The best thing about Week 1 for Michigan and Penn State is that it's over. The best thing about Week 2 for the Big Ten as a whole is that it's over. And the best thing about Week 3 for the Big Ten is that we probably won't have to talk like that about it afterwards.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that one of the few compelling games on the schedule this week is a visit from Notre Dame to Michigan State, and if that one goes sour, the non-conference season will already be an unqualified, irredeemable disaster for the Big Ten. No pressure or anything, Sparty!
We do have 11 other games to get through as well, though. You might look at the early slate and conclude it's safe to sleep in. Perhaps, but you'll me missing out on at least one very entertaining game. Read on and find out which it is.
Ohio State looked tested by Central Florida last week, and yes, the Buckeyes passed that test. It was still probably more of a test than OSU fans would have expected this early in the season, especially when the non-conference slate is just four home games against teams that aren't likely to be contenders for the Top 25 all year.
With that in mind, California comes to town, and like last week, this should probably be another game where the starters will be in for a little longer than Urban Meyer would like. Cal's not a serious contender in the Pac-12 this year, but Jeff Tedford can be counted on to put a potent passing attack on the field and the Golden Bears rushing defense should provide the stiffest resistance the Buckeyes have seen this year.
That said, you can throw on this California team, and with a depleted backfield and an unwillingness to rush Braxton Miller 27 times again, Urban Meyer will probably be more than happy to open up the passing game this week. Look for big days from Philly Brown and Devin Smith this week. And, of course, Braxton Miller.
Final score: Ohio State 33, California 21
Don't look now, but Minnesota is 2-0... and the Gophers look like they're putting something together. Granted, one of those wins was against an FCS team (albeit a relatively good one in New Hampshire) and the other was a three-OT affair against one of the worst FBS teams, UNLV.
But this year, QB MarQueis Gray looks like he's capable of making that substantial leap everyone's been waiting for. Gray emerged as a potent rushing threat in 2011, but now he's starting to get his passing game in order.
Yes, yes...consider the competition. We grant you that, and we're certainly not about to predict that Gray maintains his lead in passing efficiency in the Big Ten or anything, but this is still the same guy who completed 8-of-23 attempts in his first two seasons of play. Serious progress is being made.
Gray's toughest test of the season comes this week as Western Michigan comes to town. The Broncos pass defense is relatively stout; Illinois managed all of 133 yards and one TD on 21 attempts in the Illini's 24-7 victory in Week 1.
Look for a shootout here. Minnesota's defense is still gelling and Alex Carder leads a potent passing attack for WMU, so the Gophers might be lacking for big stops. But if they come out of this one with a win, believe it or not, we're talking about a 3-0 team. And there won't be many of those in the Big Ten this year.
Final score: Minnesota 34, Western Michigan 31
This game will be a welcome respite for Illinois after an embarrassing 45-14 stomping at the hands of Arizona State last week, as Charleston Southern shouldn't provide much resistance to the Illini on either side of the ball.
In fact, what to look for here won't just be Illinois' resiliency after suffering a 31-point setback the week prior; it's how the offense looks and how the QB reps are split up.
Nathan Scheelhaase missed a start for the first time in his entire career last week as an injured ankle sidelined him, and there's no question that the offense missed him as Reilly O'Toole and sophomore Miles Osei struggled to move the ball while splitting playing time. It would have made little difference the way Arizona State was carving up the Illinois defense, granted, but Scheelhaase's absence was evident.
Scheelhaase is back at practice but not 100 percent, and it would be hard to think Illinois needs him to get the win on Saturday. But the conference season is just two weeks away, and the quicker Scheelhaase gets back into the flow of things with the first string, the better. So keep an eye on that situation over the course of the afternoon.
Final score: Illinois 37, Charleston Southern 13
Not going to lie, we really hoped that Neil Armstrong tribute decal took up about a third of the helmet. It's Neil Armstrong!
Purdue fought valiantly in a 20-17 loss to Notre Dame last week, and the key here is going to be for the Boilermakers to avoid a letdown as Eastern Michigan comes to town.
The possibility of a letdown here is a real one. Purdue is by far the more talented team, but we're talking about a team that is now having to deal with the loss of Robert Marve for an undisclosed amount of time after an ACL injury. If the Boilermakers get anything more from Marve this year, it'll be a blessing.
Moreover, a bye looms next week for Purdue, so if there's any lingering dispiritedness that leads the Boilermakers to want to coast through this game to the bye, EMU's talented enough to give Purdue a rude awakening.
That said, this game shouldn't be close if Purdue's on its game. The Purdue D has been as assertive as we expected coming into the year, and the offense still has Caleb TerBush running the show on offense as well as a host of healthy weapons around him. Hopefully Purdue won't even need them for four quarters of action.
Final score: Purdue 38, Eastern Michigan 10
Here is a game that just might end up being the most entertaining of the entire week. Yes, really. Nebraska is far and away more talented than Arkansas State, and if this ends up being a blowout, don't be surprised.
But don't be surprised if Arkansas State hangs around, either. Remember, Gus Malzahn is the head coach of the Red Wolves, he of the lethal offense Auburn ran during its BCS National Championship run a couple years ago. And anyone thinking Nebraska can shut down the Red Wolves might do well to remember the utter incineration UCLA just put on the Blackshirts defense.
One thing's for sure: We'll be seeing offensive fireworks on both sides of the ball.
Final score: Nebraska 58, Arkansas State 45
Northwestern's spree of "technically they're in BCS conferences" opponents continues with a visit from Boston College. The Eagles boast a potent passing attack with Chase Rettig at the helm, and for a Northwestern defense that's still struggling with consistency, that could mean trouble.
