Athlon Sports previews every contest, identifies the most pivotal players and picks every Big Ten game.
Northwestern and Indiana have interesting tests this weekend. Illinois is facing an uphill battle against Cincinnati. But, for the most part, the Big Ten should be business as usual in Week 2.
That is, of course, except in Ann Arbor. Notre Dame and Michigan are two of the most historic and tradition-rich programs in the nation and a minor verbal sparring match between the two blue-collar, rough-around-the-edges coaches has only added to the hype of this game.
With College Gameday in town, all eyes nationally should fall upon The Big House Saturday night.
Big Ten Week 2 Game Power Rankings:
1. Notre Dame (+3.5) at Michigan (8 p.m., ESPN)
Whether Brian Kelly believes this is a “historic, traditional” rivalry game or not, fans of both should settle in for one of weekend’s best matchups. Michigan has won three of the last four and five of the last seven but Notre Dame won 13-6 a year ago in the lowest scoring meeting since 1909. Kelly and Brady Hoke have split their two meetings with the home team taking both while the Wolverines are currently riding a 15-game home winning streak overall. Both quarterbacks will take center stage as Tommy Rees is coming off the best showing of his career and Devin Gardner dropped a 59-spot on Central Michigan last week. Look for the Irish’s defensive line to be a potential game-changer. If Louis Nix and company can keep Gardner in the pocket, the Irish have a chance to pull the road upset in what could be the final meeting in years between two of the three winningest programs in NCAA history.
2. Syracuse (+12) at Northwestern (6 p.m., BTN)
Kain Colter is still being listed as “day-to-day” and it has forced Syracuse to prepare as such. Don’t be shocked, however, if Pat Fitzgerald plays it safe with his dynamic playmaker because he has an excellent “backup” plan in Trevor Siemian. Siemian didn’t play his best game last week — 276 yards, TD, 2 INT — but led his team to a victory on the road against an improved Cal squad. Some help from star tailback Venric Mark (11 att., 29 yards) would be nice because the Wildcats can’t count on two defensive touchdowns every Saturday to win games.
3. Navy (+12.5) at Indiana (6 p.m., BTN)
The Hoosiers should have revenge on the mind when the Midshipmen come to town this weekend. This was an epic 31-30 road loss for Kevin Wilson’s squad last season in a game that featured a combined 430 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on the ground. The two combined for just 340 yards, one TD and two INTs through the air. Expect the Big Ten’s top passing offense to be more effective now with Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld back on the field. Coming off a record-setting performance in Week 1, Wilson is looking for his second consecutive 2-0 start at Indiana.
4. Cincinnati (-8) at Illinois (Noon, ESPN2)
The Bearcats are looking to go 2-0 against the Big Ten Leaders Division after thoroughly dismantling Purdue last week. The Illini, on the other hand, needed a last-minute, goal-line stand to sneak past FCS foe Southern Illinois. Cincinnati brings tremendous balance into the game on offense after topping 200 yards on the ground and through the air last week while Illinois was anything but balanced. Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 416 yards but the ground game added just 49 yards on 30 attempts. If Tim Beckman wants to pull the upset at home, his offense will need to be more balanced.
5. San Diego State (+28) at Ohio State (3:30 p.m., ABC)
Buffalo hung around longer than expected against the Buckeyes last week and, although OSU was shorthanded due to suspensions, Urban Meyer likely had a field day with the game tape. The struggles for Ohio State, however, pale in comparison to the way the Aztecs got their season started last week. Eastern Illinois crushed San Diego State 40-19 behind 533 yards of offense on the road. The four-touchdown spread says it all.
6. South Florida (+23.5) at Michigan State (Noon, ESPNU)
The Spartans were bad on offense last week, be it Andrew Maxwell or Connor Cook running the offense, as it scored just one touchdown and mustered just 297 yards. That said, South Florida was worse. McNeese State set NCAA records for points scored and margin of victory by an FCS team over an FBS opponent (53-21). Sparty wins big — and take the under.
7. Southern Miss (+28.5) at Nebraska (6 p.m., BTN)
After allowing 602 yards and 35 first downs to Wyoming last weekend, the Black Shirts desperately need to get back on track. And despite a shocking loss to Texas State in Week 1, Southern Miss could provide an interesting test. The Cornhuskers offense is a proven commodity but USM quarterback Allan Bridgeford, who threw for 377 yards last week, could push Big Red’s defense. Was Brett Smith simply that good? Or are there much bigger issues in Lincoln than originally expected?
8. Minnesota (-16) at New Mexico State (8 p.m.)
The only team in the league playing on the road this weekend will be the Golden Gophers. New Mexico State gave Texas a first-half scare last weekend before allowing a billion yards to David Ash and the Longhorns over the final 32 minutes. Jerry Kill can’t expect three non-offensive touchdowns each week and his backfield is depleted, so all eyes turn once again to sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson.
9. Eastern Michigan (+23.5) at Penn State (Noon, BTN)
Christian Hackenberg is always worth the price of admission, so this one is worth checking out. Otherwise, Ron English and the Eagles are vastly over-matched and should pose little threat to the Nittany Lions beginning the year 2-0. Especially since Allen Robinson should play from the opening kickoff this week.
