NCF Nation: Northwestern Wildcats

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
8:00
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Those in Ann Arbor will understandably disagree, but Week 4 was a very good one for the Big Ten. The league went 12-1 and won several games in impressive fashion. When almost every team handles its bid-ness, there's not much shuffling in the bowl projections.

The big development this week is Indiana's return. Seven days after an all-too-typical, potentially bowl-crushing loss at Bowling Green, Indiana recorded its biggest win in years, shocking No. 18 Missouri on the road. The Hoosiers are back in the projections and could rise higher in the coming weeks if they can build on the Missouri win. For now, we have them receiving an at-large bowl invitation.

Michigan moves down after its loss to Utah. The Michigan brand still carries weight in the bowl pecking order, but this Wolverines team could have a tough time reaching the six-win mark if its offense doesn't dramatically improve. The Wolverines are last nationally in turnover margin at minus-10 through four games. Yuck.

For now, we have Michigan essentially staying home for bowl season in Detroit.

New Big Tenners Maryland and Rutgers, meanwhile, move up after impressive starts.

Expect more shuffling next week as Big Ten play begins in full force. Several matchups could affect the order, namely Minnesota visiting Michigan and Indiana visiting Maryland.

To the projections ...

Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton/Fiesta/Orange: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton/Fiesta/Orange: Ohio State
Capital One: Penn State
Outback: Nebraska
National University Holiday: Wisconsin
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Iowa
San Francisco: Maryland
New Era Pinstripe: Rutgers
Quick Lane: Michigan
Heart of Dallas: Minnesota
At-large: Indiana

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
2:00
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Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
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The chances to bolster the leaguewide résumé are running low, and the Big Ten already has squandered almost all of them. Can it turn things around today before conference action picks up in earnest next week? Or is more of the same from the past couple of Saturdays on tap starting at noon?

There's only one way to find out, and here’s the blueprint for following all the action (all times Eastern):

Noon games

[+] EnlargeJames Conner
Gregory J. Fisher/USA TODAY SportsIowa's schedule doesn't get any easier, as it comes off the loss to Iowa State with a tough matchup at Pittsburgh.
Iowa (2-1) at Pittsburgh (3-0), ESPNU: So much for that supposedly easy schedule. The Hawkeyes have strangely been unable to run the football, which made their conservative play calling a problem in last week’s loss to Iowa State. The Panthers are more talented and Iowa must travel to play them, which could present a real test for coach Kirk Ferentz.

Eastern Michigan (1-2) at No. 11 Michigan State (1-1), BTN: The Spartans had some extra time to regroup after the loss at Oregon, and that doesn’t bode well heading into the last two weeks of nonconference action for their opponents. First up is Eastern Michigan, which will have its hands full with Connor Cook and what so far seems to be a much more dangerous offense for the reigning conference champs.

Western Illinois (2-1) at Northwestern (0-2), ESPNews: The bye week was definitely not a time to rest for the Wildcats or Pat Fitzgerald, who certainly wasn’t expecting to be in this early hole as the nightmare year for the program continued with two early losses. If Northwestern didn’t find some answers ahead of the visit from Western Illinois, there’s not much left to look forward to this fall.

Southern Illinois (3-0) at Purdue (1-2), BTN: There were signs of life from the Boilermakers in the loss against Notre Dame, though in the end they didn’t have the talent to hang around for four quarters. Purdue’s non-Big Ten slate wraps up this weekend, and it could surely use a confidence boost before hosting Iowa next weekend.

Bowling Green (2-1) at No. 19 Wisconsin (1-1), ESPN2: The Badgers are still something of a mystery at this point thanks to an off date last week following a relatively uneventful win over FCS-member Western Illinois. The Falcons already have a win over a Big Ten team and can wear defenses out with their up-tempo attack, which might make this a good time for Melvin Gordon and the Wisconsin running game to get rolling.

Maryland (2-1) at Syracuse (2-0), 12:30 p.m., GamePlan: This matchup might be better suited for the hardwood, but the Terrapins and Orange could put on a pretty good show in pads at the Carrier Dome. Maryland has proved capable of putting up points in bunches while Syracuse relies on its defense, leaving an intriguing contrast of styles before Randy Edsall’s team dives into its first Big Ten action.

Midafternoon games

Utah (2-0) at Michigan (2-1), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2 mirror: Brady Hoke usually takes care of business at the Big House, but this could be a difficult matchup with Utah scoring at least 56 points in each of its first two games. If this turns into a shootout, the Wolverines and quarterback Devin Gardner will have to protect the football much better than they have so far this season to build some momentum for Minnesota’s visit next week.

Rutgers (2-1) at Navy (2-1), 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network: Even in a losing effort, the Scarlet Knights impressed in their Big Ten debut last week against Penn State. Rutgers can create problems with its stout defense and nearly won last week despite getting almost no offensive help, though Navy could easily pose problems with its tricky triple-option rushing attack.

Massachusetts (0-3) at Penn State (3-0), 4 p.m., BTN: The wins may not be all that overpowering, but the Nittany Lions are undefeated -- and for now, that’s enough to make them contenders in both the Big Ten and nationally until the outcomes change. Christian Hackenberg should have some chances to add to his résumé again this week as he faces a UMass defense allowing 35 points per game.

