Sure, it is only Indiana and Minnesota playing in games in which they are heavily favored, but Big Ten football begins anew TONIGHT! Purdue fans can have a keen eye on this week's games because future non-conference opponents Indiana State (at Indiana) and Northern Illinois (at Iowa) play Big Ten opponents. Only Notre Dame is not in action against a Big Ten team, as they host Temple.
Will the conference get a 12-0 week? The league should have little trouble in about nine of the games. Purdue has a tough game at Cincinnati as the most likely loss to be honest. Iowa-NIU, Northwestern-Cal, and sadly Southern Illinois-Illinois could all be close.
As a reminder, tomorrow from 11:30am-1:30pm on Monument Circle we have the Boilermaker Circle Tailgate. I think I may even try to attend.
Let's kick it off tonight!
Indiana State (0-0) at Indiana (0-0) 7pm Big Ten Network
Our first taste of Big Ten football this year is the Hoosiers, who are expected to have an excellent offense. In fact, the offense is good enough that even if the defense can get to mediocre IU can win a lot of football games. The only thing that may derail it would be a Hope-like quarterback controversy.
Well, that aside, this is not the automatic win it is for most Big Ten teams over FCS teams. Indiana State has Shakir Bell, who ran for 192 yards last season as the Sycamores made IU sweat out a 24-17 win. The Trees are under a new coach, but this is a team that has come a very long way. Indiana should win, but the Trees will probably stick around for at least a half tonight. Indiana 38, Indiana State 21
UNLV (0-0) at Minnesota (0-0) 7pm Big Ten Network
The Golden Gophers have themselves a pretty easy home opener tonight. It is probably easier than Indiana State having Indiana. UNLV has won only six games in the last three seasons combined and are expected to be among the worst teams at the FBS level this year. Minnesota nearly crapped out in Vegas last year, winning only 30-27 after Goldie nearly lost the "Golden" from Golden Gophers while playing craps at the Palms. UNLV went on to beat only Air Force and New Mexico with a loss to FCS Northern Arizona.
How bad is UNLV? They lost 59-7 at Washington State in 2010, and Wazzu is awful. That same year they lost 41-14 to FCS level Southern Utah. Phillip Nelson put Purdue in a full Nelson last year in Minneapolis and he should start 2013 with a nice game. Minnesota 45, UNLV 10
Western Michigan (0-0) at Michigan State (0-0) 8pm Big Ten Network
Wasn't it just two years ago that Western Michigan had a prolific offense that made a bowl game and looked to have one of the next great MAC quarterbacks? Last year they crashed down to 4-8 and they are working under a new coach after Bill Cubit headed to Champaign to be Illinois' offensive coordinator. Last season their offense was okay, but the defense was pretty bad.
The Spartans finally settled on a quarterback and went with Andrew Maxwell, who started a good portion of last season. At one point this fall they had listed no less than FOUR quarterbacks at the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, a plan so audacious it made me wonder if Gary Nord had landed on his feet on an East Lansing practice field.
Michigan State has the opposite problem of Indiana. They have a championship caliber defense but an offense that would have trouble scoring if it were Antonio Cromartie with an NFL groupie. It likely won't matter here, but against Big Ten teams it will be an issue. Michigan State 24, Western Michigan 10
Purdue (0-0) at Cincinnati (0-0) Noon ESPNU
What else can really be said about this game? Purdue is a 10.5 point underdog on the road against a really good team, but has a lot of positive momentum that discipline issues left over after the Hope Era have been cleaned up. I am honestly not sure what to expect. A 200 yard, 3 TD game from Akeem Hunt? Sure. Rob Henry throws four interceptions? Yeah, could happen. Cincinnati wins in a blowout, dashing Purdue's hopes for a quick turnaround? Yeah. Purdue coming out focused, disciplined, and sharp on its way to an easy win and a 9-3 season? Wouldn't shock me.
What I want to see most of all is a competitive team that doesn't make the same mistakes that we dealt with for four years under Danny Hope. I am talking about dumb penalties, missed assignments, missed blocks, and turnovers. That was the biggest struggle for Hope's teams. They always shot themselves in the foot. I want to see a game that is competitive and Purdue at least has a chance to win in the fourth quarter.
I do have a good feeling, however, and I think we're going to surprise some people. Purdue 27, Cincinnati 24
Buffalo (0-0) at No. 2 Ohio State (0-0) Noon ESPN2
Since upsetting an undefeated Ball State team and reaching a bowl game as the MAC champs in 2008 Buffalo has gone 5-7, 2-10, 3-9, and 4-8. The Buckeyes were merely the only undefeated team in the country last season and enter this year expecting to match that feat.
This one will not be pretty, as Braxton miller plays three quarters at most and Ohio State's talented backups get plenty of valuable experience. Ohio State 59, Buffalo 10
Massachusetts (0-0) at Wisconsin (0-0) Noon Big Ten Network
Last season was UMass' first full season at the FBS level and it did not go well. Their 1-11 featured its only victory over fellow 1-11 team Akron in what might have been the worst FBS game played last season. Their home opener was a 45-6 loss to Indiana. Other ugly results were a 63-13 loss at Michigan, 52-14 at Western Michigan, 49-7 at Vanderbilt, and 63-0 at Northern Illinois.
