Written by: TJ Inman
Week three is just around the corner. Here is a look around the Big Ten, as conference play does get under way this week at Rutgers.
-ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI AT NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS – NOON ON ESPN2
What’s going on in Champaign? After an offseason full of issues and an eventual coaching change, the Illinois Fighting Illini (2-0) began their 2015 campaign by destroying their first two opponents by a combined score of 96-3. Granted, Western Illinois and Kent State are bad teams but still, giving up only 3 points in two weeks is impressive. We knew the offense could be potent if Wes Lunt stayed healthy and so far, so good. Josh Ferguson is a very good all-purpose back and Geronimo Allison has stepped up to be their marquee receiver. The offensive line’s run blocking is a bit of a concern but they’ve done all the “little things” right so far; they are 100% in red zone scoring opportunities, converting on third down and preventing sacks.
North Carolina (1-1) hammered North Carolina A&T after a disappointing opening week loss in Charlotte to South Carolina. Marquise Williams is an exciting dual-threat QB but he’s been prone to mistakes and an opportunistic Illini defense could exploit that. The Tar Heels are double-digit favorites but I think Illinois will keep this one very interesting.
-SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS AT MARYLAND TERRAPINS – NOON ON ESPNU
The Maryland Terrapins (1-1) gave up 42 points in the second half and lost at home to Bowling Green, 48-27. The Falcons racked up 692 yards of offense and Maryland’s secondary struggled mightily, particularly when isolated in single-coverage situations, against Matt Johnson and his high-flying wide receivers. The Terrapins have a difficult schedule this season and they won’t have a cakewalk this Saturday as they host the South Florida Bulls (1-1). The Bulls hung with Florida State last week before falling victim to an awesome performance by running back Dalvin Cook (266 yards and 3 touchdowns) and losing 34-13. Maryland doesn’t have anyone close to the caliber of Dalvin Cook but you can bet they will look to run the ball after pulling quarterback Perry Hills and giving the starting job to Caleb Rowe.
William Likely returned another punt for a touchdown and it will be interesting to see if USF even attempts to kick him the ball (here’s a tip…just punt it out of bounds!). Maryland really needs to win this game before a difficult road trip to Virginia ends their non-conference season.
-UNLV REBELS AT MICHIGAN WOLVERINES – NOON ON BTN
The Michigan Wolverines (1-1) gave up a 78-yard touchdown drive to Oregon State to begin last Saturday’s contest at Michigan Stadium and it appeared the Wolverines might have their hands full. However, UM’s defense quickly buckled down and the Beavers managed only 60 more yards and zero points for the rest of the game as Michigan won Jim Harbaugh’s home debut handily. It was the kind of game that Michigan will be looking to play; dominant defense and a physical, ball-control offense. Jake Rudock is still making too many mistakes but this defense is as good as advertised and the running game looked good. Michigan is a massive favorite against the Rebels (0-2) and anything less than a blowout would be a major surprise.
-AIR FORCE FALCONS AT MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS – NOON ON ABC
The Michigan State Spartans (2-0) survived a late drive and knocked off the Oregon Ducks 31-28 last Saturday night in East Lansing. The Spartans showed they are a contender for the College Football Playoff and a legitimate threat to the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Spartans must refocus quickly because a unique challenge is headed to Spartan Stadium when they host the Air Force Falcons (2-0). Of course, the Falcons run the triple-option, an offense very unique and difficult to prepare for. One would think Michigan State would be well-suited to stopping the ground attack but you never really know how a team will respond to playing such a different style of offense.
Air Force struggled to put away San Jose State before pulling away in the fourth quarter but the statistics suggest this is, once again, a very strong rushing attack. Air Force ran the ball for 428 yards and held the ball for 36 minutes of the game. Michigan State will probably win this one comfortably but this could be interesting for a while.
