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What I Want in the Big Ten Non-Conference: Week 2, now with more ¡El Assico!

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Can the Big Ten even manage 10-2 in a week with road matchups, rivalry games, and a possible loss to a Mountain West team?

Iowa v Iowa State Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

Welcome back to What I Want in the Non-Con Non-Conference, where I rip off former OTE writer JDMill’s conceit to demand excellence out of the various Big Ten teams. Why did I skip this during Week 1? Because mind your own damn business, that’s why.

This is a weekly consideration of the various forces that would be “good” for the conference during the non-conference schedule. As the Big Ten comes off a year in which its conference champion, 2-loss Ohio State, got snubbed for the College Football Playoff, and the other primary contender, wisconsin, was knocked for its weak non-conference schedule and even the weakness of the Big Ten West.

Can basic things like covering the spread at home or avoiding dicktrip losses really change much of this? Perhaps not. But it’s nice to at least consider, when contrasted with the Week 1 non-conference schedule of, oh, picking at random...

...

That’s 6 FCS teams, for those of you keeping track at home.

So yeah, perhaps there’s cache to be had in a successful “conference” performance in the non-conference.

A little primer, from what I’ve done in the past:

This is the point, yearly, where I note that I don’t actually give much of a shit about how well the rest of you all do. You laugh when Northwestern loses to Illinois State, I laugh when North Dakota State manballs Iowa. It is how the conference works. At the same time, there are demonstrable conference interests in good performances against other Power 5 football conferences—better college football playoff positioning, strength of schedule, and general perception among national media members.

With that in mind, over the last three years I’ve come up with several easily-broken rules that somehow still define how I write this piece:

My General Rules:

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

Well, that first one is right out, huh?

If you were actually keeping score, in Week 1 the Big Ten tripped up five times: Michigan State, Penn State, Illinois, and wisconsin all failed to cover the spread at home—three of those were surprising—and Michigan lost to Notre Dame. Lest I look at that and consider whether or not we should finally reconsider all these criteria, though...

...nah.

The Games

Michigan Wolverines (0-1) vs. Western Michigan Broncos (0-1)

11am | FS1 | MI -27
Last Week: WMU lost to Syracuse Orange, 55-42

If the Michigan offense is going to get right at any point in the season, it’s now. Shea Patterson, Karan Higdon, and Chris Evans should have their way with the Broncos’ line, which Orange QB Eric Dungey shredded for 184 yards on just 7 completions...and 200 yards with his legs. Western RB Levante Bellamy is still in town and no joke, as is WR Dwayne Eskridge, but QB Jon Wassink is not the most accurate passer in the world and the Wolverines’ defense line should be in the backfield often.

What I Want: A cover, but I don’t know if they can hold the Broncos to 0-3 points.

Purdue Boilermakers (0-1, 0-1 B1G) vs. Eastern Michigan Eagles (1-0)

11am | BTN | PU -15
Last Week: EMU def. Monmouth Hawks, 51-17

After an uneven performance in a home loss to Northwestern, we’re hearing promises that Purdue is going to “surprise people” and is a team to watch in 2018 and moving forward. Dispatching the Eastern Michigans of the world is where that begins. The Eagles cruised over FCS Monmouth at The Factory in a game that was largely academic by halftime.

Iowa fans will note that Tyler Wiegers is the starter at QB for EMU (and put up a 18/21 for 238 and 2 TDs line)...but I doubt he’ll put up those numbers against a stouter Purdue defense. After that, the Eastern rush attack is...spotty, as Shaq Vann can bust one, but struggled to get going even against Monmouth. If Wiegers is hitting in the air, there’s intrigue, but it’s on Purdue to dictate and win this game like an emerging challenger in the Big Ten should—and that includes figuring out who the QB is.

What I Want: No more than 1 INT; cover the spread.

wisconsin badgers (1-0) vs. New Mexico Lobos (1-0)

11am | BTN | wi -35
Last Week: New Mexico def. Incarnate Word Cardinals, 62-30

I don’t care. Bob Davie has a “new” offense that involves throwing the ball more with QB Tevaka Tuioti, but Tuioti will have little time. You know how this one goes. Moving on.

What I Want: wisconsin to collapse in on itself like a dying star
What’s Good for the Conference or Whatever: A cover, including a breakout WR game.

Northwestern Wildcats (1-0, 1-0 B1G) vs. Duke Blue Devils (1-0)

11am | ESPNU | NU -3
Last Week: Duke def. Army Black Knights, 34-14

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. [I was told I hadn’t used enough profanity yet.]

It’s not good when everything I’ve seen describes Duke as “pass-happy” with QB Daniel Jones and RB Brittain Brown returning to haunt Northwestern in a potential repeat of the 2017 mollywhopping in Durham. Northwestern’s pass defense will need a bounceback game against a rebuilt Blue Devils offensive line, but Jones and WR Aaron Young will test the ‘Cats secondary early and often. Fewer 10-yard cushions please, Mike Hankwitz.

