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It’s a dangerously-boring non-conference week for the Big Ten.

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Why the Week 3 Big Ten non-conference schedule could be even more dangerous for the conference than Week 2.

NCAA Football: North Texas at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Well. Week 2 happened. We can move on from that debacle, right?

No? We’d really like to rehash Ohio State’s home loss to Oklahoma, Nebraska’s half of defense-optional football, and Northwestern shitting itself, throwing up, and then just sitting there in it?

I didn’t think so.

In any regard, the doldrums of the college football schedule (yes, Week 3, not the SEC’s Cupcake Week) are usually a moment for us all to catch our breath and assess the state of the conference as we head into Big Ten play.

And, as we look out across the conference, has anyone impressed? Penn State dispatched their rival Akron in a comfortably uncomfortable blowout...but what’s the Big Ten’s marquee win this season? Michigan over a Florida team with half their lineup and no concept of offense to begin with? Maryland at a perennially-overrated Texas? At best, these wins have served to tighten up the narrative that the East is stacked and the West is trash; at worst, they have exposed a conference that, with four bites at the big-win apple, have come up with the stem, the core, and some overcooked tenderloin (get it? beef. it’s a longhorn joke. you know what, fuck you. you write the jokes).

So we roll on into yet another week in which we can learn very little about the conference except perhaps “how bad can it get?” And the answer—possibly bad.

My General Rules:

  • Don't lose at home to G5 schools.
  • Beat Notre Dame.
  • Blow FCS teams the hell out.
  • Cover spreads on the road if you're the underdog.
  • Cover the spread at home.

Friday

Illinois Fighting Illini at #22 South Florida Bulls (-17.5)

6pm || ESPN

The more I ruminate on this one, the more I find me talking myself into it. The Illini are yielding just 2.64 ypc, just a 110.96 passer efficiency rating, and only one passing touchdown. Have those games been against Ball State and a collapsing Western Kentucky? Sure. But this is more defense than we’ve seen out of Illinois, and surely more than San Jose State offered South Florida in their slow start during Week 0.

Now, it’s worth noting that the South Florida offense of “let playmakers do playmaker things with their legs” is a potent one. QB Quinton Flowers and RBs Darius Tice and D’Ernest Johnson are all over 100 yards rushing. But none of them are averaging over 4.2 ypc, and we’ve seen that Flowers can be turned over when throwing the ball. Add to that South Florida’s special teams woes (two blocked punts?) and the fact they haven’t practiced... Man.

Then you get Illinois. USF is stingy against the run, having allowed just 100 ypg on the ground, but Mike Epstein and his 5 ypc should test that. I like Illinois if they can keep this one in the low- to mid-20s. If they get into a shootout with the Bulls, not so much. But I want to see Illinois cover, keep it competitive for four quarters, and maybe even pull off the upset.

Saturday

#7 Michigan Wolverines (-23.5) vs Air Force Falcons

11am || BTN

Avoid the slowish start from Cincinnati and cruise. Air Force is a quality MWC opponent, but they’re still a service academy and not near the level of Michigan’s athletes. Cover and move on.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (-13) vs Northern Illinois Huskies

11am || FS1

The Huskies narrowly missed a P5 scalp, I guess nominally, with their home loss to Boston College. That means, for the purposes of this discussion, functionally nothing. The balanced NIU offense is led by Daniel Santacaterina, who takes over for the injured Ryan Graham. Santacaterina slung it around against Eastern Illinois in an easy Husky victory, and therein lies the challenge for Nebraska: I want to see them not only cover, but cover while holding NIU under 20 points.

#10 wisconsin badgers (-16.5) at BYU Cougars

2:30pm || ABC

In their opening three games, BYU have allowed 166 yards per game (and 3.86 ypc) on the ground. That’s...not good. They also were shut out by LSU and mustered just 13 points against Utah and 20 against FCS Portland State. Alex Hornibook could do nothing but turn around and hand the ball to Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and the badgers will make Provo look even more like an elephant graveyard.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (-10) vs Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders

2:30pm || BTN

I’ll be honest—I’m impressed with PJ Fleck. Not so much on the on-field stuff (Oregon State is dogshit), but with his dismissal of Demry Croft and his commitment to (at least from what we can tell) correcting the culture at Minnesota. Is his rhetoric and methodology completely cloying? Oh, for-fucking-sure. But he’s got a buzz around the Gophers, by God, and the Gophers are winning.

That should continue against Middle Tennessee. The Fightin’ Kelly Holcombs have struggled, even in a win at Syracuse (lol), to establish any semblance of a run game. That means the Gophers will pin their ears (and their tail, I guess, given that helmet?) back and get after Brent Stockstill, who’s just a shade under 7 YPA throwing the ball this year.