-KENT STATE GOLDEN FLASHES AT MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS – NOON ON BTN
Here’s a scary stat courtesy of Allen Moff (@AllenMoff_RC), Kent State (1-1) has been outscored 268-6 in its last six games against B1G schools. Ouch. Included in that ignominious number is a week one 52-3 beating at the hands of Illinois. The Golden Gophers (1-1) put a scare into TCU and then went on the road and pulled out an OT win over Colorado State. They look the part of a B1G West contender.
However, Minnesota has a lot of offensive injuries to be concerned about; left guard Jon Christensen, wide receivers KJ Maye, Isaiah Gentry and Jeff Jones and tight ends Brandon Lingen, Lincol Plsek and Duke Anyanwu are all expected to miss this game and a number of those players are done for the season. That said, expect Minnesota to pound the ball and just try to get through this week with no further injuries and a 2-1 record.
-(23) NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS AT DUKE BLUE DEVILS – 12:30 ON ESPN3
This is one of the more compelling week three matchups involving a B1G squad. The 2-0 Northwestern Wildcats impressed all with a dominant victory over Stanford. Their defense looks physical and they’ve done a great job thus far of controlling both lines of scrimmage. Redshirt freshman QB Clayton Thorson has been effective so far but he hasn’t really been asked to do much because of the strength of his defense and the struggles of the opposing offense. That might change this week as they travel to Durham to play the 2-0 Duke Blue Devils. Duke has been built into a stable program by David Cutcliffe and they appear to have retooled quite well after losing quite a few players from a successful 2014 squad. Their offense is averaging nearly 600 yards a game and they’ve scored 46 points a game after dominant wins over Tulane and North Carolina Central. Obviously, they haven’t played a defense anywhere near as stout as Northwestern’s. Something has to give this weekend and it should be a blast to watch.
-NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS AT MIAMI (FL) HURRICANES – 3:30 ON ABC/ESPN2
This would be the marquee game of the week if it we were back in the early 1990s. Many are busy making jokes on Twitter about the relevance of both programs and how little attention this matchup is getting but I won’t go there. I’m not that sarcastic or clever and I happen to think Nebraska is still quite relevant. Is either program “elite”? At this point in time, no, they are not. However, this is still a fun matchup and I’m glad they are playing each other as opposed to battling Bethune Cookman (as Miami did in week one) or South Alabama (as Nebraska did in week two). I don’t think anyone knows what either of these teams is really made of yet.
The Huskers lost a heartbreaker to BYU and then beat up on an inferior opponent. The most encouraging thing from the week two blowout was the rushing performance from Terrell Newby. The Huskers will need him to be really good all season to contend in the West. The Hurricanes have won handily over two weak opponents. Both teams are going to find out a lot about themselves on Saturday.
-NORTHERN ILLINOIS HUSKIES AT (1) OHIO STATE BUCKEYES – 3:30 ON ABC/ESPN2
The Ohio State Buckeyes (2-0) appeared to sleepwalk through the first half against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors before rolling through, 38-0. Neither Cardale Jones nor JT Barrett played well and the battle to become “the guy” as the signal caller of this explosive offense continues. Northern Illinois (2-0), perennially the top program in the MAC, appears to be a bit down this year after struggling with UNLV in their opener so I don’t expect the Huskies to give the Buckeyes any kind of a challenge.
-VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES AT PURDUE BOILERMAKERS – 3:30 ON ESPNU
The Purdue Boilermakers (1-1) fell apart late to lose their opener at Marshall and then got four touchdowns from Austin Appleby to cruise past Indiana State in week two. They return to West Lafayette for a pair of crucial games for the direction and future of the program as they host the Virginia Tech Hokies and Bowling Green Falcons. The Hokies (1-1) knocked off Furman last week after falling to Ohio State in their opener. Starting quarterback Michael Brewer remains out with a broken collarbone and the quarterback situation is a bit in flux as the two squads prepare for their game at Ross-Ade Stadium. Brenden Motley got the start against Furman and went 16-24 for 233 yards and two touchdowns plus 38 yards and a score on the ground. True freshman Dwayne Lawson also played, throwing for 51 yards and running for another 51.
