This weekend marks the official opening of conference play in the Big Ten, and though it may not appear so, there are some deceptively good games this weekend—early games that, just because there aren’t two ranking teams competing, will have an impact on the rest of the season. Here is how Saturday (and Friday) will play out in the Big Ten.
Nebraska at Illinois
This would be a big win for the Illini, but it has to be categorized as a must-win for the Cornhuskers—sitting at .500, a third loss to start the season would put immense pressures on the Mike Riley-hot seat talk. Nebraska was expected to at least push Wisconsin for a Big Ten West title, and although it’s in the realm of possibility, sitting atop the standings with a 1-0 conference record and a matchup with the Badgers next weekend, their play thus far has not indicated future success. I expect the Illini fans to be rocking in their home Big Ten opener with Lovie Smith at the helm, but quarterback Tanner Lee does just enough to bring home the Cornhusker win.
Prediction: Nebraska 31, Illinois 28
Northwestern at Wisconsin
The Wildcats are about to drop two straight in the Big Ten—first in Madison, and then at home against Penn State. Clayton Thorson and Justin Jackson are still a threatening QB-RB combo that can break loose at any time, but in their only road performance this season, the Wildcats were thrashed by Duke—and going into Camp Randall is only going to be that much more difficult. Northwestern’s inability to slow opposing backs spells trouble versus a freshman back in Jonathan Taylor who has taken the college football world by storm. On the opposite side, the Badgers have only allowed 30 points through 3 games thus far, expect much of the same defensive vigor in this one.
Prediction: Wisconsin 28, Northwestern 13
Maryland at Minnesota
We’re in for a thriller here—I know, Maryland-Minnesota doesn’t exactly jump off the screen, but some of the players might. Despite losing their two starting quarterbacks to ACL injuries, junior wide receiver D.J. Moore has already found the endzone four times for the Terps, and sophomore wide receiver Tyler Johnson is a deep threat on every play for the Gophers. An interesting stat for this one—Maryland is currently second in Big Ten scoring at 41.3 PPG, and the Minnesota scoring defense checks in at number one at 8 PPG allowed. Something’s gotta give, and I like the Terrapins to muster up a little week 1-win-over-Texas magic and get the upset in Minnesota.
Prediction: Maryland 24, Minnesota 21
Indiana vs. Penn State
This does matchup does not bode well for the Hoosiers—they are on the road, facing a Nittany Lions squad that is nothing short of fired up after beating Iowa on the last play of the game a week ago, and they have the pleasure of lining up opposite Saquon Barkley, who I believe is on track to join John Cappelletti as the only Penn State players to win the Heisman Trophy—Barkley leads Penn State in rushing AND receiving, and it’s not even close. Look for the future number one pick (bold, no?) to go for 200+ yards from scrimmage as the Nittany Lions win with ease.
Prediction: Penn State 45, Indiana 17
Iowa vs. Michigan State
A rematch of the 2015 Big Ten Championship, both these teams are looking to return to the glory they embraced two years ago, and both are hungry for wins after tough losses. Since putting up a goose egg against Alabama in the College Football Playoff, the Spartans have gone 5-10 and have disappointed many around East Lansing. Iowa is always a tough matchup for any Big Ten team, but I like the Spartans in an upset at home in this one.
Prediction: Michigan State 20, Iowa 17
Ohio State vs Rutgers
In terms of rankings, Ohio State currently sits as the fourth best team in the Big Ten, below Penn State, Michigan, and Wisconsin—and they are about to unleash on the poor Scarlet Knights. The Buckeyes are out to prove they are still worthy of a playoff spot despite an early-season loss to the Sooners. Rutgers has yet to make its mark on the Big Ten since joining in 2014, and simply don’t have the talent to match what Ohio State brings to the table. Buckeyes win big.
Prediction: Ohio State 52, Rutgers 17