Four And Out: Looking At The Key Non-Conference Games, Week 1

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The non-conference schedule, for the most part, is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because it means college football is back in all it's glory. It's a curse because well, for the most part, just about every team in every conference plays a schedule so bland that hominy becomes appealing.

We're still failing right along with the All-Time WORST B1G Tourney. Today's matchup pits '96 Purdue v. '99 Iowa -

But every week, a few teams in each conference find a quality opponent that makes for a good game, and in this day and age, those games help shape something the talking heads call 'conference strength' or 'conference impression'.

And let's face it, the last few years the B1G brand has been about as strong wet cardboard. But with the uptick in coaching talent and overall recruiting, the pendulum is going to start swinging back to the good guys this year.

This year, in the B1G, each week in the non-con has several intriguing games that I want to take a look at, one by one. I'm not going to go over every non-con game, because let's face it, Purdue at Western Kentucky really doesn't do anything for me. And unless you are a Purdue fan, it doesn't do anything for you, either. Heck, it probably doesn't do anything for Purdue fans, other than the fact...FOOTBALL IS BACK, BABY!

Let's look at the key week 1 match ups, after the jump.

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How Iowa does will hinge, in a large part, on how James Vandenberg does

Iowa vs. Northern Illinois (Played At Soldier Field): This is a good measuring stick for both Iowa and Northern Illinois. Northern Illinois is a legitimate team, and on a neutral field, I will be interested to see how Iowa plays. They've struggled early on in recent years (Iowa State, Northern Iowa, Arizona, Pitt both last year and in '08)) James Vandenberg needs to take the next step and become a true leader of this team, and Iowa has questions on both sides of the ball.The Hawkeyes are the better team and they should win, but they also tend to play down to their level of competition, especially early in the season. They should win, but a neutral field game has me a little worried here.

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Walking towards another 11 win season? Gotta beat Boise St.

Boise State at Michigan State (Aug 31): Well, Michigan State, you want to be considered elite. Beat perennial Goliath slayer Boise State, and you'll take another step. Back to back 11 win seasons are very good, a win over Georgia in your bowl game was good, but how will you be without Kirk Cousins? Your defense will be good, but will it be good enough to keep Boise State in check? Kellen Moore is gone, but I'm sure there will be somebody else that will step up to the plate. This is going to be a great game, and a great early seasn test for Sparty.

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The Flying Denard's have a tall task in week one

Michigan vs. Alabama (Jerry World, Dallas): This is a statement game for Michigan. Yes, Alabama is losing a lot of their defensive starters, and yes, they will be a relatively inexperienced team for the opener. But they are the defending SEC West SEC National Champions and will be a very strong team. Michigan is looking to build upon their comeback year, and nothing would make people sit up and take notice than a win here. Denard Robinson, for all his talents, still doesn't have a lot of believers when it comes to his passing ability. On defense, Michigan's line will have a lot of new faces, and many people think they could be a weak spot. This will be a great test for the Wolverines. Pass it, and Michigan is on the short list for the national title.

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Mr. Frodo, look out!

Northwestern at Syracuse: The rest of the slate of games games should be fairly easy wins for the good guys, but if there's one game that might be a trap out of all of them, I would go with Northwestern at Syracuse. It's not that I think that Syracuse is better, but Northwestern will have a new quarterback, this game is on the road, and this would be a big win for Syracuse that started out 5-2 last year but finished 5-7. These teams are a lot more closely matched than meets the eye, and I think this will be a game that will be tougher for Northwestern than people think.

Michigan and Michigan State will have the toughest draws, and I don't see both of them winning. I'm going to go with a 3-1 prediction, with Michigan coming up short against Alabama. If anyone else in the conference loses, it will be a facepalm moment.

Face. Palm.

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