While there's only two marquee games on the slate for the Big Ten this week, there's a handful of games that look interesting--on paper, at least. The MACrifices are kept to a minimum for now, and the Big Ten is favored in all games save one.
Thursday, August 30
Minnesota at UNLV
Line: Minnesota -8.5 Last year, the Rebels went 2-10, tying for last in the Mountain West with Colorado State and New Mexico. Arguably their two worst losses? To Wisconsin (by 34 points) and to FCS Southern Utah (who was ranked in that division) by 25.
Likely Winner: Minnesota Minnesota isn't great. But UNLV? They're worse. This is one that I think the line is off--I see the Golden Gophers going down and beating the home team by double digits. If they don't, expect this year to be a long one for Jerry Kill.
Friday, August 31
#13 Michigan State vs. #24/22 Boise State
Line: MSU -7. Last year, the Broncos went 12-1, ending their year in a disappointing Las Vegas Bowl, beating Arizona State. Their only loss was to in-conference (last year, at least) foe TCU by one point, in overtime, in front of the second-largest crowd in Bronco Stadium history. They finished the season ranked #6.They're coached by one-time-rumored-next-Penn-State-coach Chris Petersen, now into his 7th year at the school.
Likely winner: Push. After losing multi-year star QB Kellen Moore, this isn't the same Boise team from the past few years. It is, however, Boise State, so this should be a close game, with some trickeration on the part of the Broncos. This is Boise's big non-conference game of the season, and they inevitably will be prepped for it. Look for at least one "SPARTY NOOOO!" moment on the field, and how the Spartans bounce back from that should determine the outcome of the game.
Saturday, September 1
Illinois vs. Western Michigan
Line: Illinois -10 Last year, the Broncos went 7-6 for the season, 5-3 in the MAC, finishing with a loss to Purdue in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl. Last year's record also included losses to Michigan (game called after the third quarter, due to lightning) and Illinois. They're also on the schedule to play Minnesota in week 3 of the 2012 season.
Likely Winner: Illinois The Illini should have more than enough to get by Western Michigan, the only MAC team they face this year. This game should tell a lot as to how first-year head coach Tim Beckman will fare the rest of the season; Beckman is familiar with the Broncos, having coached against them for three years at Toledo.
Indiana vs. Indiana State
Line: n/a The Sycamores, last year's first team on Penn State's schedule, go into 2012 with a #25 FCS ranking. They did go 6-5 last year, with the Nittany Lions being the only loss on the slate by more than 14 points. They did notch one FBS win versus league bottom feeder Western Kentucky. This is the team's only FBS game scheduled in 2012, the fourth year under heach coach Trent Miles.
Likely Winner: Push Yeah, I'm calling it. This game could go either way. Indiana State should be much improved this year, and I'm not seeing the same from Indiana. If Indiana comes out flat, which isn't impossible, the Sycamores could make a really strong case for it.
Iowa vs. Northern Illinois at Soldier Field, Chicago
Line: Iowa -10 The Huskies won the MAC last year, at 11-3, in coach Dave Doeren's inaugural season. Their only loss by more than one score in 2011 was to Big Ten champ Wisconsin, and they finished the season by beating Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Northern Illinois received votes in both preseason polls, but is unranked going into this game.
Likely Winner: Iowa I've got faith in the Hawkeyes on this one, which on paper looks to be close or even in favor of the MAC team (though the Vegas line agrees with me). I expect Ferentz's team to come out strong on the neutral field in a game not as close as the final score suggests.
#8 Michigan vs. #2 Alabama at Jerryworld, Arlington, TX
Line: Alabama -13 The Crimson Tide, ever heard of them? They won the MNC last year in the best worst championship game in recent memory. Bama went 12-1 in Nick Saban's fifth season, their sole loss versus LSU earlier in the season. They beat Penn State last year in State College.
Likely Winner: Alabama Michigan should be good this year; Alabama should be much better. I expect this to be a fairly low-scoring game--perhaps the only one of those for the Wolverines all season--but Alabama's defense should put them on top.
#17/16 Nebraska vs. Southern Miss
Line: Nebraska -19.5 The Golden Eagles won the CUSA last year and finished the season ranked #19 in the Coaches poll, and #20 in the AP. They went 12-2 in Larry Fedora's fourth year, winning the Hawai'i bowl; their only two losses of the season were by a combined total of 9 points. They enter this year having received votes in the Coaches Poll.
Likely Winner: Nebraska I think Vegas got the winner right in this one, but I'd be very, very surprised if the Huskers pull this one off by twenty points. Yes, it's at home, but Southern Miss isn't to be taken lightly, and I'm expecting them to put up a fight in Memorial Stadium. Nebraska pulls it off, but by under two scores.
Northwestern at Syracuse
Line: Northwestern -1.5 The Orange went 5-7 last year, only notching one win in the Big East (versus then-#11 West Virginia in the Carrier Dome by 26 points). Coach Doug Marrone's fifth season, 2012 will be their last year in the Big East before they bolt to the ACC with Pitt. They face the Big Ten again in week four, when they play at Minnesota.
Likely Winner: Northwestern Though they typically do better at home, I don't see Cuse pulling this one off. The Wildcats somewhat surprisingly do better on the road, and, though they're breaking in a new quarterback, Northwestern will give the Orange more than they can handle, and the Cuse defense won't be able to keep up. This should be a high-scoring game, with the Big Ten coming out on top.
#18 Ohio State vs. Miami (OH)
Line: OSU -22.5 The Redhawks are, surprisingly, the only in-state school that the Buckeyes play this year. In Don Treadwell's first year, Miami was 4-8 in 2011, and counted Minnesota as one of their losses.
Likely Winner: OSU This game, from start to finish, shouldn't even be close. Urban Meyer will be looking to make a statement in his first outing as the OSU head coach, and a blowout versus an in-state school will certainly qualify. The Redhawks will be lucky if it's a 22 point loss.
Purdue vs. Eastern Kentucky
Line: n/a The Colonels come into this season, the 5th under head coach Dean Hood, with a #21 ranking in FCS polls. Last year, they were Ohio Valley Conference co-champions, going 7-5 overall. This is their only FBS game on their schedule.
Likely Winner: Purdue The Boilermakers should be able to easily handle this FCS opponent, especially if they want to challenge Wisconsin for the Leaders division title in 2012. I see Danny Hope's squad taking control early, with the only difficulty coming if the Purdue-ACL-hating-god visits in the first game this year.
#12 Wisconsin vs Northern Iowa
Line: n/a The Panthers are one of the consistently best programs in the FCS, under head coach Mark Farley, who enters his 12th year at the helm. They won the Missouri Valley conference last year, going 10-3 overall and losing in the quarterfinals of the FCS Division 1 tournament. Their one FBS game last year was a loss to Iowa State; they have two FBS games this year, playing at Iowa in week seven. They come into this game with a lofty #7 preseason FCS ranking.
Likely Winner: Wisconsin Though the Badgers play the toughest FCS opponent in the Big Ten this week, they should also be one of the best teams in the Big Ten conference this year. As this game is in Madison, it won't even be close; the Panthers should show up, take their pay out, and head home. Look for this to be one of the biggest blowouts in week one.
Overall Conference Predictions
The Big Ten should have a solid, if not spectacular, week this first week, going 10-2 overall against mostly inferior talent. I expect them to split the big games, and lose one they otherwise should win, but beyond that look for business as usual this early in out of conference play.
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