San Jose State (1-1) at Minnesota (2-1), 4 p.m., BTN: Uncertainty continues to swirl around the quarterback position for the Gophers, but whether or not Mitch Leidner plays again this week, the rushing game figures to be front and center. The two programs met last season, and Minnesota exploded for 353 rushing yards and won easily while completing just five passes.

Texas State (1-1) at Illinois (2-1), 4 p.m., ESPNews: The Illini and their high-powered offense hit a stumbling block last week at Washington, but they’re back home again Saturday afternoon and looking to unleash Wes Lunt again through the air. If Illinois is serious about making a push for bowl eligibility this season, this is a game the Illini can’t afford to overlook with a trip to Nebraska looming.

Indiana (1-1) at No. 18 Missouri (3-0), 4 p.m., SEC Network: Bowl projections for the Hoosiers almost certainly banked on a victory last week at Bowling Green, but that one slipped away and Kevin Wilson’s program now is a bit behind schedule in the win column. A soft defense continues to plague Indiana, and that could be an issue against a Missouri offense that has scored at least 38 points in each of its three wins so far.

Night game

Miami (2-1) at No. 24 Nebraska (3-0), 8 p.m., ESPN2: The latest polls might not reflect it, but this is still a prestigious matchup packed with historical significance. Having already lost and coming in unranked, the Hurricanes aren’t as close to competing for college football’s top prize as the Huskers. But if Bo Pelini and his team can knock off Miami to stay unbeaten, that might be a victory that resonates as the season progresses.

Bye week

Ohio State

Required reading

Big Ten Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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Week 4 features a new voice in the predictions mix as our new Big Ten reporter Dan Murphy jumps into the fray. It also features a handful of games our writers disagree on, including games involving programs that desperately need to rebound with a win this week.

 

Why Iowa will win: Call me a contrarian if you'd like (I've been called much worse), but Iowa seems to rise up at the unlikeliest of times. Pitt has looked way better than the Hawkeyes this season. The Panthers can run the ball (James Conner has 544 rush yards and eight touchdowns), while Iowa can't (393 rush yards, four touchdowns). Panthers coach Paul Chryst, the former Wisconsin assistant, knows the Hawkeyes well. So of course I'm going with Iowa, which will discover its run game and force two second-half turnovers to rally for the win. Iowa 21, Pitt 20 -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Pitt will win: Adam did a pretty good job of making my argument for me. This game hinges on who wins the battle between Iowa’s front seven and the Panthers’ running game. Conner's 214 rushing yards against Boston College in a 30-20 win look a lot more impressive this week after the Eagles held USC's entire offense to 20 rushing yards. Pitt also has some good experience in the secondary (CB Lafayette Pitts and S Ray Vinopal) that could put a dent in the strong completion percentage Jake Rudock has put together thus far. Pitt 27, Iowa 17 -- Dan Murphy

 

Why Syracuse will win: Beating MAC teams isn't easy, as the Big Ten can attest. Well, Syracuse went on the road last week and crushed Central Michigan, one of the better MAC squads, by 37 points, looking nothing like the team that was extremely fortunate to get by Villanova in its opener. The Orange are a different offense with quarterback Terrel Hunt at the helm, and they're stout in defending the run (opponents average just 2.7 yards against them). Maryland makes too many mistakes to get this win on the road. Syracuse 28, Maryland 24 -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Maryland will win: Maryland has shown an explosiveness on offense and special teams, but the Terrapins have lacked consistency. They will need to avoid the turnovers and wild mood swings on the road at Syracuse. Former Orange quarterback Randy Edsall's team has enough playmakers to get the job done. Maryland 31, Syracuse 27 -- Brian Bennett

 

Why Utah will win: Unless Brady Hoke’s unwillingness to talk about injuries is based around a desire to spring a surprise by unleashing a healthy secondary on the Utes, the Wolverines could have their hands full with Travis Wilson, the nation’s No. 2 quarterback in terms of passing efficiency. The jury is still out on Michigan’s offense as well, particularly since it was shut out at Notre Dame, its only true test so far, and has shown signs that issues protecting the football haven’t been solved. That’s not a good combination against a program that appears to be on the rebound and actually has prior experience winning at the Big House under Kyle Whittingham. Utah 34, Michigan 27 -- Austin Ward

Why Michigan will win: Utah is good, but it's no Notre Dame. The Utes' success so far this season has come against two lowly opponents -- Idaho State and Fresno State -- so they might be getting a little bit more credit than they deserve. Devin Gardner is a wild card, but I can't see him committing another four turnovers, at least not in the Big House. Michigan 31, Utah 28 -- Josh Moyer

 

Why Rutgers will win: Rutgers is actually an underdog against Navy, and this game has serious letdown potential after the Scarlet Knights got sky high for Penn State. Yet the Scarlet Knights have been very good against the run and have the defensive front to disrupt the Navy option. That will be enough to pull it out -- provided Gary Nova doesn't throw another five interceptions. Rutgers 24, Navy 21 -- Brian Bennett

Why Navy will win: The Scarlet Knights said there would be no letdown after the loss last week to Penn State. But Rutgers invested so much energy in the program’s first meeting in nearly two decades with the Nittany Lions that, yes, there will be a letdown. And be sure of this, Navy requires Rutgers’ full attention. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds is expected back from injury on Saturday to lead the nation’s No. 1-ranked rushing offense, which averages more than 400 yards. Rutgers looks equipped up front to defend the triple option with Darius Hamilton and a solid line, but Navy’s offensive efficiency will prove too much to overcome. It has won eight straight true home games dating to 2012. Make it nine. Navy 31, Rutgers 21 -- Mitch Sherman

Unanimous decisions

Illinois over Texas State, 38-21: The Illini running game finally emerges and opens things up for Wes Lunt to have a big second half in Champaign.

