Week 2 Previews: Big challenges for Big Ten teams

Every week, I rank Saturday’s games based on how the teams match up. Where does your game fall on my list? Come find out in my Week 2 Previews. In case you you missed anything earlier this week, here are my weekly bowl projections, reader mailbag, and my predictions. Oh, and here’s an early stab at a Heisman Trophy tracker.

Remember that on Saturdays BTN.com editors provide Rapid Recaps with quarterly updates for every Big Ten game. At the end of each game I post my Saturday Snap Reactions with analysis on all 12 games. Bookmark any game now and come back to track it: Illinois vs. Arizona State; Indiana vs. Massachussetts; Iowa vs. Iowa State; Michigan State vs. C. Michigan; Michigan vs. Air Force; Minnesota vs. New Hampshire; Nebraska vs. UCLA; Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt; Ohio State vs. Central Florida; Penn State vs. Virginia; Purdue vs. Notre Dame; Wisconsin vs. Oregon State.

And now, our look at the games.

1. Nebraska at UCLA | FULL SCOREBOARD
Why you should watch: Was there a more impressive Big Ten team in the opening weekend than the Cornhuskers? Of course not. Nebraska looked strong in posting a 49-20 triumph over Southern Miss. Now, can they take their act on the road?

Keep an eye on: RB Rex Burkhead. Will he play against the Bruins? He left last week’s game with a knee sprain. The Cornhuskers could use his production and gritty leadership. But if Burkhead can’t go, Nebraska knows it has some other nice options in Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard and Imani Cross.

Key matchup: Nebraska defensive front seven vs. UCLA QB Brett Hundley. The freshman signal-caller ran for 79 yards in a season-opening win at Rice. And the Cornhuskers allowed Southern Miss QB Anthony Alford to run for 84 yards last week. The Huskers can’t let Hundley run wild.

Key number: 10, number of different receivers who caught passes in the opening win for the Cornhuskers over Southern Miss. That’s great diversity and distribution. Who does UCLA focus on covering?

Key note: The teams haven’t met since 1994, as Nebraska leads the series, 6-4. This will be a homecoming for Husker QB Taylor Martinez, a southern California native who is coming off a career performance. He can’t get too emotional or jacked up.

2. Purdue at Notre Dame | FULL SCOREBOARD
Why you should watch: Are the Boilermakers legit? They looked good in thumping FCS Eastern Kentucky, 48-6. But a game against Notre Dame is a huge step up in competition. The Fighting Irish are coming off a 50-10 victory vs. Navy in Ireland.

Keep an eye on: The Purdue quarterback situation. Projected starter Caleb TerBush was suspended for the opener. Robert Marve stepped in and performed well. Danny Hope has tabbed TerBush the starter this week. But, it likely won’t matter, as each figures to play. But whoever is under center will need to pass well—and avoid turnovers.

Key matchup: Keep an eye on the Boilermaker defensive line vs. the Notre Dame offensive line. I’m talking about guys like Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston of Purdue vs. Braxston Cave, Chris Watt and Christian Lombard. Who wins this battle of beef?

Key number: 5, turnovers committed by Purdue in an opening victory over FCS Eastern Kentucky. There is little chance for the Boilers to topple the Fighting Irish if they commit multiple turnovers again.

Key note: Since a win at Notre Dame in 1974, the Boilermakers have won just one time (2004) under the Golden Dome.

3. Iowa State at Iowa | FULL SCOREBOARD
Why you should watch: Let’s see how the Iowa offense responds coming off a spotty effort in the opener. But, bottom line, the Hawkeyes found a way to pull out an 18-17 win in Chicago over Northern Illinois. Now, Iowa has four home games in a row—and all are winnable. This could be the start of a nice run.

Keep an eye on: The Hawkeye passing game. It was inconsistent in a narrow season-opening win over Northern Illinois. QB James Vandenberg hit just 21-of-33 passes for 129 yards with no touchdowns and was sacked six times. And none of his completions went for over 20 yards. Sophomore RB Damon Bullock saved the day with a 150-yard rushing effort in his debut as the starter.

