Big Ten Week 1 Predictions

Previewing the Week 1 slate in the Big Ten.

The Big Ten ended the 2014 season in the spotlight with Ohio State’s national championship victory over Oregon, and the conference opens 2015 with two marquee games on Thursday night. Michigan travels to Salt Lake City to take on Utah in coach Jim Harbaugh’s debut, while playoff contender TCU makes the trek to Minnesota.

 

While both matchups are among the best of the weekend, the Ohio State-Virginia Tech showdown on Monday night is the most interesting contest of the Big Ten’s opening slate. Will the Buckeyes begin their title defense with a revenge victory over the Hokies? Or will the Hokies' defense lead the way for another upset?

 

Athlon Sports offers its Big Ten Week 1 predictions from three editors: Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch).

 

Big Ten Week 1 Game Power Rankings & Predictions

 

1. Ohio State at Virginia Tech

Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Monday)

TV Channel: ESPN

 

David Fox: 

Virginia Tech’s win last year is eons ago. J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones have won the biggest of big games and will again in Blacksburg.

Ohio State 28-20

 

Steven Lassan:

This is the best game of Week 1, and so many intriguing questions will be answered. Who will start at quarterback for Ohio State? How will the defense perform with end Joey Bosa suspended? How much of an impact will Braxton Miller make at receiver? The Hokies’ defense should keep them in this game, but will the offense consistently move the ball or avoid big mistakes?

Ohio State 30-20

 

Mitch Light:

In last year’s loss to Virginia Tech at home, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett completed 9-of-29 passes with three interceptions. It’s safe to say Ohio State will get better play at the quarterback position this time around.

Ohio State 27-13

 

2. Michigan at Utah

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET (Thursday)

TV Channel: Fox Sports 1

 

David Fox: 

Jim Harbaugh may have won the offseason, but he’s going to need solid offensive line play to win his debut at Michigan. That’s been in short supply.

Utah 24–21

 

Steven Lassan:

Jim Harbaugh’s debut. Not much else needs to be said for the must-see value of this one. Wouldn’t expect a ton of points on Thursday night, as both teams are solid on defense and enter the season with question marks on offense. Utah’s defense is the difference in this matchup.

Utah 23-20

 

Mitch Light:

Michigan outgained the Utes 308-to-286 and held Devontae Booker to 34 yards on 11 carries in a 26–10 loss at home last season. The Wolverines will need to duplicate that defensive effort. 

Michigan 24-20

 

3. BYU at Nebraska

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ABC

 

David Fox:

Nebraska’s 29-game season-opener winning streak might end if we see the same Taysom Hill we saw at the start of last season.

BYU 28–24


Steven Lassan:

This game isn’t generating the attention Ohio State-Virginia Tech or Louisville-Auburn are this week, but there’s intrigue here. BYU quarterback Taysom Hill is back after missing most of 2014 with a leg injury, and Nebraska opens the Mike Riley tenure looking to extend its winning streak in openers (29 consecutive victories).

Nebraska 31-27

 

Mitch Light:

Nebraska has won 29 straight openers, the longest such streak in the nation. The Huskers will make it 30 — but it won’t be easy.  

Nebraska 27-24

 

4. Wisconsin vs. Alabama (Arlington)

Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ABC

 

David Fox:

Wisconsin’s normally stout offensive line is a question this year. Alabama will have a major edge.

Alabama 31–14

 

Steven Lassan:

Great name value in this matchup, but it’s tough to find a reason why Wisconsin can win this one. The Crimson Tide should be able to hold the Badgers’ rushing attack in check, which adds a lot of pressure on quarterback Joel Stave and an inexperienced receiving corps. Alabama won’t name a starter at quarterback until kickoff, but it shouldn’t matter which signal-caller takes the first or a majority of snaps this week.

Alabama 34-13

 

Mitch Light:

Alabama has concerns at quarterback and is inexperienced at wide receiver … but still has far more talent than Wisconsin. 

Alabama 28-13

 

5. TCU at Minnesota

Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET (Thursday)

TV Channel: ESPN

 

David Fox:

Trevone Boykin’s Heisman bid gets an early test in a rematch against the Minnesota secondary.

TCU 28–14

 

Steven Lassan:

Minnesota’s secondary could give TCU’s passing attack fits early on. However, can the Golden Gophers’ offense find enough firepower to match the Horned Frogs? Unlikely. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin is the difference in this game.

TCU 34-17

 

Mitch Light:

Minnesota lost its two top offensive players in running back David Cobb and tight end Maxx Williams. The Gophers simply don’t have enough firepower to knock off the Frogs. 

TCU 30-13

 

6. Stanford at Northwestern

Kickoff: Noon ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ESPN

 

David Fox:

Clayton Thorson is the future at quarterback for Northwestern. The Wildcats have to show signs they can turn things around, but it’s going to be tough against that Stanford D.

Stanford 28–21

 

Steven Lassan:

Interesting matchup between two academic powers. Lots of intrigue on both sides, as Northwestern breaks in a talented new quarterback (Clayton Thorson), and Stanford looks to build off last year’s late momentum. The 12-point spread seems too high.

Stanford 27-20

 

Mitch Light:

Stanford has emerged as a dark horse College Football Playoff contender by some college football observers — including one of my colleagues at Athlon Sports. I disagree. 

Northwestern 24-20

 

7. Michigan State at Western Michigan

Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Friday)

TV Channel: ESPNU

 

David Fox:

Western Michigan is a recruiting powerhouse (for a MAC team, relatively speaking). This could be a signature moment P.J. Fleck’s team. Could be.

