"T'was the night before college football, and all through the Big Ten, nothing was as it once used to be, not even a logo..."
I think now is as good a time as ever to reflect on how much the landscape of the Big Ten Conference has evolved over the past year. New logo, new divisions, new team, new rivalries, new scheduling process, new championship game. New head coaches for two of the league's biggest stalwarts, new self-imposed sanctions for one of the league's biggest stalwarts, new stud quarterback transfer from NC State, and new ACL tears for a team that seemingly has an unlimited supply of ACLs to be torn. The defending Big Ten Conference champions are relatively new as well- Michigan State hadn't won since 1990, and Wisconsin last won in 1999. Don't forget, Ohio State vacated their 2010 Big Ten title, so the Badgers now only have to share it with the folks in East Lansing. Just because everything's new doesn't mean it's better, but I have a feeling we're going to have fun with this new Big Ten.
Week one in college football does not have the reputation for showcasing very many games with opponents of equal talent. But there should be enough intrigue in this week's slate of Big Ten games to keep you interested. And I find that the return of college football itself is usually big enough to overshadow the obvious unfairness present in some of the matchups. Let's take a look at this week's Big Ten games.
Quick note on my predictions for the season: I will be keeping track of my season record against the spread and straight up. Against the spread winners are in bold. I don't encourage gambling on these, but feel free to do so. My goal here is to be 85% correct straight up and 58% correct against the spread. Because really, go big or go home, and I want to hypothetically make money off of Vegas if I was actually brazen enough to bet on all of my picks. My pick for the Badgers games will be included in my record but will not be revealed until the weekly Fifth Quarter Consensus post. So without any further ado, let's get started!
UNLV Rebels at No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers (-35), 7 PM CT, ESPN, Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.
Not much I can tell you about Thursday's game that you probably don't know already. It's a night game in Madtown. Russell Wilson will be attending. Much fun will be had.
Youngstown State Penguins at No. 17 Michigan State Spartans (-34), 6:30 PM CT, BTN, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Mich.
Not a particularly exciting Friday night affair here, with a FCS patsy heading to face a Spartans team still angry about a poor bowl performance against Alabama. You'd probably be better off watching that TCU at Baylor game. The Penguins played at Penn State to open the 2010 season and lost 44-14. Expect much of the same here. Michigan State 45, Youngstown State 10.
Northwestern Wildcats at Boston College Eagles (-3), 11:00 AM CT, ESPNU, Alumni Stadium, Boston, Mass.
The big question here is whether or not Northwestern QB Dan Persa will be healthy enough for Saturday's game. The fringe Heisman candidate is recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, and his status for Saturday is still up in the air. If he can't go, sophomore Kain Colter will get the start instead. Boston College's offense was not very prolific last season, but their defense was strong in most of their games. I would say the opposite holds true for the Wildcats, leading to an interesting match of strength vs. strength when Northwestern has the ball and weakness vs. weakness when Boston College has the ball. BC does have a new offensive coordinator in Kevin Rogers this season. Still, if Persa plays, I think Northwestern will sneak out of Boston with a hard-earned victory. If not, things could get ugly. Northwestern 27, Boston College 24.
Akron Zips at #18 Ohio State Buckeyes (-34), 11:00 AM CT, ESPN, Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio.
It's a new era in Ohio State football, with Jim Tressel out and interim head coach Luke Fickell in. The Buckeyes attempt to move past the NCAA violation scandal, though potential extra punishments still loom on the horizon. Akron is a MAC team that went 1-11 last season, though actually only lost to Indiana 35-20. Should be a pretty easy game for Fickell to cut his teeth in, but I don't think the Buckeyes cover the spread here. Ohio State 38, Akron 14.
Indiana State Sycamores at Penn State Nittany Lions (-37), 11:00 AM CT, BTN, Beaver Stadium, State College, Pa.
Penn State will have no trouble with the FCS Sycamores, no matter where Joe Paterno ends up watching the game from. Penn State 42, Indiana State 3.
Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles at Iowa Hawkeyes (-40.5), 11:00 AM CT, BTN, Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa.
They have technical stuff in Tennessee? That's news to me. Another FCS beatdown here. Iowa 48, Tennessee Tech 14.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders at Purdue Boilermakers (-18.5), 11:00 AM CT, BTN, Ross-Ade Stadium, W. Lafayette, Ind.
Hey, another team from Tennessee. Middle Tennessee is actually is a FBS team, unlike Tennessee Tech. Purdue is fresh off the loss of QB Rob Henry to a torn ACL, so Caleb TerBush is the new starter. The Boilermakers still have more talent and should win, but it might not be pretty. Purdue 30, Middle Tennessee 20.
Minnesota Golden Gophers at No. 25 USC Trojans (-23), 2:30 PM CT, ABC/ESPN2, L.A. Coliseum, Los Angeles, Calif.
Jerry Kill's first game as Gophers head coach is not going to be easy. The Gophers just do not have enough firepower to match up with the Trojans, and the fact that it is a road game seals Minnesota's fate. I think that Minnesota actually covers this spread, however. USC 34, Minnesota 14.
Chattanooga Mocs at No. 10 Nebraska Cornhuskers (-36), 2:30 PM CT, BTN, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
Welcome to the Big Ten, Huskers. Nebraska has won 25 straight season openers and that streak will not end at the hands of the Mocs. What the hell is a Moc, anyway? Nebraska 44, Chattanooga 6.
Arkansas State Red Wolves at Illinois Fighting Illini (-21), 2:30 PM CT, BTN, Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Ill.
Illinois has got to be happy about not having to face Missouri in the season opener this year after losing to the Tigers in the opening game four years in a row. But Arkansas State is a feisty team that could make the Illini sweat at times on Saturday. Illinois 34, Arkansas State 21.
Western Michigan Broncos at Michigan Wolverines (-14), 2:30 PM CT, ABC/ESPN2, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.
New coach for Michigan in Brady Hoke, and this is his debut. Western Michigan is another feisty team; the Wolverines cannot afford to overlook them. I'm going to go with Michigan on this one, but this is definitely an upset alert game. Michigan 34, Western Michigan 24.
Indiana Hoosiers (-6.5) at Ball State Cardinals, 6:00 PM CT, ESPN3, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
This is technically a home game for Ball State, but they moved the game from their campus to Indianapolis's NFL stadium. This is the first game for Indiana under head coach Kevin Wilson. If Indiana wants to move out of the Big Ten cellar, it needs to start winning more of these types of games. Indiana 28, Ball State 21.