10. Missouri State (+24.5) at Iowa (Noon, BTN)
Kirk Ferentz has to be happy to see a Missouri Valley team on the schedule in Week 2. His tenuous coaching tenure took a major blow last week against Northern Illinois and fans can expect the Hawkeyes to roll up a big number in their second game. Jake Rudock will look to build on his adequate Week 1 performance.
11. Indiana State (+17) at Purdue (Noon, BTN)
Darrell Hazell could not have debuted in any uglier fashion than the 42-7 drubbing he took at the hands of Cincinnati last week. The Sycamores allowed Indiana to break all types of records on offense last week. Hazell’s team needs to eliminate mistakes and play efficient football in what could be their only win in the first two months of the season.
12. Tennessee Tech (+44.5) at Wisconsin (Noon, BTN)
Three different Badgers topped 100 yards rushing and Joel Stave returned to the starting lineup last week in the 45-point win over UMass. And the point spread was 44.5 last weekend too. A second-straight 45-0 win for Gary Andersen sounds about right.
Big Ten Week 2 Pivotal Players:
1. Taylor Lewan, OL, Michigan
Lewan and his cohorts along the Michigan offensive line must protect The Big House to win Saturday night. And that means protecting star quarterback Devin Gardner and his running backs from one of the saltiest defensive lines in the nation. Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt are future NFL Draft picks and should play better this weekend than they did in their season debut against Temple. Who wins the line of scrimmage battle when the Wolverines have the ball will likely determine who wins this monumental showdown.
2. Trevor Siemian, QB, Northwestern
Northwestern wasn’t at its best — or healthiest — last week against Cal but still managed an impressive road win. Should Kain Colter not play against Syracuse, the offensive onus will fall to Siemian to lead the Wildcats in their home debut. He is a different player than Colter and shouldn’t try to make the same type of plays, so there is added pressure on his supporting cast as well. A litany of talented skill players, especially Venric Mark, need to step up and allow Siemian the opportunity to distribute the football efficiently.
3. Indiana’s front seven
The Middies from the Naval Academy are an absolute nightmare to prepare for and scheme against. Stopping a triple option offense begins and ends with assignment football, gap control and discipline. This is what the Indiana front seven will have to deal with this weekend. Navy ran for 257 yards and two scores on 57 attempts last year in the 31-30 home win over the Hoosiers.
4. Nebraska's secondary
Wyoming’s Brett Smith torched this unit last weekend to the tune of 383 yards and four touchdowns on 29 completions. Southern Miss' Allan Bridgeford, albeit in a loss, posted similar numbers a week ago. The Huskers have to improve in the secondary against the pass if they expect to compete with teams like UCLA, Michigan, Northwestern and potentially Ohio State this fall.
5. Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young, RB, Illinois
The Illini were completely one-sided in their win over Southern Illinois last weekend and it falls to these two ball-carriers to fix that problem. Illinois ran the ball 30 times for 49 yards with Ferguson (nine att.) and Young (eight att.) getting the majority of the work. If these two (and the O-line) aren’t more productive, it will be a long day against Cincy.
Big Ten Week 2 Prediction Grid:
|Game||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Notre Dame (+3.5) at Michigan||Michigan, 20-17||Michigan, 24-20||Michigan, 24-20||Michigan, 28-17|
|Syracuse (+12) at Northwestern||N'Western, 34-20||N'Western, 33-24||N'Western, 34-20||N'Western, 35-14|
|Navy (+12.5) at Indiana||Indiana, 38-20||Indiana, 38-24||Indiana, 38-31||Indiana, 42-24|
|Cincinnati (-8) at Illinois||Cincy, 38-20||Cincy, 20-10||Cincy, 34-20||Cincy, 35-17|
|San Diego St (+28) at Ohio St||Ohio St, 49-14||Ohio St, 41-10||Ohio St, 40-17||Ohio St, 38-14|
|USF (+23.5) at Michigan St||Mich. St, 21-13||Mich. St, 31-14||Mich. St, 31-13||Mich. St, 17-10|
|So. Miss (+28.5) at Nebraska||Nebraska, 42-21||Nebraska, 38-8||Nebraska, 45-14||Nebraska, 49-14|
|Minnesota (-16) at NMSU||Minn., 41-21||Minn., 33-17||Minn., 38-17||Minn., 24-14|
|E. Michigan (+23.5) at Penn St||Penn St, 31-3||Penn St, 28-6||Penn St, 45-14||Penn St, 28-7|
|Missouri St (+24.5) at Iowa||Iowa, 30-10||Iowa, 27-10||Iowa, 41-7||Iowa, 21-7|
|Indiana St (+17) at Purdue||Purdue, 24-7||Purdue, 34-10||Purdue, 38-13||Purdue, 28-17|
|Tenn. Tech (+44.5) at Wisconsin||Wisc., 51-7||Wisc., 47-0||Wisc., 55-3||Wisc., 52-3|