Big Ten: Maine Black Bears
Today, we turn to Northwestern.
at California, Aug. 31
Coach: Sonny Dykes (first season; 22-15 at Louisiana Tech)
2012 record: 3-9, 2-7 Pac-12
Offensive headliner: The Bears lost their leading passer, rusher and receiver off last season's team. But Brendan Bigelow, who averaged 9.8 yards per carry and had a big game at Ohio State, could be ready to post huge numbers in Dykes' offense.
Defensive headliner: Big Ten fans will recognize linebacker Khairi Fortt's name. He transferred last year from Penn State, but sat out with a knee injury. He should start this season.
The skinny: Jeff Tedford had a nice run with the Bears before seemingly losing his touch in the later years. Cal brought in Dykes fresh off a terrific season at Louisiana Tech, and he will install the Air Raid offense that should fit in well in the wide-open Pac-12. Andy Buh, who was Wisconsin's linebackers coach last season, is the defensive coordinator and will lead the switch to a 4-3. The biggest issue is at quarterback, where freshmen Zach Kline and Jared Goff, and junior Austin Hinder are battling for the right to lead Dykes' quarterback-friendly attack.
Syracuse, Sept. 7
Coach: Scott Shafer (first season)
2012 record: 8-5, 5-2 Big East
Offensive headliner: Running back Jerome Smith had 1,171 yards on 227 carries last season, though he scored just three touchdowns. He ran for 152 yards against West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl win.
Defensive headliner: Weakside linebacker Dyshawn Davis had 14 tackles for loss and 69 total stops last season. He also added an interception and two fumble recoveries.
The skinny: This is a big transition year for the Orange, who saw coach Doug Marrone bolt for the NFL's Buffalo Bills in the offseason and now head into their first year of ACC play. Shafer, the one-time Michigan defensive coordinator, takes over a team that lost 10 starters, including star quarterback Ryan Nassib. The quarterback race remains open, and Syracuse expects to lean heavily on its running game this season.
Western Michigan, Sept. 14
Coach: P.J. Fleck (first season)
2012 record: 4-8, 2-6 MAC
Offensive headliner: Quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen started six games for the injured Alex Carder last season and inherits the full-time gig this season. He threw for 1,825 yards and 15 touchdowns in his understudy role a year ago.
Defensive headliner: Senior Johnnie Simon will play outside linebacker after being a two-time All-MAC selection at safety. He had 103 tackles and an interception last season.
The skinny: The Broncos fired Bill Cubit, who went on to become Illinois' new offensive coordinator. In his place, they hired 32-year old P.J. Fleck, the youngest coach in the FBS. He's a fast-talking, hyper-energetic guy, but Fleck has never even been a coordinator before. Will he be in over his head? After a string of mostly uninspiring seasons, Western Michigan feels it's worth the risk.
Maine, Sept. 21
Coach: Jack Cosgrove (111-118, 21st season)
2012 record: 5-6, 4-4 Colonial Athletic (FCS)
Offensive headliner: Senior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski threw for 2,364 yards and 21 touchdowns in his first season as a starter.
Defensive headliner: Senior defensive lineman Michael Cole played in only five games because of injury, but managed seven sacks. Two of those sacks came against Boston College, and he needs just seven more to break the all-time school-record.
The skinny: After reaching the quarterfinals of the 2011 FCS playoffs, the Black Bears slipped to a losing record in 2012. They have pretty good experience throughout the roster, but must replace a trio of three-year starters on the offensive line.
The Wildcats arguably had a tougher schedule last season, when they opened with Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College. If you believe in the power of coaching stability, Northwestern should have a huge advantage in its first three games, as all three opponents are breaking in new leaders. The first two weeks could prove tricky on the players' body clocks, as the opener at Cal is a 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time kickoff. But both the Golden Bears and Syracuse will also have new starting quarterbacks, which should help Northwestern's improving defense. Get through those first two games, and the Wildcats should have no real problems starting the season 4-0 for the second straight year. The schedule should be enough to get the team ready for Big Ten play without being overly demanding.
