Jerry Kill's Gophers look to get 2012 started off on the right foot with a trip to Vegas to play UNLV.
Believe it or not, Big Ten football kicks off tonight as our lovable loser rival Minnesota heads to Las Vegas to play the UNLV Rebels. Normally this is the type of road trip that Wisconsin would be making, though the Badgers would be able to obtain a better television viewing window than 10 PM Central time on a Thursday. CBS Sports Network isn't exactly ESPN either in terms of both prestige and availability. In any case, I hope the Rebel fans enjoy the night game against an AQ-conference opponent that they do have a decent chance of defeating.
After the jump is my prediction for tonight's game, and keep your eye on the post throughout the weekend as I will update it with my predictions for the rest of the games involving Big Ten teams in the first week of the 2012 season. On paper, the most exciting games will be Michigan State hosting Boise State tomorrow night and Michigan taking on Alabama at Cowboys Stadium Saturday night, and many people will be watching to see how Penn State fares against Ohio on Saturday in the first game of the Bill O'Brien era.
Thursday, 10 PM CT:
Minnesota Golden Gophers (0-0) at UNLV Rebels (0-0) [Las Vegas, Nevada; CBS Sports Network]
The Gophers showed some promise at the end of last season, upsetting Iowa, giving Michigan State a run for its money, and soundly defeating a reeling Illinois squad. They seem to be a team on the rise under second-year head coach Jerry Kill. Still, UNLV has to smell some blood here, and they have to feel confident getting to play the Gophers at home under the lights at a time when the Minnesota players would normally be getting ready for bed. UNLV doesn't have the horses to pull out the victory, but I like them to keep it close and cover the spread.
Line: Minnesota -10. Prediction: Minnesota 27, UNLV 20. (UNLV covers.)
Friday, 7 PM CT:
#24 Boise State Broncos (0-0) at #13 Michigan State Spartans (0-0) [East Lansing, Michigan; ESPN]
Both teams will be debuting new starting quarterbacks as both Kellen Moore and Kirk Cousins are trying to make their marks in the NFL. Jimmy Southwick takes over for the Broncos and Andrew Maxwell will man the pivot for Michigan State. Boise State also lost running back Doug Martin to the NFL, and Michigan State's Jerel Worthy also took his talents to the pros. So both teams have holes to fill. Though the game is at Spartan Stadium, I don't think Michigan State has a decided edge in this one. This is likely Boise State's toughest game of the season and they always seem to bring it in their biggest games, so I'm picking the Broncos to pull the road upset tonight.
Line: Michigan State -7.5. Prediction: Boise State 30, Michigan State 28. (Boise State covers.)
Saturday, 11 AM CT:
Miami (OH) Redhawks (0-0) at #18 Ohio State Buckeyes (0-0) [Columbus, Ohio; BTN]
Ohio State begins its process of 'Urban Renewal' with a visit from the Redhawks of Miami. Luckily for the scarlet and grey, the opponent isn't the Miami in Florida, who stomped them 24-6 last season. Though the Buckeyes are playing for no more than pride and bragging rights in 2012, they are expected to win a good chunk of games this year (at the very least, more than last year's total of six). The Redhawks had four wins last season, and Ohio State is loaded with talent, so the Buckeyes should have an easy go of it against the MAC opponent.
Line: Ohio State -25. Prediction: Ohio State 38, Miami of Ohio 10. (Ohio State covers.)
Ohio Bobcats (0-0) at Penn State Nittany Lions (0-0) [University Park, Pennsylvania; ESPN]
Can football being played underneath an ominous cloud of NCAA sanctions still aid in the healing process of an embattled university community? That's the hope in State College, and it's hard not to root for the players who chose to stick it out with their teammates. Ohio will be no cupcake here; the Bobcats lost in the MAC Championship Game last season. And though talented wide receiver LaVon Brazill is now with the Indianapolis Colts, Ohio dual threat quarterback Tyler Tettleton will keep the offense on the right track. Expect a low scoring affair thanks to the combination of Matt McGloin's ineptitude and the strong Nittany Lion defense, with Penn State emerging with an ugly victory.
Line: Penn State -6.5. Prediction: Penn State 20, Ohio 15. (Ohio covers.)
Western Michigan Broncos (0-0) at Illinois Fighting Illini (0-0) [Champaign, Illinois; ESPNU]
Good to see that the Big Ten is getting its fair share of MACtion this weekend. Well, not really. These types of games really are lose-lose propositions for the B1G squads, but you gotta do what you gotta do to schedule four non-conference games a year, I suppose. This specific matchup is particularly uninteresting in almost every way (the two teams played last year as well), but the remnants of Hurricane Isaac may make Illini head coach Tim Beckman's debut a messy affair. WMU has a quarterback in Alex Carder who was strong from a statistical point of view, while Nathan Scheelhaase is back for another year at QB in Chambana (or Urpaign, if you will). Illinois won this game 23-20 last year, and a similar result this year wouldn't be surprising.