Missouri over Indiana, 42-27: The Hoosiers couldn’t help the Big Ten’s nonconference record against the MAC’s Bowling Green last week. They aren’t likely to turn that around against an undefeated SEC opponent.

Michigan State over Eastern Michigan, 52-3: Former Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden's last crack at the Big Ten doesn't go any better than the first time around. Mark Dantonio calls off his dogs after halftime to keep this one from getting uglier than it could.

Minnesota over San Jose State, 27-13: David Cobb and the Gophers show they are still headed in a good direction despite a disappointing showing against TCU last Saturday.

Nebraska over Miami, 34-31: The Canes have the talent to make it close, but they don’t have the quarterback to steal a game from a big-time opponent on the road yet.

Northwestern over Western Illinois, 24-10: Pat Fitzgerald keeps it simple and forces his team to play the bully role while trying to develop a new toughness in Evanston.

Penn State over UMass, 44-14: The Christian Hackenberg hype machine continues its crescendo toward a primetime matchup in the Big House in early October.

Purdue over Southern Illinois, 28-20: The Salukis put up a fight, but Danny Etling builds on a strong performance against Notre Dame to pull the Boilermakers to 2-2.

Wisconsin over Bowling Green, 33-7: Bowling Green won’t be able to sneak up on a well-rested Badgers team at Camp Randall Stadium.

Our records:

Mitch Sherman: 31-6
Adam Rittenberg: 29-8
Austin Ward: 29-8
Brian Bennett: 28-9
Josh Moyer: 27-10
Northern Illinois beat Northwestern 23-15 last weekend, after which I wrote that the Huskies have the best football program in the state of Illinois.

The school's alumni group must feel that way, too, judging by this full-page ad in Friday's Chicago Tribune:


Yep, that's Northern Illinois basically taunting both the Wildcats, who like to market themselves as "Chicago's Big Ten Team" (check the reference to that in the ad), and Illinois -- while daring the Illini to play them.

Illinois is 4-0 all-time vs. the Huskies, with the most recent game occurring in 2010. There are no future scheduled meetings between the teams.

Playing an in-state team would have generated a lot more interest than the Illini's first two nonconference games this season, vs. Youngstown State and Western Kentucky. Yet there is very little if any upside to scheduling Northern Illinois -- which also beat Iowa last year and has won 48 games since the start of 2010 -- for any Big Ten team right now.

And the school in DeKalb knows that, which is why it can taunt its Big Ten friends in a newspaper ad.

Big Ten Week 3 predictions

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
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Reports of the Big Ten's death are greatly exaggerated. Look, they're still playing games in Week 3 and everything.



Why West Virginia wins: Maryland crushed West Virginia 37-0 last year in Baltimore, but Dana Holgorsen brings a much better team to College Park. Quarterback Clint Trickett looks like a different player so far, and the Mountaineers seem much more competent on defense. The Terrapins have been a bit sloppy so far (seven turnovers in two games) and it will cost them in a close one. West Virginia 31, Maryland 28. -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Maryland wins: A lot of concerns remain on a West Virginia defense that was among the worst in the nation last season. So the Mountaineers can score -- but can they stop the Terps? Granted, Maryland didn't look great in the last outing, but there's simply too much firepower here for the offense to stay down. WR Stefon Diggs is an elite talent, and the defense is at least average. Maryland 31, West Virginia 24. -- Josh Moyer



Why Penn State will win: The Scarlet Knights turned heads by flying across the country and knocking off Washington State. But the Cougars followed that up by losing to Nevada. That leaves Rutgers as somewhat of a mystery, and while it will have a raucous home crowd and plenty of motivation for a rivalry game in its Big Ten debut, the Nittany Lions suddenly have even more to play for after their NCAA postseason sanctions were repealed this week. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg is throwing for 386.5 yards per game, which could be trouble for a Rutgers defense that has allowed more yards than any team in the conference through two weeks. Still, this should be an entertaining game. Penn State 35, Rutgers 31. -- Austin Ward

Why Rutgers will win: Rutgers' shaky pass defense certainly concerns me against Hackenberg. But Penn State hasn't been dominant, either, and the Scarlet Knights' defensive front seven could pose some problems for the Nittany Lions' offensive line and mostly invisible run game. I expect this one to come down to the wire in an emotional game for both sides. The home-field advantage and Rutgers' desire to prove itself on a B1G stage cause me to go with the mild upset. Rutgers 28, Penn State 27. -- Brian Bennett

Unanimous decisions

Indiana over Bowling Green, 31-21: A rested Hoosiers team comes out firing against a Falcons squad that was blown out by Western Kentucky and lost its starting QB.

Michigan over Miami (Ohio), 48-7: The Wolverines take out some frustration from last week's Notre Dame fiasco against the overmatched RedHawks.