When Northwestern has the ball...my thoughts on the QB pitch count are on the record. Duke was susceptible in the air against...Army, of all teams, though the Black Knights no doubt had an element of surprise the Wildcats won’t. Clayton Thorson struggled for time to throw against the Blue Devils in 2017, and Justin Jackson the Ball Carrier did next to nothing—can Jeremy Larkin right the ship? I hope sure.

What I Want: A win. Period. Preferably a cover, and to be able to use TJ Green liberally in the second half. Pitch count my fucking ass.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (0-0, lightning) vs. Colorado Buffaloes (1-0)

2:30pm | ABC | UNL -4.5
Last Week: Colorado def. Colorado State Rams, 45-13

A chance to knock the rust off would’ve been nice for Nebraska writ large, and new QB Adrian Martinez no doubt would’ve appreciated stretching his arm against Akron. Instead...he gets a Buffs squad that got into the backfield in the Centennial Cup Showdown, sacking K.J. Carta-Samuels three times and hurrying him six.

More frightening, though, is what a couple bad drives could mean for a defense that has yet to earn the Blackshirts [as far as I know; do not bother correcting me, as I do not care]. Colorado QB Steven Montez was deadly efficient against the Rams, going 22/25 for 338 and 4 scores against a pick, and he tucked one down and hauled ass for 38 yards. When he’s not looking to his favorite, Laviska Shenault Jr. (11 for 211 in Week 1), Travon McMillian has the potential to bust a big one as well—he averaged 10 ypc, and still over 5 ypc when his long of 49 is factored out. I’m taking the over.

What I Want: Just a win, UNL. I know “cover at home” is the rule, but in Scott Frost’s first game, against an old rivalry foe, with a freshman QB...a win’s a win.

¡El Assico!

Iowa Hawkeyes (1-0) vs. Iowa St. Cyclones (0-0, storms)

4pm | FOX | IA -3.5
Last Week: Lightning def. Iowa State

The Cyclones have momentum heading into 2018...or they did, until their opener against FCS South Dakota State (TOUCHDOWN, JACKRABBITS!). Star RB David Montgomery will face a stiff test against a hefty Hawkeyes defensive line, so look for QB Kyle Kempt to try and stretch the field to take some of the Hawkeyes’ linebackers out of Montgomery’s grill. Having lost 3 of their top 4 WRs and all-conference LT Jake Campos, though, uh...easier said than done.

But, believe it or not, this is an ISU defense...that could match Iowa shot for shot. The defensive secondary lost three CBs and both starting safeties to graduation, but the Cyclones’ front six (in their 3-3-5) can more than make up for it: pass rush specialist JaQuan Bailey will test the Hawks’ line—even with the return of both suspended tackles—and Willie Harvey likes to hang out in opposing teams’ backfields. Look for another low-scoring, bend-don’t-break, two drunks fighting over who’s actually helping farmers kind of affair.

Were that not enough, one drive against South Dakota State was enough for Matt Campbell and/or Jamie Pollard to decide that any and all suspended players had served their one-game suspension and could play against Iowa. So get ready for two mediocre teams squawking at one another about that all week. I’m sure one of you has the moral high ground; I sure hope you have it out in the comment section.

What I Want: Sweet, sweet death.

Maryland Terrapins (1-0) at Bowling Green Falcons (0-1)

5pm | ESPN+ | MD -14.5
Last Week: Bowling Green lost to #24 Oregon, 58-24

Maryland can score again! And no one’s injured yet—we don’t think. Yes, it’s a road game at Bowling Green, and that’s tricky for a few different reasons, sure, but Bowling Green should not provide much resistance on the ground or through the air. The defense only managed a sack and two hurries against Justin Herbert and the Ducks’ offense, and Kasim Hill should make some hay.

The Falcons’ shot is to make it a shootout—can a steady diet of Jarret Doege winging it around the park (look for WR Scott Miller) and RB Andrew Clair bouncing it outside be enough to provide the Terps with a huge letdown after a program-lifting win?

What I Want: A cover, Maryland, to prove that you’re legit and will beat Michigan.

Indiana Hoosiers (1-0) vs. Virginia Cavaliers (1-0)

6:30pm | BTN | IU -5.5
Last Week: Virginia def. Richmond Spiders, 42-13

After a big but ultimately meaningless win over the ‘Hoos in 2017, Indiana needs a repeat to inch toward bowl eligibility in 2018. Bronco Mendenhall and UVA cruised to a rout of in-state Richmond on the backs of dual-threat QB Bryce Perkins (185 yards passing, 108 yards running) and RB Jordan Ellis (7.3 ypc, 146 yards, 2 TD), Perkins is not the best passer, but Indiana’s pass rush against FIU left something to be desired.

Indiana should have time to work on offense—the Cavaliers managed 7 TFL against Richmond, but just a couple sacks. Peyton Ramsey and Michael Penix will need to navigate a ballhawking Virginia secondary, and getting some more rushing production will be key to setting the tone at home.

What I Want: A slow, smothering cover of the Cavs.

