Three Big Ten teams will be the center of the college football world in the second week of the season.
The league will hope it’s not the last time that’s the case in 2014.
This could be the week the Big Ten establishes its College Football Playoff credentials and national perception, one way or another.
Michigan State has a chance to continue its status as the Big Ten’s leading program against Oregon. If the Spartans — winners of the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl last season — beat the Ducks in Eugene, it would be tough to argue against Sparty as a Playoff contender.
Meanwhile, Ohio State and Michigan will face their toughest non-conference opponents of the season. Win all three, and the Big Ten is in a place it hasn’t been in several years.
That’s a double-edged sword. Losses in those games will hurt, for sure. At the same time, the Big Ten has four games against the MAC and two against Conference USA that aren’t gimmes.
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
Week 2 Previews and Predictions:
1. Michigan State at Oregon
6:30 p.m., Fox
If Michigan State can defeat Oregon in Eugene, will anyone doubt the Spartans’ ability to compete on the national stage? Since the end of last season, Michigan State already has defeated an unbeaten Ohio State and Pac-12 champion Stanford on neutral fields. If Michigan State is going to pull of a win that could vault Sparty into Playoff contender status, the defense will have to contain the no-huddle spread.
Coordinator Pat Narduzzi’s defense has been among the best in the country in recent years, but it has rarely been tested against offense running at a high tempo. Michigan State has allowed opponents to run 75 or more plays only seven times since 2010. Oregon averaged 74.8 plays per game last season.
Meanwhile, Oregon has a little experience against a grinding, run-first offense by playing Stanford every season — it is worth noting Stanford won the last two matchups.
“We see quite a lot of spread offenses over the last four or five years, but just because you’re spread doesn’t mean you do the same things,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “Oregon is certainly cutting edge in terms of offensive philosophy, but think we players not plays.”
Michigan State vs. teams running 75 or more plays
W 34-31 (OT)
Related: With Foundation Built, Mark Dantonio Can Loosen the Reins
2. Michigan at Notre Dame
7:30 p.m., NBC
Say goodbye to yet another rivalry. As Notre Dame begins its scheduling agreement with the ACC, the Irish are phasing out their Big Ten games. While Michigan State and Purdue games will continue, though not annually, the series with Michigan is on hold indefinitely. That’s a shame as both teams have returned to national relevance. The rivalry has been in Michigan’s favor at 4-1 in the last five meetings, but those games have been decided by an average of six points. Could this game be another shootout? The two teams combined for 1,136 yards of offense in their openers and continue to be limited on defense. Or not. Michigan coach Brady Hoke isn’t revealing much when it comes to star freshman cornerback Jabrill Peppers and veteran linebacker Desmond Morgan.
Listen to the Week 2 preview podcast:
3. Virginia Tech at Ohio State
8 p.m., ESPN
How much of the opener against Navy was an aberration? The Buckeyes certainly hope facing a more conventional defense will show a more true picture of what the Buckeyes can do on that side of the ball. “(Defensive end) Joey Bosa didn't come to Ohio State to squeeze down blocks and keep people off his ankles,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said as an example of the challenges of playing Navy. “That's what he had to do last week. He came to rush a quarterback and penetrate.”
The version of Ohio State Meyer hopes to see in Week 2 is the second half edition of first-year starting quarterback J.T. Barrett, who was 4-for-4 for 130 yards with two touchdowns after the break against Navy. Barrett and the Ohio State passing game will face a Bud Foster-coached defense with four returning starters in the secondary. Not an easy matchup.
4. Ball State at Iowa
3:30 p.m., ESPN2
Iowa needed the fourth quarter to pull away from Northern Iowa for a 31-23 win, so the Hawkeyes need to show signs of improvement against the MAC contenders Ball State. Iowa’s offense in particular needs to recover from a lackluster performance against the Panthers. Quarterback Jake Rudock passed for 250 yards and two touchdowns, but needed 41 attempts to get there (6.1 yards per pass). Meanwhile, Iowa’s top two tailbacks didn’t have a run longer than eight yards. Keep an eye on Ball State coach Pete Lembo, whose destined for a high-major coaching job. Lembo is 3-2 against Power 5 teams as coach at Ball State. The wins have been over Indiana twice and Virginia, the losses to Clemson and Oklahoma. This Iowa team is somewhere in between.