Key matchup: Iowa defense vs. Iowa State QB Steele Jantz. The Hawkeye defense looked solid in the opener, even a line that entered the season with some big questions. Iowa limited Northern Illinois to 201 yards of offense with just 54 coming through the air. Jantz led the Cyclones to a 38-23 home win over Tulsa, throwing for 281 yards and two touchdowns. He’s a veteran who won’t be intimidated after engineering a 44-41 triple overtime win over Iowa last year.

Key number: 1, touchdowns scored by Iowa in the opener. Time and again, the Hawkeyes crossed midfield. But time and again, they had to settle for field goals and drilled four of them. Iowa didn’t score a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter. And it proved to be the winning score.

Key note: Iowa has won four in a row vs. Iowa State in Kinnick Stadium in this battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy. But, Kirk Ferentz is just 6-7 vs. Iowa State. Yes, it’s true.

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4. Illinois at Arizona State | FULL SCOREBOARD
Why you should watch: The Fighting Illini are aiming for a 2-0 start coming off an impressive defensive effort in an opening win vs. Western Michigan.

Keep an eye on: Will Illini QB Nathan Scheelhaase play? He injured an ankle in last week’s 24-7 victory over Western Michigan. The staff isn’t saying if Scheelhaase will play. If he doesn’t, Reilly O’Toole will take over. He assumed command last week after Scheelhaase went out, and the offense sputtered. O’Toole lacks the athletic ability of Scheelhaase and may not be as good a fit in the spread scheme.

Key matchup: Illinois offensive line vs. Arizona State defensive line. Yes, I could have gone with the stellar Illini defense vs. the strong Sun Devil attack. But the maligned Illinois offensive front needs to get a consistent push to control the ball and clock to keep the defense off the field and out of the Arizona heat.

Key number: 28, starts in a row for Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. But, will he be able to play?

Key note: Illinois never has won in the state of Arizona, boasting an 0-3 mark. The Illini are 0-2 in Tucson, and 0-1 in Tempe.

5. Central Florida at Ohio State | FULL SCOREBOARD
Why you should watch: It will be fun to watch the continuing evolution of the Ohio State spread offense that Urban Meyer has installed. After a sluggish first quarter, the attack on Miami (Ohio) took flight after wideout Devin Smith scored the first touchdown on a spectacular one-handed stretch. How will the unit do vs. a much more talented UCF roster?

Keep an eye on: QB Braxton Miller. The sensational sophomore has thrust himself into the Heisman conversation with a huge effort in the opener, when he ran for an Ohio State quarterback single-game record 161 yards and had 368 yards of total offense.

Key matchup: UCF offense vs. Ohio State defense. This will be strength on strength. The Knights racked up 56 points in an opening win over Akron. The Buckeyes need to mute a strong UCF ground. And Ohio State’s defense also would receive a big boost if the Buckeye offense can control the ball.

Key number: 244, passing yards for Ohio State in its win over Miami (Ohio). The last time it passed for more was a 348-yard effort in 2010 vs. Indiana. That’s a span of 21 games.

Key note: The Buckeyes used 14 true freshmen in the 56-10 victory last Saturday vs. the RedHawks.

6. Vanderbilt at Northwestern | FULL SCOREBOARD
Why you should watch: Vandy can’t afford an 0-2 start, while Northwestern is looking to move to 2-0 and up the food chain in the Big Ten. A win over an SEC team would give Northwestern even more momentum and confidence.

Keep an eye on: QB Kain Colter. Is he OK after taking a hard hit last week that eventually caused him to pull himself from the game for the Wildcats’ final drive? Colter says he’s ready. If not, backup Trevor Siemian is capable, as he directed the game-winning drive at Syracuse in a wild 42-41 victory.

Key matchup: Vandy QB James Rodgers vs. Northwestern cornerbacks. The little brother of Green Bay Packer star QB Aaron, James Rodgers is a strong passer who will look for WR Jordan Matthews. Count on him testing a Wildcat secondary that time and again got beat deep and committed penalties in allowing 470 yards passing and four touchdowns last week. This is a Northwestern defense with a lot to prove.

Key number: 284, all-purpose yards by Venric Mark in Northwestern’s opening win over Syracuse. He had 134 punt return yards, including running one back for a score.

