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Big Ten Week 1 Preview and BSD Challenge

Who plays who and how will they do? Tune in to find out!

NCAA Football: Indiana at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 college football season is finally here, after what has seemed to be one of the longest off seasons ever. Since bowl season concluded, a host of changes have swept the Big Ten. Thirteen new head coaches or coordinators have taken positions in the conference, a 9-game conference slate is upon us, and the entire Ohio State roster from last season is now playing in the NFL*. Michigan is the preseason favorite to not only win the B1G, but is even getting good odds on winning the mythical national championship. The scene sure looks different than it did back in January.

But for all of the changes, there are still a bevy of constants. Ohio State, somehow, is expected to be nearly as good at last year, checking in as the preseason #6 team (one spot ahead of media darling #7 Michigan). #12 Michigan State is as solid as ever, and #17 Iowa retains its position atop the B1G West.

Is the West still the underdog to the vaunted B1G East? Can middling teams such as Nebraska and Indiana break through to the upper echelons? Will one (or two) of the preseason powerhouses stumble as the season goes on? The only thing left to do now is to play the games and see how the season shakes out.

Each week this season, I’ll be providing you, dear reader, with a preview of the weekly Big Ten games. Not only that, but you’ll also get my iron clad predictions on the outcome of each game as the season wears on. Sound good? Great, because there’s more!

In addition to my own picks, the entire BSD staff will be making picks of their own. We’ll keep a running tally throughout the season, and when the dust settles, we’ll know who among the masthead actually knows football, and who can be easily distracted by shiny things and screaming Harbaughs. So without further ado, let’s break down Week 1 of B1G action!

Big Ten Week 1 Preview

Indiana (0-0) at Florida International (0-0)

Thursday, 7:30 PM at Miami, FL

Line: Indiana -9, O/U: 61.0

Indiana went 6-7 (2-6) in 2015, and comes into this game as one of the bigger question marks in the Big Ten. #TeamChaos has developed a reputation under head coach Kevin Wilson as a team that will gleefully score 1,000 points a game, while simultaneously giving up 999 points a game - see their 44-41 (OT) bowl loss to Duke as Exhibit A. Their hope for a successful season is predicated on scoring a bunch, and hoping the other team just gets too tired from scoring to put up any more points. They lost dynamo running back Jordan Howard, as well as QB Nate Sudfeld, but they should be just as dangerous on offense as ever. I personally think this is a team to watch out for, and cannot wait for #PuntWeek later this season.

To start the season, Indiana takes on Florida International in sunny Miami. Florida International was not very good last season on either side of the ball, and I just don’t see them hanging with Indiana. A 9 point spread seems pretty low, and Indiana cruises to an easy win.

Prediction: Indiana 42, FIU 24

Oregon State (0-0) at Minnesota (0-0)

Thursday, 9:00 PM at Minneapolis, MN

Line: Minnesota -13, O/U: 55.5

In 2015, Minnesota went 6-7 (2-6), with a bunch of close wins and a bunch of close losses. In a similar vein, Minnesota in 2016 is an enigma to me. If I looked up any season from Minnesota’s history, and told you the score was 24-17, you’d first nod your head in agreement, then frown when trying to figure out whether the Golden Gophers had won or lost said game. They combine a plodding, methodical offense with a usually stern defense, and almost always keep the final score respectable. I expect more of the same from the gilded rodents this year, as they return Mitch Leidner at QB, and a defense that ranked #35 in yards per game.

This week, Minnesota plays Oregon State in the Land of 1,000 Lakes. The Beavers were not very good on either side of the ball last year, and Minnesota was not that great on offense. I see Minnesota more or less playing to their competition, and winning yet another close one.

Prediction: Minnesota 28, Oregon State 21

Furman (0-0) at #12 Michigan State (0-0)

Friday, 7:00 PM at East Lansing, MI

Line: No Line, O/U: N/A

Michigan State shocked a lot of people last season by winning the Big Ten, going 12-2 (7-1). After upending then-#4 Iowa, MSU made the College Football Playoff - and was utterly destroyed by Alabama, 38-0. Though Connor Cook, Shilique Calhoun, and Jack Conklin are gone, MSU will still be a dangerous team in 2016. I expect them to take a step back from 2015, but 9 or more wins are certainly within their grasp. They enter the season ranked #12.

To kick off 2016, Michigan State is taking on FCS Furman, and I am so incredibly glad that no future FCS series may be scheduled, because this is going to be ugly. Sparty pours it on in an effort to show that they’re just as good as last year, and win in a rout.

Prediction: MSU 56, Furman 7

Howard (0-0) at Maryland (0-0)

Saturday, 12:00 PM at College Park, MD

Line: No Line, O/U: N/A

Maryland did not have a good go of things last season. The wheels began to wobble in an early-season loss to Bowling Green, and completely fell off in a blowout loss to West Virginia a few weeks later. They limped to a 3-9 (1-7) record which saw Randy Edsall run out of town midway through the season. To help right the ship, Maryland hired DJ Durkin away from his defensive coordinator position at Michigan. Durkin has Maryland heading in the right direction, but this season still figures to be fairly rough for the Terrapins. I expect they’ll claw their way back towards bowl eligibility, but they may still be a year away.

