Around the Big Ten
WNUR’s Tralon Williams (@itsyaboytray) starts his brand new column rounding up the slate of Big Ten games as we head into the first week of college football.
The 2013 season was as competitive as many expected it to be. Lots of competition inside the league, a championship game that saw two of the nation’s best teams and a less than stellar record in bowl games. 2014 is hoping to see the conference have some fantastic non-conference performances (looking at you Wisconsin and Michigan State) and secure at least 1 of the 4 spots in the College Football Playoff. This weekly “Around the Big Ten” column will preview all of the week’s Big Ten games (with the exception of Northwestern’s game) and quickly review the previous week’s games. And since I like to have a little fun, I’ll be predicting every game as well. No scores though. I am notorious for being way off on score predictions so I am not going to embarrass myself that way.
Since this is the first edition for the 2014 season, there is nothing to look at for last week, so we can quickly review the 2013 Big Ten season with the addition of the conference’s newest members. Organized from best to worst record, here is the 2013 Big Ten season:
- Michigan State: 13 -1, 8-0 Big Ten
- Postseason: 34-24 W vs Ohio State (Big Ten Championship) & 24-20 W vs Stanford (Rose Bowl)
- Ohio State: 12-2, 8-0 Big Ten
- Postseason: 34-24 L vs Michigan State (Big Ten Championship) & 40-35 L vs Clemson (Orange Bowl)
- Wisconsin: 9-4, 6-2 Big Ten
- Postseason: 34-24 L vs South Carolina (Capital One Bowl)
- Nebraska: 9-4, 5-3 Big Ten
- Postseason: 24-19 W vs Georgia (Gator Bowl)
- Iowa: 8-5, 5-3 Big Ten
- Postseason: 24-14 L vs LSU (Outback)
- Minnesota: 8-5, 4-4 Big Ten
- Postseason: 21-17 L vs Syracuse (Texas Bowl)
- Michigan: 7-6, 3-5 Big Ten
- Postseason: 31-14 L vs Kansas State (Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)
- Maryland: 7-6, 3-5 ACC
- Postseason: 31-20 L vs Marshall (Military Bowl)
- Rutgers: 6-7, 3-5 AAC
- Postseason: 29-16 L vs Notre Dame (Pinstripe Bowl)
*The Teams below did not qualify or were not eligible for post season play*
- Penn State: 7-5, 4-4 Big Ten
- Indiana: 5-7, 3-5 Big Ten
- Illinois: 4-8, 1-7 Big Ten
- Purdue: 1-11, 0-8 Big Ten
The 2-7 bowl record is what some would call embarrassing. Yes Maryland and Rutgers were not officially in the conference yet, but their move had been confirmed by then so they received the December/January scrutiny of Big Ten teams. With the days of the BCS in the nation’s rear view mirror, the Big Ten has an opportunity to rebrand itself and put the conference back in the conversation for best football conference in the country.
THIS WEEK’S GAMES
For the most part, week 1 is what you expect, lowly FBS opponents and FCS teams. There is still plenty of intrigue as the football season kicks off so let’s get to it:
Thursday, August 28
- Eastern Illinois @ Minnesota
- Minnesota finally put together a season worth remembering. Although they didn’t end the way they wanted, 8 wins while your head coach spent much of the season sidelined with health problems is miraculous. The Golden Gophers will have to replace several pieces on defense including now NFL players Ra’shede Hageman and Brock Vereen. However, Jerry Kill is returning 6 starters on defense as well as a triple threat rushing attack that rumbled and bumbled and tumbled their way to 200 rushing yards a game. An early FCS opponent should give QB Mitch Leidner time to settle into his starting role.
- Rutgers @ Washington St
- Rutgers gets to play their first game as a Big Ten team against an evenly matched opponent from the Pac-12. Both Rutgers and Washington State are coming off of 6-7 seasons and looking to find their way out of the middle of their conference. Washington State probably needs this game more: they have 5 games against ranked teams (Oregon, Stanford, USC, ASU, and Washington) on their schedule, punctuating a very difficult Pac 12 schedule. They might be playing for their season in week 1, something Rutgers simply is not.
Friday, August 29
- Jacksonville St @ 8 Michigan St
- With this injury to Braxton Miller, Michigan State has become the default pick to win the Big Ten and contend for a spot in the inaugural college football playoff. The offense led by QB Connor Cook and RB Jeremy Langford will look to make a statement early in the year. The defense led by DE Shalique Calhoun are aiming to be in total sync before their week 2 showdown in Eugene.
Saturday, August 30
- Penn State vs UCF in Dublin
- I wonder if James Franklin took the Penn State job knowing the first game he would coach would be way out in Ireland. The Nittany Lions will look to QB Christian Hackenberg to improve mightily from his freshman season. Although Penn State is still ineligible for the postseason due to sanctions stemming from the transgressions of Jerry Sandusky, Franklin wants a successful season to set the team up for success in the next two or three seasons. On the other side is a Central Florida teams who wants to prove they can still be relevant even without now Jaguars QB Blake Bortles.
