It’s about that time again. Football season is quickly approaching, and with so much to look forward to, let’s take a peek at the Week One match-ups happening around the Big Ten.
Eastern Illinois @ Minnesota, Aug. 28, 7:00 pm ET, BTN
The school that raised the likes of Tony Romo and Sean Payton is visiting the Minnesota Golden Gophers as part of the many first kick-offs happening this Thursday. Eastern Illinois went a cool 12-2 in the FCS last season, but the losses of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and wide receiver Eric Lora will hurt the Panthers immensely this season. While both decided to make the jump to the NFL, Eastern Illinois is being left without a huge chunk of its 2013 offense.
A solid core of offensive playmakers still remains for the Panthers to work with, but Minnesota’s defense is a decent pass-rush away from being too much for whatever Eastern Illinois can muster up. It won’t be the typical FCS out for Minnesota in Week 1, but I’m not expecting too much of a struggle in this one.
Rutgers @ Washington State, Aug. 28, 10:00 pm ET, FOX Sports 1
Rutgers isn’t expected to do much in the Big Ten this season, and there are some good reasons for that general pessimism. That means the non-conference slate for the Scarlet Knights is going to be incredibly important in their quest to become eligible for a bowl game. Washington State is looking to prove its surge at the end of the 2013 season was not a fluke, and picking up a win over a Big Ten school would be something in itself for Cougars.
If Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday can play his cards correctly in this one, it won’t be the offense that loses this game. Rutgers’ pass defense is going to fall short again this season; there are many holes for Halliday to exploit. Just to demonstrate the struggle for Rutgers, Justin Goodwin, who was the second leading rusher last season, has been moved to cornerback.
P.S. If you’re a Dish costumer, good luck.
Jacksonville State @ Michigan State, Aug. 29, 7:30 pm ET, BTN
Don’t fall for this “trap game” nonsense. Yes, Michigan Stat has a huge game looming next week at Oregon, but that doesn’t mean Mark Dantonio‘s squad is going to overlook the opener against Jacksonville State. (Even if they did, would it matter?) Every unit the Spartans field is going to out-perform every unit Jacksonville State fields; it’s going to be that simple. Assuming nothing tragic happens to many players, this one is pretty much going to go the way you’re expecting.
Penn State vs UCF, Aug. 30, 8:30 am ET, ESPN 2 (in Ireland)
First of all, did you know this overseas game is being threatened by a volcano? This is going to be a good game to watch the first week of the season. Penn State has a tremendous quarterback in Christian Hackenberg, but there’s no telling who he’ll actually be throwing the ball to this season without Allen Robinson. UCF’s defense could take advantage of this with a good pass rush, which would mean big things for the Knights right away and would also force Penn State’s offense either get creative or pound it on the ground. We’re looking at many good match ups in this one.
Indiana State @ Indiana, Aug. 30, 12:00 pm ET, ESPNEWS
Unfortunately, I don’t think too many people will even have the option to view this one. I do love Indiana’s team this season though. Kevin Wilson has done tremendous things with the offense, and the defense is slowing making strides and should play decently in a new 3-4 scheme. Indiana State really doesn’t stand much of a chance in this one. Even if its offense gets no resistance from the Hoosiers, it won’t be able to keep pace with Nate Sudfeld and company on the other side.
Northern Iowa @ Iowa, Aug. 30, 12:00 pm ET, BTN
For playing in the FCS, Northern Iowa does not have a bad program. Can it compete with the likes of Iowa? No, probably not. The Hawkeyes look like they’re in good position to get over the hump this season and do some serious damage in the Big Ten and beyond. The quarterback position is deep and talented, and this defense in 2014 is going to resemble exactly what you think a Kirk Ferentz defense should look like at Iowa. There’s no way Northern Iowa pulls a fast one here.
Western Michigan @ Purdue, Aug. 30, 12:00 pm ET, ESPNU
Purdue desperately needs to get off on the right foot this season, and it starts with a very manageable game against Western Michigan, a team that won only a single game last season. Both teams will feature incredibly shaky offenses in 2014, but you can probably give the upper hand to Purdue for overall talent, but the Broncos are going to have a relatively experienced team to begin the season. If Purdue can get the ball working through the air and avoid issues with a very young offensive line, it should be a 1-0 start for Darrell Hazell‘s squad.
Ohio State @ Navy, Aug. 30, 12:00 pm ET, CBS Sports Network
Yeah, this is a relatively easy game for Ohio State, but it’ll be very interesting to see how J.T. Barrett does against a Navy secondary that isn’t necessarily bad. Certainly Ohio State will face better as the season goes on, but this should be a nice test to see what Barrett can do in the passing game for the Buckeyes in the absence of Braxton Miller. Overall, though, Ohio State isn’t going to be shocked in this one; Navy’s tuple-option attack will of course give the Buckeyes some troubles, as it does to almost everyone, but it won’t be enough to turn the tables.
Youngstown State @ Illinois, Aug. 30, 12:05 pm ET, BTN
Earlier this offseason, quarterback Les Lunt was a little further down the depth chart than most maybe expected. But head coach Tim Beckman announced recently that Lunt will be making the start against Youngstown State on Saturday. An 8-4 team in 2013, Youngstown State isn’t a pushover for Illinois by any means. I would say the Illini will be fielding the better team in this game, but I won’t be at all surprised to see Youngstown State give Illinois a run for its money to begin the season.
James Madison @ Maryland, Aug. 30, 3:30 pm ET, BTN
This won’t be a problem for Maryland. James Madison, a middle-of-the-road FCS team in 2013, typically resides towards the top of the totem poll, but even if the Dukes rise back to that status in 2014, this is going to be another simple of case of not being able to match the talent of the big guy. Maryland’s entrance into the Big Ten is an underrated one, especially considering how deadly the receiving corps could be this season. With everything in mind, I can’t imagine a scenario in which James Madison pulls out a miracle here.
California @ Northwestern, Aug. 30, 3:30 pm ET, ABC
Welcome to life without Venric Mark. The star running back wasn’t going to be available for this one anyway, but the fact remains for this season moving forward. I like what California is doing right now, and I’m a big fan of what Pat Fitzgerald is beginning to do at Northwestern. Two average teams are going to put together a good, competitive game on Saturday. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Florida Atlantic @ Nebraska, Aug. 30, 3:30 pm ET, BTN
This game perhaps the potential to get interesting. Nebraska has suffered some very unfortunate injuries on the defensive side of the ball, and we could be seeing the effects of those losses as early as this Saturday against Florida Atlantic. I’m not saying Nebraska is on upset alert or anything, but this might be an opportunity for Florida Atlantic to expose what the Cornhuskers will be missing this season on defense.
Wisconsin vs LSU, Aug. 30, 9:00 pm ET, ESPN
This is the one everyone wants to see on Week 1. Wisconsin is getting a very early opportunity to show what it’s capable of this season by playing an SEC powerhouse. Words can’t describe how huge a Wisconsin win would be for the team and for the Big Ten. Every matchup looks intriguing on paper, but I’m giving the overall edge to LSU right now. The questions Wisconsin is facing at quarterback right now are causing hesitation in my buying in of the team. Either way, don’t miss this one.