Other than the Michigan-Washington game, the Big Ten schedule is highlited by, well, nothing. Wisconsin gets to face the frontrunner for surprise team of the year in Fresno State. But everyone else is just waiting for an easy win.
Tonight No. 16 Northwestern (0-0) at UNLV (1-0): This will be the first time that Northwestern will take the field since the off-season death of projected starting safety Rashidi Wheeler in practice. The unfortunate event has turned what was supposed to be a summer filled with high expectations and excitement into one of significant difficulty. It will be interesting to see whether or not the Wildcats are able to rally together for Wheeler.
Regardless, the Wildcats are coming off a 2000 season in which they tied for the Big Ten title, won eight games and went to the Alamo bowl. Granted, they got waxed by Nebraska 66-17, but this is a team with 10 returning offensive starters. Those 10 include running back Damien Anderson a Heisman candidate who ran for 1,914 yards and 22 touchdowns last year.
Northwestern will score points and do it in a hurry, but UNLV is not exactly a pushover. They beat Arkansas in last year”s Las Vegas Bowl, and return 14 starters of their own. But it doesn”t have enough defense to hang in this one.
Northwestern 45, UNLV 27
Saturday No. 19 Fresno State (2-0) at No. 23 Wisconsin (1-1): This year”s biggest Bowl Championship Series surprise contender Fresno State. Alright, so maybe it”s a little early to jump to that conclusion. But the Bulldogs have already knocked off Colorado on the road and demolished Oregon State, a supposed National Championship contender, 44-24. A win this week could catapult them into the top 15 in the nation.
After holding off Virginia in a rain-soaked opener, the Badgers took Oregon down to the wire on the road before falling. A win over Fresno would probably send the Badgers into the Big Ten season at 3-1 while giving them some serious momentum. Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez switched to the spread offense popularized last year by Northwestern and Purdue and the Badgers are capable of scoring some points.
It”s too much to ask for three consecutive Fresno upsets. Or is it?
Fresno State 31, Wisconisn 28
Saturday Central Michigan (1-0) at Michigan State (0-0): All Michigan State has to do to prepare for this one is watch the tapes of the 1991 and 1992 meetings when the Chippewas stunned the Spartans, back-to-back years.
This year, Michigan State has the potential to be one of the most improved teams in the Big Ten with big, punishing running back T.J. Duckett leading the charge behind a brand new offensive line. Jeff Smoker has been handed the reigns at quarterback and has some weapons to throw to.
Michigan State 35, Central Michigan 10
Saturday Miami (Ohio) (0-1) at Iowa (1-0): The RedHawks of Miami continue their trek through Big Ten country. Iowa rolled over Bowling Green last week. Miami played Michigan tough, but they”re still not that good of a football team. They”ll strap”em up and give Iowa all they can handle though.
Iowa 24, Miami (Ohio) 17
Saturday Akron (1-0) at No. 24 Ohio State (0-0): So it”s not exactly good enough to be classified as the battle of Ohio, but Akron held off Ohio University last week, so Akron”s got a win under its belt if nothing else.
This is a big year for the Buckeyes. New coach Jim Tressel has the Buckeye fans behind him at least for now. Another loss in Ann Arbor would be all that it would take to get the scarlet and gray supporters all riled up. But for the time being, Tressel can sit back and enjoy a patsy non-conference game.
Ohio State 37, Akron 14
Saturday Northern Illinois (1-0) at Illinois (1-0): The Fighting Illini of Illinois should move to 2-0, one week after they obliterated California on the road. A win over Louisville next week as well would send the Illini into the Michigan game at 3-0 for the second consecutive year. Northern Illinois shouldn”t provide too much resistance to that goal.
Illinois 49, Northern Illinois 7
Saturday Louisiana-Lafayette (1-0) at Minnesota (0-1): Last year Minnesota beat Louisiana-Monroe 47-10, so they”re running out of teams to play in Louisiana. Can”t wait for next year”s Minnesota vs. Louisiana-Shreveport High School battle.
Minnestoa 47, Lousiania-Lafayette 10