Last weekend was pretty much a disaster for the Big Ten Conference. The computer numbers and the national perception of the conference are for all intents and purposes in the garbage. Illinois, Wisconsin, and Nebraska each failed in their attempt to win a road game against a Pac-12 opponent. Overall, the conference went 1-6 against BCS automatic qualifier opponents. The only victory came by way of Northwestern's fourth quarter comeback to topple Vanderbilt 23-13 at Ryan Field. However, the B1G was at least able to sweep the non-AQ competition, with five teams avoiding a stumble against a lesser opponent. But even Michigan's 31-25 victory over Air Force was somewhat of a disappointment; the Wolverines were expected to win easily.
A swift rehabilitation of the Big Ten's reputation isn't likely. There are just too few marquee non-conference games remaining. A sweep of Notre Dame (the only ranked non-conference opponent remaining) by Michigan State and Michigan would help, but that would only go so far. Also, if I'm reading the schedule correctly, the only road game the Big Ten is involved with in the next two weeks is Michigan at Notre Dame. Taking care of business at home against unranked teams isn't going to impress anyone. We wait longingly for the time when the Big Ten will start playing conference games in September, because this current scheduling setup needs a kick in the teeth.
Week 3 Games (all games on Saturday):
11 AM CT:
California Golden Bears (1-1) at #12 Ohio State Buckeyes (2-0) [ABC]: Things are actually shaping up quite nicely for Ohio State. Despite the postseason ban which prohibits participation in both the Big Ten Championship and a bowl game, the Buckeyes could still earn some hardware in the form of the Leaders Division Trophy, a division currently in turmoil. Also, with every victory they are sneaking their way up the AP Poll totem pole. For the Cal Bears, this is the beginning of two extremely difficult weeks of football. Next week they play at No. 2 USC. It's also worth noting that this will be a 9 AM Pacific Time kickoff for the Bears, which doesn't help their cause. The Buckeyes should be able to score at ease in this one and Cal doesn't have the firepower to do the same, so look for the Big Ten to exact some revenge on the Pac-12 in Columbus.
Line: Ohio State -17. Ohio State 41, California 21.
Arkansas State Red Wolves (1-1) at Nebraska Cornhuskers (1-1) [ESPN2]: Arkansas State is going to be a pesky opponent for the Huskers, who return to Memorial Stadium after the disappointing road loss to UCLA in Pasadena. Under first year head coach Gus Malzahn, the Red Wolves piled up 530 offensive yards against Oregon and 619 yards (302 passing, 317 rushing) last week against Memphis, so this team will put the pedal to the medal and can move the ball through the air and on the ground. Nebraska's defense gave up 653 yards to UCLA, many of them the result of poor tackling, so that is surely something the Blackshirts must improve on. Fortunately for the Huskers, their offense will be able to keep up should it turn into a shootout. I think Nebraska wins, but I could see the Wolves keeping it close.
Line: Nebraska -22. Nebraska 42, Arkansas State 30.
Eastern Michigan Eagles (0-2) at Purdue Boilermakers (1-1) [BTN]: Eastern Michigan didn't look good at all in its first two games. Purdue is coming off of a tough loss to Notre Dame last week, but nonetheless showcases a caliber of football that will have no trouble with a MAC team that just lost at home to a FCS team last weekend.
Line: Purdue -24. Purdue 40, Eastern Michigan 10.
Western Michigan Broncos (1-1) at Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-0) [BTN]: The Gophers are flying high at 2-0. They're practically the class of the Big Ten right now. Meanwhile, this will be Western's second game against a Big Ten opponent this season; they already lost 24-7 to Illinois in Champaign. Fortunately for the Broncos, the Minnesota defense is not nearly as good as the Illinois D. I'm not trying to rain on Goldy's parade, but I see the Broncos emerging from TCF Bank Stadium with a victory today.
Line: Minnesota -3. Prediction: Western Michigan 27, Minnesota 24.
Charleston Southern Buccaneers (0-2) at Illinois Fighting Illini (1-1) [BTN]: Illinois got absolutely destroyed by Arizona State. They will respond by absolutely destroying winless FCS team Charleston Southern. The Buccaneers will respond by taking the $410,000 Illinois will give them and saying "thank you have a good day we'll see ourselves out."
Line: Illinois -45.5. Prediction: Illinois 44, Charleston Southern 6.
2:30 PM CT:
Navy Midshipmen (0-1) at Penn State Nittany Lions (0-2) [ABC/ESPN2]: WIll Penn State finally get off the schneid? I say yes.
Line: Penn State -6.5. Prediction: Penn State 27, Navy 20.
Boston College Eagles (1-1) at Northwestern Wildcats (2-0) [BTN]: Picking Northwestern to go undefeated in the non-conference portion of their schedule is a dangerous proposition, but I think they can pull it off this season.
Line: Northwestern -4. Prediction: Northwestern 35, Boston College 27.
Northern Iowa Panthers (1-1) at Iowa Hawkeyes (1-1) [BTN]: Look who's back and ready to torment another Big Ten conference team. Will be fun to see how Iowa does against the Panthers.
Line: Iowa -11. Prediction: Iowa 21, Northern Iowa 14.
Massachusetts Minutemen (0-2) at #17 Michigan Wolverines (1-1) [BTN]: Indiana blew this team out in Foxboro last week. Michigan will have no trouble doing the same in Ann Arbor.
Line: Michigan -45.5. Prediction: Michigan 49, Massachusetts 6.
7:00 PM CT:
#20 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2-0) at #10 Michigan State Spartans (2-0) [ABC]: Michigan State has the reputation of the entire Big Ten on their shoulders in this one. No pressure, Sparty. If the team from East Lansing intends to be the flag bearer of the conference this year, they've gotta beat the Irish. Last year, Notre Dame defeated the Spartans relatively easily in South Bend, holding the Spartans to 49 rushing yards on 19 carries. The Spartans will need a much better performance from powerful running back Le'Veon Bell this time around. On the other side of the ball, star LB Manti Te'o had a tragic week with both his grandmother and girlfriend passing away, but he will play tonight. Notre Dame's quarterback situation is a little uncertain with Tommy Rees coming on in relief of Everett Golson late in last week's close game with Purdue. In a game featuring two talented teams, anything can happen, but the safe bet is a close victory at home for Mark Dantonio's team.
Line: Michigan State -5. Prediction: Michigan State 27, Notre Dame 20.
Utah State Aggies (2-0) at Wisconsin Badgers (1-1) [BTN]: The Badgers looked like a mess last week in Corvallis, but don't discount the magical powers a nighttime environment at Camp Randall Stadium bestows upon the boys from Madison. And so, Wisconsin comes away with their first double-digit win of the season.
Line: Wisconsin -14. Prediction: Wisconsin 30, Utah State 17.
Ball State Cardinals (1-1) at Indiana Hoosiers (2-0) [BTN]: Again, what kind of bizzarro world are we living in where Minnesota and Indiana are undefeated and a number of the Big Ten traditional powers are not? Ball State fell to Clemson 52-27 in their last game, indicating that the Cardinals at least have the ability to score points against a decent defense. But Indiana should be able to follow their familiar formula of leaning on the offense to carry them to a victory, though I will credit the Hoosier defense for looking good against sub-par competition this season.
Line: Indiana -2.5. Prediction: Indiana 36, Ball State 30.