Best of Week 3: All eyes on Nebraska vs. Miami rematch
Not a lot of “wow” factor in Week 3, with Nebraska’s trip to Miami (Fla.) earning top billing. These programs twice battled for the national title, after the 1983 and 1994 seasons. Alas, neither program is of that ilk at the moment—no Tom Osborne, no Howard Schnellenberger, no Dennis Erickson … no legit national title dreams. Still, it will be a fun trip to south Florida for the Cornhuskers, who can send a message with a convincing win under first-year coach Mike Riley.
Pitt’s trip to Iowa will be a good measuring stick. The Hawkeyes rallied from 10 down at halftime for a 24-20 win at Pitt last year after C.J. Beathard took over for Jake Rudock. The Panthers are led by first-year coach Pat Narduzzi, the former Michigan State defensive coordinator.
Rutgers plays at Penn State in the first Big Ten game of the season. Playing before an electric crowd in High Point Solutions Stadium last September, RU let Penn State off the hook, dropping a close game in the program’s Big Ten debut.
Air Force at Michigan State is intriguing. This will mark the first meeting ever between the programs. How will MSU do vs. the often-confounding Falcon triple-option offense? As for other service academies, MSU has played Army twice, losing at West Point in 1931 and in the 1984 Cherry Bowl. The Spartans never have played Navy.
Northwestern played host to Stanford in the opener—now, it goes to Duke for another “Brain Bowl.” The series is 8-8 with NU winning seven of the last eight. The schools haven’t met since 2008, when the Wildcats won in Durham. In fact, Northwestern has won its last five games at Duke.
Illinois is 0-2 all-time vs. North Carolina. The last meeting was a 34-14 Illini loss in Chapel Hill in 1987. Mike White was the Illinois coach, while Dick Crum led the Tar Heels. Both programs changed coaches—and fortunes–the next season, with the Illini tabbing John Mackovic and UNC hiring Mack Brown.
The visit from Virginia Tech to Purdue will be daunting for the Boilermakers, who have four wins (one Big Ten triumph) in two seasons under Darrell Hazell. The Hokies are led by legendary coach Frank Beamer, who has been at the helm in Blacksburg since 1987 and built a model program that is among the nation’s elite. And Bud Foster is one of the nation’s top defensive coordinators. Tech may be too fast, too talented and just plain too good for the Boilers. Va Tech and Purdue—both proud engineering schools–never have met.
Indiana may be pushed to the limit by Western Kentucky and its prolific offense led by stud QB Brandon Doughty, back for a sixth season after leading the nation with 4,830 yards passing in 2014 with 49 TD tosses. He teams with RB Leon Allen—who rushed for 1,542 yards last season–to give the Hilltoppers a formidable duo. Be careful, Hoosiers.
Game of the week: The Hurricanes continue to look for consistency under Al Golden after going 6-7 last year. This will be Golden’s fifth season in Coral Gables and he has two consecutive bowl bids. Nebraska beat Miami last year in Lincoln. And the Huskers won their time in Miami, taking a 24-17 win in the Orange Bowl after the 1994 season.
Best quarterback matchup: Wes Lunt vs. North Carolina’s Marquise Williams is pretty good. Yes, Lunt has had issues staying healthy. Still, he’s a whale of a physical talent who has flashed some big things. Williams is a dual-threat who set a UNC single-season mark for total offense last year. He also led the squad in rushing in 2014, but the staff wants him to achieve more balance this fall. Also, if Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld is healthy, he could have a fun battle with Brandon Doughty of Western Kentucky.
Best head coach matchup: I like Pat Fitzgerald vs. Duke’s David Cutcliffe. These guys know how to maximize their rosters. “Cut” has taken the Blue Devils to three bowls in a row and went to the ACC title game in 2013, notching the first 10-win season in Duke annals. Fitzgerald has an equally glowing resume at a school where winning consistently is a challenge. The Wildcats are coming off back-to-back 5-7 seasons but won 10 games in 2012 and the school’s first bowl since the 1948 season.
Best coordinator matchup: I want to see new Rutgers offensive coordinator Ben McDaniels match wits with Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. McDaniels, brother of New England Patriots’ OC Josh, takes over for Ralph Friedgen. Is he ready? Shoop is a rising star who was wooed for the same spot by LSU in the offseason.
Upset alert: The Scarlet Knights came oh-so-close to knocking off Penn State last year in Piscataway, blowing a 10-0 lead and losing 13-10 on a PSU TD with 1:13 left. The Nittany Lions are a young team that still is growing, so they may be vulnerable when RU visits State College.
Ranking Week 3 Games
1. Nebraska at Miami (Fla.)
2. Pitt at Iowa
3. Rutgers at Penn State
4. Air Force at Michigan State
5. Northwestern at Duke
6. Illinois at North Carolina
7. UNLV at Michigan
8. Northern Illinois at Ohio State
9. South Florida at Maryland
10. Troy at Wisconsin
11. Western Kentucky at Indiana
12. Virginia Tech at Purdue
13. Kent State at Minnesota
|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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