Week 1 primer: What to watch, game rankings & notes

Week 1 primer: What to watch, game rankings & notes

The opening week of the 2017 season finally is here. All the speculation and conjecture are finished. It’s time to get down to business. And Week 1 should be revealing in many respects.

Here is a look at the Best of Week 1.

Best game: Michigan vs. Florida (Arlington, Texas). This game drips with intrigue. No doubt, it will be a great litmus test for a Michigan team that is in transition at several positions. Making this game more dangerous is the fact the Gators are getting better under Jim McElwain coming off consecutive SEC East titles. These storied programs have met three times, all in bowl games. And the Wolverines have won all three, including a 41-7 victory in the last encounter in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl after the 2015 season—Harbaugh’s first at Michigan. Good news for Michigan: Top UF WR Antonio Callaway is suspended for the game.

Best head coach matchup: Akron’s Terry Bowden vs. Penn State’s James Franklin. There is Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh vs. Florida’s Jim McElwain and Wyoming’s Craig Bohl vs. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, as well. At one time while at Auburn in the 1990s, Bowden was one of the nation’s hottest young coaches. Now, he is grinding it out at Akron. Franklin? He is currently one of the nation’s hottest young coaches.

Best coordinator clash: Indiana head coach Tom Allen (who calls the Hoosier defense) vs. Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. These two guys know each other well. Allen engineered one of the top defensive turnarounds in the country in 2016, as IU’s defense improved in every major statistical category against a schedule featuring four top 10 opponents, a program first. And the Hoosiers held their opponents to 380.1 total yards, an improvement of 129.4 yards over 2015, the largest improvement in the country. Wilson’s IU passing attack led the Big Ten three times, in 2012, 2013 and 2015, while finishing second in 2016. His 2015 offense led the Big Ten in passing, total offense and scoring.

Best QB battle: Purdue’s David Blough vs. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. Blough dinged his throwing shoulder in camp but should be OK for this clash in Lucas Oil Stadium. Blough led the Big Ten with 279.3 passing yards per game in 2016. But he also had a league-high 21 picks. Jackson is coming off a Heisman season, but he didn’t finish 2016 with a flurry. And Purdue has said it will play multiple quarterbacks, with Elijah Sindelar figuring to get turns.

Best chance for an upset: Wyoming at Iowa. The Hawkeyes are no stranger to being shocked at home, as North Dakota State did so last year in Iowa City. Iowa needs to be careful with Wyoming coming to Iowa City. The Cowboys are led by Josh Allen, who some feel may be the best quarterback in the nation–and maybe the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. And he will face a Hawkeye defense that has a retooled secondary. Long story short: Iowa wants to avoid trying to trade points with the Pokes.

Best matchup: Michigan offensive line vs. the Florida defensive line. The Wolverine front has potential, and it also has something to prove. In its three losses last year, Michigan averaged less than three yards per carry. The group is led by standout Mason Cole, whose unit will take on a very good and deep Gator front led by CeCe Jefferson. He can play both inside and outside and is projected by most as mid-round NFL pick. Will the Wolverine blockers struggle again vs. a quality foe?

Player on the spot: Nebraska QB Tanner Lee. The Huskers aren’t in much peril of losing at home to Arkansas State. But all eyes will be on Lee, a transfer from Tulane who is making his debut. The hype has been building around Lee for months, as much is expected from the classic pocket passer who will operate a West Coast-type scheme. How will he look?

WEEK 1 GAME RANKINGS

1. Michigan vs. Florida, Arlington, Texas
2. Ohio State at Indiana (Thursday)
3. Wyoming at Iowa
4. Maryland at Texas
5. Washington at Rutgers (Friday)
6. Purdue vs. Louisville, Indianapolis
7. Nevada at Northwestern
8. Bowling Green at Michigan State
9. Utah State at Wisconsin (Friday)
10. Arkansas State at Nebraska
11. Akron at Penn State
12. Buffalo at Minnesota (Thursday)
13. Ball State at Illinois

WEEK 1 NOTES

  • Few schools have a more daunting opener than Maryland, which plays at Texas. Yes, the Longhorns have struggled in recent years, going 16-21 the last three seasons and missing the postseason each of the last two years. But the Longhorns have a new coach in former Ohio State OC Tom Herman, who went 22-4 the last two years at Houston. And UT always has talent … lots of talent. The Terps are 0-3 all-time vs. Texas, last playing in 1978 in the Sun Bowl. Maryland last was in Austin in 1959. Interesting fact: The Terrapins have been shutout in each of their three meetings vs. UT, losing by a combined 102-0.
  • Like Maryland, Rutgers also faces a big task in Week 1 with Washington coming to Piscataway for a Friday night affair. The Scarlet Knights got an up-close look at the Huskies last year, losing 48-13 in Seattle as U-Dub went on to earn a playoff bid. Chris Petersen will have another good team in 2017 led by Heisman contending QB Jake Browning.
  • Purdue will travel south on I-65 while Louisville will travel north on I-65 and they will meet in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Good storylines here. It’s the debut of new Boiler coach and Louisville native son Jeff Brohm, who was a former star U of L signal-caller who also once was an assistant to Cardinal coach Bobby Petrino.
  • Speaking of debuts, P.J. Fleck will make his at Minnesota vs. Buffalo on Thursday. The hype and mojo around Fleck’s start has been building for months. Get out your oar and row along as the Gophers take on Buffalo. The Bulls are coached by Lance Leipold, who won six Division III national titles at Wisconsin-Whitewater before landing the Buffalo job in 2015.
  • The opening week also includes a rare Big Ten contest, as Ohio State visits Indiana on Thursday night. The Buckeyes have dominated this series. Indiana went 2-1-1 vs. the Buckeyes from 1987-90, including a victory in Columbus in 1987. Since then, the Hoosiers have lost 22 in a row to the Buckeyes. This is a big bite for new IU coach Tom Allen in his first game as head coach in Bloomington. This will mark the first time in 41 years that Ohio State will open against a Big Ten foe (1976 vs. Michigan State) and it will be the first time in 42 years the Buckeyes will open on the road vs. a Big Ten opponent (1975 vs. Michigan State).
Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

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, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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