As usual, I'll be continuing the tradition of a weekly Friday preview of all the action around our beloved conference. Here in the early season it often means 12 games a week, but after nine months without college football I'll take 12 games to watch spread over three days. Also, I'll still be offering my completely blind guesses as to the winners and losers each week.
Last night things already started with Minnesota barely grabbing a win 30-27 in triple overtime at UNLV. This does not bode well for the Golden Gophers. UNLV is generally regarded as one of the worst teams in the country. Still Minnesota won, unlike us at Rice last year:
Minnesota 30, UNLV 27 - 3OT
From The Daily Gopher:
If you didn't watch the game and just looked at the box score this morning, you'd be wondering what all the fuss is about, as Gray completed 17 of 30 for 269 and 2 TD's and one pick. But if you watched it, you did not see the confident, commanding performance we were hoping for from our senior QB. Gray was off most of the night, including overthrowing two guys who were WIDE open for touchdowns, perhaps the most aggregious of which was Andre McDonald in the second half. Not a good start for Q, but thankfully it's only the first game and also thankfully New Hampshire is on the schedule next week. Hopefully a good confidence builder.
Note to Minny: given your history against FCS teams, NO game can be taken for granted.
No 24 Boise State at No. 13 Michigan State 8pm Friday, ESPN
This is a game decided by which new quarterback does the best. It is one of two conference games this week against ranked FBS competition. It should be noted, at TOS notes, that Boise State has never lost a season opener under Chris Peterson. Unlike most teams who play Directional State U., Boise has played Oregon, Virginia Tech, and Georgia to start recent seasons. Only Oregon had the balls to play them in Boise.
Taking over for Kirk Cousins is the highly touted Andrew Maxwell. If it is going to be a special season for MSU he needs to be worth the hype immediately. He has a pretty damn good defense to help him out, but Boise is still Boise. They are a team not afraid to play anyone in the country and they often win while doing so.
This should be a hell of a game tonight. Prediction: Boise State 24, Michigan State 23
Northwestern at Syracuse, Noon, ESPN2
I am not sure why this game in at Syracuse when the Wildcats went to Syracuse in 2009 as well. It must be a renewal of a contract because the Orange traveled to Evanston in 2008.
Sippin' on Purple seems to be pretty confident that both defenses will suck. That means it is up to Kain Colter to take advantage of a defense that, in their words, will be "a little less bad". I can't say that is the most exciting prediction for a season opener, but hey, it's Northwestern.
For the record, Syracuse won 37-34 in 2009 but Northwestern won the previous year 30-10. Syracuse is only 1-7 against the Big Ten since 2000, and one of those losses was a 51-0 beatdown handed out in 2004 by Purdue. Prediction: Northwestern 31, Syracuse 24
Miami (OH) at Ohio State, Noon, Big Ten Network
Ohio State's seven loss season last year was officially the school's worst in almost a century. Now the Buckeyes, who are still extremely one-dimensional, come into a year with no bowl game or conference title to play for. Of the ranked teams in the Big Ten they have the most potential for being a total fraud because they don't understand what the forward pass is.
This should still be a win. Ohio State last lost a game against an in-state school to Oberlin 7-6 in 1921. There have been close calls though, Toledo lost 27-22 after leading most of last year's game. Ohio also pushed them in 2008. Miami is a team that lost a lot of close games a year ago in going 4-8 and was 10-4 in 2010. They'll have to stop the run and force Braxton Miller to throw to have a chance. This is the default plan to beat OSU until it proves Miller can be a reliable passer.
Still, OSU is bigger and stronger. Therefore, they should win easily. Prediction: Ohio State 42, Miami (OH) 10
Ohio at Penn State, Noon, ESPN
It is all about pride in State College, as the Nittany Lions finally get to talk about football after just about the worst offseason possible. As I have mentioned before, the Penn State defense should be good, but they may have to pitch shutouts as the Penn State offense was bad last year before losing its top weapons.
This was a good Ohio team that was 10-4 and played in the MAC title game before winning a bowl game in Boise. The "MAC OVER BIG TEN" upset alert siren will definitely be going off for this one. Tyler Tettleton is a savvy veteran who can slowly move Ohio down the field.
I still give Penn State a slight edge, mostly because they can finally do something not related to last year's scandal. Prediction: Penn State 17, Ohio 14
Western Michigan at Illinois, Noon, ESPNU
(There is no current SB nation Illinois blog. I will pour out liquor for Hail to the Orange)
We all remember Alex Carder and the Broncos from last season's ugly bowl game. I think even I turned the ball over at least once on that night in Detroit. This is another "MAC OVER BIG TEN" upset alert game because I just don't think Illinois is going to be that good. They lost their top defensive stars from a team that was godawful over the second half of last season and beat the worst bowl team ever.
