Say goodbye to Willy Wonka and the cupcakes that were shoved down our throats the last two weeks and say hello to a real schedule of games.
It is a make-or-break week for the Big Ten as four teams face off against Pac-12 foes—two on the road, one at home and one in Chicago. Additionally, Notre Dame and Iowa State join the parade in what will be the 2013 version of the defining week for the Big Ten.
There's no question that the league has taken a tumble down the respect meter, but this weekend's slate of games, the conference has a major opportunity to climb back to the top alongside the SEC.
So, how does this pivotal week shape up for the Big Ten? Come on inside and let's find out together! Welcome to the jungle...It's put-up or shut-up time for the conference and for my picking skills.
Here is a reminder of where we left off after last week:
Last week's picks: 10-2, 9-3 ATS
2013 Picks: (22-2, 17-7 ATS)
*All lines courtesy of VegasInsider.com.
Saturday, Sept. 14 at noon ET (ESPNU)
What do we know about Indiana football after two weeks of the season? We know it appears to be the same old situation (cue the Motley Crue music) in Bloomington.
Indiana's offense is explosive, but the defense is nowhere to be found. That's to be expected against an attack like last week's opponent Navy can put up. However, Navy isn't Bowling Green, and the Falcons come to Bloomington looking like one of the best teams in the MAC.
The Hoosiers will need everything they have from their offensive firepower and from quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who seems to have solidified himself as the starter (for now), because Bowling Green won't lie down defensively.
Bowling Green has taken care of two teams that were considered to be potential "BCS Busters" in Tulsa and Kent State, and the Falcons did it by playing great on offense and defense. In fact, they are the best defensive team that the Hoosiers will face in the nonconference portion of their schedule.
This won't be an easy game at all, and if IU pulls it out, it will be because the Hoosiers received a defensive wake-up call last week. No matter what the spread says, the Falcons are too well rounded to lose this game.
Prediction: Bowling Green 37, Indiana 33
Saturday, Sept. 14 at noon ET (BTN)
It wouldn't be the nonconference season without a few cupcakes thrown every Big Ten team's way, but this may be about the most ridiculous of them all.
There is no way to sugarcoat this matchup—Michigan is going to put Akron out behind the woodshed.
No offense to Terry Bowden, but his program hasn't been on the uphill climb since he took over. Sure, there are some decent parts on the offensive line, but Michigan has better pieces at every position.
Besides, there is no way that Brady Hoke will let his guys fall into the "trap game" situation at all—especially not after the Wolverines were able to vault all the way to No. 11 in the rankings this week thanks to their win at home over Notre Dame.
The only question is if it will be Fitzgerald Toussaint, Derrick Green or Devin Gardner who does the most damage to the Zips in the first half. If this game isn't over by the half, color me surprised.
Prediction: Michigan 48, Akron 6
Is Marcus Jones the best weapon the Gophers have?
Saturday, Sept. 14 at noon ET (BTN)
Marcus Jones was just named the Big Ten's Special Teams Player of the Week, and it's becoming clear that what he does or doesn't do in the return game is going to have a big impact on Minnesota's 2013 season.
His return in the UNLV game changed a close game into a blowout quickly, and the same thing happened on the road at New Mexico State last week.
Of course, we're also talking about Minnesota at home against an FCS opponent. We all know how well that has worked out for the Gophers in the past, right?
I don't need to remind you of names like North Dakota State, South Dakota...OK, I think I've tortured Gophers fans long enough.
Relax—this won't be a repeat of previous results. That's because Western Illinois isn't on the same playing field as those two very good FCS programs. The Gophers football team also happens to be much better than those previous editions as well.
So, enjoy Saturday afternoon at "The Bank." You should witness a thumping and a little easing off the tension that still haunts this program.
Expect a 3-0 start. Minnesota hasn't scored this many points to start a season since 2005, and if memory serves me correctly, that year was a winning season that included knocking off two ranked opponents.
The only question is if the backup defense can hold on long enough to allow me to pick the points in this one.
Prediction: Minnesota 41, Western Illinois 13
Saturday, Sept. 14 at noon ET (ABC)
Goodbye, cupcakes and hello, real world in Lincoln, as No. 16 UCLA comes to town for a rematch of a game most remember as one of the best of 2012.
Both sides have downplayed the "rematch factor" and are saying they are focusing on the here and now. While that has some truth, don't think for one second that Nebraska has forgotten about that fourth quarter at the Rose Bowl last year.
While some of the faces are different, this could be a battle of which quarterback plays his game the best. It could be the best matchup not involving Alabama vs. Texas A&M in Week 3, as Brett Hundley and Taylor Martinez go at it once again.
