By Steven Lassan and Mitch Light
Big Ten Week 1 Game Previews and Predictions
It's the first week of college football. Athlon will be breaking down each conference game. Here's the Big Ten.
UNLV at Wisconsin – Thursday, Sept. 1
This matchup features the much-anticipated debut of Russell Wilson in a Wisconsin uniform. The senior transferred to Madison with one year of eligibility remaining and solidified Wisconsin’s place as a Big Ten title contender for 2011. Wilson may take some time to get acclimated to the offense, but the Badgers have one of the nation’s top rushing duos in Montee Ball and James White to lean on. UNLV returns nine starters, but has several question marks, including quarterback play with Caleb Herring stepping into the starting role. The Rebels lost 41-21 to the Badgers last year and this one could be even uglier.
Wisconsin 45, UNLV 10
Youngstown State at Michigan State – Friday, Sept. 2
Like many teams in the Big Ten, the Spartans should have little trouble with their Week 1 opponent. The Penguins finished 3-8 last year, but lost several close games. The Spartans have Big Ten title aspirations, but need new starters on the offensive line to quickly jell for running back Edwin Baker. Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins is underrated nationally and will be throwing to one of the top receiving corps in the conference.
Michigan State 42, Youngstown State 7
Northwestern at Boston College – Saturday, Sept. 3
It’s an intriguing Week 1 matchup between two programs that don’t get a ton of buzz nationally but continue to win games on a consistent basis. Northwestern is thrilled to have Dan Persa back at quarterback. The Wildcats went 0–3 with Persa sidelined with a torn Achilles late last year, losing to Illinois 48–27, Wisconsin 70–23 and Texas Tech 45–38. Boston College, on the other hand, will be without its best offensive player. Tailback Montel Harris is out for the first few weeks with a knee injury, leaving capable backup Andre Williams to handle the rushing load. This is a big swing game for both teams.
Northwestern 28, Boston College 21
Akron vs. Ohio State – Saturday, Sept. 3
After an offseason filled with distractions, the Buckeyes will be ready to put it all behind them as they kickoff the 2011 season against Akron. New Ohio State coach Luke Fickell should have no problem getting his first win on Saturday. The Zips were one of the worst teams in college football last year, needing a victory over Buffalo in the season finale to avoid a winless season. The Buckeyes will be without running back Daniel Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas, as they serve the first of their five-game suspensions. However, Ohio State shouldn’t miss them too much. Keep a close eye on the quarterback battle between Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller – with Miami on the horizon, the coaching staff would like this battle to sort out sooner, rather than later.
Ohio State 40, Akron 7
Indiana State vs. Penn State – Saturday, Sept. 3
This Indiana State team is much-improved than some of the dreadful teams that took the field in the mid-2000s. However, the Sycamores still shouldn’t cause Penn State too many headaches. Much of the focus for the Nittany Lions will center on the quarterback battle between Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden. A starter wasn’t named and both players expect to see time. Running back Silas Redd should have a breakout season in Happy Valley and will have a big performance on Saturday.
Penn State 45, Indiana State 10
Chattanooga vs. Nebraska – Saturday, Sept. 3
This will be the Huskers first game as a member of the Big Ten Conference – and it should be an easy victory. The Mocs went 6-5 last year and are quarterbacked by Tennessee transfer B.J. Coleman. However, Nebraska’s defense is the best in the Big Ten and should have no trouble limiting the Chattanooga offense, even if cornerback Alfonzo Dennard is limited with a pulled leg muscle. This game will be the Cornhuskers first under offensive coordinator Tim Beck, and getting quarterback Taylor Martinez back on track is a key priority for this matchup.
Nebraska 48, Chattanooga 10
MTSU vs. Purdue – Saturday, Sept. 3
Another year, another season of quarterback question marks for Purdue. The Boilermakers lost Rob Henry for the year after an ACL tear in fall practice. Caleb TerBush, Sean Robinson and Justin Siller will assume the duties at quarterback. Robert Marve is not ready in his return from a torn ACL, but will likely see significant snaps later in the year. One bit of good news for Purdue is the return of running back Ralph Bolden, who missed all of 2010 with a torn ACL. MTSU struggled with turnovers last year, but if it can limit mistakes, this matchup could be closer than most expected. The Blue Raiders played Minnesota tough last year, losing 24-17 and could have a potent offense if new quarterback Logan Kilgore finds his rhythm early. If there is a potential upset to target in the Big Ten, this would be the game to watch.
Purdue 27, MTSU 20
Tennessee Tech vs. Iowa – Saturday, Sept. 3
Iowa cruised in last season’s opener, winning 37-7 against Eastern Illinois. The Hawkeyes should have little trouble this year, as they host Tennessee Tech. The Golden Eagles lost both games against FBS opponents last year and finished with a 5-6 overall record. With Iowa State and Pittsburgh the next two weeks, new Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg will look to use this matchup to get settled into the starting role.
Iowa 48, Tennessee Tech 7
Minnesota vs. USC – Saturday, Sept. 3
Outside of the Northwestern-Boston College matchup, this game holds the most intrigue for the Big Ten. Jerry Kill was the right hire for Minnesota, but the Gophers will face an uphill battle in the opener against USC. The Trojans return one of the top quarterbacks in college football in Matt Barkley, as well as dynamic sophomore receiver Robert Woods. The offensive line remains a question mark, but Minnesota struggled to generate a pass rush last season. Unless the front four can get pressure on Barkley, the Golden Gophers’ secondary could be in for a long afternoon. Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray could exploit a USC defense that struggled last year, but the Gophers simply don’t have the firepower to pull off the upset.
USC 38, Minnesota 17
Arkansas State vs. Illinois – Saturday, Sept. 3
With uncertainty surrounding Ohio State and a favorable schedule, Illinois could be a sleeper to watch in the Big Ten Leaders Division. However, the Fighting Illini should be wary of this Arkansas State team. The Red Wolves will bring a high-powered offense to Champaign, led by Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-Sun Belt quarterback Ryan Aplin. The Fighting Illini are expecting big things from quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase this year and with Mikel Leshoure gone, it’s up to the sophomore to become the top playmaker for the offense.
Illinois 34, Arkansas State 21
Western Michigan vs. Michigan – Saturday, Sept. 3
Brady Hoke seems to have done everything right since taking the Michigan job, now comes the real test. The Wolverines finally hit the field under Hoke, and there will be a lot of interested observers to see how quarterback Denard Robinson transitions into the new offense. Robinson will continue to have designed quarterback runs, but the Wolverines want to limit his touches to keep him healthy all year. Also of interest will be the play of Michigan’s defense. The Wolverines were historically bad last year, but new coordinator Greg Mattison should find some improvement out of the defense. Western Michigan will provide Mattison with some early feedback on how far the defense has come along, as quarterback Alex Carder is one of the MAC’s top passers and receiver Jordan White caught 94 passes last year.
Michigan 38, Western Michigan 17
Indiana vs. Ball State – Saturday, Sept. 3
Both teams enter this matchup with new head coaches, looking for a turnaround after a disappointing past couple of seasons. Indiana hired Kevin Wilson from Oklahoma, while Ball State plucked Pete Lembo from Elon. The Hoosiers have a quarterback quandary heading into this game, with Edward Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel locked in a tight battle for the starting job. Indiana will also be without running back Darius Willis, who is suspended for this contest. Lembo’s pass-first offensive attack could cause some problems for the Hoosiers’ defense, but Ball State will have to find a way to slow down Indiana receiver Damarlo Belcher.
Indiana 34, Ball State 20