This is by far the best slate of games of the short 2013 season. The Saturday menu is highlighted by four games vs. Pac-12 schools—Illinois vs. Washington in Chicago; Wisconsin at Arizona State; UCLA at Nebraska; Ohio State at Cal. Purdue also gets its annual crack at Notre Dame, adding more name-brand appeal to the weekend. And we have in-state rivals Iowa-Iowa State clashing.
Here are my previews of this week’s games.
Why you should watch: Indiana probably faces another must-win situation after falling at home to Navy, 41-35, last week. The Midshipmen ran for 444 yards, gaining 6.3 yards per carry. Bowling Green is 2-0, posting wins over Tulsa and Kent State with a strong offense leading the way for the Falcons.
Player on the spot: Indiana RB Tevin Coleman. The Hoosiers need to run better after notching just 118 yards last week vs. Navy. Indiana’s leading rusher vs. the Midshipmen was quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who had 35 yards on the ground. That’s not good. Coleman needs to rediscover his Game One form, when he had 169 yards rushing and two touchdowns vs. FCS Indiana State.
Key matchup: Indiana linebackers vs. Bowling Green backfield. The Hoosiers have something to prove on defense after last week’s struggles vs. Navy. The Falcons have nice offensive balance with quarterback Matt Johnson and running back Travis Greene. The Indiana linebackers need to make some plays and help limit big ones, especially in the running game.
Key number: 10, touchdown passes by Indiana. That leads the nation.
Listen to Coach Kevin Wilson:
Why you should watch: The Gophers are looking to continue the momentum of a 2-0 start. The latest conquest was a 44-21 triumph at New Mexico State. FCS Western Illinois (2-0) should be mismatched in the trenches vs. Minnesota, as it looks to continue to hone a strong rushing game behind an emerging offensive line.
Player on the spot: Minnesota RB Rodrick Williams. A big, physical back, Williams broke out with 148 yards rushing last week subbing for injured Donnell Kirkwood, whose status for Saturday is murky. Minnesota won’t need him. Williams gives Minnesota another strong option in the backfield vs. a FCS foe that it should be able to run at will against. And that should set up some play-action pass opportunities for Philip Nelson.
Key matchup: Minnesota special teams vs. Western Illinois special teams. The Golden Gophers have gotten a big boost from special teams the first two weeks. Against UNLV, Minnesota scored on a 98-yard kickoff return and a 52-yard blocked field goal. Against New Mexico State, the Gophers scored on a 65-yard punt return. For good measure, Minnesota added a 50-yard fumble return for a TD vs. the Aggies.
Key number: 95, combined points Minnesota has tallied in its first two games. It is the most points that Minnesota has combined to score to open a season since they racked up 97 combined points (41 at Tulsa and 56 against Colorado State) in two wins to start the 2005 season.
Listen to Coach Jerry Kill:
Why you should watch: Not a lot of redeeming value in watching this monumental mismatch. Michigan has opened with a 59-9 win over Central Michigan and a 41-30 victory over Notre Dame. Now comes Akron, which has lost to UCF (38-7) and beaten FCS James Madison (35-33). Look for Brady Hoke to move to 17-0 all-time in the Big House.
Player on the spot: Michigan QB Devin Gardner. He’s coming off a breakout performance in a 41-30 victory over Notre Dame, hitting 21-of-33 passes for 294 yards with four touchdowns and also leading the team with 82 yards rushing. He should be able to run and pass at will vs. Akron.
Key matchup: Wolverine offensive line vs. Akron defensive front. Michigan can make this a one-sided game by dominating up front. Establish the run with a big, physical line led by tackle Taylor Lewan. Truth be told, the Wolverines shouldn’t have to throw more than 10 passes to beat the Zips.
Key number: 27, road games lost in a row by Akron, which is coached by Terry Bowden.
Listen to Coach Brady Hoke:
Why you should watch: This will be the ultimate test for Nebraska’s defense, which held Southern Miss to 284 yards last week but gave up 602 to Wyoming in the opener. What’s the real Nebraska defense? The Bruins riddled the Huskers for 653 yards last season in a 36-30 win in Pasadena, the beginning of what would become a trend of periodic horrid play by the Husker defense. UCLA has a high-powered offense led by QB Brett Hundley that notched 647 yards in a season-opening 58-20 win over Nevada.
Player on the spot: QB Taylor Martinez. He has been prone to turnovers in his career but has just one pick in 2013. But he must be careful with the ball and not make poor decisions. Multiple turnovers that set up UCLA with a short field would be a killer.