Michigan State 38–17

 

Steven Lassan:

P.J. Fleck is a rising star in the coaching ranks, and a trip to Kalamazoo adds to the intrigue for the Broncos. However, the Spartans are balanced on offense, and the defense should do a good job of containing Western Michigan running back Jarvion Franklin.

Michigan State 34-17

 

Mitch Light:

The Broncos are vastly improved under P.J. Fleck, but they will have a tough time knocking off the mighty Spartans from East Lansing. 

Michigan State 38-21

 

8. Penn State at Temple

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ESPN

 

David Fox:

Christian Hackenberg and P.J. Walker combined for six interceptions in this game last year. This game has to be better, right?

Penn State 24–14

 

Steven Lassan:

How much has Penn State’s offensive line improved since last season? That’s the big question in coach James Franklin’s second year. Led by standout linebacker Tyler Matakevich, Temple’s defense can present problems for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State 27-17

 

Mitch Light:

Temple is the home team, but there figures to be far more Penn State fans in this intriguing opener. Last year, the Nittany Lions scored 30 points — the most by James Franklin’s team in the regular season — in a win over Temple. 

Penn State 28-13

 

9. Purdue at Marshall

Kickoff: 3 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV Channel: Fox Sports 1

 

David Fox:

Purdue may play a road game at Marshall only to get clobbered by its former offensive coordinator, Bill Legg.

Marshall 31–21

 

Steven Lassan:

The Boilermakers hope to show improvement in coach Darrell Hazell’s third season, but this team is nearly a touchdown underdog against Marshall. The Thundering Herd picked James Madison transfer Michael Birdsong to replace prolific four-year starter Rakeem Cato at quarterback. Even though Cato will be missed, Birdsong has a strong supporting cast to lean on, including running back Devon Johnson.

Marshall 31-27

 

Mitch Light:

Darrell Hazell is 4–20 in two seasons, and his team is a 7.5-point underdog in a Week 1 game against a team from Conference USA. 

Marshall 28-23

 

10. Illinois State at Iowa

Kickoff: Noon ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: Big Ten Network

 

David Fox:

Former Indiana quarterback Tre Roberson was tremendous for FCS runner-up Illinois State last season. Iowa should be worried. 

Illinois State 35–31.

 

Steven Lassan:

Former Indiana quarterback Tre Roberson leads an Illinois State team coming off a loss in the FCS Championship last year. This is a dangerous Week 1 opponent for Iowa. Hawkeyes avoid the upset.

Iowa 34-27

 

Mitch Light:

The Hawkeyes host one of the most powerful FCS teams in the nation. My advice to Kirk Ferentz: Don’t lose this game. 

Iowa 34-21

 

11. Kent State at Illinois

Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET (Friday)

TV Channel: Big Ten Network

 

David Fox:

I’m actually kind of interested to see Illinois respond to Tim Beckman’s firing.

Illinois 27–14

 

Steven Lassan:

There are a lot of distractions for the Fighting Illini right now after coach Tim Beckman was dismissed last week. However, I’m not sure Kent State has enough to pull off the upset.

Illinois 38-20

 

Mitch Light:

Just a hunch: The Fighting Illini will rally behind interim coach Bill Cubit and take out their frustrations on the Golden Flashes. 

Illinois 41-9

 

12. Richmond at Maryland

Kickoff: Noon ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ESPN

 

David Fox:

Perry Hills’ journey back to the starting QB job after a two-year absence is an interesting storyline. 

Maryland 27–17

 

Steven Lassan:

With only nine returning starters and young talent stepping into the starting lineup, 2015 is shaping up as a rebuilding year for coach Randy Edsall. However, the Terrapins still have enough to win this one. Perry Hills is worth watching after he edged Caleb Rowe for the starting quarterback job this fall.

Maryland 34-13

 

Mitch Light:

Perry Hills earned the starting assignment at quarterback over preseason favorite Caleb Rowe. He takes over an offense that lost some key weapons at wide receiver. 

Maryland 33-13

 

13. Southern Illinois at Indiana

Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ESPNEWS

 

David Fox:

Indiana has a chance to start 4–0. Will it be enough to save Kevin Wilson?

Indiana 35-17

 

Steven Lassan:

Quarterback Nate Sudfeld is back at full strength after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury. That’s good news for an Indiana team poised to challenge for a bowl bid in 2015.

Indiana 44-17

 

Mitch Light:

Conventional wisdom suggests Kevin Wilson will need to get Indiana to a bowl game to save his job. It will be tough for the Hoosiers to get to six wins without a victory in Week 1. 

Indiana 44-16

 

14. Norfolk State at Rutgers

Kickoff: Noon ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ESPNEWS

 

David Fox:

What a miserable week for Rutgers with an academic scandal and suspensions. The Scarlet Knights will need to savor this week.

Rutgers 28–13

 

Steven Lassan:

It seems the question marks about Kyle Flood and an ongoing investigation into the academic handling of a player will continue into next week. Even though it’s a distraction, it won’t matter much on Saturday afternoon. Interested to see how well LSU transfer Hayden Rettig plays at quarterback for the Scarlet Knights.

Rutgers 45-10

 

Mitch Light:

Kyle Flood begins his fourth season in the middle of an academic scandal at Rutgers. Will the distractions affect his team’s performance? Stay tuned.

Rutgers 37-13

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