While there’s no one marquee matchup in the opening weekend of Big Ten play, there are a few solid games. With a win on Saturday, any team could be on its way toward contending for the Big Ten title.

Mira Levitan
Minnesota finally plays a real opponent on Saturday. (AP PHOTO)

No. 20 Minnesota (4-0) at Penn State (2-2) – Noon, ESPN: With quarterback Zach Mills leading the charge, the Penn State offense has been inconsistent at best. The Nittany Lions turned in their best offense performance of the season last week, but it came against Kent State. The Nittany Lions went on to win behind the three touchdowns of freshman running back Austin Scott.

The Gophers beat Louisiana Lafayette 48-14. The solid running trio of Marion Barber III, Terry Jackson II and Thomas Tapeh should pound Penn State’s front seven.

Speaking of the Nittany Lions anemic, uninspired offense The Sporting News said, “It’s not that the 1960s were bad, but college football has changed a lot since then.”

Minnesota 24, Penn State 17

Notre Dame (1-2) at Purdue (2-1) – 3:30 p.m., ABC: Before the season, this looked like this game would be one of the intriguing early-season matchups. But with the continued offensive struggles of the Irish, this game could get ugly. Students at Notre Dame have been selling “The Holiday is Over” T-shirts at a frantic pace, and coach Tyrone Willingham announced on Tuesday that there would be an open competition in practice for the job between Holiday and freshmen Brady Quinn.

Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton will have his choice of receivers to throw to, and Notre Dame’s offense will not be able to keep up Purdue’s pace. Look for the Purdue offense to move the ball mostly through the air en route to a relatively easy victory.

Purdue 31, Notre Dame 17

No. 9 Iowa (4-0) at Michigan State (3-1) – Noon: The unranked Spartans are flying high after last week’s 22-16 win over Notre Dame, but this week they have their work cut out for them as they face a solid team in No. 9 Iowa.

This year’s game could be strikingly similar to last year’s blowout win for the Hawkeyes in Iowa City. Iowa quarterback Nathan Chandler is on top of his game thus far, hitting 42-of-67 passes for 468 yards and eight touchdowns, and this week he will face the third-worst passing defense in the nation.

Michigan State needs to turn up the intensity to have any chance. Quarterback Jeff Smoker, who is recovering from a bruised toe, is looking good this season, but the big downfall for the Spartans is their defense.

The Hawkeyes’ all-around talent will be too strong for Michigan State and should bring them another win in East Lansing.

Iowa 28, Michigan State 14

Northwestern (2-2) at No. 4 Ohio State (4-0) – Noon, ESPN 2: The Buckeyes hope to continue their 24-game winning streak over Northwestern. Last year, Ohio State defeated the Wildcats 27-16 in Evanston. But this year, the Buckeyes will not have the help of star running back Maurice Clarett.

With Ohio State quarterback Craig Kenzel out last week with an elbow injury, the big story for Ohio State was its running game. The tandem of Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross combined for over 200 yards rushing.

But last week was the same old song and dance for Ohio State, which barely pulled away with an ugly win, as safety Will Allen saved the day once more. The Buckeyes have looked shaky thus far and undeserving of their hype, but if they step it up, they should have no problem taking care of the Wildcats in the conference opener.

Ohio State 17, Northwestern 14





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