Ohio State over Kent State, 38-3: The Buckeyes work out their own frustrations against another MAC pushover.

Washington over Illinois, 44-31: The Illini keep it interesting behind Wes Lunt's arm, but their defense isn't yet good enough to slow the Huskies.

Iowa over Iowa State, 21-17: It's a slugfest, and offensive lineman Brandon Scherff's injury limits the Hawkeyes' offense enough to keep this one close.

TCU over Minnesota, 17-13: Another low-scoring, defensive slog; the Gophers' lack of a passing attack (especially with gimpy QB Mitch Leidner) dooms them.

Nebraska over Fresno State, 34-24: The Huskers get a scare, but they finally pull away in the fourth quarter behind RB Ameer Abdullah.

Notre Dame over Purdue, 37-17: The Boilermakers just don't have the talent to hang with QB Everett Golson and the Irish.

Our records:
Austin Ward: 21-5
Brian Bennett: 20-6
Adam Rittenberg: 20-6
Mitch Sherman: 20-6
Josh Moyer: 19-7
Last month, I drove up to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to attend one of Northwestern's off-site practices at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. I learned absolutely nothing.

It was the same day the Big Ten Network's bus tour visited the Wildcats. Barely 60 players suited up for the workout. The most energy shown was a watermelon-eating contest at the end.

Although Northwestern traditionally keeps its practices fun and takes an extremely cautious approach with banged-up players, it felt different this year, more like a country club. After Northwestern's 5-7 flop last season that included every imaginable way to lose games, I figured practices would be more competitive and physical.

Northwestern had a soft offensive line in 2013 and a defensive line thinned by several legitimate injuries in the spring. Preseason camp was the time to mix it up. Instead, Northwestern took the let's-get-everybody-to-the-opener approach.

What happened? The Wildcats weren't ready to play against Cal, falling behind 31-7. Last Saturday, they made myriad mistakes, from drops to penalties, in their first-ever loss to Northern Illinois.

The Wildcats are 0-2 and in a serious crisis. The foundational elements that helped Northwestern to the most consistent stretch of success in team history -- energy, creative play-calling, discipline, crunch-time execution -- have vanished. Perhaps a rough offseason that included the union debate and Venric Mark's sudden departure is taking a bigger toll than Northwestern let on, but something is very wrong.

Pat Fitzgerald seems to know it, too. During Tuesday's Big Ten teleconference, Fitzgerald said, "We're embarrassed right now. I'm embarrassed as the leader of the ship." He didn't bite his tongue after Wednesday's practice, either.

Here's some of what the Wildcats coach told reporters:
"We're not successful now and to continue to do the [same] things and expect a different outcome would be the definition of insanity."

"The person I'm mad at the most is myself. I'm the leader of the ship, and I'm the one who will get it fixed. I played on two championship teams here because we had a hard edge and we were tough. I've coached five bowl teams here in a row and coached multiple guys who have played at an All-Big Ten level and they were tough. Right now our football team is not very tough, and that's an embarrassment from my standpoint."

When asked about fans' being upset with the team's start, he said, "No s--- ...We're an embarrassment to anyone who's ever put on the purple and white."

Fitzgerald typically puts a positive spin on things, but he needed to call out his team, his staff and himself after the past two weeks. Accountability must be a bigger theme at Northwestern, even for a seemingly untouchable coach courted by more prestigious programs, and a staff of assistants that hasn't changed in three years.

The Wildcats seemed to get too comfortable after their break-through bowl win in January 2013 and with a 4-0 start last season. Since then, they've dropped nine of 10 and could miss the postseason yet again.

There's no guarantee Fitzgerald's fire will spark his team. But something dramatic needs to shift in Evanston, and this is a start.

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 2

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
2:00
PM ET
The Big Ten went 8-5 in Week 2, and we learned some things in the process. Brace yourself; this won't be pretty.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsAmeer Abdullah's heroics helped Nebraska escape what would have been an embarrassing loss to McNeese State.
1. The Midwest misery index is at an all-time high: Don't completely count out the Big Ten from the College Football Playoff; we're a long, long way until the first Sunday in December, after all. But the road to getting a team in the four-team field became extremely difficult after a disappointing and dispiriting Week 2 showing by the conference. In the three marquee night games, Michigan State lost by 19 points to Oregon, Michigan got embarrassed in a 31-0 shutout at Notre Dame and Ohio State lost by 14 at home to an unranked Virginia Tech squad. Meanwhile, Nebraska needed Ameer Abdullah's heroics in the final minute just to squeak past FCS McNeese State, and Iowa had to pull off a huge comeback to escape at home against Ball State. Two other MAC teams took down Purdue and Northwestern (Central Michigan and Northern Illinois, respectively). This is as bad a weekend as the Big Ten has had since Week 2 in 2012, and the league was supposed to be improved this season. Instead, it took another savage beating in terms of national perception, with almost no opportunities to turn that around the rest of the regular season.