More nonconference primers
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten whiffed on several opportunities to boost its national reputation in Week 1. Now it's time to make sure things don't get worse. The Week 2 slate is underwhelming, to say the least, but still extremely important for Big Ten teams to take care of business.
Here's a look:
Ohio at Ohio State (ESPN2, noon ET)
Beanie Wells' foot injury has overshadowed any intrigue about the game, and the spotlight likely will be on the sideline rather than the field Saturday. If Wells doesn't play -- a strong possibility -- it will be interesting to see how Ohio State's coaches readjust. Do Dan Herron, Maurice Wells and Brandon Saine split carries? How will freshman sensation Terrelle Pryor be used differently? Ohio has some good team speed and should provide somewhat of a challenge for a Buckeyes defense that smothered Youngstown State last week. The Bobcats haven't faced the state's flagship team since 1999, so they'll be up for this one.
Marshall at Wisconsin (noon ET)
The Badgers hope to get healthier and more precise before a huge road matchup against Fresno State in Week 3. Though the running game surged and the offense put up 38 points against Akron, Wisconsin had two turnovers inside the Zips' 10-yard line. Quarterback Allan Evridge must build off his first start in three years against a Marshall defense that struggled last season. Badgers star tight end Travis Beckum practiced earlier this week and might play against the Thundering Herd.
Eastern Illinois at Illinois (noon ET)
Illlinois will unveil its renovated stadium, wear throwback jerseys and welcome back dozens of program greats, including iconic linebacker Dick Butkus. It should be an interesting day on the field as well as the Illini try to atone for a season-opening loss to Missouri against Eastern Illinois. The Panthers feature two former Illinois players, defensive tackle D'Angelo McCray and defensive end Jeff Sobol, and come off a 31-12 loss to Central Michigan.
Eastern Michigan at Michigan State (noon ET)
Despite some positives from wide receiver Mark Dell and others, Michigan State is 0-1 and can't afford to backslide against Eastern Michigan. The Spartans defense needs a much stronger performance against an Eagles team that thumped Indiana State 52-0 and boasts a versatile quarterback in Andy Schmitt. Better discipline also is a priority for the Spartans after being penalized for 82 yards against Cal. Michigan State has scored 47 points or more in its last four meetings with Eastern Michigan.
Miami (Ohio) at Michigan (ESPN, noon ET)
It's only Week 2, but Michigan faces a must-win situation against a Miami (Ohio) program that has regressed in recent years. Don't be surprised if redshirt freshman Steven Threet replaces Nick Sheridan as the Wolverines' starting quarterback, though both men could play. Michigan has to get more from its running backs, particularly freshmen Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw, against a Miami defense that surrendered 269 rushing yards against Vanderbilt last week. The RedHawks also could go with two quarterbacks, though Daniel Raudabaugh will start.
Florida International at Iowa (noon ET)
It's important for the Hawkeyes to settle on a starting quarterback before games with Iowa State and Pitt, so the spotlight will be on Jake Christensen. The junior had some bright spots and some not-so bright ones against Maine in Week 1, but coach Kirk Ferentz seems to want him to step up and claim the spot for good. Iowa should have no problem with Florida International as long as it can stop T.Y. Hilton, who ranks second nationally in punt returns (44.5 ypr) and 23rd in kickoff returns (25 ypr).
Northern Colorado at Purdue (noon ET)
The Boilers open the season and can finally see what they have at wide receiver. There's little concern about Greg Orton, but expect coach Joe Tiller to use a sizable rotation of receivers to see who else can contribute. Kory Sheets plays his first game as Purdue's featured running back, though it'd be wise to get backup Dan Dierking a decent number of carries. Northern Colorado was picked last in the preseason Big Sky polls, so the Boilers shouldn't be tested too much before a big matchup against Oregon.