Ringing in the Durkin era at UMD will be a season opening tune-up versus FCS foe Howard. Again - I cannot wait for FCS teams not to be on the schedule anymore. Cornerback Will Likely plays every position at least once, and Maryland gives Howard a drubbing.

Prediction: Maryland 38, Howard 10

Western Michigan (0-0) at Northwestern (0-0)

Saturday, 12:00 PM at Evanston, IL

Line: Northwestern -5, O/U: 52.0

Here’s a fun fact: Northwestern won 10 games in 2015, breaking a 20-year drought. Kind of weird to think about, right? When did Northwestern get good? I believe the Wildcats were probably a little bit lucky last season, in the process of going 10-2 (6-2). They seemed to oscillate wildly throughout the season, with a couple wins by 27+ points, and a few losses by 30+ points. What’s unfortunate for PSU is that they entered their contest against the Wildcats with an almost identical record, and had the game in hand before a late field goal won it for Northwestern. From there the teams went in completely different directions. RB Justin Jackson and LB Anthony Walker return for a team that should return closer to their mean this season.

The Wildcats open up 2016 against the Western Michigan Broncos as a 5-point favorite, which seems a bit low. WMU was #17 on offense last season, but was #80 on defense. Northwestern opens up 2016 with a solid-if-unspectacular win over a solid Western Michigan team.

Prediction: Northwestern 31, Western Michigan 17

Hawai’i (0-1) at #7 Michigan (0-0)

Saturday, 12:00 PM at Ann Arbor, MI

Line: Michigan -40, O/U: 54.5

I’m going to shock you with a never-before-heard sentiment: Jim Harbaugh is a crazy person. He tweets about Judge Judy, plays football without a shirt, wears a million different team jerseys, camps all over the world, and occasionally sleeps over at recruits’ houses. But you know what? His team is rolling. Last season Michigan went 10-3 (6-2), improving by 5 wins from the season prior. Michigan signed the #5 recruiting class in 2016, and currently sits in the top 10 for 2017. They’re the media darlings, with many pundits prognosticating that the Wolverines will play for - and possibly win - the national championship. While they have yet to name a starting QB, they’re about as experienced and talented as any team in the country. The thing is, however, that this might be their best chance to make the playoffs for some time - Ohio State and Michigan State should be down relative to last year, and PSU is still a year away from being a really good team. If not now for the Fightin’ Harbaughs, when?

For this game, Michigan takes on the Rainbow Warriors of Hawai’i. Hawai’i has already played one game this season, in which Cal hung 51 points on them. The Wolverines roll and the Harbaugh Hype Train™ gets rolling.

Prediction: Michigan 56, Hawai’i 7

Bowling Green (0-0) at #6 Ohio State (0-0)

Saturday, 12:00 PM at Columbus, OH

Line: Ohio State -27.5, O/U: 63.5

Ohio State was really good in 2015. They went 12-1 (7-1), and finished as runner up to B1G East foe Michigan State. Then - and I’m not going to confirm with any sources on this - literally their entire team went to the NFL draft. 10 Buckeyes were selected in the first 3 rounds of the draft - a draft record, by the way - with 12 players overall being drafted. Ohio State is going to be a really young team in 2016. The thing is, Urban Meyer is one of the top 2 recruiters in the country (hello Mr. Saban), and while his roster is young, it is chock full of blue chip talent. I expect this team to struggle early in the season, but by season’s end they’ll be as dangerous as any team in the country.

Week 1 for the Buckeyes has Bowling Green coming to town. BGSU was a good team last year, and they’ll test the Buckeyes early, but Ohio State just has too much firepower, and pulls away in the fourth.

Prediction: Ohio State 49, Bowling Green 21

Eastern Kentucky (0-0) at Purdue (0-0)

Saturday, 12:00 PM at West Lafayette, IN

Line: No Line, O/U: N/A

Purdue was not very good at the game of football in 2015—they finished 2-10 (1-7), with wins over Indiana State (FCS) and . . . Nebraska? Sure, that makes sense. The good news is that Darrell Hazell returns for his fourth season at the helm, bringing a steadying presence for the team. The bad news is Purdue has been more or less lifeless the last few seasons. It figures to be another tough season for the Boilermakers, and it seems unlikely that Hazell makes it through the season, barring a near-miraculous turnaround.

For this game, however, the Boilermakers gets FCS Eastern Kentucky at home, and they should be able to get a win, albeit a close one. Mark my words - this may be the only time I’m glad to see a FCS team on any schedule anywhere. EKU may be Purdue’s only win of the season.