Wisconsin has its own quarterback dilemma. For now, Joel Stave has won the job over Curt Phillips, but that was a battle that last most of last season. Like so many other games, it won't matter this week. The Badgers will hand off to James White and Melvin Gordon and win by a lot while Chris Borland tries not to kill a hapless Minuteman.
Southern Illinois (0-0) at Illinois (0-0) Noon Big Ten Network
If a Big Ten team is going to drop a game to an FCS team this will be the one. The Fighting Illini have been pretty awful since starting the 2011 season 6-0, going a pretty awful 3-16 in their last 19 games. They also lost a lot of decent players on defense and have much of the same punchless offense back.
Fortunately, this is not the same Southern Illinois team that has been a regular in the FCS playoffs. They were 6-5 last year and finished in the middle of a pretty difficult Missouri Valley Conference that sent three teams to the FCS playoffs including eventual champion North Dakota State. The last time these teams met Illinois won 35-3 on its way to a 7-6 season and a bowl win in 2010. For now, Tim Beckman gets a break. Illinois 31, Southern Illinois 13
Central Michigan (0-0) at No. 17 Michigan (0-0) 3:30pm Big Ten Network
Can we please establish a new rule that Central Michigan gets to use Dan Lefevour in perpetuity against any Big Ten team it has to face? I kind of miss that guy because he was a lot of fun to watch. The Chips may have had the No. 1 overall draft pick in April's NFL Draft, but they haven't quite been the same since Lefevour left. They did win the Little Caesar's Bowl last season and had a decent 7-6 record, closing by winning five of their final six games.
It is an old refrain at this point, but Michigan should have little trouble unless Lefevour returns. The Chips lost to Michigan State at home last year 41-7 in the best offensive day of the year for Sparty. The Wolverines are a much better team.
Syracuse (0-0) vs. Penn State (0-0) at East Rutherford, New Jersey 3:30pm ABC
Is this a dangerous game for Penn State? It just might be. Syracuse wants to prove itself to its new conference (the ACC) and they are coming off of an 8-5 season in which they shared the Big East title with three other teams (including Cincinnati). The Orange also won a bowl game and six of their final seven.
The biggest question facing the Nittany Lions is how the sanctions will affect them in year 2. Last season was played with a ton of emption as Penn State willed itself to an 8-4 record after a disappointing 8-2 start. I don't think any team improved more over the course of the year. I really don't know what to think of them this year, so until I see something I am going to assume Bill O'brien is a coach that can get players to eat steel and crap rivets. Penn State 24, Syracuse 21
Northern Illinois (0-0) at Iowa (0-0) 3:30pm Big Ten Network
The MAC ALWAYS manages to get a Big Ten team every year. It is as constant as the tides. Sometimes it comes from expected games, while other times there are big upsets like last year's Central Michigan-over-Iowa game that changed the course of the year for both teams. It sent the Chips to a bowl in the end, while Iowa only won two more times and dropped six in a row to end the year.
As you know, these teams met last year and it was NIU's lone regular season loss. Iowa won 18-17 on a late touchdown from Damon Bullock and Jordan Lynch had not yet become Jordan Lynch. Lynch had only 54 yards passing with 119 rushing. He will be a lot better, while Iowa's offense did something nearly impossible last year. They made Greg Davis look like a worse offensive coordinator than Gary Nord.
There is always the specter of AIRBHG, who is real and must be feared/sated with blood. In short, I don't think the Hawkeyes are going to be good at all this year, and this could be a very long day for them. Northern Illinois 31, Iowa 13
Wyoming (0-0) at Nebraska (0-0) 8pm Big Ten Network
Joe Tiller's old team gets an homage here at the blog as the Cowboys get their return game in after hosting Nebraska two seasons ago. The Cornhuskers took that one 38-14 in their first season in the Big Ten and now look to start a year that does not end in the Capitol One Bowl.
As the conference's new far-flung western outpost we can expect more games against the Mountain West than the MAC for Nebraska. This should also be an easy win for them. Wyoming was another team that lost to an FCS team last year and Nebraska was 10-2 before Montee Ball and Wisconsin trampled them in Indianapolis. Nebraska 45, Wyoming 10
Northwestern (0-0) at California (0-0) 10:30pm ESPN2
Is there anything better than that 10:30pm west coast game when a Big Ten team heads out to Pac-12 territory? We get it twice this year, both at Cal, as the Golden Bears open with the Wildcats before hosting Ohio State later on. Cal famously holds the distinction of having the longest active Rose Bowl drought, having not gone since 1958. Only Arizona, Colorado, and Utah have done worse as teams from the current Big Ten and Pac-12 that have never gone.
Cal has a new coach in Sonny Dykes, who was a possible Purdue target before we landed coach Hazell. They were 3-9 last year but pushed the Buckeyes in Columbus before falling 35-28. Will that be enough to challenge Venric Mark and the Wildcats? Strange things always happen in these games, so don't be surprised if this is closer than most. Northwestern 34, California 27