Oregon State at Penn State (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET)
What looks to be the day's best game by far lost a little luster after Oregon State dropped its opener against Stanford. Beavers quarterback Lyle Moevao provides a good test for a Penn State defense that's stacked up front but inexperienced at linebacker. Oregon State struggled to contain Stanford's run game and could be in trouble against Evan Royster and Stephfon Green, but if the Beavers flood the box and make Daryll Clark beat them with his arm, this could get very interesting.
Murray State at Indiana (7 p.m. ET)
Indiana and Iowa should co-author a book entitled, "Easing into the season." Like the Hawkeyes, it will be tough to get a great read on the Hoosiers until later this month. Star pass rusher Greg Middleton returns to the field for Indiana after serving a one-game suspension, and the defense looks to limit the pass after allowing 219 yards against Western Kentucky. Murray State allowed 73 points last year against Louisville in its only game against an FBS opponent.
Northwestern at Duke (7 p.m. ET)
If Northwestern wants to change its national perception, beating teams like Duke is a must. The Wildcats failed to do so last year, falling 20-14 at home following an unsightly series of penalties, turnovers and missed opportunities. Duke looks to be improving under new coach David Cutcliffe, but the difference Saturday could be Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton, the best player on either squad and a guy who missed last year's game with an ankle injury. Keep an eye on the weather as Hurricane Hannah should hit North Carolina on Friday night.
Minnesota at Bowling Green (ESPNU, 7:30 p.m. ET)
The Gophers deserved to celebrate a bit after a season-opening win against Northern Illinois, but if they want to prove they're really a better team, this is the perfect stage. Bowling Green comes off a Week 1 road upset of Pitt and stunned Minnesota last season with a two-point conversion in overtime to seal a 32-31 win. Falcons quarterback Tyler Sheehan will test
a still-unproven Gophers secondary, but Adam Weber should also be a handful for Bowling Green.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
There's minimal shuffling in the ratings after some good performances, some bad ones and some impact injuries. Beanie or no Beanie, Ohio State remains at the top and should stay there for a while, but Illinois and Michigan State missed opportunities to move up.
1. Ohio State: Sure, it was Youngstown State, but the Buckeyes were sharp on both sides of the ball. A star-studded defense didn't let the Penguins cross midfield until the game's final play, Terrelle Pryor turned in a solid debut and starting quarterback Todd Boeckman was steady.
2. Wisconsin: The Badgers are barely hanging onto this spot, mostly because of health concerns on defense. P.J. Hill and the run game looked superb against Akron, but several key defenders are banged up, which could hurt in Week 3 at Fresno State.
3. Penn State: Playmakers abound for the Nittany Lions, as overmatched Coastal Carolina found out Saturday. New starting quarterback Daryll Clark should get plenty of help from wideout Derrick Williams and a run game that produced 334 rushing yards Saturday.
4. Illinois: The Illini deserved to drop after a poor defensive performance against Missouri, but both Michigan and Michigan State lost and no one else beat a decent team. Quarterback Juice Williams did all he could against the Tigers, but a defensive line that was billed as the team's strength fell short.
5. Michigan State: How do the Spartans move up after a loss? They inspired more hope than Michigan and received excellent performances from wide receiver Mark Dell (202 receiving yards) and running back Javon Ringer (200 all-purpose yards) on the road against Cal.
6. Michigan: There's a ton of work to do on offense, and the transition at quarterback will take time to click. But the Wolverines' defense dominated Utah in the second half Saturday and should keep games close until the offense gets on track. Linebacker Obi Ezeh's play was particularly encouraging.
7. Northwestern: The Wildcats were the only Big Ten team to beat a BCS foe, though Syracuse barely qualifies anymore. Still, Northwestern received the boost it sought from a much-maligned defense, which produced a touchdown and a safety in a 30-10 victory. Running back Tyrell Sutton also looked in top form.