That said, the Huskers have a lot of factors in their favor, especially history—mainly the poor history of Pac-12 teams coming into Big Ten country. If there's one thing I know in life, it's that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it...or however the actual quote has been mangled to mean these days.
The point is history sometimes isn't made to be broken, and this isn't one of those times.
Expect Nebraska's defense to grow up quickly and Martinez to work his T-Magic on the national stage. Look for him to have four touchdowns and two interceptions, with at least one of those TDs coming through the air as he leads the Huskers to a big-time home victory.
Prediction: Nebraska 37, UCLA 30
Cook will start, but will he be able to finish?
Saturday, Sept. 14 at 2 p.m. ET (BTN)
Mark Dantonio has a mess on his hands, plain and simple, and this game against Youngstown State could be just what the doctor ordered for his quarterback conundrum as well.
Connor Cook is going to start the game, but depending on practice this week, the staff is hopeful that true freshman Damion Terry will get major playing time as well.
The only thing that will be considered a success in this game (besides an obvious W) will be that one of Cook or Terry emerges as "the guy" at quarterback.
If this battle keeps dragging on, MSU is in some serious trouble in the coming weeks. The Spartans may be anyway (a whole different topic for a different time), but a steady quarterback behind center at least gives them a chance on offense. Playing musical quarterbacks for the past two weeks hasn't exactly netted positive results.
That whole zero passing touchdown stat looms over this team like a black cloud, and fans have had enough of those at Spartan Stadium without the QB battle. Dantonio is becoming about as desperate as a coach has been in some time in Big Ten country with this battle.
Expect answers to come, whether positive or negative, this weekend. If I had money on the QB battle, I would bet that MSU inserts Terry and names him the starter the rest of the way (barring injury of course).
Oh, and don't you worry: The defense will dominate as usual, except it won't score a touchdown for a change.
Prediction: Michigan State 33, Youngstown State 6
Saturday, Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. ET (BTN)
The ties that bind Bill O'Brien and George O'Leary are deep to say the least, but don't expect that to affect this game at all. Additionally, don't expect the 76-7 scoreline that UCF has put on its opponents to play that big of a factor either.
After all, UCF did take care of the mighty Akron and Florida International. That's not to say the Knights don't possess some skill and players (quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson, for example) who can challenge Penn State, but putting up awesome numbers against Akron and FIU isn't the same thing as doing it against PSU in Beaver Stadium.
The line in this game is shocking, if you ask me. Penn State has shown its defense is good, and the Nittany Lions are likely to have the best freshman QB in the country in Christian Hackenberg when it's all said and done.
He's warming up well to the college football world, and while UCF's defense may make him think twice at times, the Knights will have to deal with Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch in the running game as well.
Their development as a solid trio behind Hackenberg is going to be the difference in this one. Don't expect it to be as close as the experts are predicting.
Prediction: Penn State 39, UCF 24
Saturday, Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1)
We've come to the first rivalry game for any Big Ten team in 2013, as Iowa heads west to take on bitter in-state rival Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames.
Interestingly, the Hawkeyes are on a two-game losing streak in the series and on the road, but they are still the oddsmakers' favorites.
History—that stubborn thing I'll keep coming back to over and over again—won't be kind to the Hawkeyes' chances under Kirk Ferentz's leadership. They are just 6-8 against the Cyclones.
Jack Trice Stadium will be rocking for this later-than-expected kickoff, and that could be a good thing for the quality of this game. It will give players a chance to relax a bit more and be less on edge from the start.
The intensity will be all over the field, and if you are in Big Ten country, I encourage you to check out one of the Midwest's best rivalry games.
Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes and Kirk Ferentz, I don't like this matchup for them at all. They'll be fine offensively, but Iowa State's offense has had a week to correct a few issues and is dangerous in the pass game—exactly where Iowa can be hurt the most.
Give me the Cyclones in this one as more and more people hop on the "Fire Ferentz" train back to Iowa City—especially since the Cyclones will be honoring their stadium namesake, Jack Trice, with uniforms fashioned after the 1927 team he was on.
Prediction: Iowa State 33, Iowa 26
Soldier Field plays host to an intriguing clash between the Huskies and Illini.
Saturday, Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. ET (BTN)
Two weeks ago, this game looked like a massive blowout in the making. To open their respective seasons, Illinois had struggled against its FCS opponent, and Washington had put a whopping on Boise State.
However, an impressive win a week later over Cincinnati for the Fighting Illini suddenly made this game a lot more interesting.
Now, the question is: Were the fantastic results for both of these teams flukes, or can one sustain its momentum?
Unfortunately for the Illini, they don't have the answers on defense just yet. Against Keith Price and Co. you better have things figured out; otherwise, he'll pick you apart.
With this game on "neutral territory" at Soldier Field in Chicago, this could offer a true read on where both of these teams are.
