- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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It has been a long wait, but the 2013 season is less than two months away. To get you geared up, we're taking a closer look at the list of nonconference opponents on each Big Ten team's slate this fall.
Purdue is next.
Cincinnati, Aug. 31 (road)
Coach: Tommy Tuberville (0-0, first year; 130–77 overall in FBS)
2012 record: 10-3, 5-2 Big East
Offensive headliner: Quarterback Brendon Kay still has to secure the starting job after replacing Munchie Legaux down the stretch in 2012, but he passed for 1,298 yards with 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions, completing 63 percent of his attempts. Kay also sparkled in the spring game with three touchdown passes.
Defensive headliner: Senior linebacker Greg Blair earned All-Big East honors in 2012 after leading Cincinnati in both total tackles (138) and tackles for loss (9). Blair added two interceptions, two forced fumbles, six pass breakups, 2.5 sacks and four quarterback hurries.
The skinny: Cincinnati is in a historic stretch of 10 or more wins in five of the past six seasons, including each of the past two. But like Purdue, the Bearcats are going through coaching transition as Tuberville takes command. The quarterback competition is an intriguing story to watch, but Cincinnati brings back enough firepower on both sides of the ball to have another good year.
Indiana State, Sept. 7 (home)
Coach: Mike Sanford (0-0, first year; 16-43 overall in FBS)
2012 record: 7-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley
Offensive headliner: Running back Shakir Bell earned third-team AP All-America honors after rushing for 1,475 yards and 11 touchdowns last fall. He finished sixth in the FCS in rushing and recorded seven 100-yard rushing performances.
Defensive headliner: Cornerback Calvin Burnett is a back-to-back all-conference selection who recorded four interceptions, eight pass breakups and 60 tackles, including two for loss and a sack. He also averaged 15.6 yards on five punt return attempts.
The skinny: Indiana State has transformed its program in recent years, although the loss of head coach Trent Miles to Georgia State stings. Sanford struggled mightily as UNLV's head coach and then as Louisville's offensive coordinator before rebounding as an assistant at Utah State under current Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen. Bell is a huge weapon for the Sycamores' offense, but Indiana State must replace six starters on defense from the 2012 team.
Notre Dame, Sept. 14 (home)
Coach: Brian Kelly (28-11, fourth year)
2012 record: 12-1 (lost in BCS National Championship Game)
Offensive headliner: Notre Dame loses most of its offensive firepower to the NFL or to suspension (QB Everett Golson), but top wide receiver TJ Jones returns after tying for the team lead in receptions (50) and touchdown receptions (4). Jones averaged 13 yards per reception in 2012.
Defensive headliner: With Manti Te'o gone, junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt likely becomes the star of the defense. Last year, he had 12 sacks and three forced fumbles.
The skinny: It has been a rough offseason for Notre Dame since getting dominated by Alabama in the BCS title game. The Irish once again will turn to Tommy Rees at quarterback after Golson was suspended for academic reasons. Notre Dame's defense includes several future pros and should be among the nation's best. The Irish have won five straight against Purdue and seven of the teams' past eight meetings.
Northern Illinois, Sept. 28 (home)
Coach: Rod Carey (0-1, first full year as head coach)
2012 record: 12-2, 8-0 in MAC (lost to Florida State in Orange Bowl)
Offensive headliner: Quarterback Jordan Lynch finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting after setting four NCAA, two MAC and 14 team records in his first season as a starter. Lynch finished fourth nationally in rushing (1,815) and second in total offense (4,953), setting NCAA records for quarterback rushing and 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback (12). He earned second-team AP All-America honors as an all-purpose player.
Defensive headliner: Safety Jimmie Ward is a back-to-back All-MAC selection, earning first-team honors in 2012. He led NIU in tackles (104) and interceptions (3) as a junior, finishing second on the team in pass breakups (11) and adding a forced fumble.
The skinny: NIU has established itself as one of the nation's top programs from a nonautomatic-qualifying conference. The Huskies boast 34 victories in the past three seasons, although three of their losses came against Big Ten opponents (Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa). Although Lynch struggled in the Orange Bowl against Florida State's superb defense, he enters the season as a national awards candidate and will play behind a veteran offensive line. NIU loses several key pieces on defense, including All-MAC ends Sean Progar and Alan Baxter.
In a word, yikes. New Purdue coach Darrell Hazell likes challenges and gets plenty in his first nonleague slate, which is the toughest in the Big Ten. The Boilers face two teams that appeared in BCS bowl games last season and a third in Cincinnati that reached back-to-back BCS games in 2009 and 2010 and won 10 games plus a bowl in each of the past two years. Purdue likely will be favored in only one of the four contests (Indiana State). One plus for Purdue is that three of its four nonconference opponents have new head coaches (NIU's Carey served as the team's offensive coordinator for most of 2012 before taking over for the Orange Bowl), while the fourth, Notre Dame, endured a very tough offseason and enters the fall with big question marks. The season opener is pivotal as a road win against a good Cincinnati team would give the Boilers a confidence boost. A 2-2 mark would be respectable for Purdue, while 3-1 or 4-0 would send expectations soaring for Hazell's first season.
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