8. Iowa: A 4-0 start seems very possible for the Hawkeyes after Pitt's loss, and a mostly unproven group of running backs looked superb against Maine. Iowa still needs more consistency from quarterback Jake Christensen, but linebacker A.J. Edds is developing into a star and will boost a decent defense.
9. Indiana: Quarterback Kellen Lewis can take this team a long way and got off to a strong start after reclaiming his starting job in camp. Defensive end Jammie Kirlew had a nice game, but I'm still not sold on that unit until it faces a sterner test (Ball State on Sept. 20).
10. Purdue: The Boilermakers are hurt a bit by not playing, but more by the season-ending injury to running back Jaycen Taylor. With uncertainty at wide receiver, it would have helped if Curtis Painter could count on two backs instead of only Kory Sheets, who has had fumbling problems. Linebacker depth is a major concern, but an improved secondary could vault the Boilers up the list.
11. Minnesota: Kudos to the Gophers for matching last year's win total in Week 1, but they were seconds away from a home loss to Northern Illinois. The secondary remains susceptible to big plays, which won't cut it this week against Bowling Green and Tyler Sheehan.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Missouri fans, take your shots. I deserve it. I bought into what coach Ron Zook and others were saying about the Illinois defense and overlooked the offensive playmakers on your team. The Illini defensive line should get better and linebacker Martez Wilson still looks legit, but the secondary is a major question mark after Saturday's 52-42 loss.
Despite my misguided pick of Illinois, I'll take a 9-1 record most weeks. Several teams proved they're capable of blowouts, so expect some wider margins in the Week 2 predictions.
It's time to look back.
My pick: Illinois 31, Missouri 30
Game result: Missouri 52, Illinois 42
20-20 hindsight: Juice Williams came through as expected, setting new career passing records and showing his growth in the pocket. But Illinois became one-dimensional after breakdowns on defense and special teams spotted Missouri a 45-20 lead. The defensive line forced the key takeaway I thought it would -- Derek Walker's interception return for a touchdown -- but it didn't do much else.
My pick: Utah 24, Michigan 21
Game result: Utah 25, Michigan 23
20-20 hindsight: I don't expect too many more Nostradamus-like moments, but this one went just as forecasted. Michigan's quarterbacks struggled, Utah's Brian Johnson dominated the game for a stretch and the Wolverines' improved defense kept things close. The Wolverines' early defensive struggles were a bit of a surprise, as were Utah's special-teams breakdowns.
My pick: California 33, Michigan State 28
Game result: California 38, Michigan State 31
20-20 hindsight: As indicated, quarterback Kevin Riley and running back Jahvid Best spelled trouble for a Michigan State defense that still has some questions. The Spartans aren't a clutch team until they prove otherwise, but they had some encouraging signs with wide receiver Mark Dell and running back/return man Javon Ringer.
My pick: Northwestern 34, Syracuse 21
Game result: Northwestern 30, Syracuse 10
20-20 hindsight: Wildcats running back Tyrell Sutton backed up my pick of a strong start, racking up 144 rushing yards in the win. I didn't envision such strong play from Northwestern's defense, which accounted for nine points (interception return for touchdown, safety), but a questionable offensive line stood tall at home.
My pick: Minnesota 30, Northern Illinois 24
Game result: Minnesota 31, Northern Illinois 27
20-20 hindsight: Vegas is calling me. Seriously, though, it didn't take much to see Minnesota would struggle a bit in the opener, and Northern Illinois will be good very soon with Jerry Kill as its coach. Gophers quarterback Adam Weber and wide receiver Eric Decker looked solid, though they hooked up for one fewer touchdown pass than forecasted. A new-look secondary allowed several big pass plays.