- Indiana State @ Indiana
- The work Kevin Wilson has done in Indiana is commendable at the very least. He has improved Indiana’s record in each of his first 3 seasons but still has yet to take the Hoosiers to that ever elusive bowl game. Games like this are so important for Indiana if they want to get to six wins and play in the postseason. QB Nate Sudfeld is alone atop the depth chart after Tre Roberson transferred, but much of the receiving core is depleted. Sudfeld’s leadership will be tested early, as he works with the receivers to build chemistry. Against an opponent they hung 73 points on last year, it will be easy to judge whether or not significant strides were made in the offseason for this team.
- Northern Iowa @ Iowa
- Iowa is a team that has been getting a lot of love primarily for their below average strength of Schedule. Iowa manages to avoid Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and Penn State. It is not unreasonable to think the Hawkeyes could be 10-0 when Wisconsin comes to town on November 22nd. They cannot afford to slip up early, but their in-state FCS rival will be looking to hand an early, unexpected loss to Iowa.
- Appalachian St @ Michigan
- As someone who grew up in Michigan, I remember being so upset that Michigan did not get a rematch against Ohio State in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game. The Wolverines were ranked #5 the next season and looking to make another push at the National Championship. Then FCS Appalachian State came into the Big House and pulled off the biggest upset in College Football history. The expectations are much lower for the Maize and Blue this year, but if Brady Hoke does not enact some revenge for the game 6 years ago, he will be on the hottest seat of anyone in the country. Also worth noting: Appalachian State will finish their transition to the FBS after this year and will be bowl eligible in 2015.
- 5 Ohio State @ Navy
- There was not a lot of intrigue to this matchup until Heisman-hopeful QB Braxton Miller went down with a season ending shoulder injury. Now Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes are not the clear Big Ten favorite and are going to have to find a new identity going into a challenging non-conference schedule. JT Barrett has gotten the nod as the starting QB and there is talk that 6’5 250 QB Cardale Jones could contribute in a dual QB system (similar to the Chris Leak-Tim Tebow combination that Meyer won a National Championship with at Florida.) If Barrett shakes the nerves early, and the defense can stop the Navy rushing attack, then Ohio State is still in solid position to contend for a Big Ten championship again in 2014.
- Western Michigan @ Purdue
- Few teams had years that were as putrid as the Purdue Boilermaker 2013 campaign: going 1-11 and winless in the Big Ten. And that one win was a down to the wire 20-14 victory over FCS Indiana State. But Darren Hazel has to be thinking: “It can’t get any worse.” Danny Etling is back after a year of experience with a host of returning skill position players. This matchup will pit Purdue against a Western Michigan team who also only won a single game last season. That means both teams are looking to match their 2013 win total in week 1.
- Youngstown St @ Illinois
- Illinois has no shortage of problems that need to be addressed this season. The QB position is a huge question mark and their defense was one of the worst in the Big Ten last year. An opening game against an FCS foe should be a good way for the Illini to answer some important questions, but a subpar game puts Beckman on the hot seat and makes the question marks surrounding this squad more daunting.
- James Madison @ Maryland
- The other new addition to the Big Ten is following the lead of Iowa and opening with an in-state FCS opponent. QB CJ Brown is gearing up for his sixth season after two of the previous five were ended prematurely by injury. Brown has no shortage of receivers to throw to as five of his returning pass catchers logged 450+ yards in the 2013 season. The defense will be looking to make a statement against JMU after giving up 25 PPG and nearly 5,000 total yards last season.
- Florida Atlantic @ 22 Nebraska
- Bo Pelini found himself on the hot seat at one point last year but after a couple of well-timed YouTube videos seems to be back in good graces of the Lincoln faithful. On the field, Nebraska has won at least 9 games in all of Bo Pelini’s six years as coach. Pelini is hoping that consistency is maintained over the 2014 season. RB Ameer Abdullah is a dark horse Heisman candidate and the Cornhuskers appear stout on both sides of the ball. QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. will have to elevate his play as the season goes on to make Nebraska a Big Ten contender and a game against Florida Atlantic is a perfect place to begin a successful 2014 campaign.
- 14 Wisconsin vs 13 LSU in Houston
- Without a doubt, this is the biggest game the Big Ten has this week. We knew we were going to get a lot of awesome non-conference matchups for teams to beef up their strength of schedule for the CFP selection committee. Wisconsin is returning one of the country’s best RB in Melvin Gordon but lost leaders on both sides of the ball in RB James White, WR Jared Abbrederis and LB Chris Borland. Les Miles’ Tigers are gearing up for the yearly dogfight that is the SEC, and will treat a game like this as a warm-up and a gut check. Figures to be a great game. X factor is undoubtedly going to Wisconsin QB Tanner McEvoy. If he can keep LSU from loading up the box and let Gordon and White’s replacement RB Corey Clement run free, the Badgers could leave Houston with a huge win on their resume.
Minnesota over Eastern Illinois
Washington State over Rutgers
8 Michigan State over Jacksonville State
Penn State over UCF
Indiana over Indiana State
Iowa over Northern Iowa
Michigan over Appalachian State
5 Ohio State over Navy
Purdue over Western Michigan
Illinois over Youngstown State
Maryland over James Madison
22 Nebraska over Florida Atlantic
13 LSU over 14 Wisconsin
Big Ten (w/o NU) Week 1 Record: 11-2