Ranking the Games: Michigan State at Oregon highlights Week 2 slate

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Ranking the Games: Michigan State at Oregon highlights Week 2 slate

The Big Ten missed out on a chance to score a big win when Wisconsin let a 24-7 third-quarter lead evaporate vs. LSU on Saturday night in Houston in a 28-24 defeat. The Big Ten has another shot for an impressive triumph with Michigan State’s trip to Oregon.

And many eyes will be Michigan’s visit to Notre Dame, which will provide a good test for the Wolverines and new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.

Here is a look at this week’s Big Ten action, as 13 of the 14 teams are in action with Indiana on a bye.

1. Michigan State at Oregon. Does it get any better than a matchup between the high-flying Duck offense and the steely Spartan defense? Of course not. If Michigan State can win, it may have a good chance to run the table. Look at its schedule; do you see a game in which the Spartans will be underdogs? I don’t. So, let’s call this a “defining” game for MSU. The schools most recently met in 1998-1999, as each team won on its own turf in battles between Mike Bellotti and Nick Saban.

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2. Michigan at Notre Dame. Savor and enjoy this, as it’s the last time these storied programs will meet in the foreseeable future. Michigan looked good running the ball vs. an FBS newbie last week. This will be a better test. Run well vs. the Irish, and America will be impressed. Michigan has won four of the last five meetings. The lone defeat: In 2012 in South Bend, when Denard Robinson endured his infamous “turnover game.” You remember the six turnovers in a 13-6 loss, right? Right.

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3. Virginia Tech at Ohio State. The Hokies are famous for their strong, aggressive defense, killer special teams and physical offense under iconic head coach Frank Beamer, who has been on the job since 1987. But they are breaking in a new quarterback and the o-line needs to develop, as Tech will face perhaps the top defensive line in the nation vs. the Buckeyes. OSU has its own new signal-caller in redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, who showed potential vs. Navy in his first career start. But this is a BIG step up for Barrett. OSU and Va Tech never have played. Win this, and the Buckeyes could cruise into East Lansing on Nov. 8 with a 7-0 mark.

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4. Northern Illinois at Northwestern (Watch on BTN2Go!). This is an intriguing matchup, though the Huskies have lost star QB Jordan Lynch. Still, NU needs to be ready. The Wildcats are 6-0-1 all-time vs. NIU, last playing in 2005. How will NU respond coming off a tough home loss? The offense needs to make strides, especially QB Trevor Siemian. The defense? I think it will be OK.

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5. Akron at Penn State. Be careful, Nittany Lions. Terry Bowden has a nice program. Akron came THISCLOSE to winning at Michigan last season, with the Wolverines needing to make a desperate stop on the final play to hold on, 28-24. Will Christian Hackenberg throw for 400 yards again?

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6. Maryland at South Florida. Former Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart is trying to rebuild the South Florida program that was soaring under Jim Leavitt. Taggart went 2-10 in his debut but seemingly has things pointed up. The Bulls are off to a 1-0 start behind RB Marlon Mack and his 275 yards rushing. The Terrapins clicked on all cylinders in their opener, notching 52 points vs. FCS James Madison. An athletic USF defense will be a nice test for Maryland in a game that could be up for grabs in the fourth quarter.

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7. Western Kentucky at Illinois (Watch on BTN2Go!). This one has “danger” written all over it for the Fighting Illini, who struggled to subdue FCS Youngstown State last week. Led by first-year coach Jeff Brohm, the Hilltoppers ripped MAC champ Bowling Green, 59-31, in the opener behind quarterback Brandon Doughty, who hit 46-of-56 passes for a school-record 569 yards and six TDs. No FBS signal-caller had a better opening week. This will be a big test for the Illini secondary. Bottom line: Illinois may have to outscore WKU in what could be one of the most exciting games of the day.

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8. Ball State at Iowa. The Hawkeyes had a too-close-for-comfort call vs. Northern Iowa last week. But that wasn’t unexpected. And things could be tight vs. Ball State, which is well-coached by Pete Lembo. This will be a nice test for an Iowa defense that had some communication issues last week. The running game needs to be more dominant. Just 151 yards rushing vs. UNI?

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9. Middle Tennessee at Minnesota (Watch on BTN2Go!). Rick Stockstill is one of the best coaches you’ve never heard of, building a strong program at MTSU. The Gophers offense looked great coming out of the box vs. FCS Eastern Illinois and may have to continue to carry a big load as the offense looks for a steady passing game.

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10. Central Michigan at Purdue. The Boilermakers are coming off their first victory over a FBS program since Nov. 2012. And, it was needed. Badly. Go ahead and exhale, Purdue Pete. But, much work remains to be done. The offense showed flashes of good things, especially on the ground. The defense has a ways to go. Another home win over a MAC team would be a good building block for Darrell Hazell’s crew.

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11. McNeese State at Nebraska. It was Florida Atlantic last week that was paid handsomely (a cool mil) to take a beating. It’s McNeese State’s turn this week go home black and blue with its pockets stuffed with cash. Not sure the Huskers will get much out of this aside from padding their stats and emptying the bench.

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12. Howard at Rutgers (Watch on BTN2Go!). The Scarlet Knights should cruise to 2-0 with a victory vs. an overmatched FCS program. Rutgers is too big, too physical and too tough. Don’t be shocked if RU rushes for 300 yards and wins by four touchdowns. This is a confident team coming off that big win vs. Washington State.

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13. Western Illinois at Wisconsin (Watch on BTN2Go!). The Badgers let one get away vs. LSU last week. Time to take out their frustrations on a FCS opponent. Yes, Wisconsin’s passing game needs work. Fifty yards passing. That’s it. That’s all Wisconsin had vs. the Tigers on 8-of-24 attempts with two picks. But the Badgers would be able to handle the Leathernecks without throwing a pass if they wanted. Still, I’m sure coaches will let Tanner McEvoy throw a bit to build his confidence. I don’t expect Melvin Gordon to play much after dinging his hip last week. He won’t be needed. Enjoy this breather, Bucky.

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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