OHIO STATE-YOUNGSTOWN STATE
My pick: Ohio State 41, Youngstown State 10
Game result: Ohio State 43, Youngstown State 0
20-20 hindsight: I didn't give the Buckeyes' defense enough credit. They didn't let Youngstown State cross midfield until the game's final play. Ohio State's scoring production went about as expected with plenty of personnel involved in the rout, including freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
My pick: Wisconsin 31, Akron 17
Game result: Wisconsin 38, Akron 17
20-20 hindsight: Not surprisingly, Badgers running back P.J. Hill came through, racking up 210 rushing yards in the win. Some red-zone breakdowns and injuries on defense are causes for concern going forward, but Wisconsin should be able to overpower several of its opponents this season.
My pick: Iowa 24, Maine 13
Game result: Iowa 46, Maine 3
20-20 hindsight: Fears about the Iowa offense prompted a conservative pick, but those quickly vanished as Shonn Greene, freshman Jewel Hampton and others sparked an impressive rushing attack. The quarterback situation is unsettled in Iowa City, but the team has playmakers on both sides of the ball.
PENN STATE-COASTAL CAROLINA
My pick: Penn State 33, Coastal Carolina 14
Game result: Penn State 66, Coastal Carolina 10
20-20 hindsight: Swing and a miss here. I thought Daryll Clark and the Spread HD offense would take some time to get going, but there are a ton of playmakers on that side of the ball and all showed up against a very weak opponent. Things will get tougher for the Lions this week against Oregon State, but an impressive start.
My pick: Indiana 31, Western Kentucky 17
Game result: Indiana 31, Western Kentucky 13
20-20 hindsight: Kellen Lewis came through as expected, breaking off two long touchdown runs and throwing for two more scores in the win. The defense didn't miss star pass rusher Greg Middleton, as fellow defensive end Jammie Kirlew collected two sacks.
Season record: 9-1
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The fine folks at the Big Ten offices will reveal the official winners on Monday, but here are my Player of the Week picks for Week 1. These will appear every Sunday or Monday during the season.
Offensive Player of the Week
Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill -- The junior exploded for 210 rushing yards and two touchdowns on only 26 carries (8.1-yard average). Hill recorded his second career 200-yard rushing effort despite not touching the ball in the fourth quarter of a win against Akron.
Defensive Player of the Week
Iowa linebacker A.J. Edds -- Edds forced a Maine safety, had a deflection that led to an interception and recorded two tackles for loss, including one sack. A mention also should go to Northwestern's Brendan Smith, who had an interception return for a touchdown against Syracuse.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Penn State wide receiver Derrick Williams -- The senior co-captain got off to a great start, returning a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown against Coastal Carolina. Ohio State kicker Ryan Pretorius (4-for-4 on field goals) also merits a mention.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The games are complete and it wasn't the best day for the Big Ten. Ohio State lost Heisman contender Beanie Wells to injury, Illinois and Michigan State couldn't beat marquee opponents and Michigan dropped its second consecutive season opener.
But there also were plenty of positives, and here are a few in my first edition of helmet stickers.
Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill: I can't believe some Wisconsin fans aren't sold on this guy. He opened the season with 210 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. His fellow backs weren't too shabby either, as the Badgers eclipsed 400 rushing yards for the first time since 2002.
Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis: Lewis confirmed why Indiana coach Bill Lynch made the right call in giving him back his starting job. The junior had touchdown runs of 75 and 62 yards and threw for two touchdowns as Indiana rolled against Western Kentucky.
Ohio State defense: A unit stocked with potential All-Americans stifled Youngstown State, holding the Penguins to minus-11 net rushing yards and 74 total yards in a 43-0 win. Youngstown State didn't reach Ohio State territory until the final play of the game.
Northwestern safety Brendan Smith: The Wildcats found out just how much they missed Smith's playmaking abilities when he returned to the field today. The safety had a 26-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave Northwestern a 13-point cushion in the third quarter. Smith added a pass breakup and a tackle for loss.
Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber: Weber accounted for 328 yards of total offense (298 pass, 30 rush) and went 5-for-5 passing on Minnesota's game-winning 74-yard touchdown drive against Northern Illinois. A solid start for the Gophers sophomore.