2. (Almost) anyone can win the mild, mild West: We knew the West Division would feature plenty of parity this season. But can anyone identify a favorite in this division now? Iowa could be 0-2 just as easily as it is 2-0 right now. Wisconsin has major passing game issues. Nebraska is dealing with injuries, barely beat an FCS team Saturday and still has the toughest schedule of any division contender. Minnesota actually had the best day of any West team in Week 2, and its defense looks legitimately strong. But the Gophers still have problems throwing the ball and are holding their breath that quarterback Mitch Leidner didn't get hurt late against Middle Tennessee. Illinois at least can score in bunches behind Wes Lunt and might have a puncher's chance. At this point, it seems you can count out Northwestern (0-2) and Purdue. But who knows how things will eventually shake out in a division that appears to lack any great teams.

3. Running games disappearing: We've talked a lot about poor quarterback play being a reason for the Big Ten's recent decline. But we've almost always been able to count on league teams lining up and pounding the ball on the ground, especially against supposedly weaker competition. That hasn't been the case for far too many league teams. Iowa, which figured to have one of the league's best offensive lines and rushing attacks, is averaging just 4.1 yards per carry and had 113 yards on 29 rush attempts versus Ball State. We underestimated the difficulties Ohio State would have with four new starters on its offensive line; the Buckeyes have done very little on the ground outside of quarterback J.T. Barrett's scrambles. Penn State has basically abandoned the run in its first two games, while Michigan's apparent gains in the rushing attack against overmatched Appalachian State in Week 1 proved a mirage in South Bend. Oregon mostly stuffed Michigan State's attempts to run the ball. Heck, even Wisconsin failed to have a running back gain more than 57 yards against FCS Western Illinois, and Melvin Gordon was held to 38 yards on 17 carries. Big Ten teams can't expect to win big games if their main calling card is bankrupt.

4. The best program in Illinois isn't in Champaign or Evanston: Nope, it's located in DeKalb, home of Northern Illinois. The Huskies went into Northwestern and won 23-15 on Saturday. That shouldn't come as a surprise, as NIU has won 48 games since the start of the 2010 season and showed Saturday that life without Jordan Lynch will be OK. As for Northwestern, the Wildcats never should have bought that monkey's paw before the Ohio State game last year. They're 1-9 since, with no end to the misery in sight. Illinois has more reason for optimism, especially given Lunt's potential at quarterback and some big-play ability. But the Illini have had to sweat out home wins over Youngstown State and Western Kentucky in the first two weeks. The top team in the Land of Lincoln plays in the MAC, a conference that came within one great Iowa comeback of notching three wins over the Big Ten on Saturday.

5. Field goals are an adventure: Iowa was 1-of-4 on field goals against Ball State, with none longer than 37 yards, and it almost cost the Hawkeyes the game. Ohio State's Sean Nuernberger missed both his field-goal attempts in the first half against Virginia Tech, while Illinois' Taylor Zalewski also went 0-for-2. Not that it would have changed the outcome, but Michigan's Matt Wile missed two attempts in the first half at Notre Dame, too. With the margin for error so small for many Big Ten teams, field-goal units need to improve significantly.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 2

September, 6, 2014
Sep 6
8:00
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Week 2 in the Big Ten brings three titanic tilts at night, a few decent afternoon games and a handful of chaff. We're here to get you ready for all the action, as every league team but Indiana hits the field Saturday (all times listed are ET):

Noon games

Western Kentucky (1-0) at Illinois (1-0), BTN: The Illini will have to play much better than they did in Week 1 against Youngstown State, as Western Kentucky showed a powerful offense in beating Bowling Green 59-31 last week. New Hilltoppers coach Jeff Brohm is a former Illinois assistant.

McNeese State (0-0) at No. 19 Nebraska (1-0), ESPNU: McNeese State is ranked No. 7 in the FCS Top 25, so the Cowboys are no pushover. But if the Huskers roll like they did last week against Florida Atlantic, it won't much matter.

Akron (1-0) at Penn State (1-0), ABC/ESPN2 mirror: The Zips nearly pulled off the huge upset last year at the Big House, and Penn State will have to hope its body clocks are adjusted after returning from Ireland last weekend.

Central Michigan (1-0) at Purdue (1-0), ESPNEWS: The Boilermakers can double their win total from 2013 in the first two weeks. First, they'll have to get by a Chippewas team that can be pretty feisty, though they had to rally just to beat Chattanooga in the opener.

Western Illinois (1-0) at No. 18 Wisconsin (0-1), BTN: A trying and strange week in Madison will conclude with what ought to be a typical Badgers home beatdown of a much lesser opponent.

Howard (0-1) at Rutgers (1-0), BTN: Let us know when it's time to talk about the Penn State game in Week 3, because this one holds little to no interest.

[+] EnlargeMike Dantonio
AP Images/Bradley LeebMark Dantonio and Michigan State face a mammoth nonconference test at Oregon on Saturday.
3:30 p.m. games

Middle Tennessee (1-0) at Minnesota (1-0), BTN: The Gophers are dealing with a rash of injuries to their defensive line but are still heavy favorites at home against the Blue Raiders.

Ball State (1-0) at Iowa (1-0), ESPN2: The Hawkeyes struggled to get by a game Northern Iowa team last week and now host a solid MAC outfit. Kirk Ferentz's team will look to make rapid improvement over Week 1.

Maryland (1-0) at South Florida (1-0), CBS Sports Network: Job One for the Maryland defense is to slow Bulls running back Marlon Mack, who leads the FBS in rushing after he piled up 275 yards in Week 1. Job One for the Terps offense is to get quarterback C.J. Brown in a better passing groove after he completed less than 50 percent last week versus James Madison.

