Week 1 preview: NU-Cal should be good one

Week 1 preview: NU-Cal should be good one

It’s time to take a week-by-week look at the 2013 Big Ten schedule. Interesting storylines, matchups and battles within the battles dot each week’s slate of games. Up first, of course: Week 1. Get my opening week preview in this post.

Game of the week: NU hasn’t played Cal since beating the Golden Bears in the Rose Bowl after the 1948 season—which before last season was the Wildcats’ only bowl victory. Well, look here: Northwestern opens at Cal. And it will be daunting. The Golden Bears have a new coach in Sonny Dykes, whose high-flying offense is tough to prep for. Ask Illinois’ Tim Beckman, whose Illini got shredded by Dykes’ Louisiana Tech team, 52-24, last season. On the heels of that junket to Berkeley, the Wildcats come home to play Syracuse—which, like Cal, is breaking in a new coach. No Big Ten team has a tougher 1-2 punch to start the season. Good thing this is a veteran NU squad.

Ranking the Week 1 games:
1. Northwestern at Cal
2. Syracuse vs. Penn State at the Meadowlands, N.J.
3. Northern Illinois at Iowa
4. Purdue at Cincinnati
5. UNLV at Minnesota
6. Western Michigan at Michigan State
7. Central Michigan at Michigan
8. Wyoming at Nebraska
9. Southern Illinois at Illinois
10. Indiana State at Indiana
11. UMass at Wisconsin
12. Buffalo at Ohio State

Quarterback matchup to watch: Purdue likely won’t announce a starter until a week or so before the opener at Cincinnati. But senior Rob Henry has to be the favorite, given his starting experience. He started seven games in 2010 until a knee injury ruined his 2011 season before it even started. The Bearcats have Brendon Kay back after he wrestled the job from Munchie Legaux, who also is back.

Coordinator matchup to watch: Northwestern defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz has done a great job for the Wildcats, making this a solid unit. And he has more talent than ever to work with. His acumen will be tested by Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, a spread offense wizard.

Upset alert: It could come in the first game of the season on Thursday night, Aug. 29, when Minnesota welcomes UNLV. The only other meeting was last season in Las Vegas, with the Gophers escaping with a 30-27 victory in triple overtime. Bobby Hauck has an improving club. And he may need a big season to keep his job.

Storylines: Purdue’s Darrell Hazell (at Cincinnati) and Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen (UMass) will make their coaching debuts. … The first week isn’t filled with many top matchups. Indiana (Indiana State) and Illinois (Southern Illinois) are playing FCS teams. Michigan (Central Michigan), Iowa (Northern Illinois), Wisconsin (UMass) and Michigan State (Western Michigan) are taking on MAC foes. … Penn State will play Syracuse in East Rutherford, N.J. The Orange are coming off a bowl appearance but have a new coach in Scott Shafer (Michigan’s DC in 2008), with Doug Marrone off to lead the Buffalo Bills. Syracuse and Penn State will be breaking in new quarterbacks when they meet. In fact, the new Nittany Lions starter may be true freshman Christian Hackenberg. These are long-time Eastern rivals who have met 68 times. Penn State has won the last four meetings and 22 of the last 25 with the last being in 2009. … Purdue and Cincinnati have played once, with the Boilermakers escaping the Queen City with a 19-14 win to open the 2001 season. … Ohio State welcomes Vanderbilt in the “E. Gordon Gee Bowl,” as he was president of both schools. OSU hasn’t played Vanderbilt since 1933, taking a 20-0 decision in Columbus. The Buckeyes are 3-1 all-time vs. the Commodores. … Iowa barely beat Northern Illinois last year, rallying for an 18-17 win in Chicago’s Soldier Field after entering the fourth quarter trailing 17-9. The Hawkeyes are 8-0 all-time vs. NIU. … Michigan State has won eight in a row vs. Western Michigan dating to a loss in 1919. But MAC teams have stung the Spartans. To wit, CMU has beaten MSU three times since 1991. … Michigan last lost to a MAC team in 2008, when Toledo won in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines play host to Central Michigan to open 2013. … Nebraska is 6-0 vs. Wyoming and has allowed over 20 points just one time to the Cowboys.

About Tom Dienhart 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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