Week 1 Big Ten Football Preview

Football season is here, and that means it’s time to shift our focus to the Week 1 slate. Every Big Ten school is in action in the opening week, starting with reigning co-Big Ten champ Wisconsin hosting UNLV on Thursday night and finishing up with Indiana entertaining Ball State on Saturday night. That said, it’s time to kick off my weekly Big Ten Football Previews. Here’s your Week 1 addition:

THURSDAY

UNLV vs. Wisconsin
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN, ESPN3
Stat: Montee Ball’s 14 rushing touchdowns in Big Ten play were the most by a Badger since Ron Dayne had 14 in his 1999 Heisman season.
Prediction: Wisconsin 51, UNLV 14

FRIDAY

Youngstown State vs. Michigan State
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: BTN
Stat: The Spartans return 99.5 percent of carries, 99.7 percent of yards and 100 percent of TD rushing from 2010.
Prediction: Michigan State 45, Youngstown State 10

SATURDAY

Northwestern vs. Boston College
Time: noon ET
TV: ESPNU
Stat: Northwestern played five games in its home stadium last season (Wrigley game excluded), becoming the first Big Ten to do so since Indiana in 2004.
Prediction: Boston College 27, Northwestern 23

Akron vs. Ohio State
Time: noon ET
TV: ESPN, ESPN3
Stat: Ohio State is 16th in the initial coaches’ poll, marking the firstt time the Buckeyes started outside top 10 since ranked 12th in 2002 (won BCS title).
Prediction: Ohio State 41, Akron 13

Indiana State vs. Penn State
Time: noon ET
TV: BTN
Stat: Penn State’s 23.7 ppg allowed last season was its highest since 2001.
Prediction: Penn State 40, Indiana State 9

Tennessee Tech vs. Iowa
Time: noon ET
TV: BTN
Stat: Iowa went 8-0 when it rushed for more than 120 yards last season, compared to 0-5 when it failed to reach that total.
Prediction: Iowa 46, Tennessee Tech 12

Middle Tennessee State vs. Purdue
Time: noon ET
TV: BTN
Stat: Purdue started four different players at quarterback for the first time in program history last year.
Prediction: Purdue 30, Middle Tennessee State 13

Minnesota vs. USC
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3
Stat: Jerry Kill went 2-3 against Big Ten teams at Northern Illinois, with the total score of those games being 131-131.
Prediction: USC 43, Minnesota 17

Western Michigan vs. Michigan
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: ABC, ESPN2, ESPN3
Stat: A year ago, Michigan was the only Big Ten team in the last 15 seasons to average at least 230 passing and rushing yards.
Prediction: Michigan 41, Western Michigan 23

UT-Chattanooga vs. Nebraska
Time: 3:30 p.m.
TV: NA
Stat: Nebraska improved by 100.5 rushing yards per game in 2010, the largest increase by an FBS team last season.
Prediction: Nebraska 52, UT-Chattanooga 10

Arkansas State vs. Illinois
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: BTN
Stat: A.J. Jenkins’ seven touchdown catches last season were the most by an Illinois player since Brandon Lloyd had nine in 2002.
Prediction: Illinois 41, Arkansas State 20

Ball State vs. Indiana
Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN3
Stat: Ted Bolser’s five touchdown catches in 2010 were the most in a season by an Indiana tight end.
Prediction: Indiana 23, Ball State 21

*All stats are courtesy of our @BTNStatsGuy

Season record: 0-0

Game of the Week: Northwestern at Boston College – One of two opening-week games between BCS foes and the only one featuring two bowl teams from a season ago, the Wildcats and Eagles should give us the most competitive and entertaining game of the first week. Each team won seven games last season, but both could have had more if it weren’t for serious injuries to star players. Northwestern, of course, lost quarterback Dan Persa to a season-ending Achilles’ injury, and went on to lose all three games without him. BC lost standout running back Montell Harris before the season finale and finished 1-1. Both players make their much-awaited return Saturday, and the game might be decided by which one plays better.

Player of the Week: Marcus Coker, Iowa – While Iowa fans were very familiar with Coker well before his coming out party in the Insight Bowl, the rest of the Big Ten didn’t know much about the reserve running back. Two-hundered-and-nineteen rushing yards later, Coker is a household name. And the running back should receive a heavy workload against Tennessee Tech, which allowed 199 rushing yards per game last season, seeing as how quarterback James Vandenberg will be making just his third career start.

Team of the Week: Ohio State – A win over lowly Akron isn’t going to erase all the distractions around the Ohio State football program, but it can’t hurt. An easy opening win should give Buckeye backers more faith in interim coach Luke Fickell and his team, which is playing shorthanded for the first five games due to suspensions. Point is, people will feel a lot better about Ohio State and its product come late  Saturday afternoon.

Upset alert: Ball State vs. Indiana – It’s never easy making this pick during the nonconference slate, but if I have to choose a Big Ten team to suffer an unexpected loss, it would be the Hoosiers. Indiana has won at least its first two games every year since 2003, but it has a new coach, a new quarterback and will face an instate foe, one that beat them in 2008 at Memorial Stadium.

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