The Big Ten did seemingly everything it could to lose games that might matter last week. Yes, gold stars to Ohio State and Northwestern, pats on the head to Michigan State and Illinois and anyone who played an FCS opponent, and a nervous glance in Indiana's direction anyway.
I looked back at my "What I Expect" for last week's non-conference games, and, uh, we barely avoided mattress-burning status, folks:
What I Expect:
9-5. Underdogs lose. Purdue doesn't have the firepower to run with Marshall, Northwestern can't hit with Stanford, Wisconsin lacks a passing game to beat 'Bama, and Michigan doesn't have the identity or offense yet to punch with Utah.
To top it off, the fatalist in me sees Nebraska, Illinois, or Penn State finding a way to drop one.
Burn Mattresses in the Streets If...
7-7 or 2 ranked B1G teams lose. Both a Wisconsin and an Ohio State/Michigan State loss could be potentially damaging to the conference's chances at a playoff berth. On the flipside, all four underdogs lose, plus Nebraska or Penn State shits the bed at home (or "home") and Iowa or Illinois lose to a clearly inferior opponent. It would be bad.
That could've been very, very bad. Looking forward to Week 2 in the Big Ten non-conference schedule, I am definitely a little gun-shy on what I want to see out of teams. I'd like for some teams (Michigan) to cover the spread, but I don't think that's an entirely realistic demand, given what their offense appears capable of. But hey, I could be proven wrong! I thought Illinois could fall to Kent State, too, so what do I know? OTE "writers" "watching games" and all that.
Compared to the considerable number of underdogs and road games in Week 1, though, there are no underdogs and only two road games (MN-CSU; IA-ISU) in Week 2. And I think that means it's time for expectations to go up. With TCU looking shaky as a contender but Notre Dame starting to move the needle, teams are continuing to jockey for what still appears as second to Ohio State. If the Big Ten can turn in a non-conference slate from here on out in which West teams like Minnesota, Northwestern, or even Iowa prove that they can hit against the middle-of-the-pack in other conferences it would go a long way to shoring up concerns that the Big Ten title game will just be another coronation of Ohio State. Dare to dream, right?
Let's get to what I want to see in the non-conference for Week 2. All games Saturday, all times Central. Assimilate, you East Coast heathens.
Oregon State at Michigan (-16.5) || ABC
I really should say I want Michigan to cover, but there are so many questions unanswered about Michigan after the debacle in Deseret that it'd just be nice to see the Wolverines win. That's not quite good enough, though, so I want the Fightin' HARBAUGHs to win by double-digits. Don't let it be within a score by the time the fourth quarter starts.
Western Illinois at Illinois || BTN
Win, move on, don't get anyone hurt.
Bowling Green at Maryland (-7.5) || BTN
I don't want to watch this game or have anything to do with it. I just want to find out Maryland covered and didn't embarrass the conference any more than, say, a loss to Temple would.
Buffalo at Penn State (-21) || ESPN2
("Wow, what a smooth segue, MNW!" -You, hopefully.)
It would be nice to see Penn State cover this, but given what the hell happened last week, it would seem that a lot of what could be deemed "progress" for the Nittany Lions would just be keeping Christian Hackenberg upright. Don't let a rebuilding Bulls defense get to the QB, watch Akeem Lynch run all over Beaver Stadium, and win comfortably.
Indiana State at Purdue || ESPNNews
Win. Just...find a way, Purdue. Nobody believes in you.
Miami Hydroxide at Wisconsin (-32) || ESPNU
Man, the Big Ten is really getting everything out of the way early this week. It'd be fun to, as I crack Hamm's #14 for the day, casually look at my phone and see Wisconsin 49, Miami (OH) 3 - HALF. Run it up and make us all believe again, Wisconsin. It'll be that much more fun when someone in the Big Ten West brings it all crashing down.
Hawaii at #1 Ohio State (-41) || BTN
Win, cover, go home. Showoffs.