Iowa running backs: Led by Shonn Greene, the group eased some concerns entering the season by combining for 245 yards and four touchdowns against Maine. True freshman Jewel Hampton averaged 7.6 yards a carry and scored twice.
Penn State running backs Stephfon Green and Evan Royster: Sure, it was Coastal Carolina, but Penn State's two backs showed up in a big way, combining for 153 yards and five touchdowns. Both men averaged eight yards a carry or better.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Most college football fans have some knowledge of Missouri, Cal, Utah, Syracuse, Northern Illinois and maybe even Akron (hey, Jason Taylor played there). But seriously, does anyone know what a Chanticleer is? Put your hands down, liars.
It's time to take a closer look at some of Big Ten's lesser-known opponents for Week 1. Learning about these far-flung teams is one of the fun parts about the nonconference schedule. It's a bit like the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament, except these games are never played on neutral sites. But as Michigan found out last year against Appalachian State, not all these teams are showing up just for a hefty check.
Here's the skinny on the squads visiting State College, Iowa City, Bloomington and Columbus on Saturday.
COASTAL CAROLINA CHANTICLEERS (at Penn State)
- Location: Conway, S.C. (15 miles northwest of Myrtle Beach)
- Enrollment: 7,872 as of fall 2007
- Football coach: David Bennett (39-17, sixth year at CC; 102-34, 13th year overall)
- Conference: Big South (Football Championship Subdivision)
- 2007 record : 5-6
- Fun fact: According to the Coastal Carolina football media guide, the nickname Chanticleer comes from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (I wonder if it's required reading for football players). "A Chanticleer is a rooster who rules the barnyard with cunning and wit. His competitiveness never wanes as he battles to the end, using his brains to come out on top every time." Somehow I don't think their brains will help them against Penn State. Coastal Carolina athletic director Moose Koegel was a co-captain for Penn State's football team under Paterno in 1970.
MAINE BLACK BEARS (at Iowa)
- Location: Orono, Maine (125 miles northeast of Portland)
- Enrollment: 8,777 as of fall 2007
- Football coach: Jack Cosgrove (80-90, 16th season at Maine)
- Conference: Colonial (Football Championship Subdivision)
- 2007 record : 4-7
- Fun fact(s): Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz served in the same role at Maine from 1990-92, finishing with a record of 12-21 (Cosgrove was his offensive coordinator). The Black Bears beat Mississippi State in 2004 and face a Division I-A opponent for the fifth straight year. Author Stephen King is among Maine's famous alumni. The Black Bears had seven players on NFL rosters last season, the most among FCS schools.
WESTERN KENTUCKY HILLTOPPERS (at Indiana)
- Location: Bowling Green, Ky. (110 miles south of Louisville)
- Enrollment: 19,215
- Football coach: David Elson (37-22, sixth year at WKU and overall)
- Conference: Independent
- 2007 record : 7-5
- Fun fact(s): The Hilltoppers are in their final year as a Division I-A independent before joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2009. They won the 2002 FCS national championship under coach Jack Harbaugh, the father of Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh and Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, and have 12 straight winning seasons. Famous alums include Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel and former Minnesota basketball coach Clem Haskins. The 2008 schedule includes 10 Division I-A opponents this fall. And Elson can wield a sledgehammer. Both Elson and Indiana coach Bill Lynch attended Butler.
