- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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Northwestern (0-0) at Boston College (0-0)
When, where: 11 a.m. Saturday at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Radio: ESPN 1000
What you need to know: There’s still no official word on whether Northwestern senior quarterback Dan Persa will start or even play on Saturday. While he’s practiced and has come a long way since rupturing his Achilles tendon against Iowa last season, he still isn’t a 100 percent, and Northwestern has historically not been one to take risks with such players. Sophomore Kain Colter is the Wildcats’ second option. Colter is a mobile quarterback, saw time last season when Persa was injured and has looked promising throughout the spring and fall. At the same time, he is still inexperienced, and he isn’t a Heisman Trophy candidate like Persa. Northwestern can spin it, but the Wildcats aren’t the same team if Persa doesn’t play. Defensively, the Wildcats have something to prove after allowing 163 points in their final three games last season. Boston College has been hit with a few injuries this preseason, including star running back Montel Harris.
Scott Powers’ prediction: Northwestern 27, Boston College 24
Arkansas State (0-0) at Illinois (0-0)
When, where: 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill.
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: WIND-AM 560
What you need to know: If home is good to Illinois this season, the Illini will likely be good this season. They open with five consecutive home games and host eight total. Expectations are high for Illinois after winning a bowl game last year for the first time since 1999. The Illini return starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who started all of last season as a freshman. They do have to replace running back Mikel Leshoure, linebacker Martez Wilson and defensive tackle Corey Liuget, all of whom were drafted in the early rounds. Jason Ford takes over at running back and has the potential to have a breakout season. Arkansas State has battled with Big Ten teams before. In the past two years, it lost to Iowa and Indiana by a combined five points. The Red Wolves possess a potent offense and went for at least 300 yards in all 12 games last season.
Powers’ prediction: Illinois 45, Arkansas State 24
Army (0-0) at Northern Illinois (0-0)
When, where: 6 p.m. Saturday at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, Ill.
Radio: WSCR-AM 670
What you need to know: Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren makes his debut on the sidelines. Even with a new coach, expectations haven’t changed in DeKalb. The Huskies are coming off an 11-3 season and a bowl win, and they return starting quarterback Chandler Harnish and their entire offensive line. It’s unknown who will emerge to replace Chad Spann in the backfield, but Northern Illinois believes it has a couple of capable backs. Northern Illinois’ defense is less experienced, but luckily that’s Doeren specialty. He was Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator before arriving to Northern Illinois. Army had its first winning season last year since 1996 and won its first bowl game since 1985. Jared Hassin ran for 1,000-plus yards last season and is back for the Black Knights.
Powers’ prediction: Northern Illinois 38, Army 17
Southern Illinois (0-0) at Southeast Missouri State (0-0)
When, where: 6 p.m. Saturday at Houck Stadium in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
Web: SIUSalukis.com, KFVS12.com
What you need to know: Southern Illinois is coming off a rare season for the program. The Salukis went 5-6 last year and had their first losing season 2002. The Salukis return 14 starters from that team. The defense was given a boost when safety Mike McElroy was given a fifth year of eligibility by the NCAA. He has 11 career interceptions. Running back Steve Strother will be the lead back and had 930 all-purpose yards last season. He will be running behind an experienced offensive line, which includes center Bryan Boemer and David Pickard. Southeast Missouri State provided one of the lowlights for the Salukis last season. The Redhawks scored 18 unanswered points in the second half and rallied to win 24-21 at Southern Illinois. Southeast Missouri State reached the playoffs for the first in its 104-year history last season and may have difficulty repeating that feat after losing 14 starters. Starting quarterback Matt Scheible does return.
Powers’ prediction: Southern Illinois 38, Southeast Missouri State 34
Illinois State (0-0) at Eastern Illinois (0-0)
When, where: 6 p.m. Thursday at O’Brien Field in Charleston, Ill.
TV: Comcast SportsNet Chicago
Radio: WSCR-AM 670
Web: EIUPanthers.com, GoRedbirds.com
What you need to know: This is the 100th time these two in-state programs meet. Illinois State leads the series 51-39-9 and pulled out a 27-23 win over the Panthers in last year’s season finale. The game is now being called the Mid-America Classic. Illinois State returns the tandem of junior quarterback Matt Brown and junior wide receiver Tyrone Walker. The two connected for 974 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Illinois State returns 16 starters and will have 10 former Big Ten players on this year’s roster. Eastern Illinois returns 17 starters from last year’s 2-9 team. Panthers sophomore quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo should help improve that record after throwing for 1,639 yards and 15 touchdowns as a freshman.
Powers’ prediction: Illinois State 42, Eastern Illinois 24
Western Illinois (0-0) at Sam Houston State (0-0)
When, where: 6 p.m. Thursday at Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Tex.
What you need to know: In his first year, Western Illinois coach Mark Hendrickson took the Leathernecks from a one-win team to an 8-5 record and their first playoff appearance in seven years. The challenge now for Hendrickson will be duplicating that success without Matt Barr as his quarterback. Barr, who graduated, passed for 3,410 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. Junior Wil Lunt was named the starting quarterback this week and started seven games as a freshman. Western Illinois returns Caulton Ray, who ran for 1,075 yards last season, and Bryce Flowers (804 rushing yards, 332 receiving yards) and Terriun Crump (888 receiving yards.) Defensively, the Leathernecks also lost Kyle Glazier, one of the FCS’ top linebackers. Sam Houston State returns 23 starters. The Leathernecks have won their last three meetings, including a 56-14 win in last year’s season opener.
Powers’ prediction: Sam Houston State 31, Western Illinois 24