5. Akron at Penn State
Penn State makes a one-week turnaround after playing in Dublin a week ago, but Akron may not be the kind of opponent the Nittany Lions want to see after a nail-biting 26-24 win over UCF. In the midst of a turnaround under Terry Bowden, The Zips has won five of its last six. In addition, Akron returns starting quarterback Kyle Pohl and 10 starters to a team that lost one-score games to Michigan, UL Lafayette and Northern Illinois a year ago. Penn State had trouble running the ball against UCF, entrusting the game in Christian Hackenberg’s arm.
6. Northern Illinois at Northwestern
3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Northwestern’s nightmare 2013 carried into the 2014 opener with a 31-24 loss to a Cal team that went 1-11 last season. Northwestern was disjointed on a number of fronts, including a 23-of-44 with a touchdown and two interception game from Trevor Siemian. The Northwestern defense goes from an uncharacteristically balanced Cal team to an Northern Illinois team that carried 77 times of its 109 plays in its season-opening rout of Presbyterian.
7. Maryland at USF
3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Maryland looked like one of Randy Edsall’s UConn teams in a 52-7 rout of James Madison. Other than the final score, that's not necessarily a great comliment. The run game was prolific (285 yards, five touchdowns) and the defense stifled former Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee. Starting quarterback C.J. Brown, though, went 11-of-24 for 111 yards. Brown called his own performance “unacceptable.”
8. Middle Tennessee at Minnesota
3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
With seven returning starters on defense, Minnesota passed its first defensive test without Ra’Shede Hageman by shutting out Eastern Illinois before the Panthers tacked on three garbage-time touchdowns. The offense may be more of a question as Mitch Leidner, now the unquestioned starter, went 9-of-17 for 144 yards with a touchdown. David Cobb averaged 5.1 yards per carry in a vintage performance from the Minnesota run game.
9. Western Kentucky at Illinois
Noon, Big Ten Network
Tim Beckman is in for a long season — or perhaps short season — if the Youngstown State game is a preview of things to come. Illinois needed two touchdowns in the final 8:50 to beat the Penguins 28-17. Maybe Wes Lunt, an Oklahoma State transfer back in his home state, needed some time to warm up. He finished 24-of-38 for 285 yards with four touchdowns. Illinois’ struggling defense will need to find a way to stop a Western Kentucky pass game that threw for 569 yards and six touchdowns in a rout of MAC favorite Bowling Green last week.
10. Central Michigan at Purdue
Purdue escaped a dog fight with Western Michigan to win 43-34 last week, and now the Boilermakers must face the best of the directional Michigans. Central Michigan is no great rushing team, but neither was Western Michigan. The Broncos rolled up 213 yards on the ground and 6.7 yards per carry. Not a great start for Purdue.
11. Western Illinois at Wisconsin
Noon, Big Ten Network
This may be just the kind of game Wisconsin needs to recover from the last week. First came the collapse against LSU, then the miscommunication on the injury for star running back Melvin Gordon, then the revelation that the backup and former starting quarterback Joel Stave has a case of the “yips.” Gordon will be back, but a game against an FCS team with three consecutive losing seasons would be a good time for quarterback Tanner McEvoy to find his footing.
12. Howard at Rutgers
Noon, Big Ten Network
Rutgers will get a warm welcome after rallying in the fourth quarter to beat Washington State 41-38 in Seattle. Rutgers has outscored Howard 127-14 in three meetings since 2006. This is a warm up before the Big Ten opener against Penn State.
13. McNeese State at Nebraska
After Nebraska demolished FAU 55-7 last week, what will the Cornhuskers do against McNeese? FAU is a Conference USA team with bowl aspirations, and Nebraska put up 784 yards, including 498 rushing, on the Owls. Nebraska will play without Randy Gregory, the Big Ten’s sack leader in 2013. Gregory had minor knee surgery Sunday and is expected to return for Fresno State next week.
Big Ten Week 2 Picks
Western Ky. at Illinois (-6)
McNeese St. at Nebraska
Akron at Penn State (-14 1/2)
Central Mich. at Purdue (-3 1/2)
Howard at Rutgers
Western Ill. at Wisconsin
Northern Ill. at Northwestern (-7)
Middle Tenn. at Minnesota (-16)
Ball State at Iowa (-17)
Maryland (-12 1/2) at USF
Michigan St. at Oregon (-12)
Michigan at Notre Dame (-3 1/2)
Va. Tech at Ohio State (-11)