Key note: The redshirt is coming off DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, the top recruit of the Pat Fitzgerald era. The Wildcats need his skill and athletic ability to help pressure the quarterback and take heat off the maligned Northwestern secondary.

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7. Wisconsin at Oregon State | FULL SCOREBOARD
Why you should watch: The Badgers didn’t look impressive in dispatching FCS Northern Iowa in the opener. Wisconsin raced to a 19-0 lead—and then seemed to lose interest in taking a 26-21 victory. The defense had lapses in the second half. Check this out: The Badgers held Northern Iowa to 47 yards and no points in the first half, then permitted 259 yards in the second half and three touchdowns in the final 15:52.

Keep an eye on: The Badger offense. It went in fits and starts, as the passing game lacked oomph with few attempts down field. In his first start, Badger QB Danny O’Brien hit 19-of-23 passes for just 219 yards with two touchdowns.

Key matchup: O’Brien vs. the Oregon State secondary. Yes, the Beavers didn’t play last week, as their opener with Nicholls State was postponed because of Hurricane Isaac. So, they may be rusty. But the secondary returns three starters and should be much improved. This will be O’Brien’s first road game. And he was a bit spotty in the opener. He will need to make some plays in the passing game.

Key number: Wisconsin has won 33 consecutive regular-season non-conference games. LSU has the longest streak in the nation at 38.

Key note: Oregon State is 5-5 at home against non-conference Top 25 teams, although its last game vs. such a foe was in 2009 and its last win was in 1977.

8. Air Force at Michigan | FULL SCOREBOARD
Why you should watch: How will Michigan respond to the 41-14 shellacking it took from Alabama? The Wolverines haven’t played Air Force since 1964. Check out Michigan’s mind-set and psyche, especially if it encounters adversity early on. Yes, the Bama loss was ugly. But, all of the Wolverines’ goals remain within reach. The season starts now.

Keep an eye on: Michigan RB Fitz Toussaint. He missed the opener serving a suspension for a DUI arrest earlier this summer. Now, Toussaint is back. Let’s see if he still has his 1,000-yard form from 2011. He needs to carry a big load so Denard Robinson doesn’t take too many hits.

Key matchup: Michigan offensive line vs. Air Force defensive line. The Wolverines figure to be able to impose their will on an undersized Falcon defensive line. Players like tackle Taylor Lewan need to control the line of scrimmage and create room in the ground game after a disappointing effort last week.

Key number: 17, freshmen that Michigan took to Texas to play Alabama. People need to remember that this is a young Wolverine squad that in many ways is a work-in-progress coming off that 11-2 season.

Key note: Brady Hoke coached twice vs. Troy Calhoun and Air Force when he was leading the San Diego State program. And Hoke went 1-1 vs. the always well-schooled and disciplined Falcons.

9. Penn State at Virginia | FULL SCOREBOARD
Why you should watch: It will be interesting to see how the Nittany Lions look coming off a demoralizing home loss to Ohio. Bill O’Brien is doing his best to stress the positives. No sense focusing on the negatives, right? But, alas, this could be the start of a long season.

Keep an eye on: QB Matt McGloin. O’Brien was generally pleased with McGloin, who hit 27-of-48 passes for 260 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. He needs to have another big game for Penn State to have any chance to pull the upset, especially if the ground game struggles. McGloin and redshirt freshman TE Kyle Carter have a nice chemistry.

Key matchup: Penn State defense vs. UVa offense. The Nittany Lions jumped to a 14-3 first-half lead over Ohio but came apart in the second half. Penn State was out gained, 301-115, and permitted those pesky Bobcats to convert 11-of-12 third downs while allowing 21 points in the final 30 minutes. No doubt, the Penn State defense wasn’t helped by an offense that went three-and-out too often in the second half. But it also may have taken too many chances and needs to find a way to make a play on third downs.

Key number: 22, number of running plays Penn State had last week compared to 48 passing attempts. O’Brien wants more balance, but starting running Bill Belton may miss the game with an ankle injury. Walk-on Derek Day would start if Belton can’t go.

Key note: The last time Penn State started 0-2 was 2001. But, it could happen again facing a good Virginia team that opened with a 43-19 win over FCS Richmond and that is quarterbacked by Michael Rocco, whose dad was on Penn State’s 1982 national title.