Key matchup: Nebraska offensive line vs. UCLA defensive line. The Cornhuskers best defense will be a good offense. Nebraska must run well, which will control the clock and keep the ball away from the potent UCLA offense, which works at a fast pace like Nebraska’s attack. Myriad three-and-outs would be detrimental to Nebraska.
Key number: 94, plays UCLA ran against Nebraska last season.
Listen to Coach Bo Pelini:
Why you should watch: Another game, another chance for the Spartans to figure out their offense. Last week in a 21-6 win over South Florida, MSU used three quarterbacks: Connor Cook, Tyler O’Connor and Andrew Maxwell. The results? Mixed, at best, as the trio hit 12-of-24 passes for 94 yards. A new twist: True freshman Damion Terry is expected to play behind starter Cook this week. By the way: Youngstown State won at Pitt last year; this is a good program led by Eric Wolford who is assisted by Mark Mangino and a veteran staff.
Player on the spot: Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun. He scored on a fumble return and interception return vs. USF. Calhoun also scored on a fumble return in the opener vs. Western Michigan. That’s three touchdowns, which is more than the MSU offense has scored all season. He may have to make more big plays to help keep the Spartans afloat.
Key matchup: Michigan State offensive line vs. Youngstown State defensive line. The Spartans front has been inconsistent. It needs to dominate vs. a FCS foe to gain confidence and mojo for a trip to Notre Dame the next week. Jeremy Langford may be emerging as MSU’s top back, as he has 132 yards rushing through two games. The Spartans need to run for a lot of yards.
Key number: Four, touchdowns by the Michigan State defense in 2013. The offense has just two.
Listen to Coach Mark Dantonio:
Why you should watch: Can the Fighting Illini keep the mojo after a stunning 45-17 win over Cincinnati? The offense has been great this season, getting 464 yards vs. Southern Illinois and 522 vs. Cincinnati. The offense likely will need to score a lot, as the Illinois defense lacks teeth. Washington was off last week after whipping Boise State, 38-6, in the opener. The Huskies welcome back tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was suspended for the opener. He is one of U-Dub’s top talents.
Player on the spot: Illinois running backs Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson. They need to run well to keep the defense honest. Neither has had a heavy workload yet, as Ferguson paces the team with 96 yards rushing and Young has 70.
Key matchup: Nathan Scheelhaase vs. Washington secondary. Can the senior signal-caller stay hot? He is completing 74 percent of his passes for 728 yards with six touchdowns and only one interception. There hasn’t been a better quarterback in the Big Ten. Really.
Key number: 20, different formations Illinois’ offense used last week in beating Cincinnati. New coordinator Bill Cubit has jazzed up this offense and made it potent.
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Listen to Coach Tim Beckman:
Why you should watch: This is a big game for Iowa and its bowl hopes. The Hawkeyes are coming off a workmanlike 28-14 win over FCS Missouri State but need to cut down the penalties and dropped passes. Iowa State has been a pain in the side of Kirk Ferentz, who is just 6-8 vs. the Cyclones. Iowa State was off last week after opening with a loss to FCS Northern Iowa. These teams are struggling. In fact, the loser’s postseason hopes may be in peril.
Player of the spot: Iowa QB Jake Rudock. He has looked good in the first two starts of his career, hitting 61.5 percent of his passes for 449 yards. But he has just one touchdown and three interceptions. Rudock needs to pass well to open the ground game to give the Hawkeyes some balance.
Key matchup: Iowa receivers vs. Iowa State defensive backs. The Hawkeyes need to make some plays down field with guys like Kevonte Martin Manley, Don Shumpert, Damond Powell, among others, to open the field for a good collection of Iowa running backs. Mark Weisman is coming off a 180-yard rushing effort last week.
Key number: Two, wins for Iowa against five losses in Ames since 1999.
Listen to Coach Kirk Ferentz:
Why you should watch: It’s a chance to watch Penn State continue to develop on offense. True freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg hit 23-of-33 passes for 311 yards with a touchdown and interception last week in a win over Eastern Michigan. It was the first of what figures to be many 300-yard games for Hackenberg for an offense that could be coming on.
Player on the spot: The Penn State running backs. They came to life last week in a 45-7 win over Eastern Michigan, helping the Nittany Lions gain 251 yards on the ground. Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch each had 108 yards rushing. If Penn State keeps running like this, it will be difficult to beat, as Christian Hackenberg will have more room to operate as a passer.
Key matchup: Penn State defensive line vs. UCF offensive line. The Nittany Lions front is starting to take form, helping hold Eastern Michigan to 61 yards rushing last week (1.7 ypc). If Penn State can control the line, it will be able to make the Knights one dimensional and thus easier to defend. Tackle DaQuan Jones has been a stud.