It's hard to see how the Illini defense stops Price enough to allow the offense time to score points in bunches. However, I will say this game is going to be close for at least a half, as Nathan Scheelhaase continues to display why he is the most overlooked quarterback in the Big Ten.
Prediction: Washington 37, Illinois 24
Saturday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. ET (FOX)
Here we go—the dreaded trip out west. It's the yearly reminder to all teams that the Big Ten sucks going to the West Coast. So, does history repeat itself in Berkley when No. 4 Ohio State takes on the "Bear Raid" of Cal?
Well, Northwestern bucked the trend two weeks ago in Berkley and helped the conference gain just its fifth win against Pac-12 teams in true road games since 2000. So, why can't Ohio State?
Besides, the Buckeyes proved last week that they don't need Braxton Miller to win them football games anymore.
This game scares me a bit since Cal loves to throw the ball all over the field, and Ohio State's pass defense (from its lack of pass rush to its stats in total) hasn't been stellar for the run it has been on lately.
The good news is the Bear Raid also provides plenty of opportunities for the Buckeyes to dictate pace on offense, and that's exactly what I expect to happen in this game. Look for Miller or Kenny Guiton or both to lead the Buckeyes to a victory in impressive fashion.
That means 15-0, baby!
Prediction: Ohio State 41, Cal 23
Saturday, Sept. 14 at 8 p.m. ET (ABC)
Don't let Purdue's terrible start fool you, they'll be in this game...
Are you done laughing now?
Seriously though, if you've been paying attention to this rivalry game, then you would know to expect the unexpected between these two in-state rivals.
Purdue always finds a way to play ND tough and did so last year. The Boilermakers went down 20-17 to a team that played in the national championship game, while they made the mighty Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The problem with that narrative coming true this year for Boilermakers fans is that they have no offense at all and are going up against a great defense. Unless Rob Henry pulls a rabbit out of his hat, this one isn't happening.
It could be ugly under the lights in West Lafayette. Sorry, Boiler fans, I just don't see it. However, I do see you winning against the spread—if that's any sort of consolation prize.
Prediction: Notre Dame 36, Purdue 17
Saturday, Sept. 14 at 9 p.m. ET (BTN)
Northwestern fans have to be breathing a small sigh of relief. The Wildcats did just survive and more importantly thrive against two straight BCS conference opponents to open the season at 2-0. They've been rewarded somewhat in the polls, climbing to No. 17 for Week 3.
However, they can't sleep on P.J. Fleck's Western Michigan squad. They may not have won a game yet and may have fallen victim to Nicholls State last week, but what we saw against Michigan State was a team that could play some defense.
True, that was against Michigan State, and no one in the Big Ten, minus Purdue, could possibly be worse on offense, right?
The Wildcats have put up 40 or more on each of their first two opponents and did it for the most part without having to over-rely on quarterback Kain Colter. They also didn't have Venric Mark, thanks to an ankle injury.
He could be in the mix this week, and that means Western Michigan better look out. The guy who replaced him, Treyvon Green, was equal to the task against a solid Syracuse defense. He has racked up 195 yards on the ground already this year.
The Broncos could be just the slow-down in terms of competition that Northwestern needs before running the Big Ten gauntlet that awaits it in a few weeks. Look for Mark, Colter and Trevor Siemian to prove why last year wasn't a fluke at all in this one. Each player will go for more than 100 yards in one way, shape or form.
Prediction: Northwestern 55, Western Michigan 17
Saturday, Sept. 14 at 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Wisconsin caps off the day out west with the final and perhaps most intriguing matchup between the Big Ten and Pac-12 this week.
The Badgers have hung 97 points on their first two opponents and have yet to surrender a single point to an opponent in the last 11 quarters of football. Those are impressive numbers, to say the least.
However, Arizona State is not UMass or Tennessee Tech, and plenty questions abound for both teams in this one. The winner in the desert will become a major player inside its conference.
What could be to the Badgers' advantage is the fact that they've played two versions of the spread offense that they will see on Saturday night already.
What could be to the their disadvantage is that no Big Ten team has come into Sun Devil Stadium and won a football game. Arizona State is 8-0 in games against the Big Ten at home. The streak ironically started against Wisconsin in 1968.
However, I expect that streak to stop as Wisconsin shows why it blanked both of its first two opponents and why it had three backs top the century mark in back-to-back games to start the season.
Look for James White and Melvin Gordon to each score a touchdown on runs of 40 yards or more as the Badgers play a game of cat and mouse, using the running game to set up an underrated passing game in beating the hosts. It will be close for three quarters, but the Badgers' bevy of backs will take over in the fourth quarter.
I may regret this pick, but I'm listening to my gut and what I saw on the field from ASU last week.
Prediction: Wisconsin 37, Arizona State 20