Michigan State vs. Florida Atlantic (12:00, ESPNU, Detroit)
The Owls of Florida Atlantic beat the University of Alabama-Birmingham 32-31 last week by blocking a last second field goal to secure the win. Odds are UAB would have won if they hadn't implemented the curious but beloved Alabama tradition of keeping the best players on the second team. MSU's running game was the big story coming out of East Lansing last week, as they had two (Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker) 100-yard rushers. There's some danger that MSU looks past the Owls to next week's contest against the Irish, but the bus ride to Detroit and playing this game at Ford Field should help focus the mind. I doubt this one's ever close.
Illinois State at Northwestern (12:00, Big Ten Network)
The D-II Redbirds of Illinois State travel to Ryan Field as Northwestern plays their first home game after last week's close-fought win against Vanderbilt. The Redbirds beat Central Missouri State (like rented) Mules last week on a 2 point conversion late in the fourth quarter. Maybe a bit of a let-down game for the Wildcats, but I expect Dan Persa and company to get everything together for a convincing win after a slow start.
South Dakota at Minnesota (12:00, Big Ten Network)
South Dakota doesn't care that they're ineligible for the Directional State University Sweepstakes. The Coyotes have their eyes on a bigger prize: moving from their current status as a 1-AA independent to the 13th member of the Big Ten. As the Coyote faithful and geography enthusiasts will tell you, South Dakota borders three Big Ten states (Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota), and they're looking for an impressive showing against the Golden Gophers to show that they have the stuff to compete with their neighbors to the east and south every Saturday. I actually think that this could be close (i.e. within two scores). Minnesota didn't look great last week, and as Chuck Klosterman will tell you, Dakotans hate Minnesota. They'll be up for this one.
San Jose State at Wisconsin (12:00, ESPN)
The San Jose State Spartans-predicted to finish last in the WAC-lost 48-3 to Alabama last week. Wisconsin was underwhelming in their 20-point victory at UNLV last week; Badgers QB Scott Tolzien threw an early INT but finished 15-20. My sense is that the Badgers return to form in their first game at Camp Randall and probably beat SJS by roughly as much as the Crimson Tide did. The Spartans will happily take their beating and paycheck and return to the West Coast now that their early season mercenary days are over.
Western Illinois at Purdue (12:00, Big Ten Network)
Even though Western Illinois dominated Valparaiso last week 45-0 in their opener, the Leathernecks are projected to be in the back of the pack in the Missouri Valley Conference, which also includes Youngstown State, Illinois State (see above) and Southern Illinois (see below). Purdue's Head Coach Danny Hope is from the FCS, knows what the Leathernecks are about, and knows his team needs a good win to forget about last week's lackluster performance against the Irish. I doubt this one's ever close.
Iowa State at Iowa (3:30, ABC) Iowa
Unbelievably, Iowa State hasn't scored a TD in the "Hy Vee Cy Hawk Series" since 2006, including in their 2007 15-13 win (in which they scored five field goals). Cyclones QB Austen Arnaud is looking to avenge the four INTs he threw in last year's 17-5 lost to the Hawkeyes. Ricky Stanzi and company will be tested this week, but I think they're up to the challenge. I still doubt they cover the nearly two touchdown line on Saturday, even though RB Jewel Hampton--who was productive as a backup in 2008 but missed last year due to a knee injury--is scheduled to return to the lineup.
Michigan at Notre Dame (3:30, NBC)
Michigan was the most surprising big ten team last week. They looked like they finally took the jump and are starting to buy into-and be built for-Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. They're running a spread offense in South Bend these days too, but the difference in this one comes down to the fact that scUM's had 3 years to get the hang of it; ND's only had about 3 months. I think this game is eerily reminiscent of the 1986 contest between these two teams, when in Lou Holtz's first game as coach, the Fighting Irish lost to the visiting Wolverines 24-23 thanks to the ND kicker missing a field goal as time expired. Nevertheless, ND catapulted into the top 20--the first team ever to do so after a loss--largely because the voters realized that they were back.
Miami at Ohio State (3:40, ESPN)
In a battle to determine once and for all which team's alums can give the most obnoxious reference to their alma mater during Monday Night Football, the U heads to THE Ohio State University for another big-time Big Ten game on Saturday. I'm a big fan of Jacory Harris, though the Hurricanes QB was a little too inconsistent last season. If Terrelle Pryor looks good again on Saturday, the Sweater Vests are probably destined to embarrass the Big Ten in the MNC game again this year. I think OSU wins, but not by enough to cover the 9.5 points.
Southern Illinois at Illinois (7:00, Big Ten Network)
A favorite bracket buster in March Madness and the Directional University Sweepstakes, the Salukis of Southern Illinois are feeling fine after their 70-7 beatdown of the NAIA Quincy Hawks last week. Meanwhile, Illinois lost their third defensive starter following last week's respectable loss to Missouri when hybrid LB/DE Michael Buchanan was indefinitely suspended for getting a DUI. In each of the last two years, slow starts doomed the Fighting Zooks. If they can't take care of business in Champaign against the 1-AA Salukis-who were ranked fifth in the nation in the preseason FCS poll-the Zook farewell tour might end early.