On the other side of the ball, it's fascinating to watch the dynamic between Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter as they compete for the starting QB job, mainly because Northwestern has no qualms about putting both men on the field at the same time in that wacky offense.
Here's the thing, though. Northwestern has demonstrated twice that it can handle a mediocre BCS-level team. It has done that twice this year, actually. Boston College hasn't shown that, and even though Kyle Field isn't exactly a hornet's nest, It's still on BC to show it can put together a big game against real competition on the road.
Final score: Northwestern 27, Boston College 17
This guy gets an F at tackling.
Nobody wanted Penn State to be at 0-2 at this point in the year, even for as much of a possibility as it seemed coming into the year. Seeing a Big Ten team get worn down by a MAC opponent in the second half (Week 1) is arguably even more disheartening than seeing that Big Ten absolutely botch a victory by way of special teams (Week 2), because a kicker isn't likely to have issues like Sam Ficken did again—and if he does, you can at least work around that with play-calling.
The good thing for Penn State is that while Navy has a difficult offense to prepare for, Penn State at least enjoys a physical advantage, especially on both lines. It'll be easier for the Nittany Lions to assert their will this way, so while the PSU offense is still undermanned and bruised, expect to see it score enough to finally win this week.
But, um, don't expect to see much of Sam Ficken unless it's coming to extra points.
Final score: Penn State 21, Navy 17
Among the legions of disappointing Big Ten teams this season is Iowa, who just racked up six whole points in a home loss to rival Iowa State after barely squeaking by Northern Illinois in the season opener. Now Northern Iowa comes to town after giving Wisconsin a 26-21 scare, and at this point is it even a sure thing that Iowa can beat the Panthers?
Iowa's offense looks like the worst in the Big Ten thus far. The downfield movement is nearly non-existent, even on 3rd-and-long, and James Vandenberg looks like a completely different quarterback (in a bad way) than last season.
One would hope for Iowa's sake that the Hawkeyes are still talented enough to take down Northern Iowa, and at the very least the Hawkeye defense is back to being beastly after a couple years of mediocrity. If the defense can control the line of scrimmage against UNI the way it has the first two years, Iowa should be able to come away with a victory. But it won't exactly be a blowout.
Final score: Iowa 16, Northern Iowa 13
Massachusetts is terrible. Terrible. Indiana spanked the Minutemen 45-6 last week, and that one would have been worse if Indiana hadn't eased off the gas pedal in the second half or lost its starting quarterback to a horrible leg injury.
Now, since we can agree that Michigan is much better than Indiana, this matchup does not bode well for Massachusetts at all. After seeing plenty of Michigan's freshman linebackers in crunch time last week, we should see even more of Joe Bolden and company as they continue pushing for playing time in the second half.
This one won't be close. If it is, Michigan is in worse trouble than any of us imagined even during and after the Alabama game.
Final score: Michigan 63, UMass 10
OK, seriously, who's the wise guy that keeps giving Indiana night games? This is two in three weeks. This is less appropriate than ESPN televising the Little League World Series.
Final score: Indiana 28, Ball State 27
NOT THE WAY THEY DREW THAT ONE UP.
If you think this one's going to be an easy victory for Wisconsin, you probably didn't watch Utah State dispatch in-state rival (and heavy favorite) Utah last Week—and you certainly didn't watch the horror show that was Wisconsin's first two weeks of play as the Badgers were pushed around by the likes of Northern Iowa and Oregon State.
That said, "everything we saw last week is exactly what we'll see this week" is the type of mindset that Vegas exploits like crazy, especially in a volatile sport like college football. So this week should be a return to normalcy of sorts for the Badgers, who even in their current offensive image look prepared to take advantage of a middling Aggies defense.
Of course, we thought the same thing about Wisconsin's chances against Oregon State last week, and Oregon State wasn't coming off a win over a BCS-level opponent the week prior (its Week 1 game against Nicholls State had been postponed, as a matter of fact). So if Utah State makes a game of it, precedent say we shouldn't be surprised.
Final score: Wisconsin 27, Utah State 16
Ah, the game we've been waiting for. We will be looking live at Spartan Stadium, under the lights in East Lansing as Michigan State plays host to longtime rival Notre Dame. The two teams' history indicates this'll be a great game, as does the talent level on both teams—especially across the front seven.
Expect a slog in the rushing game for both teams, especially if Michigan State's unable to get its blockers to the next level and open up lanes for Le'Veon Bell. Bell's not exactly going to be beating tacklers to the corner—especially with linebackers as fast as Manti Te'o and the rest of Notre Dame's men.
There's a bit of a quarterback controversy on the other side of the ball as Notre Dame's now having to decide between Everett Golson and Tommy Rees to lead the team. Golson started last week, but Rees came in and led the Irish on a game-winning field goal drive against a strong Purdue defense.
We'll probably see Golson start again, as he adds a mobile dimension to an offense that would gladly like the opportunity to add some versatility against a punishing, talented Michigan State defense.
Meanwhile, Michigan State has looked shaky under center itself, as Andrew Maxwell struggled against Boise State then started slowly at Central Michigan before eventually putting together a solid outing. Notre Dame's secondary is a bit more forgiving than Michigan State's, so we could see a decent passing day for Maxwell and his young receivers.
At the end of the day, though, this'll come down to Le'Veon Bell against Notre Dame's front seven. Strength on strength. And while Bell should face his toughest resistance of the year, he should be able to wear down the Irish defense and help lead a late scoring drive for the win.
Final score: Michigan State 24, Notre Dame 20