A long, long time ago, one JDMill graced the Off Tackle Empire boards with his writing. His style, wisdom, and panache endeared him not only to his own Gopher faithful, but also to the OTE community at large. Rumor has it he even watched the games. Before him, the column was written by the timeless Bama Hawkeye. Then, a level of suave grace dripped from every line, calling to mind a simpler time, when Pam Ward was sure to call your non-conference games on ESPN+ and there were still 11 teams in the Big Ten.
When Mr. Mill departed from Off Tackle Empire, the void left was especially apparent when it came time to pen his weekly column, What I Want in the Non-Con. JDMill laid down basic demands for the week ahead in non-conference matchups, giving his previews of each game and a predicted (and desired) record outcome for the conference that week.
Now you're stuck with me. Ha ha!
General Guidelines for the Non-Con in 2014
No losses to non-AQ schools
2-1 against Notre Dame
Protect yo turf (no home losses)
I like to think these guidelines are pretty straightforward. It means I expect Big Ten teams to clean up at home, regardless of who they're playing. Northwestern, you're hosting Cal? Good. You don't lose at home in the non-conference. Indiana, you're going to Bowling Green? Have some pride and protect the B1G brand.
Take note, Nebraska. No losses to non-AQ schools means no losses to non-AQ schools. Think we can do that? Purdue, do your best.
What I Want, Week 1:
Thursday, August 28:
Minnesota vs. Eastern Illinois (6pm CST, BTN): FCS school. Run ball, be Gophers. Don't do anything stupid. I would like to see Ryan Santoso nail a long field goal, just to show he can, but that's just gravy on a game the Gophers should roll by three scores.
Rutgers at Washington State (9pm, FS1): Here's where my guidelines don't demand a win. Rutgers is following Northwestern last year and preceding Nebraska this year in this inane practice of the B1G allowing non-conference games to be played on the West Coast at night. Rutgers has it even worse than the ‘Cats or ‘Huskers, traveling across the country and three time zones. Our PAC-12 preview was iffy, and so am I. If Rutgers can beat the spread and keep this game within a score, I'll consider it a positive for the Big Ten. A Scarlet Knights win would be a dream scenario. Time to see if Kyle Flood's pass defense is ready for the onslaught.
Friday, August 29:
#8 Michigan State vs. Jacksonville State (6:30, BTN): This is a football game that will happen. Three scores, along with Connor Cook showing that he hasn't missed a beat since his hot finish to 2013.
Saturday, August 30:
Penn State vs. Central Florida (at Dublin, 7:30am, ESPN2): Who knows, right? I don't THINK this falls into "protect yo turf," since Bill O'Brien and Matt McGloin aren't around to defend the green, green grass of their ancestral home. I guess since I don't expect a B1G team to lose to a non-AQ school, that means the Nittany Lions should beat UCF. The Knights lost three starters on the offensive line, along with running back Storm Johnson and some Blake Bortles guy who threw the ball. I expect Penn State's rush defense from 2013 (8th in RD S&P+) to exploit the young line, Hackenberg to toss a pick but manage the game, and Penn State to squeak out a win by at least a score.
Indiana vs. Indiana State (11am, ESPNews): I've never seen a college football game on ESPNews. I also don't expect Indiana to run it up quite like they did last year, but I'd like to see Nate Sudfeld put his stamp on the offense early, hopefully showing a little better footwork and movement than last year, as that was the big difference between him and the transferred Tre Roberson, statistically-speaking.
Iowa vs. Northern Iowa (11am, BTN): See State, Michigan. Also, obligatory something something blocked field goal.
Michigan vs. Appalachian State (11am, ESPN2): Because of course this has to be on ESPN2. A cathartic game for the Wolverine faithful.
#5 Ohio State at Navy (11am, CBSSN): I think we all want to see how well JT Barrett will do leading the Buckeye offense, but I'm more interested in seeing if Ohio State can have an efficient afternoon on defense against Navy's triple option. Seeing Joey Bosa help his stock by adding some run-stuffing cred would be nice. Buckeyes by a couple scores, at least, to make a point that they're still contenders.
Purdue vs. Western Michigan (11am, ESPNU): Win, Purdue. I expect you to find a way to win. Bill Connelly called WMU's signing class "the MAC version of Ole Miss' 2013 signing class," which is damning with faint praise.
Regardless, Purdue should be able to run the ball on a bad WMU line, and even if the Broncos find a little momentum on offense behind an experienced line, I expect Purdue to grind this out by a score, at least.
Illinois vs. Youngstown State (11:05am, BTN): Seriously, Illinois? 11:05? At least you're not the White Sox and sold your start time to 7-11. Whatever. See Indiana's preview. Let's see if Wes Lunt can start off well for the Illini. They should cruise over the Penguins by three scores.
Northwestern vs. Cal (2:30pm, ABC/ESPN2): I'm nervous. I expect Northwestern to win, but I want to see Trevor Siemian slash Cal's shoddy defense up and down the field, Treyvon Green barrel up the middle (TREY-VON-GREEN-THE-BALL-CARR-I-ER), and Northwestern's veteran secondary bend but not break. Take the over on this one, as the ‘Cats win a wild one by an uncomfortably closer-than-it-looks margin.
Maryland vs. James Madison (2:30pm, BTN): Welcome to Big Ten Network, East Coast! I'm sorry this is what you have to watch first. I expect the Terps to play B1G Ball and roll the Dukes while Stefon Diggs makes a highlight-reel catch.
#22 Nebraska vs. Florida Atlantic (2:30pm, BTN): I'd like to see Nebraska's defense look like the non-conference isn't a time to just give up hundreds of yards willy-nilly to lesser programs and take care of business in a rout at home.
#14 Wisconsin at #13 LSU (at Houston, 8pm, ESPN): Run the ball, Wisconsin. We'll give you a hate pass for this one game if you run the ball down LSU's throat, control the game with our big, fat, slow Northerners, and grind thisgame out. I want Joel Stave (edit: or Tanner McEvoy, since Melvin Gordon can't keep his mouth shut) to manage the game in a way that helps the Badgers win, but gives me comfort that he can be exploited during the B1G season. I expect a Wisconsin loss down in Big XII/SEC country, but by a score or less.
So How Will It Go?
What I Want:
14-0. I want Wisconsin to find a way, I want Northwestern not to choke, and I want Rutgers to surprise us. I think that those three are realistically possible, though statistically perhaps unlikely that all three happen in one weekend. Hoegher can tell us the odds or something. I want perfection in Week 1. I also want the SECN to experience rolling blackouts from Gainesville to College Station, just because.
What I Expect:
12-2. Of those three games listed above and the Purdue matchup, something's going to go wrong. Call me fatalistic, but I can see Wisconsin and Rutgers being casualties of their matchups and travel. Northwestern could very well drop theirs, too.
Burn Mattresses in the Streets If:
9-5. That would be all three of those games plus Purdue. I'll add Penn State into the mix out in Ireland, too, but I don't think Central Florida's going to scare teams quite like they did last year. The B1G can't afford to have all three of their AQ matchups lose, and Purdue and Penn State losses would be the cherries on that shit sundae.