Big Ten football is set to kick off the first week of the college football season this weekend.
A few teams have already played their games. Minnesota beat Nebraska thanks to (you guessed it) a Cornhuskers meltdown in the closing seconds at home and Michigan State will kick off against Central Michigan tonight.
With that 13-10 love letter to Big Ten West football in the rearview mirror, let’s talk about the rest of the week one slate around the conference.
Michigan State vs. Central Michigan
Mel Tucker stands on some rather interesting ground in East Lansing after a historic 2021 was followed by a disappointing 5-7 finish in 2022. A season that could’ve very well seen a bowl game had the Spartans not utterly fallen apart in their penultimate game against the Hoosiers.
Continuing a theme around football, Tucker declined to name his week one starter after last year’s QB1, Payton Thorne, transferred to Auburn. Still, the Spartans should take care of the Broncos at home.
Pick: Michigan State... right?
East Carolina at No. 2 Michigan
Jim Harbaugh and Michigan have their eyes set on a national title after back-to-back conference championships and a disappointing lost to TCU in last year’s CFP semifinal.
Harbaugh will have to wait through a self-imposed suspension through the Wolverines’ nonconference slate. Quite fortunately for the Wolverines, that slate doesn’t stand much of a chance against them.
Utah State at No. 25 Iowa
Iowa currently checks in at the bottom of the AP Top-25, but don’t expect them to stay there long. The Hawkeyes should impress this season after adding some good pieces like former Michigan QB Cade McNamara.
They’ll contend for the West and that starts with a win against Utah State.
Fresno State at Purdue
It’s year one of the Ryan Walters era in West Lafayette. Walters has brought recruiting momentum, transfer portal movement and some intriguing staff additions to the Boilermakers.
And, well, his first test is against one of the most consistent Group of Five programs there is in Fresno State. Jeff Tedford has taken back the helm after Kalen DeBoer (2019 Indiana offensive coordinator) took the Washington job.
I would not at all feel great about this matchup if I were Purdue. A first-time head coach implementing new systems on offense and defense going up against one of the most experienced dudes in the sport.
They’re on notice... but I think they just pull through at home.
Buffalo at No. 19 Wisconsin
It’s year one of the Luke Fickell era in Madison. It could be a big one too, as the Badgers could very well win the West in its final season of existence.
It’s Luke Fickell. He’s one of the best coaches in the sport and should make short work of a Group of Five program with a great home environment.
Towson at Maryland
Maryland has one of the program’s best quarterbacks in recent memory with Taulia Tagovailoa, the most experienced returning starter in the Big Ten.
They’ve lost some talent that got them to a bowl win last year, but Mike Locksley and co. will have no issues against Towson at home. No reason to really sweat this one.
West Virginia at No. 7 Penn State
Drew Allar is all but officially The Guy in State College following Sean Clifford’s departure for the NFL.
He’ll have one of James Franklin’s most talented Nittany Lion rosters around him, though he’s lost some receiving talent. Nonetheless, this is a team that is expected to push Ohio State and Michigan around, potentially winning one of those games.
A home win against West Virginia should be a given, all that in mind.
Pick: Penn State
Toledo at Illinois
Bret Bielema has quickly restored Illinois to respectability in his return to the Big Ten. Illinois is a program expected to make bowl games under his watch for the foreseeable future.
The Illini have yet to have a quarterback go through and start from high school, with Ole Mis transfer Luke Altmeyer earning the week one starting nod. Toledo will prove to be an interesting MAC team and I think this one will be close.
But Illinois should have the talent on the field to secure a win at the end of the day.
Northwestern at Rutgers
One thing Greg Schiano has done in his return to New Jersey is restore Rutgers’ defense to the point that it can keep some games close. That wasn’t enough for last year’s offense and they project to have similar issues, but the defense will remain stout.
Against Northwestern, that shouldn’t be an issue.