Picks, Predictions and Prognosis for Every Week 1 Big Ten Football Game
After months of speculation, reporting on arrests and general tomfoolery, we've finally arrived at Week 1 of the college football season, and boy does it feel good to know we are just a day away from seeing Big Ten teams in action.
Of course it also means we've got a ton of crap game watching to get through before some real good action happens across Big Ten country. The week is highlighted by Iowa taking on Orange Bowl participant Northern Illinois and Northwestern heading out west to take on Cal. Outside of that we hope you enjoy a good beatdown or ten.
According to my crack research, as we enter the opening weekend of the season, the Big Ten is 102-18 over the past decade in their opening matchups. So, can we expect more of the same type of domination?
Step inside to find out more....
2013 Record (0-0, 0-0 Against the Spread)
All lines courtesy of VegasInsider.com
Indiana State at Indiana (-24.5)
Thursday, Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. ET (BTN)
Who likes cupcakes? I hear the shops that sell them are all the rage these days! Well, the Big Ten has plenty coming out of their factory for opening weekend of the college football season.
Too bad no one likes cupcakes on the football field, but that's exactly how the Hoosiers will start off 2013—by taking a huge bite out of a cupcake in the Sycamores of Indiana State.
(I promise, no Larry Bird jokes here)
The Hoosiers have never lost to the Sycamores in four previous games, and with Indiana State welcoming a brand-new coach in Mike Sanford (Trent Miles left for FBS school Georgia State following a pretty successful stint at ISU) there is bound to be a feeling-out period. Unfortunately that can't happen against an ever-improving Hoosiers team.
However, if you are looking for a reason why Indiana won't cover the spread in this one, then look no further than the best running back in Sycamores history, Shakir Bell. He's racked up over 3,700 yards on the ground in just three years on the Terre Haute campus and needs just 541 yards this season to become the all-time leading rusher in school history.
This is a perfect tune-up game for a youthful front seven in Bloomington as they will be challenged by a good running back, but can still overpower an offensive line. Expect to see freshman defensive tackle Darius Latham in the backfield often, racking up sacks and TFLs like they are going out of style as the Hoosiers drub their in-state FCS brethren.
Score Prediction: Indiana 55, Indiana State 10
UNLV at Minnesota (-14)
Thursday, Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. ET (BTN)
Of course with the other conference game on at the same time and featuring a Big Ten vs. FCS matchup, your viewing options should begin and end with this game on opening night of the 2013 college football season.
Las Vegas either really loves UNLV or they really don't respect Minnesota. Either way, this Gophers team as just 14-point favorites certainly got my attention. That and the narrow 30-27 victory the Gophers pulled out in their trip to Sin City last season.
However, that was the season opener, and by the time the calendar flipped over to November this was a vastly different Minnesota team. Heck, they even had a different quarterback. So as we look at this game entering 2013, expecting the same kind of result as last year is just silly.
Quarterback Philip Nelson was far from perfect in 2012 (what freshman is?), but this season he may not have to carry the team. This could be the year that the Gophers finally find their identity as a hard-nosed running team thanks to a good back in Donnell Kirkwood and an offensive line that is more nasty than finesse for a change.
UNLV runs out of luck in this one as Ra'Shede Hageman does his best Jadeveon Clowney impression on poor quarterback Nick Sherry and running back Tim Cornett for the Rebels.
Score Prediction: Minnesota 35, UNLV 16
Western Michigan at Michigan State (-28)
Friday, Aug. 30 at 8 p.m. ET (BTN)
The Spartans haven't lost a game to the Broncos of Western Michigan in nearly a century. Yes, you just read that right, a CENTURY. In fact, Western Michigan wasn't even Western Michigan in name the last time the Broncos won against Michigan State in 1917. (It was Western State Normal School if you desire to know.)
Don't expect that streak to stop anytime soon, either, as the Spartans are a Big Ten division contender, while the Broncos are figuring out a first-time head coach in P.J. Fleck and aren't nearly the MAC contenders they once were.
What will be interesting to see is if Mark Dantonio will play musical chairs at quarterback or allow the named starter, Andrew Maxwell, to work a full game to see what he can truly do with this team. If he struggles early on, expect the Spartan faithful to get restless quick.
Michigan State may have many questions left to answer on offense, but this is a game where their defense, projected to be the best in the Big Ten this season, should win them the game regardless of what the other side of the ball does.
There is a reason the spread is 28 points in this game. Expect a blowout as the Broncos are just overmatched in nearly all aspects of this game, but don't expect MSU to cover in this one.
Score Prediction: Michigan State 34, Western Michigan 10
UMass at Wisconsin (-44.5)
Saturday, Aug. 31 at noon ET (BTN)
As we continue to roll along in the cupcake factory that is the Big Ten schedule for Week 1, we bring you our latest effort—Wisconsin vs. UMass.