10. Michigan State at Central Michigan | FULL SCOREBOARD
Why you should watch: This will be Michigan State’s first trip to Mount Pleasant to play Central Michigan. The Chippewa’s are coached by former Spartan QB Dan Enos. This will be a chance for Michigan State to notch a confidence-boosting win and show it’s an elite team.

Keep an eye on: QB Andrew Maxwell. The Michigan State junior quarterback needs a big rebound game after tossing three interceptions in his first career start last Friday against Boise State. The pass game needs to be fixed, because a game against Notre Dame looms on Sept. 15.

Key matchup: Spartan defense vs. Central Michigan offense. While the passing game may have disappointed in the opener vs. Boise State, the Michigan State defense didn’t. The unit turned in a suffocating effort in yielding just 206 yards and not permitting an offensive touchdown. Does a MAC team like CMU have any chance? The Chippewa’s notched a mere 112 yards last year in a 45-7 loss to Michigan State, but they did run for 324 yards in a season-opening win over Southeast Missouri State.

Key number: 0, sacks Michigan State notched last week in the win over Boise State. Expect that number to rise—significantly—this Saturday.

Key note: Michigan State only leads this series, 5-3, losing at home to CMU in 1991, 1992 and 2009. The Spartans also have future road games scheduled vs. Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan.

11. New Hampshire at Minnesota | FULL SCOREBOARD
Why you should watch: The Golden Gophers are coming off a gutty triple-overtime win at UNLV that had to boost confidence. Now, facing FCS New Hampshire, Minnesota has a shot to start 2-0 with an eye on 4-0 with games vs. Western Michigan and Syracuse after that. But, know this: The Gophers have lost to FCS teams at home each of the past two seasons (South Dakota and North Dakota State). And New Hampshire is good.

Keep an eye on: QB MarQueis Gray. Yes, he tossed two touchdown passes in the opener. But he also overthrew some receivers, especially on deep routes. The senior hit 17-of-30 passes for 269 yards. He must be more accurate.

Key matchup: Minnesota defense vs. New Hampshire QB Sean Goldrich. Goldrich can run (71 yards and pass (193), so he will pose a threat. The good news: Minnesota’s defense looked good at UNLV, which had just 275 yards. S Derrick Wells is coming off a huge game, making two picks to earn Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Key number: 478, yards Minnesota gained vs. UNLV. This could be a nice attack, especially with how the line performed vs. the Rebels. Time and again, the front opened nice holes for backs Donnell Kirkwood and James Gillum. And, get this: There are no senior starters on the line.

Key note: Jordan Wettstein may be a weapon at kicker. The senior walk-on hit three-of-four field-goal attempts, including a 32-yarder in the third overtime that sealed the 30-27 win at UNLV.

12. Indiana at UMass | FULL SCOREBOARD
Why you should watch: Can Indiana get off to a 2-0 start coming off a 1-11 season? It would be a great beginning for Kevin Wilson in his second season in Bloomington. UMass is a new member of the FBS ranks; and it’s a quality program that will test Indiana in a game being played at the Patriot’s stadium.

Keep an eye on: The Indiana offensive line. It starts a true freshman at left tackle in Jason Spriggs and a true freshman at right guard in Dan Feeney. The line needs to get a push in the ground game for a trio of decent backs in D’Angelo Roberts, Tevin Coleman and Stephen Houston. That will open room what could be a good passing game.

Key matchup: QB Tre Roberson vs. UMass defense. The Hoosiers need to play at a quick tempo and pace. That’s when the attack seems to do best. And a fast pace could get the Minutemen defense on its heels—allowing the Hoosiers to jump to an early lead.

Key number: 26 and 36, completions and attempts for Indiana’s Roberson. Both were career-highs in the 24-17 win over FCS Indiana State. The Hoosiers want to pass more this season. So far, so good.

Key note: The Hoosiers welcome back two playmakers from one-game suspensions. WR Kofi Hughes and CB Lawrence Barnett are back. And each figures to have an impact. Hughes is a versatile weapon and maybe the team’s top wideout. Barnett is the club’s best defensive back.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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