Plus, this is an upset that has already happened once. Western tagged Illinois 23-17 at Ford Field in 2008. They also only lost 23-20 last season in Champaign. Remember: almost every year a MAC team beats a Big Ten team. Sadly, we have been the victim twice recently, but the Big Ten last went unscathed against the MAC in 2007. Prediction: Western Michigan 30, Illinois 24
Southern Miss at No. 17 Nebraska, 3:30, ABC/ESPN2
This is another dangerous game for the Big Ten. Remember, it was Southern miss that derailed Houston's run last season and finished 12-2. Much of the defense is gone, however, so the Cornhuskers are hoping a tradition strong running game will be able to run the ball at will. Southern Miss also has a first-time starter at quarterback.
Nebraska is one of the schools, like Miller at Ohio State, that has a guy at quarterback that can't really throw the ball. It seems to be a new trend. Taylor Martinez is a hell of a runner, but his accuracy could be an equalizer if he turns the ball over with regularity on Saturday. Predicition: Nebraska 27, Southern Miss 17
Northern Iowa at No. 12 Wisconsin, 3:30, Big Ten Network
Northern Iowa is a regular FCS powerhouse that has been known to scare even good Big Ten teams. It wasn't that long ago that Iowa needed two blocked field goals on the final play to beat them. Is it possible that the Badgers are vulnerable to a monumental upset here?
Not likely. Montee Ball and James White should be able to run until they get tired behind an inexperienced, but still massive offensive line. I am pretty sure I could quarterback this Wisconsin team to the Rose Bowl because of that. A lot is made about what Wisconsin lost, but they still do the basic things (Great line play and running the football) that can make you extremely successful regardless of experience. Prediction: Wisconsin 45, Northern Iowa 17
Iowa vs. Northern Illinois at Soldier Field, 3:30, ESPNU
Our Most Hated Rival takes on northern Illinois in a neutral site game that NIU uses to lure teams into a pseudo-home-and-home. The biggest question Iowa faces is what will AIRBHG do next to the Hawkeyes? The next tragedy to befall an Iowa running back may be hysterical pregnancy, malaria, or one will decide to randomly leave the team and go to the Australian Outback on walkabout.
Northern Illinois was an excellent 11-3 teams last year and was a handful of played from being 13-1. Unfortunately, Chandler Harnish is now holding Andrew Luck's clipboard and only two starters return on offense. Nine return on defense that gave up more than 40 points four times and gave up 60 once. Prediciton: Iowa 35, Northern Illinois 20
Eastern Kentucky at Purdue, 3:30, Big Ten Network
We're playing an FCS team at home, so the only way we should lose is if Morgan Burke panics and calls the game due to darkness since we have an obviously insanely late home kickoff time. I want to be confident of this game and this team in general, but I have to admit that warning bells have been going off in my head all week long. We cannot totally dismiss a team that has a history of scaring the bejesus out of FBS teams.
Nearly beating Indiana in Bloomington is one thing. You could get 10 friends and stills core 30 points on that pitiful defense. Nearly beating Kansas State, who almost won the Big 12 is another. The key will be stopping their running game. Do that, and Purdue should cruise. We've got a lot of new faces in new spots, so this is the first chance to see them perform. Prediction: Purdue 38, Eastern Kentucky 17
Indiana State at Indiana, 8pm, Big Ten Network
The mighty Trees of Indiana State have often struggled, as they were on a 2-54 stretch before going 6-5 in each of the last two years. They are light years better than when we faced them in 2006. Shakir Bell is a very dangerous running back that can give a notoriously bad defense fits. The Hoosiers have got to slow him down.
The last time Indiana faced Indiana State the Hoosiers went to a bowl, beating them 55-7 in 2007. This game should be closer. If IU loses the Big Ten needs to relegate them and put them out of their misery. As little respect as I have for IU football, I still trust them to at least win this one. Indiana State is ranked No. 23 in the FCS poll, however, so it's not like they are awful or anything. A win by the Sycamores only gives Indiana fans more time to start stitching banner No. 6 which is allegedly all but guaranteed in early April. Prediction: Indiana 35, Indiana State 21
No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 2 Alabama at JerryWorld, 8pm, ABC
Here it is: the alleged defending National champion vs. the defending Sugar Bowl champ. The SEC monster that is looking to continue the conference dominance over the slow, lumbering Big Ten. Denard Robinson and his dazzling skills against a defense that allowed more than 14 points just once last year, and that was against FCS Georgia Southern. In that 45-21 loss Georgia Southern scored roughly 20% of the points Alabama gave up in 13 games.
That is a beastly defense. Four of those guys were in the first 35 picks of the NFL Draft, however. They still have a wall of an offensive line and a solid running game. Last season they physically beat teams into submission and strangled the life out of them defensively, but they didn't face anyone remotely as dynamic as Robinson. To spring the upset Robinson is going to have to put up Playstation numbers. Prediction: Alabama 24, Michigan 21