Washington State at Rutgers (-2) || ESPNU
Win, Rutgers, and don't get anyone arrested this week.
In the real world, it'd be nice to say that I want Rutgers to run it up and beat Wazzu by a few scores, but with the QB race still seemingly tight in Piscataway, I worry that at some point the wheels come off the Rutgers offense. If the Scarlet Knights establish the run well and make it a non-factor, they could continue to kick the Laviano-Rettig can down the turnpike (/check "Make New Jersey reference" box). Learn how to make a left turn, you fools.
Minnesota (-6.5) at Colorado State || CBSSN
Cover it, Gophers, but cover it with a nice offensive performance, not a 17-10 showing in which one of those touchdowns is a pick-six and the other is a Jalen Myrick kickoff return TD (/sobs). Minnesota can vault itself into an almost-serious contender status if it turns out Mitch Leidner can actually complete a couple air handoffs, so it'd be nice to see the Gophers break 30 in a victory.
Eastern Illinois at Northwestern || BTN
Develop a vague sense that Clayton Thorson can actually throw the ball without giving away the playbook, win, move on to Duke.
Iowa (-3) at Iowa State || FOX
Good thing we haven't spilled any ink on this matchup this week. Just win, Iowa. So many of us are just bracing for the fourth dick-tripping in five years...stop the madness that is Paul Rhoads-led Iowa State.
South Alabama at Nebraska (-27.5) || BTN
Nothing screams PRIIIIIMETIME! like Alabama-Nebraska, am I right?
Oh. It's that Alabama. Huh. Well, in that case I want Nebraska to win by 30 and set themselves up for a strong showing against Miami.
Florida International at Indiana (-7.5) || BTN
Oh goddamnit this is a thing, too? Win, Indiana, and just like last week: please, please prove to us that you're developing something vaguely resembling a defense. Just, y'know, for kicks. Because Florida International could well spring the upset. And nobody wants that. Besides that Golden Panther fan we all totally know, right?
#7 Oregon at #5 Michigan State || ABC
I'm not gonna lie -- I kind of want Sparty to lose. I can't help this deep-seated antipathy I have for Michigan State. But, in the interest of all that is PLAYOFFS: Win, Sparty. Don't worry about the line, don't worry about the score, just find a way to score more points that the Ducks. Otherwise the Big 1, Little 13 bullshit machine starts riiiiiight back up and all of a sudden the Montana fan in my office is telling me how the PAC-12 rolls 6 good teams deep and what does the Big Ten have? Nothing. This is an actual conversation that I had this last Monday. I need to get a better office.
So How Will It Go?
What I Want:
14-0. There are a few frightening games on here, but after the disaster that was last weekend, it'd sure be nice for the Big Ten's national perception to go toe to toe with the pride of the West on the biggest stage and not just stick it to them, but stick it to them with our second-best team. That does ask a lot of some of the other teams in the conference, but when all 14 teams are favored, I want the conference to live up to that. That said...
What I Expect:
12-2. I'm all sorts of flinchy now after last weekend. Iowa goes to Iowa State? We know how that ends. Indiana still doesn't know how to play defense? @I'm sure that won't come back to bite them in the ass.@ Michigan State has a chance to finally break through and be considered a serious contender for the Big Ten crown and the playoff? Time to dick-trip! Rutgers is a thing? We're screwed. Purdue's playing Indiana State? God, maybe I should amend 12-2 downwards...
That means I'm thinking the Big Ten drops two of those games above. Someone's going to get upset, and I'm still not convinced of Michigan State, even at home. But I'll gladly be proven wrong.
Burn Mattresses in the Streets If...:
9-5 happens. That includes a Michigan State loss, a whole mess of upsets (including an FCS loss!) takes place, and Paul Finnebaum gleefully takes to the airwaves to explain why Ohio State should drop to #17 so that all 14 SEC teams, Baylor, and TCU can be ranked ahead of them. The darkest timeline.