Northern Illinois (1-0) at Northwestern (0-1), BTN: A must-win already for the Wildcats? Maybe, after the season-opening loss to Cal. The Huskies would love nothing more than to notch a win over their in-state neighbors.

The three biggies

No. 7 Michigan State (1-0) at No. 3 Oregon (1-0), 6:30 p.m., Fox
Michigan (1-0) at No. 16 Notre Dame (1-0), 7:30 p.m., NBC
Virginia Tech (1-0) at No. 8 Ohio State (1-0), 8 p.m., ESPN
Other must-reads

Finally, make sure to stay up-to-date on all the latest news by following us on Twitter @ESPNBig_Ten and our individual handles:

Big Ten Week 2 predictions

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
9:00
AM ET

Why Michigan State will win: Why not? Don't you believe by now in the Spartans, who beat Oregon's top nemesis -- Stanford -- just eight months ago? The Ducks are tough to beat at home, but I think Michigan State's defense is good enough to frustrate that spread attack, and I love the way Connor Cook is playing at quarterback. The Big Ten has to win one of these big regular-season showdowns eventually. Right? Michigan State 27, Oregon 24. -- Brian Bennett



Why Oregon will win: If there is a blueprint to beating the Ducks, the Spartans are surely capable of duplicating it with solid defense and an efficient, ball-control offense. And if the experienced, proven Michigan State defense from last season was still around, it might be tempting to pick the upset. But the Ducks have a quarterback in Marcus Mariota who won't be intimidated, they're playing with a vocal crowd behind them and they don't have to travel across the country. Oregon wins 34-20. -- Austin Ward



Why it will be closer than you think: Michigan State isn't easily intimidated, and the Spartans rarely get blown out. Of MSU's past eight losses, only one came by more than four points. An underrated Spartans offense keeps pace with the Ducks for much of this one. Oregon wins 31-27. -- Adam Rittenberg


Why Michigan will win: Devin Gardner eviscerated a Notre Dame defense in 2013 that I consider better than the current unit. Both teams will score a lot with dynamic quarterbacks and more streamlined offenses, but Michigan has the better defense, which will be the difference. Michigan 38, Notre Dame 35 -- Adam Rittenberg



Why Notre Dame will win: Both teams fired on all cylinders offensively last week against overmatched opponents. The Irish, at home, are more likely to extend their solid play. Quarterback Everett Golson provides a steadying influence. Look for him to find holes in the Michigan secondary. And the Wolverines, who are just one game removed from so much trouble up front on offense last year, will find the trenches much more difficult to navigate this week than last. Notre Dame 24, Michigan 20 -- Mitch Sherman


Why Ohio State will win: A tricky matchup to open the season put the Buckeyes on upset alert last week in the debut for J.T. Barrett, but this is the kind of opponent that should bring out their best. The defensive line will once again get to rush the passer, a rebuilt secondary figures to have some chances to make something big happen and Barrett can build on his big second half against Navy with a young offense gaining confidence. Plus, the Horseshoe isn't a very welcoming building for visitors under the lights. Buckeyes win 31-13. -- Austin Ward



Why it might be closer than you think: It's clear the Buckeyes still have a few kinks to iron out on offense, and Virginia Tech's bread-and-butter is its defense. The Hokies boast an elite pair of corners and have a disruptive defensive line, and that's not going to make it any easier for Barrett. If Virginia Tech can gain any kind of momentum on offense, the Buckeyes could be in for a scare. Buckeyes 27, Hokies 20. -- Josh Moyer

Majority decisions

Northern Illinois over Northwestern 31-28
(Rittenberg, Sherman and Ward took NIU, while Bennett and Moyer chose Northwestern):
Even without Jordan Lynch, NIU looks to have the same quick-scoring formula as last season, while the Wildcats are still searching for their identity.

Purdue over Central Michigan 35-31
(Moyer, Rittenberg, Sherman and Ward selected Purdue, while Bennett chose Central Michigan)
The Boilermakers' win over Western Michigan wasn't pretty and this won't be either, but this offense will only get better.

Western Kentucky over Illinois 42-38

(Bennett, Moyer, Rittenberg and Sherman took Western Kentucky, while Ward chose Illinois)
It's difficult to pick Tim Beckman's squad after an unconvincing win against Youngstown State.

Unanimous decisions

Maryland over South Florida 34-14. C.J. Brown + Stefon Diggs + Deon Long = Touchdowns. Enough said.
Penn State over Akron 34-21. This one could be closer than expected as PSU adjusts from its Ireland trip, but Christian Hackenberg is an elite talent.
Rutgers over Howard 52-7. Howard lost to Akron by a score of 41-0 last week, so the only question is whether the Knights' second team allows a late TD or clinches the shutout.
Iowa over Ball State 38-20. The Hawkeyes got off to a slow start against Northern Iowa, but this is their chance to make up for it.
Minnesota over MTSU 35-17. Mitch Leidner needs to improve, but the Gophers' defense and ground game should be enough to pull out the win here.
Nebraska over McNeese State 38-17. McNeese State is a quality FCS program, but the Cornhuskers simply have too much firepower with Ameer Abdullah leading the way.
Wisconsin over Western Illinois 42-0. The Badgers don't need a passing game to dominate this opponent; it shouldn't even be close.

