Best of Week 3: Blockbuster Saturday packed with big games
This is a blockbuster Saturday that merits some type of nickname. So, let’s go with “Shakedown Saturday.” Everywhere you turn, there is a big game, paced by Ohio State’s trip to Oklahoma, in what is the last full-blown Saturday of non-conference action.
Michigan welcomes Colorado, as the Buffaloes are the lone Power Five school on the non-league slate for the Wolverines. But, this isn’t Bill McCartney’s CU, as the Buffs have been a floundering program for years, not going to a bowl since 2007 when Dan Hawkins was coach. Current boss Mike MacIntyre is 10-27 in three seasons. The Buffs’ Hail Mary 27-26 win in Ann Arbor in 1994 will forever be remembered by Michigan fans. CU last visited in 1997, falling 27-3, with Rick Neuheisel as coach.
No Big Ten team played Notre Dame last year. But the Irish welcome Michigan State this fall. And it will be an epic barometer for a Spartan program that is breaking in a new quarterback with retooled lines on both sides of the ball. ND and MSU have a storied rivalry, playing 77 times. But the series was put on hold the last two seasons after the programs had met every year since 1997. The Fighting Irish have won the last three meetings. The Spartans haven’t won in South Bend since 2007, dropping the last three under the Golden Dome. ND has some big holes to fill but still will be formidable in 2016 coming off a 10-3 season under Brian Kelly.
Nebraska will get a good test from a visit from Oregon. The Ducks have become what the Cornhuskers used to be: A consistent national title contender. Oregon is in a bit of transition with a new QB. And the Ducks also have a new defensive coordinator: Brady Hoke, the ex-Michigan coach. These programs haven’t met since a two-game series in 1985-86, when both games were played in Lincoln and won the Nebraska, 63-0 and 48-14, respectively.
Northwestern waded into Durham, N.C., last year and took a 19-10 decision from Duke. This was a good Blue Devil squad that would go on to cap an 8-5 season with a win vs. Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl, the program’s fourth postseason trip in succession. David Cutcliffe always has a solid team.
A visit from Western Michigan will be a dangerous test for Illinois. WMU’s P.J. Fleck is an up-and-coming coaching fireball who always preaches to “row the boat.” He played at Northern Illinois, is a native of the state and has his Bronco program rolling. You know the 35-year old would love to topple the Illini. In fact, Western Michigan may have as much talent as Illinois, as Fleck has taken his team to consecutive bowls and 8-5 records and won the MAC West in 2015. More danger for Illinois: WMU’s visit comes on the heels of a home game vs. a good North Carolina squad.
Last season, Temple dumped Penn State, 27-10, to end a 39-game winless streak vs. the Nittany Lions that dated to 1941. Can the Owls make it two in a row?
Maryland plays at Central Florida, the first meeting ever. It will be the Terps’ second trip in a row to the Sunshine after playing at FIU the week before.
Georgia State and Wisconsin play for the first time, while Rutgers takes on New Mexico for the first time.
Purdue, Minnesota and Indiana are off.
I’ve been rolling out my schedule analysis posts this spring – here are a few previous ones.
- See every Big Ten team’s 2017 Homecoming date, opponent
- Dienhart: Northwestern has ingredients to win Big Ten West
- 7 most difficult stretches of games. Is your school on the list?
- Dienhart: Here are my top 25 Big Ten games of 2017
- Dienhart: The Ultimate 2017 Big Ten football road trip
- Dienhart: Ranking 2017 Big Ten West schedules
- Dienhart: Ranking the Big Ten East schedules
- Dienhart: Toughest stretch in each Big Ten schedule
- Dienhart: Best chance for each Big Ten team to be upset
- Dienhart: Every Big Ten team’s best chance to pull an upset
Here is a look at the Best of Week Three.
Game of the week: Ohio State’s game at Oklahoma should be a doozy. These college football titans have met just two times, with OU taking a 29-28 decision in Columbus in 1977 and the Buckeyes prevailing 24-14 in Norman in 1983. Sooner coach and Youngstown, Ohio, native Bob Stoops would love to dump Ohio State and build on OU’s trip to the playoffs last season. This will be the ultimate litmus test for a Buckeye squad that is being overhauled.
Best quarterback matchup: Going to be fun to watch Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield take on Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, two legit Heisman contenders. Mayfield was No. 18 in the nation in passing yards last year with 3,700 to go with 36 TD passes. Barrett began last year behind Cardale Jones but eventually took over. He is looking to recapture his 2014 form, when he led the Buckeyes to the national title.
Best head coach matchup: Got to like Ohio State’s Urban Meyer vs. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. But let’s go with Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio vs. Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly. Dantonio has built one of the nation’s best programs on blood, sweat and a big chip on his shoulder. MSU has won double-digit games five times in the last six years. Kelly had the Irish in the BCS title game in 2012 and is 55-23 in six seasons in South Bend.
Best coordinator matchup: OU’s OC Lincoln Riley vs. Ohio State’s Luke Fickell/Greg Schiano. Riley is a 32-year-old wunderkind. In his first season at Oklahoma in 2015, Riley led the Sooners to the No. 7 ranked offense in the country and to the playoffs. Schiano has come aboard to replace Chris Ash, who left coach Rutgers. Schiano is a former head coach at Rutgers and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who will co-coordinate the defense with Fickell.
Upset alert: Let’s go with FCS power North Dakota State playing at Iowa. The Bison are better than most FBS squads, winning the last five FCS national championships. North Dakota State has toppled the likes of Kansas State, Minnesota, Iowa State and Kansas in recent years. Yes, QB Carson Wentz—the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft–is gone. Still, the Bison will be a tough out. You have been warned, Herky.
Ranking Week Three Games
1. Ohio State at Oklahoma
2. Michigan State at Notre Dame
3. Oregon at Nebraska
4. Duke at Northwestern
5. Temple at Penn State
6. North Dakota State at Iowa
7. Colorado at Michigan
8. New Mexico at Rutgers
9. Western Michigan at Illinois
10. Maryland at Central Florida
11. Georgia State at Wisconsin
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