Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, Alex Roux, BTN.com editor, September 21, 2017
We're a couple of short days removed from another Saturday of college football, which means it's time for this week's edition of Dot Commentary with BTN.com's Tom Dienhart and Alex Roux.
This weekend is the first of 2017 with multiple Big Ten games, and two conference openers are especially intriguing, featuring a pair of top 10 teams going on the road. No. 7 Michigan visits resurgent Purdue at 4 ET on FOX, and No. 4 Penn State rolls into an always-menacing Kinnick Stadium to take on Iowa at 7:30 ET. So naturally, this week's Dot Commentary poses this question to the BTN.com team:
Is Purdue or Iowa more likely to pull the home upset?
In less than a month, new Purdue coach Jeff Brohm has flipped the script in West Lafayette. The Boilermakers are off to a surprising 2-1 start, having won their last two games. It?s the first time the program has won back-to-back games since 2012. The Boilermakers are looking to maintain the mojo with No. 8 Michigan coming to Ross-Ade Stadium. Why can?t the party keep on going behind what should be an electric sold-out Homecoming crowd? It can. And, it will.
Don?t expect many points. Purdue?s defense has been a big revelation, playing with dogged determination and not yielding big plays behind the strong efforts of end Gelen Robinson, tackle Eddy Wilson and linebackers Markus Bailey and Ja?Whaun Bailey. The front seven is legit. Michigan?s defense is even better. It?s a rugged unit that has one of the best lines in the nation led by Rashan Gary and Mo Hurst. Linebacker Devin Bush has been a beast along with Khaleke Hudson, who plays Jabrill Peppers' old ?viper? spot.
So, which offense will make the most plays? Purdue has an edge at quarterback with David Blough and Elijah Sindelar. Michigan signal-caller Wilton Speight hasn?t been sharp. The running games look similar, while the Boilers have an edge at tight end. Give Michigan the nod at wideout even without Tarik Black out (foot injury).
For the Boilermakers to pull the upset, they will need to score on at least one-maybe two-big plays. Expecting to execute multiple 10-,11-, 12-play scoring drives will be asking too much. And Purdue also probably will need to score on defense or special teams. It can be done.
With a win vs. Michigan, Purdue will be a virtual lock for a bowl game. And that seemed like an outlandish notion just a month ago.
If you disagree with my pick, please refer to the video montage below this paragraph. Iowa thrives in these primetime games against highly-ranked opponents, beating the last three top-five teams who have had the audacity to enter Kinnick Stadium intending to win. And while I fully realize the personnel has changed over the years, the environment and head coach have not. Kirk Ferentz clearly knows how to get his teams up for games of this magnitude, and his 2017 team is built similarly to those of the past, with a strong running game and stingy defense. Plus, it looks like he might have found a quality QB in Nate Stanley.
This Penn State team is different than past opponents, you might say. They're too much. And if you believe that, you might be right. Trace McSorley, Saquon Barkley and Mike Gesicki are phenomenal, and the Nittany Lion defense looks like it could be on the verge of balancing out the overall Penn State attack by catching up to the offense in terms of ferocity. We'll know more definitively the farther we get into this season, and a night game at Iowa is the toughest test their schedule has provided so far.
This isn't to say I don't believe Purdue can pull it off Saturday against the Wolverines. I expect that game to at least be close, and wouldn't be shocked at all if the Boilers blow the imaginary roof off of Ross-Ade stadium and send the sellout crowd they're expecting for the most significant football game in a decade-plus in West Lafayette home happy. But the infrequency of that big stage could easily tilt the other way, and Purdue could end up overwhelmed by the moment. A false start here. A fumbled snap there. A few unfortunate events stacked on top of each other, and the Wolverines smell blood and pounce like in those preseason FOX promos.
That's why if I have to pick, I'm going with the known quantity. And Iowa rarely lets ranked opponents off easy at home.
If you're on the move and want to listen to in-depth Big Ten analysis–or just want more Big Ten football content–tune in to this week's Football Focus edition of the Take Ten Podcast, featuring Bruce Feldman of FOX and Sports Illustrated. Listen on iTunes here.