YOUNGSTOWN STATE PENGUINS (at Ohio State)
- Location: Youngstown, Ohio (70 miles southeast of Cleveland)
- Enrollment: 13,497 as of fall 2007
- Football coach: Jon Heacock (50-31, eighth year at YSU at overall)
- Conference: Missouri Valley (Football Championship Subdivision)
- 2007 record : 7-4
- Fun fact(s): Youngstown is a tradition-rich program with four FCS national championships, 25 FCS playoff victories and six appearances in the title game. Heacock succeeded Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and is the younger brother of Buckeyes defensive coordinator Jim Heacock. The Penguins have sent 21 players to the NFL, including quarterback Ron Jaworski and kickers Paul McFadden and Jeff Wilkins. Other notable alumni include Kansas coach Mark Mangino, actor Ed O'Neill and ABCD All-America basketball camp founder Sonny Vaccaro.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Welcome to the first installment of Big Ten picks, which will appear every Thursday throughout the season. I'll pick the winners and the scores, using a bit of logic as well as some good ol' gut instinct. The Big Ten isn't one of those wacky leagues that plays games on Tuesday morning or Friday night, so I'll recap the picks after every weekend.
Let's get to it:
Illinois 31, Missouri 30: Illini quarterback Juice Williams has made the necessary steps as a passer and has the weapons to work with, including a fully healthy Rejus Benn. Chase Daniel will do his thing, but an underrated Illinois defensive line makes enough plays, including a key fourth-quarter takeaway to seal a mini-upset.
Utah 24, Michigan 21: Two quarterbacks will play for Michigan and both will struggle. The Wolverines' improved defense will contain Utah for most of the game before veteran signal caller Brian Johnson takes control in crunch time. I've got to go with experience here, and Utah has plenty.
California 33, Michigan State 28: Cal's decision to start mobile sophomore quarterback Kevin Riley instead of statue-like senior Nate Longshore made me change my pick. Riley and dynamic running back Jahvid Best spell trouble for a Michigan State defense that loses two standout pass rushers and recently shuffled its secondary. Javon Ringer will have a big day for Sparty, but it won't be enough on the road.
Northwestern 34, Syracuse 21: The Orange aren't settled on a running back, but Northwestern knows exactly who will be carrying the ball Saturday. Wildcats senior Tyrell Sutton shows why he's one of the Big Ten's best running backs when healthy, and a new-look offensive line holds up at home.
Minnesota 30, Northern Illinois 24: Northern Illinois isn't the pest it was in the early part of this decade, and the Huskies don't have a definitive starter at quarterback, though defensive end Larry English is a beast. Gophers quarterback Adam Weber will start strong, finding wideout Eric Decker for two touchdowns as Minnesota matches last year's wins total.
Ohio State 41, Youngstown State 10: Beanie Wells had only 46 rushing yards against the Penguins last year, a number that should triple or quadruple as the Buckeyes begin their road to redemption. Freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor produces a highlight or two as Ohio State rolls at home.
Wisconsin 31, Akron 17: The Badgers have some injury concerns and Akron will keep it close for a while. But new starting quarterback Allan Evridge will settle in after halftime as Wisconsin's running backs begin to wear down the Zips defense. Expect a big game for running back P.J. Hill and linebacker DeAndre Levy.
Iowa 24, Maine 13: Both teams averaged fewer than 19 points a game last season, so don't expect many offensive fireworks. Iowa will play two quarterbacks and one of them -- I'll go with Ricky Stanzi -- turns in a strong second half to seal a much-needed opening victory. Hawkeyes defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul force a turnover or two.
Penn State 33, Coastal Carolina 14: Daryll Clark's debut as the starting quarterback will be a good one, thanks in part to an opponent that went 5-6 last season. Get ready for the Stephfon Green experience as Penn State's Spread HD offense flexes its muscles in the opener.
Indiana 31, Western Kentucky 17: It might take a quarter for Kellen Lewis to get settled, but the junior will prove why he was the right choice at quarterback. Indiana's defense should be much improved this fall, and despite not having sack master Greg Middleton, the Hoosiers will stymie Western Kentucky.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET Illinois Northwestern 12:00 PM ET Purdue Indiana 12:00 PM ET Michigan 6 Ohio State 3:30 PM ET 10 Michigan State Penn State 3:30 PM ET 18 Minnesota 14 Wisconsin 3:30 PM ET Rutgers Maryland