the Illini and that should be a welcome change. It’s not that Reilly O’Toole has been bad as a replacement. Quite the opposite, O’Toole has a 79.2 completion percentage and has thrown for six touchdowns in Scheelhaase’s absence.
Scheelhaase has the experience and leadership quality Illinois is going to need when it heads into Big Ten play though.
Perhaps more importantly, the Illini might need that leadership against Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs have scored 56 points in each of their last two games against Houston and Rice. Yes, it’s Houston and Rice, but Illinois can ill afford a letdown before they host Penn State in a week.
The Tech defense hasn’t been very good, giving up 49 points to Houston and 37 to Rice. There will be ample opportunity for the Illini offense to put points on the board. Their defense had better show up though, or this could turn into a real shootout.
Prediction: Illinois 48 – Louisiana Tech 31
Minnesota vs. Syracuse 8:00 PM ET
Even if you knew the schedule ahead of time, would you have expected Minnesota to be one of the last undefeated teams in the Big Ten at any point of the season? That’s exactly where Minnesota finds itself now as one of only three teams in the conference yet to taste defeat.
Syracuse is 1-2 coming into this game, but that doesn’t mean they should be overlooked. They lost a heartbreaker to Northwestern 42-41 (and probably should have won) and kept fighting their way back against USC in a 42-29 loss.
That’s not to say that Syracuse is going to miraculously win the Big East, but Minnesota probably isn’t going to win the Big Ten either. These are two teams fighting for a measure of respect and the Gophers are fighting to keep their unbeaten streak alive and to get a little closer to bowl eligibility before things start getting really tough.
The emergence of sophomore QB Max Shortell will help the Gophers as Marquis Gray battles injuries and as added depth if Gray falters. RB Donnell Kirkwood helps provide balance to the offense, and the defense has been decent – not great, but decent.
The pieces are starting to come together for Jerry Kill and the future looks bright. Beating Syracuse, while not overly sexy, would be another big confidence booster that can propel the Gophers into a solid Big Ten season.
Prediction: Minnesota 28 – Syracuse 23
Until next time, Happy Bowl Hunting!