Prediction: Purdue 31, Eastern Kentucky 28

Rutgers (0-0) at #14 Washington (0-0)

Saturday, 2:00 PM at Seattle, WA

Line: Washington -26.5, O/U: 55.0

Rutgers, like Maryland, came into the B1G in 2014 with a really strong showing - before taking a major step back in 2015. Rutgers finished 4-8 (1-7), leading to the ouster of head coach Kyle Flood after the season. To replace him, Rutgers turned to Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash. Ash began the off season strong, with a recruiting class that ranked in the top 20 at one point. However, that class was mostly built on quantity of players, rather than quality, and began to slip as the summer wore on. Rutgers faces a stiff test every season in the B1G East, and adding in this road trip against a team that some believe could vie for a playoff berth, means that 2016 could be a tough year for the Scarlet Knights.

Rutgers travels to beautiful Seattle to start their season, and I hope they enjoy the ride, because the game itself is not going to be very fun. Washington, like Michigan State, is looking to make an opening-game statement against an inferior opponent.

Prediction: Washington 42, Rutgers 24

#5 Louisiana State (0-0) at Wisconsin (0-0)

Saturday, 3:30 PM at Green Bay, WI

Line: LSU -10, O/U: 44.5

In 2015, Wisconsin was a sneaky good team, finishing 10-3 (6-2). In 2016, Wisconsin is going to be a sneaky good team, and will probably finish closer to 8-4. They play a meat grinder of a schedule, in which they get all three of the B1G East’s top teams, as well as their usual western slate, including Iowa and Nebraska. Throw in the season opener against #5 LSU, and it gets tough to see more than 8 wins on their schedule.

To start the season the Badgers play #5 LSU at Lambeau Field, a game that should actually feel more like a home game for a B1G team for once. That being said, LSU has one of the preseason Heisman favorites in Leonard Fournette, and LSU is primed to challenge Alabama for the SEC West crown. Wisconsin plays hard in front of a mostly red-and-white crowd, but LSU’s defense and rushing turn out to be too much for the Badgers.

Prediction: LSU 35, Wisconsin 17

Miami (OH) (0-0) at #17 Iowa (0-0)

Saturday, 3:30 PM at Iowa City, IA

Line: Iowa -27.5, O/U: 51.5

If someone had told me at the beginning of the season that Iowa would be one play away from the College Football Playoff, I would have laughed in their face. The Hawks played some of the most boring football you’ll watch last year - and won. They went 12-2 (8-0), and are in the running for the B1G West again this year. While they likely take a step back, the West is pretty wide open this year, so they should be in it until late in the season, at least. Desmond King is one of the best cornerbacks of the last 5+ years, and he’ll lead a stout defense.

In week 1, the Hawkeyes clash with the RedHawks of Miami (OH). Iowa’s CJ Beathard will lead a competent offense, and King more-or-less singlehandedly shuts down a not good Miami (OH) offense.

Prediction: Iowa 42, Miami (OH) 7

Murray State (0-0) at Illinois (0-0)

Saturday, 3:30 PM at Champaign, IL

Line: No Line, O/U: N/A

Illinois was a touch below mediocre in 2015, going 5-7 (2-6). Unlike Nebraska or Minnesota, they were not invited to a bowl game with a losing record. Probably the biggest thing that Penn Staters care about is that Tim Beckman was cast out just before the beginning of the 2015 season. PSU beat Illinois 39-0 last year in what felt like a rather cathartic win. At this point I harbor no specific ill will towards the Illini. This season, Illinois plays one of the tougher schedules, drawing the two Michigan schools in their B1G East crossover. I see a fairly low win total in their immediate future as Lovie Smith begins to rebuild in Champaign.

The Illini will start their season against FCS Murray State, and take advantage of one of the only easy games on their schedule, cruising to a fairly easy win.

Prediction: Illinois 31, Murray State 14

Fresno State (0-0) at Nebraska (0-0)

Saturday, 8:00 PM at Lincoln, NE

Line: Nebraska -28.5, O/U: 62.0

Show me a team that had worse luck in 2015, and I will . . . feel bad for whichever team that was. Nebraska went 6-7 (3-5) last year, and at one point had 5 losses by a combined 13 points. That’s less than a field goal per loss for those advanced statisticians out there. The Cornhuskers turned it around late in the season, and made a bowl at 5-7, beating UCLA. Look for Big Red to turn things around this year under second year coach Mike Riley. I predict an 8-4 record, and Bo Pelini will cackle with his cat, wherever he is.

For their Week 1 game, Nebraska takes on Fresno State. QB Tommy Armstrong connects with WR Jordan Westerkamp early and often, leaving the Bull Dogs behind.

Prediction: Nebraska 45, Fresno State 17

BSD Staff Picks

It would seem that most of the staff are in agreement about how this weekend’s games will go down. Only three upsets have been pegged - Cari and Rowen are taking Eastern Kentucky to upend Purdue (so, perhaps the Boilermakers go 0-12 this season?), and ChrisTaylor is taking Wisconsin on the Frozen Tundra. Bold picks!

How will this season of Big Ten football shake out? Only one way to find out - to play some football!