Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, September 16, 2014

This is the last Saturday of full-blown non-conference action. And there are a handful of interesting clashes. But most of this week?s games are tune-ups for the Big Ten action that kickoffs off the next weekend. Ohio State is the lone idle team.

1. Miami (Fla.) at Nebraska. The Hurricanes haven?t been to Nebraska since making back-to-back trips in 1975-76, games the Huskers won. In fact, this will be the first regular-season meeting between these storied programs since then, as the other since all came in the postseason with four memorable Orange Bowl meetings and a Rose Bowl clash. The Huskers are playing well, coming off a blowout win at Fresno State to move to 3-0.

2. Utah at Michigan. U of M fans probably want to forget Utah?s last trip to Ann Arbor in 2008, when the Utes dumped the Wolverines, 25-23, in the debut of the Rich Rodriguez era. Sorry I brought it up. This will be a good test for Michigan, which got back on the beam with a blowout win last week vs. Miami (Ohio). The Wolverines failed their only test this season, falling 31-0 at Notre Dame. Michigan needs to not just play well but to win vs. a good Utah squad that was off last week.

3. Iowa at Pitt. There is no sugar-coating it: The Hawkeyes are struggling, coming off a home loss to Iowa State. An inconsistent offense is gumming up the works and threatening to derail the season. Now comes a trip to Pitt to play a good 3-0 Panthers squad coached by former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, so he?s familiar with Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes. Pitt has a great run defense, so Iowa will have its work cut out for it.

4. Maryland at Syracuse. The Terps already played at one FBS foe this season with a trip to South Florida in Week 2. Now this visit to Syracuse-Randy Edsall?s alma mater– is the final dress rehearsal for Maryland before it embarks on Big Ten action. The Terrapins are coming off a tough 40-37 home loss to West Virginia in which the defense yielded 694 yards. The Orange went 7-6 last season in their ACC debut and are a program moving in the right direction; SU is 2-0 this season. The Orange won last year?s meeting in Syracuse and have won five in a row in the series and six of seven.

5. Rutgers at Navy. Playing Navy never is a treat. Playing Navy on the road is even less of a treat. Alas, that?s Rutgers? fate, as it travels to Annapolis and gets to deal with that confounding triple-option offense that vexes so many defenses. And the Scarlet Knights will arrive at 2-1 Navy coming off a gut-wrenching 13-10 home loss to Penn State. Will RU have an emotional hangover? The Scarlet Knights need to pound the rock with Paul James and limit mistakes after Gary Nova tossed five picks last week. Rutgers has won four of the last five meetings, the last of which was in 2011.

6. Indiana at Missouri. Going to Missouri will pose a big challenge for IU. The Tigers are the defending SEC East champs and tore apart the Hoosiers in Bloomington last year, notching a 45-28 win and gaining a Memorial Stadium opponent record 623 yards. And Mizzou is rolling this season with a 3-0 start. Conversely, the Hoosiers are on their heels after losing a wild 45-42 game at Bowling Green that saw IU allow 571 yards. Are you thinking what I?m thinking?

7. San Jose State at Minnesota. The Golden Gophers? physical ground game is their trademark. This is another chance to flex those rushing muscles-while also working on that passing game that needs lots of spit and polish. San Jose State is 1-1 and was off last week. With the way its passing game is struggling, Minnesota may have to run it 50 times to have a shot to win most any game this year. Still, you?d think this foe would allow the Gophers a chance to work on that anemic aerial game that ranks 120th in the nation. Minnesota needs to taste some success coming off a horrid 30-7 loss at TCU.

8. Bowling Green at Wisconsin. The Badgers are well-rested coming off a bye. Here comes Bowling Green, which dumped Indiana last week. Poor Bowling Green. That win over IU surely got the attention of Wisconsin, which won?t overlook the Falcons. This will be a classic Badgers smash-fest. Cue the fight song!

9. Texas State at Illinois. Illinois takes on a 1-1 Texas State program that is solid, beating Southern Miss and Wyoming in 2013. It?s also led by Dennis Franchione. You remember him, right? ?Fran? has had notable stops in New Mexico, TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M, where he left under dubious circumstances. How will the Fighting Illini respond coming off a 41-19 flop at Washington? Illinois better be ready to stop a good Texas State ground game.

10. UMass at Penn State. Think of this as a preseason game of sorts, another chance for the 3-0 Nittany Lions to work on weakness. To wit, look for Penn State to work on its ground game. Gotta pound that rock to develop some offensive balance. Christian Hackenberg can?t win every game. Well, maybe he can. No Big Ten player and no Big Ten team is hotter. UMass is 0-3, falling to BC, Colorado and Vanderbilt.

11. Eastern Michigan at Michigan State. EMU traditionally is one of the worst FBS programs in the nation. And, that statement looks apt this season, too. What?s it all mean? The Spartans-well rested coming off a bye following their loss at Oregon–should roll in what figures to be little more than a gloried scrimmage vs. an in-state foe.

12. Western Illinois at Northwestern. The Wildcats are coming off a bye, a week off to soak their head and refocus after a tough 0-2 start. Is the season already at a crossroads? Waiting for NU in Evanston is an overmatched FCS foe. Perfect. Nothing short of a dominating win will suffice for a Wildcats? club that needs a big swig of success. WIU lost earlier this season at Wisconsin, 37-3.

13. Southern Illinois at Purdue. The FCS Salukis are good, off to a 3-0 start. SIU may push the Boilermakers for a while-maybe even into the second half. But, Purdue?s edge in size and speed eventually should prove to be too much. The 1-2 Boilermakers are coming off a strong effort in a 30-14 loss to Notre Dame that was closer than the final score indicates. Purdue needs to maintain that effort each week.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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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