But without Croft, I think it’s most important that Minnesota establish something approaching its “new” offensive identity. Cover, obviously, but I want to see Minnesota show us that the Conor Rhoda Era can be successful.

Iowa Hawkeyes (-21.5) vs North Texas Mean Green

2:30pm || ESPN2

Show us why Nathan Stanley is the next coming of Ricky Stanzi or something. Sorry in advance about his leg. It is worth noting that in their FCS win and a high-scoring loss to SMU, UNT quarterback Mason Fine has tossed 6 TDs with 69% completion, and Jeffery Wilson is averaging up over 8 ypc (with 4 TDs).

Which Iowa defense will show up: Wyoming or Iowa State? If UNT spreads it out, they could have the Kinnick faithful sweating through the middle of the second quarter. Cover and get Wiegers some time, Iowa.

rutger Scarlet Knights vs Morgan State Manbearpigs

let’s be honest, you’re not watching this

Purdue Boilermakers at Missouri Tigers (-7.5)

3pm || SECN

Win, Purdue. Copy Indiana, march into the smoking remains of Mizzou now that no one wants to go to school there, and take one.

Now, that’s obviously not going to be easy. Drew Lock will go scorched earth on the Boilermakers—he’s already got 8 TDs against 3 picks (35/66 for 766)—who have a 104th-rated pass efficiency defense... But somehow, Mizzou is even worse. The Tigers, in games against noted passing powerhouses South Carolina and Missouri State, have allowed just 3 pass TDs, but 540 yards and an opposing passer rating of 151.21.

It’s a tall task, asking the Boilers to stop this, but if they can match Mizzou’s early punches and get Tario Fuller started on the ground (he’s averaging 7.1 ypc) against Mizzou’s 81st-rated run defense (albeit allowing just 3.94 ypc), which has already yielded 6 rushing scores...they could do it. I’ve talked myself into it.

#8 Ohio State Buckeyes (-30.5) vs Army Black Knights

3:30pm || FOX

Our preview of Army football is out now, so go check that out!

But...especially absent a passing attack and already at an obvious talent deficiency, Army should be little more than a “get right” game for the Buckeyes. I want to see JT Barrett demonstrate that he does know how to throw the football and the Buckeyes cover, respectfully.

#5 Penn State Nittany Lions (-37) vs Georgia State Panthers

6:30pm || BTN

Cover, don’t get anyone hurt.

I actually feel for Georgia State in this one. To get to the Carter Library these last couple weeks, I’ve been taking the Green Line and walking from Inman Park to the archives...and that involves taking the train right past GSU. You see them lining up on offense and prepping plays, practicing routes...and you just know it’s probably for naught. College football!

Northwestern Wildcats (-22) vs Bowling Green Falcons

6:30pm || BTN

Sigh. This is the part where I shout into the ether, reminding you that now in twenty games against G5 competition, Pat Fitzgerald is 15-5 with an average scoring margin (wins and losses) of +6.77. Northwestern will not cover 22 points. It is not in their DNA to play competent football on both sides of the ball against a MAC team for four quarters.

Nonetheless, and because I very nearly flew from Atlanta to Chicago to watch this shitshow, I would like Northwestern to cover, preferably by having Clayton Thorson throw for like, 400 yards and 5 scores. This will not happen, but I want it.


So What Happens?

What I Want

10-0. I don’t think an Illinois win over a South Florida team that hasn’t practiced all week is entirely improbable; hell, Illinois covering a 16.5 is not only a reasonable expectation, but probably one which, if Lovie Smith can’t do with these built-in advantages, should show Illini fans just how low his ceiling is. Purdue can beat Mizzou because they have an offense and are not an FCS team. All we’re left holding onto then is wisconsin at BYU and the hope that Minnesota, Nebraska, and Northwestern avoid dick-tripping. That’s eminently doable.

What I Expect

8-2, with it at about 50-50 that the second loss isn’t Purdue or Illinois, but one of the three teams listed above. You know it to be true. This is the year that the Big Ten West = Big XII North comparisons really ratchet up. I’m blaming Nebraska. They are division cancer.

Burn Mattresses in the Streets If...

7-3 or worse. This is a week where the Big Ten, at least conference-wide, needs to avoid taking on any more water to this sinking ship before the East cannibalizes itself and the West features 2 runts and 4 incompetent programs trying to stop a mediocre wisconsin club. Any loss beyond Illinois and Purdue hurts that.

Poll

In Week 3 the Big Ten goes...

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    10-0
    (28 votes)
  • 44%
    9-1
    (162 votes)
  • 35%
    8-2
    (130 votes)
  • 8%
    7-3
    (31 votes)
  • 4%
    6-4 or worse
    (15 votes)
366 votes total Vote Now