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 1

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
5:00
PM ET
We're only one week into the season, but your fearless Big Ten reporting crew is projecting how the postseason will shape up for the league. (Repeat after me: There are 14 weeks left).

And we have some immediate changes from our preseason projections. Nebraska and Michigan move up, while Iowa moves down. (The Wolverines not only looked pretty good in Week 1, but they're a very popular team for bowls). Northwestern, fresh off a home loss to Cal, is out. Rutgers, which won at Washington State, is in.

Michigan State remains a College Football Playoff pick for us, but this weekend's game at Oregon is obviously crucial to that.

It's ridiculously early, so don't overreact. But here are our latest Big Ten bowl picks:

College Football Playoff semifinal: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton: Ohio State
Capital One: Nebraska
Outback: Michigan
National University Holiday Bowl: Wisconsin
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Iowa
San Francisco: Minnesota
New Era Pinstripe: Maryland
Quick Lane: Indiana
Heart of Dallas: Rutgers

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 1

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
2:00
PM ET
 
Brian Bennett, Josh Moyer, Adam Rittenberg, Mitch Sherman and Austin Ward contributed to these rankings.
Five lessons from the opening week of Big Ten play.

1. Familiar issues preventing Wisconsin from next step: The Badgers had a wonderful chance to springboard themselves into the playoff conversation, as they had a young LSU team down 24-7 in the third quarter. But it unraveled in a hurry as several familiar problems -- and some bad luck on the injury front -- doomed Wisconsin in a 28-24 loss. Wisconsin won't become an elite program until it has more dynamic quarterback and receiver play to complement its bread-and-butter run, can avoid blunders in the kicking game and shores up the secondary. Injuries to two starting defensive linemen certainly hurt, and star running back Melvin Gordon wasn't right after a long run in the third quarter. But the same limitations we've seen before with the Badgers surfaced again in a painful season-opening loss. There's still a lot to play for, but a win would have been huge for Wisconsin and the Big Ten.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Melvin Gordon
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin's Melvin Gordon rushed for 140 yards and a touchdown but never seemed right again after a long run in the third quarter.
2. Quarterback play is on the uptick: To take a step forward as a league, the Big Ten must make strides at the most important position on the field. Week 1 was a promising start. Michigan State's Connor Cook picked up where he left off last year and played almost flawlessly (12-of-13 passing, 285 yards, three touchdowns) against Jacksonville State. Other veterans such as Michigan's Devin Gardner (13-of-14 passing, three touchdowns), Iowa's Jake Rudock and Rutgers' Gary Nova started off strong. Second-year players such as Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong and Purdue's Danny Etling made big-time throws in victories, and Ohio State freshman J.T. Barrett delivered in his debut as the starter. Illinois' offense had some hiccups but new starting quarterback Wes Lunt finished with four touchdown passes. No one will confuse the Big Ten's quarterback contingent with the Pac-12's, but there are some good signs heading into some bigger games.

3. PSU, OSU lines are works in progress: A Penn State offensive line with just one returning starter and two converted defensive tackles starting at the guard spots topped any fan's list of concerns entering the season. Ohio State's offensive line might not have been the biggest red flag following Braxton Miller's injury, but there was some curiosity with four new starters. Both units did some good things Saturday, especially down the stretch in wins against UCF and Navy, respectively. But Penn State struggled to get its power run going and endured two holding penalties and two false starts. Ohio State had just 71 rush yards on 24 attempts through the first three quarters against an undersized Navy defense. The Buckeyes finished strong (122 fourth-quarter rush yards) but need to make strides, beginning this week against Virginia Tech. Michigan also entered its opener with the offensive line in the spotlight. Although Appalachian State isn't a great gauge, Michigan got its ground game going with 350 yards and two 100-yard rushers (Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith).

4. Rutgers could be a surprise team: Few expected much from the Scarlet Knights, including the Big Ten reporter crew, but Kyle Flood's team began the season on an impressive note. It's never easy to travel to the West Coast, and Rutgers opened with a Washington State team poised to expose its shaky pass defense. Although Washington State racked up 532 pass yards, Rutgers controlled the line of scrimmage and much of the game in a 41-38 win. New offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen has made an immediate impact, and Rutgers showcased a powerful run game led by Paul James and a big-play pass attack. The defense still needs work, and the competition level will improve, but Rutgers should be 2-0 before its highly anticipated Big Ten debut Sept. 13 against Penn State at High Points Solutions Stadium.

5. Northwestern is reeling: Few FBS teams had a rockier offseason than Northwestern, which endured the union debate, Venric Mark's stunning departure and several key injuries in the preseason. Pat Fitzgerald always had found ways to get his teams ready for the season and entered Saturday with an 8-0 mark in openers. But Northwestern didn't look ready against Cal and was outplayed in all three phases during the first 42 minutes. The Wildcats made a nice run at the end of the third quarter and had chances to complete a comeback but went conservative at the wrong times and made too many errors in a 31-24 home loss, its fifth consecutive setback at Ryan Field. You wonder if this team has reached a breaking point after all the setbacks since the past October. A Week 2 win against Northern Illinois is critical.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 1

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
8:00
AM ET
Take a deep breath, Big Ten fans. The wait is over. Our first weekend of Big Ten football is finally here. And though we might be lacking in quality this weekend, at least there's quantity.

