Since there are now 14 Big Ten teams in play and all of them play this weekend some of these early previews are going to have to be split into two parts, lest they get way too long. The first week makes things even more tricky. I can't wait until Friday to do my posts because two teams are playing tonight.
As usual, I'll be offering some basic analysis before thrown down a pick. This year, however, I think I might track my picks to see if it is worth going to Vegas over. Probably not, but I do want to brag if I do something well.
It all kicks off tonight in Minneapolis with Goldy
Eastern Illinois (0-0) at Minnesota (0-0) 7pm, BTN
Normally I say that no Big Ten team ever has a valid excuse for losing to an FCS team, but the Golden Gophers like to buck that trend. They have done it three times (North Dakota State 2007 and 2011, South Dakota 2010) and it has almost happened in 2006 and 2009. No one in the Big Ten struggles against the FCS like Minnesota, and this could be a struggle. The Gophers are a 14 point favorite, but EIU made the FCS semifinals last season and are ranked 11th in the preseason FCS poll.
That at least makes this a game worth taking a look at. Minnesota is a relatively one-dimensional offense focused on the ground and EIU likes to pass the ball a bit. That seems to favor Minnesota, as running teams use up more time than passing teams. EIU might be able to keep things close for a little while, however, and that is when the Gopher fans will be uncomfortable. Minnesota 31, Eastern Illinois 21
Rutgers (0-0) at Washington State (0-0) 10pm, Fox Sports 1
It is the first time the Scarlet Knights take the field as a Big Ten member and they will do so against the conference that is probably the biggest rival to us in the country. You had better take this seriously, Rutgers. We have this thing with the Pac-12 called the Rose Bowl and it has been pretty important for decades. We like to think that the occasional regular season games with a Pac-12 program are Rose Bowl previews, so it is a bit of a big deal.
What Rutgers gets is a game with the Dread Pirate Mike Leach, whose wide-open passing attack makes Joe Tiller's early offenses look as antiquated as the wishbone. How much did Washington State pass last year? They were the only team with a worse running game than Purdue, but they still won six games and went to a bowl game. They also put a big scare into Auburn at Auburn to start the season, so this team is on the rise. Connor Halliday even broke Drew Brees' single-game record for pass attempts last year when he threw 89 times against Oregon. Washington State 35, Rutgers 21
Jacksonville State (0-0) at No. 8 Michigan State (0-0) 7:30pm, BTN
Here is another FCS matchup, and Jacksonville State is not entirely a pushover. They recently did go to Mississippi and beat the Rebels, but that Mississippi team and this Michigan State team are pretty far apart. Jacksonville State enters the season ranked 8th in the FCS, so they aren't a bad ballclub. If the Michigan State offense, which historically starts slow, bogs down this could get interesting. Remember: Western Michigan and Purdue, both 1-11 last year, didn't exactly get blown out in East Lansing.
Still, I like this Michigan State team. They are really, really damn good defensively and can pretty much bludgeon you to death. They also have an excellent running back and one of the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten. The Spartans absolutely should win this one with ease. Michigan State 45, Jacksonville State 10
Penn State (0-0) vs. Central Florida (0-0) at Dublin, Ireland, 8:30am, ESPN2
This is a bit of a strange one, as it was supposed to be the Orlando game of a home-and-home but the Knights moved it to Croake Park in Dublin. It is not a bowl trip for Penn State, as they are still banned through next season, but it is a nice unique trip for Penn State in the middle of their exile from the NCAA.
It will not be an easy trip though. Even without Blake Bortles the Knights spoiled Louisville's party last year and won the American. It resulted in a Fiesta Bowl berth and another big win over Baylor to complete a very impressive 12-1 season. They are just outside of the rankings heading into the season and still have a decent amount from last year. They already beat Penn State in Happy Valley too. Central Florida 20, Penn State 17
Indiana State (0-0) at Indiana (0-0) Noon, ESPNews
This is the third straight season in which the Hoosiers have opened at home against the Mighty Trees, and the games the last two years were pretty much opposites. In 2012 IU barely survived 24-17 despite a big game by Shakir Bell. Last year Bell got injured (and it was probably a good thing for Purdue, as if he plays, they beat Purdue), and IU rolled 73-35.
It was a precursor of things to come for IU. Their offense was unstoppable, and their defense made teams unstoppable. The Trees are still pretty awful though. Their brief flirtation with respectability under Trent Miles seems to have ended when he left the program. They are back to being one of the worst FCS teams in the country, so this should be a very easy victory for IU. Indiana 59, Indiana State 17
Northern Iowa (0-0) at Iowa (0-0) Noon, BTN
Northern Iowa is a perennially decent FCS team that has been known to put a scare into Iowa or Iowa State from time to time. In 2009 the Hawkeyes needed two blocked kicks in the final seconds to win 17-16. This year UNI is ranked 15th in the FCS preseason while Iowa is receiving votes in both of the FBS level polls.
The eye on this Iowa team is that it is more of a typical Ferentz team. They are a dark horse to win the west with a strong defense and an efficient, but not exciting offense. Northern Iowa did beat an FBS team last season when they won at Iowa State despite only finishing 7-5 overall. If Iowa starts slowly this could be an upset candidate early Saturday afternoon. Iowa 24, Northern Iowa 17
Appalachian State (0-0) at Michigan (0-0) Noon, ESPN2
As a blogger I am required to show this:
It was the first game ever on Big Ten Network, and now that Appy State has moved up to the FBS level Michigan is going for a rematch. If they were to lose again I think they should be required to have a return game in Boone.
This is not the same Appalachian State team that shocked the college football world seven years ago. They redshirted several talented freshmen last year in anticipation of the move up to the FBS level, but they are still freshmen. The Wolverines have major concerns about their running game and offensive line, so if they were to somehow lose this game we'll have to make sure Juan survives what will undoubtedly be a full-fledged panic in Ann Arbor.
Fortunately, he will be in West Lafayette away from the chaos if and when it starts. Michigan 24, Appalachian State 10