Remember how I pointed out the relatively lackluster slate of games across the Big Ten for the first two weeks? Well in the words of Lee Corso, not so fast my friend. While the first two weeks weren't the most entertaining set of games, things will pick up dramatically today with the Big Ten offering several prime matchups in the night, as well as some other interesting games and story lines throughout the day.
Big day for the Big Ten
There's a lot of good football across the conference this week, with things picking up in the afternoon as the day progresses. The noon set of games could be a dud, especially if Iowa takes care of business against North Dakota State, but Oregon traveling to Nebraska offers an interesting matchup at 3:30. On one hand, Nebraska fans want to think last season was an anomaly and they're ready to bounce back. So beating a decisively more human Oregon squad would go a long way to cementing that belief, even if Oregon has enough firepower on offense to make things difficult on Nebraska.
Then 30 minutes later we'll have lowly Illinois hosting Western Michigan in a game that is prime for a potential upset. Western Michigan has been making waves in the MAC and Illinois has been pretty bad in the Big Ten, so the Broncos could provide some entertainment as they go for another Big Ten upset after knocking off Northwestern in the opener. Speaking of Northwestern, they'll be playing in primetime on BTN in a game against Duke that is essentially a must win.
On NBC at night will be a showdown between Michigan State and Notre Dame. The Spartans looked relatively flat in their opener and then had a bye, so we really don't know how good this team can be, especially on the road. Breaking in a new quarterback won't make things any easier, especially since Notre Dame has shown quite a capable offense the first two weeks of the season, including their thrilling loss to Texas.
The highlight of the night is probably the Buckeyes traveling to face Oklahoma in one of the season's top non-conference games. Of course tonight's game lost a bit of its luster with the Sooners losing to Houston, but you still have a team that is/was expected to compete for a national title (Oklahoma) hosting another team also pushing for a title. Ohio State started off slow against Tulsa, capitalizing on mistakes the Tulsa offense made to put the game out of reach right before the half. A slow start like last week would be detrimental, but the Buckeyes offense and defense have shown enough to the point where they should be able to win if they come out fired up and can avoid another poor opening like they had against Tulsa.
This game is even bigger for Oklahoma, though, as they couldn't get past Houston in their opener. If the Sooners drop another game in the third week of the season, Oklahoma will likely be out of the hunt for the Playoff and things will have taken a drastic downturn since the beginning of the month when many people felt like the Sooners had the easiest path to the Playoff compared to the other top ranked programs.
Iowa set to face intriguing FCS opponent
FCS opponents are typically push overs. That being said, North Dakota State isn't your typical FCS opponent. The Bison not only have an 8-3 record against FBS opponents, but they are riding a five game winning streak against upper level opposition. Of course outside of Kansas State, the other four wins came against Kansas, Minnesota, Colorado State and Iowa State. Regardless, the Bison have won the last five FCS titles and should provide an intriguing matchup against an Iowa team looking to make a run for a Big Ten title.
Should Iowa win today? Well yeah, definitely. But North Dakota State's dynasty in the FCS, as well as success against lower level Power Five opposition, has created the narrative of "why would you schedule these guys Iowa?!?" It should be a win for the Hawkeyes, who just demolished in-state rival Iowa State, but this will definitely be a game people keep an eye on early in the day.
Can Northwestern bounce back?
Northwestern won 10 games in 2015 and was hoping to continue that success in 2016. Needless to say, the start to this year has been a disaster for the Wildcats and things still could get even worse. Opening the season with a home loss to Western Michigan definitely wasn't in the plans, but the Broncos are one of the better MAC teams and that loss could have been written off if the Wildcats bounced back. So what happened next? Seven points against a FCS opponent and another atrocious loss. Not only did the Wildcats lose to Illinois State, but their offense was about as bad as you could get. The low light was easily Clayton Thorson, who completed only 17 of his 41 passes for 191 yards, and now the Northwestern fan base is clamoring for the firing of offensive coordinator Mick McCall.
With a Big Ten schedule that opens up with Nebraska and road trips to Iowa and Michigan, as well as games against Ohio State and Wisconsin following a homecoming game against Indiana, things are only going to get more difficult down the stretch. That means if Northwestern wants to save their season, or at least get back on the trajectory to reaching a bowl game, they need a win tonight against Duke. Of course a Duke team that has shown dramatic improvement over the last few years just had a dud in a 10 point loss to Wake Forest (at home) and now have to travel to Evanston for a relatively challenging matchup. As bad as Northwestern has been offensively, their defense is good enough to make things difficult for the Blue Devils and will keep things close. Duke will definitely need to fare better in the running game if they want to land the win here, with the Blue Devils being held to 37 yards on 30 carries last week while giving up 239 yards on the ground.
|12:00||ESPN or ESPN2||North Dakota State at Iowa||Iowa 34 North Dakota State 24|
|BTN||Temple at Penn State||Penn State 27 Temple 10|
|ESPN News||New Mexico at Rutgers||Rutgers 31 New Mexico 14|
|BTN||Georgia State at Wisconsin||Wisconsin 45 Georgia State 10|
|03:30||BTN||Colorado at Michigan||Michigan 45 Colorado 17|
|ABC||Oregon at Nebraska||Oregon 30 Nebraska 21|
|04:00||ESPN News||Western Michigan at Illinois||Illinois 20 Western Michigan 17|
|07:00||CBSSN||Maryland at UCF||Maryland 31 UCF 27|
|07:30||NBC||Michigan State at Notre Dame||Notre Dame 31 Michigan State 24|
|Fox||Ohio State at Oklahoma||Ohio State 38 Oklahoma 30|
|08:00||BTN||Duke at Northwestern||Northwestern 20 Duke 16|
Last Week's Predictions: 11-1
Current Record: 20-3