Illinois Fighting Illini (1-0) vs. Western Illinois Leathernecks (0-1)

6:30pm | BTN | no line?
Last Week: WIU lost to Montana State Bobcats, 26-23

This is an FCS game. RIP Mike Dudek, yes, but Western is an FCS school. Beat them, and beat them handily.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (1-0) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (1-0)

6:30pm | FS1 | MN -2.5
Last Week: Fresno def. Idaho Vandals, 79-13

Now, Idaho has just dropped down to FCS and is no doubt experiencing life without 83 roster players, but...uh...that’s an ass-whoopin’, kids. Marcus McMaryion moved the ball at will (though he didn’t throw for a score, he was 19/26 for 207—a short, efficient passing game), and the Bulldogs’ coterie of running backs piled up 7 of their TDs. If there’s anything to look out for besides WR KeeSean Johnson, though, it’s just the slow, steady diet of quick hits and efficient play from McMaryion and Co.

Offensively, the name of the game for the Gophers is to batter a rebuilt front four and let Zach Annexstad grow into the game against a deep back seven that lost virtually nobody and collected four picks against the Vandals in Week 1. I’d be pretty stunned if the Gophers came close to putting up 40 on Fresno—ball control will be the key, in my book.

What I Want: A win. Just find a way, Minnesota.

Penn State Nittany Lions (1-0*) at Pittsburgh Panthers (1-0)

7pm | ABC | PSU -7.5
Last Week: Pitt def. Albany Great Danes, 33-7

Penn State better find a way to prove—damn fast—that it was more than just Joe Moorhead and Saquon Barkley in 2017. Trace McSorley put the Lions on his back against Appalachian State, but whether Penn State can continue that high-wire act will be put to the test in a good ol’ Keystone State rivalry game.

Pitt returns...well, damn near everyone on defense. Now, the defense wasn’t great—75th in S&P+—in 2017, but the Panthers grew into it over the course of the season and now return three safeties and three corners to test McSorley’s ability to avoid mistakes. Whether Pat Narduzzi’s defense—now led by former Northwestern LBs coach Randy Bates—can continue its aggressive ways with a more conservative DC will tell a lot in this one.

With the ball, the Panthers are rolling with sophomore QB Kenny Pickett, he of the incredible upset of Miami in 2017...and not a ton else? He had a perfect first half against Albany, and his running ability—along with bellcow RB Darrin Hall—could cause some problems for a Lions’ defense that struggled with Zac Thomas.

What I Want: PITT IS IT
For the purposes of this conceit: A road rivalry win will do just fine, State.

Michigan State Spartans (1-0) at Arizona State Sun Devils (1-0)

9:45pm | ESPN | MSU -6.5
Last Week: ASU def. UT-San Antonio Roadrunners, 49-7

Speaking of colossal Week 1 disappointments, it’s the Spartans! They head down to Sun Devil Stadium for a date under the lights, where nothing weird ever happens, no sir.

With new HC Herm Edwards buzzwording and synergizing the Devils straight to a streamrollering of MEEP MEEP in Week 1, Arizona State looks like it might be a force to be reckoned with. RBs Eno Benjamin and Isaiah Floyd (8.2 and 8.8 ypc, respectively) will pound the middle, and the OL kept QB Manny Wilkins clean in the pocket all night. Of note—the Sun Devils relied on the big play and didn’t convert well on third downs, so if the Spartans’ D can get them behind schedule, Arizona State will have new questions to answer.

On defense, the Sun Devils keep a pretty deep rotation of linemen active and are expected to play a much stouter brand of football than under Todd Graham, with Danny Gonzales building on his success at San Diego State with a versatile 3-3-5 (featuring a “Tillman” and two “Rangers”, the former a LB/DB hybrid that allows for more physicality in the secondary). They steamrolled UTSA and could provide some funky looks for Lewerke and the Spartans.

What I Want: Escape, Sparty. Get out of there with a win.


What I Want:

11-1. I am not delusional enough to see Northwestern-Duke, Michigan State-Arizona, Iowa-Iowa State, or Minnesota-Fresno State finishing positively for the conference. I’d consider one loss a damn good weekend.

What I Expect:

10-2. I don’t know who, yet, but Minnesota and either Northwestern or Nebraska would be my choices if you made me. Let the B1G West narrative continue...

Burn Mattresses in the Streets If...

the B1G goes 8-4. That’s accounting for Northwestern losing to Duke, Michigan State falling in some weird PAC-12 After Dark action, one of the Scott Frost Era getting off to a rough start against rival Colorado or Maryland losing on the road, and either of Iowa or Minnesota losing to their mid-major opponents at home. Hell, there’s a case for 6-6 in there, and maybe even 5-7, because I’m possibly giving Indiana too much credit at home against the Cavaliers. But 4 losses would already be pretty damn disastrous.

Poll

How will the Big Ten fare in the non-conference this week? (Tell us your picks in the comments!)

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    12-0
    (28 votes)
  • 12%
    11-1
    (47 votes)
  • 37%
    10-2
    (143 votes)
  • 31%
    9-3
    (121 votes)
  • 5%
    8-4
    (22 votes)
  • 3%
    7-5
    (13 votes)
  • 2%
    6-6 or worse
    (8 votes)
382 votes total Vote Now