Line: Illinois -10. Prediction: Illinois 27, Western Michigan 24. (Western Michigan covers.)
Northwestern Wildcats (0-0) at Syracuse Orange (0-0) [Syracuse, New York; ESPN2]
One of these universities is a basketball school, the other has never even earned an invitation to a NCAA Tournament. I trust you can figure out on your own which is which. When it comes to this particular football game, I don't see how one could definitively pick a winner here. Northwestern is probably better than Syracuse. But Syracuse has home field advantage. But the indoor setting of the Carrier Dome lends itself to the Northwestern's spread attack. But Syracuse won the last matchup between these teams in 2009, 37-34. It sounds like the Orange is a little banged up this week, so I'll pick Northwestern to eke out a small victory.
Line: Pick'em. Prediction: Northwestern 35, Syracuse 30. (Northwestern covers.)
Saturday, 2:30 PM CT:
Northern Iowa Panthers (0-0) at #12 Wisconsin Badgers (0-0) [Madison, Wisconsin; BTN]
Badger fans are spoiled by the solid product put out by Bret Bielema and company in recent years. No longer do they have to sweat out any nail-biters versus FCS opponents. Instead, they spend the 60 minutes whining about having a FCS team on the schedule, clamoring for Kyle Zuleger to get some carries, and see if the Badgers cover the absurdly high point spread. So yes, easy win for Big W in this one.
Line: Wisconsin -38. Prediction: Wisconsin 45, Northern Iowa 14. (Northern Iowa covers.)
Eastern Kentucky Colonels (0-0) at Purdue Boilermakers (0-0) [West Lafayette, Indiana; BTN]
Purdue, like the Badgers, also opens with a FCS opponent. All I can think about when I see the Eastern Kentucky Colonels is KFC. Anyways, Purdue is supposedly going to be a Big Ten dark-horse this season, and I don't see how they don't easily batter and fry Colonel Sanders in front of their home fans.
Line: Purdue -21. Prediction: Purdue 42, Eastern Kentucky 17. (Purdue covers.)
Southern Miss Golden Eagles (0-0) at #17 Nebraska Cornhuskers (0-0) [Lincoln, Nebraska; ABC/ESPN2]
A very, very mild upset alert here. The ranked Huskers welcome the defending C-USA champion Eagles to Lincoln for a season opening duel. Taylor Martinez's throwing motion alone should make Southern Miss feel like they have a chance to win this one. But Rex Burkhead can probably put the team on his back doe (a la LeVeon Bell and Michigan State last night) and lead the Cornshuckers to a relatively easy victory.
Line: Nebraska -20. Prediction: Nebraska 41, Southern Miss 17. (Nebraska covers.)
Iowa Hawkeyes (0-0) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (0-0) [Chicago, Illinois; ESPNU]
So let me get this straight. Iowa copied Teach Me How to Bucky with their own Teach Me How to Herky t-shirt campaign. Now they are copying Wisconsin's great idea to play NIU in Chicago's Soldier Field! What of Wisconsin will they copy next? This copycat tendency may be part of the reason AIRBHG exists. Speaking of our dear beloved AIRBHG, he has left the Iowa backfield in shambles for this upcoming season. Northern Illinois won the MAC last season, but quarterback Chandler Harnish has taken his talents to the NFL, so Dave Doeren's boys will have a tougher time of things this season. NIU keeps this one close but Iowa pulls away late for the win.
Line: Iowa -9. Prediction: Iowa 30, Northern Illinois 23. (Northern Illinois covers.)
Saturday, 7 PM CT:
Indiana State Sycamores (0-0) at Indiana Hoosiers (0-0) [Bloomington, Indiana; BTN]
Do we really have to play this one? Can't Indiana football just slip out of the Big Ten and never come back? Not many observers would notice and/or care. I swear, Hoosier football is the only thing holding us back from achieving world peace and ending world hunger. Anyways, it's cute that they are playing a night game against a FCS opponent. I'll pick Indiana to win, but it won't be pretty.
Line: Indiana -11. Prediction: Indiana 31, Indiana State 26. (Indiana State covers.)
#8 Michigan Wolverines (0-0) vs. #2 Alabama Crimson Tide (0-0) [Arlington, Texas; ABC]
All eyes will be on this neutral site showdown at Jerry World on Saturday night. It features defending BCS champion Alabama and defending Sugar Bowl champion Michigan, and both have reloaded in the pursuit of equally successful seasons in 2012. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, they will be without the services of running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who along with sporting one of the best names in college football is an explosive runner who took defensive pressure off of Denard Robinson many times last season. But a drunk driving suspension will keep him off the field in Arlington. While Michigan is talented, some observers find them to be somewhat overrated at this juncture. Alabama is the real deal, is battle tested, and has had much success in this type of game in the past. Michigan hasn't been on a stage like this in quite some time, so the safe choice here is to roll Tide.
Line: Alabama -13.5. Prediction: Alabama 35, Michigan 21. (Alabama covers.)