This is perhaps one of the two biggest mismatches for conference teams to open the slate as UMass is struggling mightily to get up to speed as an FBS program. It really hurts that both their expected starting running back, Jordan Broadnax, and an expected starter at wide receiver are out for this game.
It will be growing pains by lumps for the Minutemen in this one, and it's something their head coach acknowledged this week during the weekly MAC coaches teleconference.
On the other hand, you've got a senior-led Badgers squad, who will be introducing a new coaching era to the Camp Randall faithful. Expect Badger backs James White and Melvin Gordon to have a field day with an inexperienced and weak UMass defense, as both could easily go for over 100 yards a piece.
Gary Andersen's debut will be scrutinized for every difference from the "Wisconsin Way" on offense, and the new-look defense will also be picked apart should Wisconsin come out of the gates slow. But don't expect anything less than a blowout in Madison, as the Badgers are far superior in talent at all levels, even where they are perceived to be weak by some.
Score Prediction: Wisconsin 55, UMass 7
Purdue at Cincinnati (-10.5)
Saturday Aug. 31, noon ET (ESPNU)
This is the only game a Big Ten team isn't favored to win in Week 1, and for good reason—Cincinnati is a good program and Purdue had no business playing in the postseason last year, let alone being .500.
What is interesting about this matchup is seeing two coaches making their debuts at their respective schools, as Darrell Hazell leads his Purdue team out against Tommy Tuberville and his Bearcats of Cincinnati. It's one of just three such matchups on opening weekend across college football.
Purdue has some great individual talent sprinkled around its defense, yet has never put it all together, and that could well be the Achilles' heel for the Boilers in 2013. Going up against a Cincinnati offense that put up just over 32 points per game last year should give Purdue fans plenty to be worried about.
Easily the most intriguing matchup will be Rob Henry, who's experienced (seven starts and 22 games appeared in), leading his team out of the tunnel as the starter from day one for the first time against a sixth-year senior in Brendon Kay, who started the final five games last season. Which one of these two experienced, yet green QBs will show better?
Cincinnati is stacked on both sides of the ball and returns 47 juniors and seniors for 2013. Purdue can't match that, and its youth and inexperience is likely to do them in in this one.
Score Prediction: Cincinnati 39, Purdue 20
Buffalo at Ohio State (-35)
Saturday, Aug. 31 at noon ET (ESPN2)
Hide the women and children in this one, as it could be ugly and fast to open the season in Columbus.
No, seriously, I highly suggest doing such. It won't be pretty, and the 35-point spread the oddsmakers in Las Vegas gave this game is being generous at best if you ask me.
Even without Carlos Hyde in the backfield there are plenty of weapons for this team to rely on, and Braxton Miller could have a field day throwing the football to a myriad of different receivers. Look for the tight ends to be especially important to the passing game.
The only thing that gives me pause in this one is the fact that Buffalo has a good defense, allowing fewer than 30 points to two of the three BCS opponents they faced last year. Problem is, that other opponent was Georgia and they got blasted big time in that game, losing 45-23 in Athens.
Expect this one to be a near mirror of the Georgia opener from a year ago, as the Buckeyes are just more talented all the way around. Suspended players or not, OSU is too deep and too good for this Buffalo team.
Score Prediction: Ohio State 51, Buffalo 10
Southern Illinois at Illinois (-17)
Saturday, Aug. 31 at noon ET (BTN)
Haven't liked any of the previous five flavors of cupcakes we've offered you so far? Well, here's another one for your enjoyment.
Illinois is looking to put a dreadful 2012 behind them, and the in-state Salukis provide a great opportunity to help them erase those bad memories, to say the least. Hey, it's not like they have to face Cincinnati or Washington the next two weeks or anything...
Oh, wait, they do? Well, this is about as close to must-win as a cupcake opener can come, then.
Those that saw the Illini spring game last April saw a different football team, especially on offense, and will be hoping that carries over to the regular season when things go live.
Much-maligned QB Nathan Scheelhaase will be looking to return to the form he showed early in his career, and with new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit in the fold it appears he is a different player already. Let's see it in this game before I believe it.
A lowly 17-point spread at home against an FCS opponent. That's how far this program has fallen as of late, but expect this offense to be more impressive than people give them credit for as they take down their lone true cupcake.
Score Prediction: Illinois 41, Southern Illinois 17
Central Michigan at Michigan (-31.5)
Saturday, Aug. 31 3:30 p.m. ET (BTN)
Michigan's opponent for the season opener, Central Michigan, has been a bit of a coaching pipeline to the BCS level over the past decade, and after winning the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl last season they'll be ready to hit the ground running in 2013 as well.
Problem is, Michigan isn't Western Kentucky, and Central Michigan was just 6-6 last season despite a win over Iowa.
With Denard Robinson gone, Michigan looks to debut the more pro-style look to the offense in this one, and with the experience already shown by Devin Gardner as Robinson's replacement at QB, big things are once again expected in Ann Arbor.
