Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, September 17, 2015
Not a lot of ?wow? factor in Week 3, with Nebraska?s trip to Miami (Fla.) earning top billing. These programs battled for the national title three times, after the 1983, 1994 and 2001 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 for Kirk Ferentz?s crew, which is feeling good riding a 2-0 start. 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. Beathard is now the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback for Iowa, while Rudock is starting at Michigan. Funny how life works, isn?t it? The Panthers are led by first-year coach Pat Narduzzi, the former Michigan State defensive coordinator.
Rutgers will play at Penn State in the first Big Ten game of the season double-dipped in turmoil. Scarlet Knights coach Kyle Flood won?t be on the sideline as he sits out the first of a three-game suspension. If that isn?t bad enough, the program has been rocked by a raft of off-field incidents that have ripped at the roster. 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. Can Rutgers get payback amid its strife?
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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? Air Force?s top QB is out with injury, so the Spartans have that going for them. 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 is the Big Ten?s early-season darling. The 2-0 Wildcats beat Stanford in the opener-now, they go to Duke for another ?Brain Bowl.? The series is tied 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 another early-season feel-good story, forging a dominating 2-0 start despite seeing head coach Tim Beckman canned a week before the opener. 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. Interestingly, each went on to coach Texas. Illinois has yet to tab a coach who has matched the success Mackovic enjoyed in Champaign.
The visit from Virginia Tech to Purdue will be daunting for the 1-1 Boilermakers, who have five wins (one Big Ten triumph) in two-plus 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 and its faulty 2-0 record 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.
Michigan and UNLV never have met. The Wolverines will look to pound a Rebel program that is led by a former high school coach. And Maryland hopes a quarterback (Caleb Rowe for Perry Hills) change helps get it back on track vs. South Florida after a demoralizing home loss to Bowling Green. Speaking of quarterbacks, Ohio State welcomes Northern Illinois as it looks for more clarity to its signal-caller situation.
BEST GAME: The Hurricanes continue to look for consistency under Al Golden after going 6-7 last year. This is Golden?s fifth season in Coral Gables and he has two consecutive bowl bids. More is expected from a coach who is on a bit of a hot seat. Nebraska beat Miami last year in Lincoln in a chippy game. And the Huskers won their last time in Miami, taking a 24-17 win in the Orange Bowl after the 1994 season. A Nebraska win would take away some of the ache from that loss to BYU in the opener.
BEST MATCHUP: Northwestern defense vs. Duke offense. The Blue Devils are balanced, as they have 494 rushing yards and 691 receiving yards in starting 2-0. And Duke has four players with a rushing touchdown, and four that have caught a touchdown pass. QB Thomas Sirk has completed nearly 68 percent of his passes for 604 yards with five touchdowns. He is also the team?s leading rusher, running for 154 yards and a touchdown. Northwestern has held its opponents to just six points this season. That is the fewest points allowed in any two-game stretch since 1958. That was also the last time the Wildcats hadn?t allowed a touchdown in two straight games.
PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong. If the Cornhuskers are gonna win at Miami, he needs to keep on rolling. Armstrong had a great game last week vs. South Alabama, completing 70 percent of his passes without a pick. He is No. 1 in the Big Ten in passing yards with 589 (294.5 ypg). He threw it 30 times last week after attempting 41 passes in the opener vs. BYU. That is interesting considering he had only thrown it more than 30 times in a game three times before Mike Riley took over. The question is: How many attempts should Armstrong have in a game for this offense to be its most successful?
KEEP AN EYE ON: The Purdue rushing attack. To have any shot at upsetting Virginia Tech, the Boilermakers need the RB duo of D.J. Knox and Markell Jones to excel behind a big, veteran line. They combined to run for 158 yards on 30 carries last week. The offense as a whole moved the ball well vs. FCS Indiana State, recording 540 total yards, the second-most in a game in the Darrell Hazell era.
BEST COACHING MATCHUP: I like Northwestern?s 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 while going 27-15 the last three-plus seasons. Cutcliffe has the Blue Devils off to a 2-0 start this season. Fitzgerald has an equally glowing resume at a school where winning consistently is a challenge, too. 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. NU has been an early-season surprise, off to a 2-0 start behind the play of an inspired defense.
BEST QUARTERBACK MATCHUP: Indiana?s Nate Sudfeld locking up with Brandon Doughty of Western Kentucky should be good. Sudfeld is one of the Big Ten?s best. He is No. 2 in the Big Ten in passing yards this season, averaging 291.5 with two TDs. A new wrinkle: Sudfeld is involved more in the run game. He has two rushing touchdowns this year. He had three in his previous three seasons combined. Doughty had 4,830 passing yards a year ago, which was the most in FBS. He had 441 yards and a touchdown pass last week against Louisiana Tech.
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. McDaniels has proven to be a quick study, as RU is No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring (48.5 ppg) and No. 4 in total offense (470.5 ypg). Shoop is a rising star who was wooed for the same spot by LSU in the offseason. His unit is allowing 20.5 points to rank No. 7 in the Big Ten.
UPSET ALERT: No Big Ten squad has been a bigger surprise than Illinois, which is why it wouldn?t be a shock to see it win at North Carolina. The Fighting Illini are rolling on both sides of the ball behind interim head coach Bill Cubit. Get this: The Illini have outscored their first two opponents, 96-3. The defense has been the story in Champaign. This is the first time Illinois hasn?t allowed a touchdown in a two-game stretch since 1988. And the three points allowed are the fewest through the program?s first two games in a season since 1942. The QBs could decide this one. UNC?s Marquise Williams has 443 pass yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions, completing 67 percent of his attempts. Illinois? Wes Lunt is a top talent who is hitting 67 percent of his attempts with 478 yards and five TDs with one pick.
RANKING WEEK 3 GAMES
1. Nebraska at Miami (Fla.)
2. Pitt at Iowa
3. Northwestern at Duke
4. Illinois at North Carolina
5. Rutgers at Penn State
6. Western Kentucky at Indiana
7. Air Force at Michigan State
8. Virginia Tech at Purdue
9. UNLV at Michigan
10. South Florida at Maryland
11. Northern Illinois at Ohio State
12. Troy at Wisconsin
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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