8:30 a.m. ET

Penn State vs. Central Florida (Dublin, Ireland), ESPN2: This overseas contest isn't the same without the O'Brien vs. O'Leary headline or the Hackenberg vs. Bortles undercard. But it could still be one of the more interesting games on tap, as it's James Franklin's debut as Penn State's head coach. The Nittany Lions are looking to once again shock the conference, and that will have to start with success from an inexperienced offensive line. The Nittany Lions have talent on offense -- Christian Hackenberg, Jesse James, Donovan Smith, Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak -- but a win won't come easy against a loaded Central Florida defense.

Noon ET

Indiana State at Indiana, ESPNews: If you haven't fallen asleep from waking up early for the Nittany Lions game, this one might cause you to fluff up that pillow. The Hoosiers upended the Sycamores 73-35 the past season and should once again put on an offensive clinic. Will Indiana's new defense be better? We probably won't find out based on this game.

Northern Iowa at Iowa, BTN: Kirk Ferentz's crew hasn't made quick work of its FCS opponents the past two seasons. Last year, Iowa edged out Missouri State 28-14 and the year before beat Northern Iowa 27-16. Northern Iowa is a middle-of-the-road FCS team this season, but those past two FCS games featured teams that finished below .500. It shouldn't be close, but then again, it shouldn't have been in 2012 or 2013 either.

Appalachian State at Michigan, ESPN2: Can history possibly repeat itself here? The 2007 game -- Mountaineers 34, Wolverines 32 -- was one of the greatest upsets in college football history. If you're a Big Ten fan, you should probably remember where you were when Julian Rauch nailed the field goal heard 'round the world to give App State a two-point lead with 26 seconds left in the game. No doubt the Wolverines will be more prepared this time around, but you can bet Appalachian State's confidence is pretty high, too.

Western Michigan at Purdue, ESPNU: Thankfully, it's not our job to tell you why you should watch these games. We're coming up relatively empty on this one. Purdue is just a nine-point favorite, which means this game should technically be closer than most of the others here. But the ratings for this game won't skyrocket based off that fact. Purdue's offense should be better, so if quarterback Danny Etling struggles in this game, it might already be time for Boilermakers fans to worry.

No. 5
Ohio State at Navy, CBS Sports Network:
Can Ohio State move on without Braxton Miller? Will Navy's triple-option fool this defensive line? How will J.T. Barrett fare in his first career start? The Midshipmen aren't a bad team, and plenty of questions are swirling around the Buckeyes' quarterback situation with the season-ending injury to Miller. All eyes will be on Barrett -- and how long a leash Urban Meyer gives him here.

12:05 ET

Youngstown State at Illinois, BTN: Tim Beckman could be on the hot seat this season, and if he loses to a team with a Penguin mascot, that seat will start heating up in no time. Wes Lunt could be in for a big season, but it'll be interesting to see who in the receiving corps can step up. Beckman is also counting on some juco players to plug roster holes, so we'll start to see how that's working out in this opener.

3:30 ET

James Madison at Maryland, BTN: First, Rutgers comes away with a win in its first game as a Big Ten member. Next, the Terrapins should follow suit. We should see offensive fireworks here, especially though the air, now that quarterback C.J. Brown is healthy, along with wideouts Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. James Madison is an average FCS team, though it nearly knocked off Akron the past season in a 35-33 loss.

Cal at Northwestern, ABC/ESPN2: No Venric Mark, no Christian Jones ... no problem? The Golden Bears are lousy, and the reins are now in the hands of Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian. The Wildcats are hoping to rebound from the past season with a bowl berth, and it'll have to get off on the right foot -- with a win over Cal -- to make that happen. Northwestern should start off 3-0 after a disappointing 5-7 finish in 2013.

Florida Atlantic at No. 22 Nebraska, BTN: It won't be the “Battle of the Pelinis” this season, as FAU coach Carl Pelini was fired the past season in the wake of drug allegations against his staff. The move wasn't without its controversy. We'll see if Bo Pelini is out to avenge his brother based on how ugly this game gets. If Ameer Abdullah wants to be a Heisman contender, he has to post crazy numbers in games like this.

9 ET

No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 LSU (Houston), ESPN: Admit it. You're waiting all day for this Big Ten game. This could give the B1G respect on a national scale -- or, if it turns ugly, could give the rest of the Power 5 more ammunition to point a finger and label the conference weak. Melvin Gordon might be the best running back in the country, and he'll be facing a slightly above-average run defense. Is that enough to give the Badgers the win? LSU might have the advantage everywhere except at tailback and offensive line. This is the game to watch.

Weather

It looks as if the weather is pretty split this week -- nice and sunny in some places with chances of thunderstorms in others. First off, the good news: It'll be nice and clear for Penn State, Indiana, Ohio State, Illinois and Nebraska. Outside of Ireland, where it should be in the 60s, the temperature should vary between the 70s and 80s.

Elsewhere? Teams might not be so lucky. For Maryland and Wisconsin, thunderstorms could strike later in the games. For the other four teams -- Northwestern, Michigan, Purdue, Iowa -- thunderstorms could strike early but could clear up later.

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