Big Ten viewer's guide: league play begins with Rutgers-Penn State


Fans will get their first taste of conference play in the Big Ten Saturday night when Rutgers visits Penn State in a meeting between two programs that could use some good news this week.

The rest of the league faces a relatively challenging slate for September. Five teams will take on opponents from other Power 5 conferences, including the undefeated Illinois, which invades Tobacco Road this week. The Illini face North Carolina half an hour before Northwestern takes its shot at Duke and a 3-0 start to the season. While it’s not a Power 5 team, Western Kentucky is also a strong addition to the schedule for Indiana. Here’s a quick look at the where, when and what you’ll see from the Big Ten in Week 3:

Noon Saturday

Illinois at North Carolina, ESPN2: The Illini are 2-0 for the third straight season, but getting to 3-0 has been a challenge the past two years. Led by quarterback Marquise Williams, the Tar Heels’ offense will be the first real test that Illinois faces after allowing a total of three points in its first two victories.

South Florida at Maryland, ESPNU: Caleb Rowe takes over at quarterback for a Maryland offense that is trying to add some more speed to its passing game after a 48-27 loss to Bowling Green last week. The Terps’ defense, and how it will stop Marlon Mack, should be the bigger concern after giving up 42 points in the second half of last week’s loss.

UNLV at Michigan, BTN: The Wolverines started the week as 34.5-point favorites over the visitors from Sin City -- Michigan’s biggest spread since facing Akron in 2013. Jim Harbaugh is hoping this matchup goes a little more smoothly than that Akron game, but said he has a lot of respect for UNLV coach Tony Sanchez, who is in his first year with the Rebels after leaving Las Vegas high school juggernaut Bishop Gorman this offseason.

Kent State at Minnesota, BTN: The Gophers are coming off a dramatic road victory over Colorado State and now face a Kent State team that looked overmatched and sloppy in its season opener against Illinois. Minnesota (1-1) opened with a pair of challenging games and now takes on back-to-back MAC teams before getting into league play.

Air Force at Michigan State, ABC: The elements of a trap game are easy to spot in East Lansing. Michigan State is coming off one of its biggest home wins ever and will line up for an early kick against the triple-option attack of Air Force. Head coach Mark Dantonio said his team has been preparing for the unorthodox offense throughout the summer, and defensive assistant Ron Burton (who coached at Air Force from 2003-12) should be able to provide a good scouting report.

Northwestern at Duke (12:30), ESPN3: What’s higher, Northwestern’s points allowed per game or its team GPA? The Wildcats gave up six points in their first two victories. They head south this week to face David Cutcliffe and another stadium filled with smart students at Duke. The Blue Devils, who have outscored teams 92-7 to start the year, should prove to be a tougher test than Stanford was in the opener.

3:30 Saturday

Nebraska at Miami, ABC/ESPN2: Fifteen years ago, this matchup would have dominated the national conversation heading into Saturday. Both teams have dropped below college football’s upper crust, but are still capable of putting on an entertaining show. Combined, the two programs are averaging more than 80 points and nearly 1,000 yards of offense per game so far in September.

Virginia Tech at Purdue, ESPNU: The Boilermakers (1-1) didn’t do themselves many favors in their quest for a bowl game by scheduling the Hokies and Marshall as nonconference opponents. The onus in this game will fall on quarterback Austin Appleby against a Virginia Tech defense that should be able wipe out Purdue’s rushing attack.

Northern Illinois at Ohio State, ABC/ESPN2: The other undefeated team in Illinois is going to have a hard time getting its third win when the Huskies visit the Horseshoe. Northern Illinois isn't a pushover, but the top-ranked Buckeyes have the athletic advantage to make this another double-digit margin of victory.

Troy at Wisconsin, BTN: Will Corey Clement be healthy enough to play this week? It's more likely the Badgers opt to rest him for the second game in a row against an opponent that shouldn’t present too much of a challenge. Wisconsin’s traditionally punishing running game has been absent in its first two games, but should get a statistical boost against Troy, which ranks 119th nationally with 257 rushing yards allowed per game.

Western Kentucky at Indiana (4:00), ESPNEWS: One of the country’s best under-the-radar passers, Brandon Doughty comes to Bloomington to try his luck against a Hoosiers secondary that has had some issues. Indiana’s wins over Florida International and Southern Illinois have gone down to the wire. Expect another high-scoring, dramatic contest this weekend.

8:00 Saturday

Pittsburgh at Iowa, BTN: The Hawkeyes get a break in not having to face reigning ACC Player of the Year James Conner, who tore his ACL in Pitt’s season opener. Will a more adventurous Iowa offense directed by quarterback C.J. Beathard look familiar enough to stop for new Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi? He devised game plans for countering the Hawkeyes on a regular basis during his time as Michigan State’s defensive coordinator.

Rutgers at Penn State, BTN: The Scarlet Knights will travel to Happy Valley without top offensive weapon Leonte Carroo (suspension), defensive leader Darius Hamilton (injury) or head coach Kyle Flood (suspension). The Nittany Lions have their own issues, especially on offense. Texas is the only Power 5 team with fewer yards per game than Penn State after two weeks. The loser of this game is sure to hear another loud collective groan from its fan base.