Key number: 14, field goals made in a row by Sam Ficken, which is a school record, breaking Craig Fayak’s standard.
Listen to Coach Bill O’Brien:
Why you should watch: This is a potentially scary game for Ohio State. Cal gave Northwestern all it could handle in the opener before falling 44-30. But Cal barely got by Portland State last week, taking a 37-30 decision and allowing 553 yards. But the Golden Bears offense has been clicking, notching 548 yards vs. Northwestern and 616 last week.
Player on the spot: Ohio State QB Braxton Miller. He hurt his left knee in the first quarter last week and missed the rest of the game vs. San Diego State. Will he play? Mid-week reports made it sound like it’s a good possibility. If Miller is sidelined, Ohio State knows it has a good option in Kenny Guiton, who came on last week and led the Buckeyes to victory.
Key matchup: Ohio State offensive line vs. Cal defensive line. The Buckeyes can do themselves a big favor by running the ball behind a nice collection of running backs led by Jordan Hall and Co. This line is coming on, as a strong rushing attack will allow Ohio State to control the ball, keeping it away from a potent Cal offense that works at a frenetic pace.
Key number: 512, yards Ohio State allowed last season to Cal in a 35-28 win.
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Listen to Coach Urban Meyer:
Why you should watch: The Boilermakers will be looking for a miracle in knocking off Notre Dame, which is coming off a 41-30 loss at Michigan. That should make the Fighting Irish hostile for their visit to Ross-Ade Stadium. It will be interesting to see what type of fight Purdue has coming off a lethargic 20-14 win vs. FCS Indiana State. The Boilermaker d-line needs to play like it’s capable and get after ND quarterback Tommy Rees.
Player on the spot: Purdue QB Rob Henry. Yes, he needs more help from the backs, receivers and line, but he has to make more plays as a runner and a passer. He has zero touchdown passes in two games, representing the first time since October of 2009 that the Boilermakers went consecutive games without throwing for a score.
Key matchup: Purdue offensive line vs. Notre Dame defensive line. Center Robert Kugler and tackle Justin Kitchens have played well. The others? Eh. This unit needs to step it up vs. a rugged Irish front led by Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt. This is a monster challenge.
Key number: 0, touchdowns Purdue has scored in three first-and-goal situations this season.
Listen to Coach Darrell Hazell:
Why you should watch: The Wildcats look to continue their hot start after opening with a win at Cal and vs. Syracuse. Western Michigan is struggling under rookie coach P.J. Fleck, coming off a horrible 27-23 home loss to FCS Nicholls State, which was using its third-string quarterback.
Player on the spot: It’s the entire team. Look, Northwestern should bury Western Michigan, which lost 26-13 in the opener at Michigan State. The Wildcats have to show they have the focus and fire to play hard for four quarters vs. a lesser foe that’s struggling and dominate from start to finish.
Key matchup: Northwestern offensive line vs. Western Michigan defensive line. The Wildcat front had some questions entering the year, as three new starters were needed. Well, the NU front is coming together and should dominate an undersized Bronco defensive line. Running back Treyvon Green has benefited from that blocking, impressing as a physical back with Venric Mark being dinged up.
Key number: 14, non-conference wins in a row at home for Northwestern. That’s the 10th-best such skein in the nation. Another fun number: NU has 16 picks in its last five games.
Listen to Coach Pat Fitzgerald:
Why you should watch: This will be a great test for Wisconsin, which has run roughshod over UMass (45-0) and Tennessee Tech (48-0). What did we learn about the Badgers in those games? That they can crush lesser foes. This trip to Tempe will be a huge step up in competition.
Player on the spot: Wisconsin QB Joel Stave. He emerged from camp as the winner of the job and has done well. Through two games, he has completed 71 percent of his passes for 416 yards with five touchdowns and two picks. He’s making use of a nice collection of tight ends. Stave also benefits from a strong ground game that opens room for the passing attack. Melvin Gordon (284), James White (252) and Corey Clement (250) all are on fire.
Key matchup: Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly vs. Wisconsin secondary. In the opener, Kelly hit 23-of-31 passes for 300 yards with five touchdowns and no picks. He’s one of the nation’s top signal-callers who runs a high-powered spread attack for coach Todd Graham. The Badgers have three new starters in the defensive backfield, including a freshman. This will be a huge test.
Key number: 0, amount of points allowed by both teams this season. ASU shutout Sacramento State, 55-0, in its only game.
Listen to Coach Gary Andersen:
|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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