Michigan is looking to get back to running the ball well out of the backfield, and with Fitzgerald Toussaint and true freshman Derrick Green on the two-deep, it appears the Wolverines are well-equipped for a run-first-oriented offense.
This is the perfect way for those backs to get their feet wet and give them a decent challenge all at the same time.
With the spread sitting at 31.5 points to the Maize 'N Blue's favor it's tempting to take the over here, but history says UM comes out a bit sluggish and will make it close for the betting folks out there.
Score Prediction: Michigan 44, Central Michigan 17
Northern Illinois at Iowa (-3)
Saturday, Aug. 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET (BTN)
We proudly interrupt your regularly scheduled beat downs to bring you a Week 1 classic. At least that's the hope for Iowa fans as they take on a Northern Illinois team out to avenge their only regular-season loss of last season.
The biggest advantage for the Hawkeyes is that this one is in Kinnick, a place Big Ten teams hate coming to, let alone MAC opponents.
However, with Jordan Lynch back at the helm of the Huskies and looking to make a run to the Heisman Trophy, there is little chance these Huskies will be intimidated. Lynch passed for over 3,000 yards and rushed for over 1,800 more en route to an Orange Bowl appearance for his team.
On the other side, the Hawkeyes are starting a brand-new QB in Jake Rudock. However, he isn't alone. The backfield finally appears to have some normalcy to it, and Mark Weisman proved to be one of the better backs in the Big Ten last season, rushing for over 800 yards on a bad football team.
Perhaps the biggest question is, Who has made the biggest improvements since last season's opener? If it's Iowa's offense then this could be a nice win, but if it's Jordan Lynch and the Huskies this could get ugly inside Kinnick.
Score Prediction: Northern Illinois 33, Iowa 20
Penn State (-8) vs. Syracuse
Saturday, Aug. 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN2)
Last season didn't get off on the right foot at all for Penn State and Bill O'Brien, and coming into 2013 they are looking to forget those memories and create new ones. Standing in their way is a team that is a perfect challenge for them in Syracuse, on a neutral field at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
Both teams are very similar in that their best playmakers, i.e. their QBs from a season ago, are being replaced. Of course, the similarities don't end there, as both teams are going all cloak and dagger on their starting QBs for the Week 1 matchup.
Syracuse will line up with either Terrel Hunt or Drew Allen under center, and Penn State will counter with either Tyler Ferguson or true freshman Christian Hackenberg. No one has a true read on who will line up under center for either team, and it likely won't happen right up until kickoff, either.
So, a lot of this game is going to come down to the ability of either team to run the ball effectively, and if that's the case it's advantage PSU with Zach Zwinak over the unknown duo of Jerome Smith or Prince-Tyson Gulley (best name in CFB?).
This game shouldn't be close, but with the unknowns surrounding both teams there is rightfully a lot of intrigue in this Big Ten vs. ACC matchup.
Score Prediction: Penn State 27, Syracuse 14
Wyoming at Nebraska (-30)
Saturday, Aug. 31 at 8 p.m. ET (BTN)
Well, welcome back to the cupcake factory. Hope you've enjoyed the seven flavors we've experimented on you with so far. However, we've got just one more coming your way today.
That's because the reigning Legends division champions welcome the mighty Cowboys of Wyoming into Lincoln. It's just the second-ever meeting for these two schools, and the first one was a 2011 W for the Huskers.
Taylor Martinez is surrounded by perhaps the best set of weapons he has ever seen, and he's going up against a Wyoming D that allowed over 33 points a game last season. Seeing those two paired together should be all you need to know about this cupcake game.
What may be most important is seeing how backup running back Imani Cross and Terrell Newby perform, because we all know the importance of more than one back in the Nebraska system. Just ask the 2012 team what it would've been without now-starter Ameer Abdullah.
Nebraska's defense could be a work in progress, but Wyoming's offense shouldn't provide too much of a challenge after scoring just 26.8 points a game last season. Expect this one to be a good tune up for what's coming when UCLA visits in a few weeks.
Score Prediction: Nebraska 55, Wyoming 17
Northwestern (-5.5) at Cal
Saturday, Aug. 31 at 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Your reward for being part of our cupcake factory taste-testing? A west coast game where the Big Ten team actually has a legitimate shot at winning for a change! Pretty awesome, right?
If you like your offense in college football, this is one game you are going to want to tune in to, as Northwestern's high-powered attack, led by seniors Kain Colter and Venric Mark, take on Cal's new "Bear Raid" offense under new head coach Sonny Dykes.
Looking at this matchup, there are two names that stand out above the rest, and amazingly they are both on the defensive side of the ball. Northwestern's hopes of stopping the crazy attack Cal will throw out there rest on being able to rattle freshman starter Jarrod Goff.
That means defensive end Tyler Scott and sophomore corner Nick VanHoose, two of the best playmakers this team has on defense, must show up in a big way.
Otherwise, the gun-fight at the O.K. Corral might not have anything on the total put up in Berkley on Saturday night.
Score Prediction: Northwestern 38, Cal 27