The Boilers will need for Austin Appleby to take care of the ball (his four interceptions at Marshall were costly) and they’ll need to get good games from DJ Knox and Markell Jones. If they can apply some pressure to the inexperienced quarterback, whichever guy it ends up being, they’ll have a shot to get the win. The Hokies are favored by less than a touchdown so this is expected to be a close one.
-TROY TROJANS AT (24) WISCONSIN BADGERS – 3:30 ON BTN
After being rolled by the Crimson Tide in week one, the Wisconsin Badgers (1-1) hammered Miami (OH) to even their record. They now host the Troy Trojans (1-1). Troy lost 49-21 at NC State and then defeated Charleston Southern 44-16 in week two. The only interesting thing to follow in this game is the Wisconsin rushing attack. Thus far, the Badgers have thrown the ball more than they have run the ball (53.2% pass plays/46.8% run plays) and they have the fewest rushing yards in the B1G. There are perfectly logical reasons for this shift; Corey Clement is injured, Alabama proved virtually impossible to run against and senior quarterback Joel Stave has actually been quite effective. It’s an interesting thing to keep an eye on and to see if this new balanced offense is here to stay or if circumstances will shift and Wisconsin opts to return to pounding the ball on the ground.
-WESTERN KENTUCKY HILLTOPPERS AT INDIANA HOOSIERS – 4:00 ON ESPNEWS
Hoosier Huddle will have extensive coverage of this game so check back often!
-RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS AT PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS – 8:00 ON BTN
The Penn State Nittany Lions (1-1) recovered from their opening week loss to Temple and a sluggish start in heavy rain to pull away from Buffalo for a 27-14 victory. Questions about the offense persist as the Nittany Lions were only able to put up 328 yards. Christian Hackenberg struggled to get the passing game going and the running game didn’t look good until true freshman Saquon Barkley sparked things in the fourth quarter. While Penn State fans are nervous about the offense, things are considerably worse for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights (1-1) dropped a heartbreaker to Washington State 37-34 and then had more disturbing news leak out involving player misconduct. As of Wednesday morning, star receiver Leonte Carroo has been indefinitely suspended for his actions in an incident that occurred outside the stadium following Saturday’s game. Reports indicate that Carroo allegedly slammed a woman onto the concrete during an altercation between two women Carroo is familiar with. The Carroo suspension is yet another negative incident for a player from the Rutgers athletic department and head coach Kyle Flood’s job is in serious jeopardy.
From an on-field perspective, these are two teams the Hoosiers will feel like they have somewhat of a shot against when they play them in October (particularly Rutgers since the game is in Bloomington). Rutgers will look to increase the touches for players like Janarion Grant, Andre Patton and Carlton Agudosi. These two fan bases are not fond of each other and tension is high around both programs, it should be an interesting game.
-PITT PANTHERS AT IOWA HAWKEYES – 8:00 ON BTN
The Iowa Hawkeyes (2-0) are riding high after their rivalry game win in Ames, Iowa. The Hawkeyes pulled away in the fourth quarter and their offense has looked better in the first two weeks than it has looked in quite some time. There are some injury concerns, particularly with running back LeShun Daniels and star defensive linemen Drew Ott. Daniels is a game-time decision and Drew Ott, who suffered an arm injury and was seen with a cast, is “questionable”. The Hawkeyes have received positive play from CJ Beathard, good running from Daniels and Jordan Canzeri and some encouragingly positive and uptempo play-calling.
They’ll be tested against a Pittsburgh defense led by former Michigan State DC Pat Narduzzi. The Panthers held Akron to 110 yards in last Saturday’s game and Narduzzi is quite familiar with the Hawkeyes. However, Pitt’s offense just isn’t the same without tremendous running back James Connor. Connor was lost for the season with an injury in the opening week and Qadree Allison was only able to gain 81 yards against the Zips. This is a very interesting game between two undefeated squads but I’d feel much better about Pitt’s chances if James Connor were still running riot in the backfield.