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Three and Out...Looking at the First Three Weeks of Non-Conference Play, Part 1

Hot Blondes and Great Expectations...the Big Ten has both of them in 2010.
Hot Blondes and Great Expectations...the Big Ten has both of them in 2010.

With College Football kicking off in less than two months…wooo!!...sorry…I thought it might be interesting to look at the Big Ten’s out of conference schedule.  Usually, there’s one or two games in the total out of conference slate that looks interesting, and the rest are essentially tune ups preparing for conference play.  However, in 2010, the Big Ten has 12…12 non-conference games that will set the tone for the conference as they head into the biggest season, at least in terms of expectations, since 2003.  Do all of these games have national championship implications?  No, but they are all games against BCS schools, and a couple games will definitely shape the minds of the voters, and the perception of the conference, as we head into conference play.

I’m going to break this series into three parts, covering the first three weeks of the non-conference schedule. 

Week 1, Sep 4:

Illinois-Missouri:  Oh, will this be good.  So good, I think I’m going to get a ticket and head on down to the Edward Jones Dome to check it out.  The last time we saw Missouri, we felt so bad for treating her like a dirty slut we left money on the dresser as we left, but we didn’t leave our phone number.  Hey, it’s not our fault we said we were available and SHE came on to US, was it?  Soon, she called her boyfriend Dan and went crawling back on her hands and knees, professing eternal love…until the next bigger, better deal comes along.  Missouri hasn’t been abused that bad since the fifth down game, and they’ll be wanting some revenge on anything Big Ten.  Say what you want about Ron Zook…and we can say PLENTY…the man can recruit some talent.  He just can’t coach ‘em--he’s like the Big Ten’s version of George McClellan.  Hey, McClellan did win at Antietam.  A win for Illinois here, and it sets the tone for a comeback season for the Illini, and it will really rub salt in the gaping Missouri head wound.  Illinois can win this game; they’ve played the Arch Rivalry tough, but have come out on the short end.  3 of the last 4 games have been very competitive, and this year will be no different.

Michigan-UConn:  So will all that extra, undocumented practice pay off?  I keed, I keed.  When you look at the Big East, and then really take a look at UConn, you can talk yourself into UConn being the best team in the Big East.  Cincinnati?  Not with Brian Kelly in South Bend.  Pitt?  C’mon, Dave Wannstedt is the coach.  He was Ron Zook before Ron Zook was.  West Virginia?  They are one more year into the Bill Stewart era, and another recruiting class poorer.  It’s a matter of time before they spend a decade in Mediocreville.  Why not UConn?  They were 8-5 last year, and those five losses were by 2, 3, 4, 4, and 2 points.  They handled South Carolina in their bowl game and a lot of their starters return.  For Michigan, this is a make or break year for Rich Rodriguez.  He has sullied the once untarnished UM brand and has yet to take the Wolverines to a bowl.  A nice season opening win over a good program will keep the hounds at bay, at least for a week, and will give UM some momentum going into South Bend.  A loss, at home, over a program that is historically inferior to Michigan, and the ‘here we go again’ story lines will dominate Ann Arbor, fairly or not.  

Northwestern at Vanderbilt:  It’s the Brainiac Bowl!  I gotta tell you, this will be one of my ‘must watch games’ for week one…as long as my wife says I can, of course.  Northwestern is a good team, taking Auburn to the limit on New Year’s Day, and they have a lot of talent returning.  Vanderbilt is SEsCh, and therefore this game automatically has national championship implications, because, well, it’s an SEC school!!!  Just remember, if Northwestern wins, it was a combination of bad breaks and bad officiating.  If Vanderbilt wins, it’s further proof of the SEC’s continued dominance of the world, truth be damned.  Oh, that and Northwestern was too slow to keep up with ESS EEE CEE speed.  Honestly, Northwestern is the better team here, by a fair amount, and should win this game.

It’s all right, it’s okay, they’ll all blog for us someday. 

Purdue at Notre Dame:  If Brian Kelly can go into Cincinnati and take them to a bail on them for Notre Dame  right before a BCS game, he can repeat that with the Irish.  Kelly will win, and win big, at Notre Dame, I firmly believe that.  Charlie Weiss left him some good talent, but I don’t know if it’s the kind of talent that can run the spread offense, kind of like what we saw in Michigan in Rich Rodriguez’ first year.  Purdue struggled early under new coach Danny Hope, including ugly losses to Northern Illinois and Minnesota.  But they played inspired football in defeating Ohio State and Michigan, and look to improve on 2010 and make a run towards a bowl game.  A win over new look Notre Dame would go a long way to accomplish that goal.  It’s tough to say who has the edge here.  My gut tells me Purdue, because the Spread is such a different offense than what Notre Dame had been running.  But Kelly is a great coach, and has more athletes.  It should be a fun game.

I think the Big Ten does well in week 1, with a 2-2 split at worst.  It will be tough for Illinois to beat Mizzou, but Northwestern, Michigan, and Purdue all have excellent shots to win.