Big Ten

A less than appealing slate for Week 3 Big Ten previews and picks

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USA TODAY

A less than appealing slate for Week 3 Big Ten previews and picks

After last weekend’s monster top-five showdown between Ohio State and Oklahoma, this weekend’s Big Ten slate is … less appealing.

That’s the nice way of putting it, as the non-conference matchups in Week 3 leave a ton to be desired. These things happen, of course, but I won’t blame you for being far more excited for Clemson-Louisville than the totality of this weekend’s Big Ten schedule.

Nonetheless, get ready for every Week 3 game featuring a Big Ten team with previews and picks below.

Friday, Sept. 15

Illinois at No. 22 South Florida, 6 p.m., ESPN

The Illini are 2-0 despite some offensive shakiness through the first two games. Mike Epstein has emerged as a noteworthy name in the backfield, already getting far more carries than incumbent starter Kendrick Foster. In the preseason, this game was shaping up to be a near surefire loss for Illinois, with South Florida pegged as “the” Group of Five team after a strong 2016. The Illini defense will still need to play a strong game to stop quarterback Quinton Flowers, but the Bulls have started slowly in each of their first two games of the season, something Lovie Smith’s crew might be able to take advantage of.

The pick: South Florida

Saturday, Sept. 16

Air Force at No. 7 Michigan, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network

Michigan raised a few eyebrows by failing to blast Cincinnati into oblivion last weekend, but the Wolverines still won that game by three touchdowns so those complaints need to be put in perspective. The excellent Michigan defense still created some turnovers, and a feature back emerged in Ty Isaac. Expect a romp this time around, too, though if the Wolverines “only” win by three touchdowns, don’t be too mad, either.

The pick: Michigan

Northern Illinois at Nebraska, 11 a.m., FS1

There’s good news and bad news for the Huskers this weekend. The bad news is that Bob Diaco’s defense has to take the field again after getting throttled in each of the last two weeks by Arkansas State and Oregon. The good news is this weekend brings a matchup with Northern Illinois. That beat-up defense should get an opportunity to make some stops. But if it doesn’t, Tre Bryant should at least run by the Huskies’ defense. He’s got 299 yards in two games.

The pick: Nebraska

No. 10 Wisconsin at BYU, 2:30 p.m., ABC

At first glance, it might look like an appealing watch in a weak weekend slate. But BYU has been pretty bad through its first three games, scoring just 20 points against an FCS opponent before getting shut out by LSU and scoring just 13 against Utah. Remember that former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is running the defense at LSU now, and his Bayou Bengals held the Cougars to a negative rushing total. I expect a similarly strong performance from the Badgers’ defense.

The pick: Wisconsin

Middle Tennessee State at Minnesota, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Two weekends, two dramatically different performances from P.J. Fleck’s crew of boat-rowers. Week 1’s ugly offensive performance against Buffalo was followed by last week’s road rout of Oregon State. Middle Tennessee State won on the road at Syracuse last weekend and could be smelling more Power Five blood in the water. The Blue Raiders have held two Power Five teams to an average of fewer than 100 rushing yards through two games. If that happens to the Gophers, there could be trouble.

The pick: Minnesota

North Texas at Iowa, 2:30 p.m., ESPN 2

The Hawkeyes are rolling through two weeks, turning in a pair of impressive performances in wins over Wyoming and Iowa State. The defense has shown its capability, shutting down a guy who could be a first-round draft pick. The offense has shown its capability, new quarterback Nathan Stanley throwing five touchdown passes in an overtime comeback win and Akrum Wadley looking awesome. North Texas gave up 54 points last week, so … yeah.

The pick: Iowa

Morgan State at Rutgers, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

It was a horrible weekend for Rutgers last week, losing to Eastern Michigan, which prior to beating the Knights hadn’t beaten a Power Five team ever. That fact makes it somewhat unappealing to pick Rutgers this weekend, even with the FCS opponent. Still, you’d have to expect the Knights have enough to defeat Morgan State. Right? Bueller?

The pick: Rutgers

Purdue at Missouri, 3 p.m., SEC Network

The Boilers are playing well, fresh off presenting a challenge to Louisville and beating the pulp out of Ohio. The Tigers are not, fresh off surrendering 43 points to Missouri State, scoring just 13 points against South Carolina and firing their defensive coordinator. Purdue has an opportunity here to score a big road win in the SEC. If it does, Mizzou will have lost home games to Big Ten teams from Indiana twice in the last four years.

The pick: Purdue

Army at No. 8 Ohio State, 3:30 p.m., FOX

Ohio State is in full-blown crisis mode after that ugly showing against Oklahoma. The offense appears to be broken, with J.T. Barrett and his receivers constantly out of sync. And under the radar though equally troubling, the Buckeyes have what is statistically the worst pass defense in the country. Ouch. A date with Army is just what the doctor ordered, but Ohio State’s biggest opponent on the field will likely be Ohio State. Can they stop the spiral?

The pick: Ohio State

Georgia State at No. 5 Penn State, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Penn State has trucked through each of its first two opponents, even turning the rivalry game with Pitt into an easy win last weekend. Georgia State has played just one game in 2017 — and it was a loss to FCS opponent Tennessee State. Expect Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley to have monster games and for the Nittany Lions to keep looking like the class of the Big Ten.

The pick: Penn State

Bowling Green at Northwestern, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Another moment of reckoning for Northwestern, which hasn’t looked good through two games. Last weekend’s loss at Duke was particularly nasty, a 41-17 blowout in which the Cats struggled in every aspect of the game. The best remedy is getting Justin Jackson back on track. Supposedly banged up last week, the senior running back only had a handful of carries for a paltry rushing total. If Jackson and quarterback Clayton Thorson can get the offense going this week — and know that Bowling Green has allowed a combined 70 points in two losses — that will ease concerns, if only a bit, heading into a tough start to conference play.

The pick: Northwestern

See how they stack up: Week 6 college football top 25 rankings

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See how they stack up: Week 6 college football top 25 rankings

A special, if somewhat sad edition of the top-25 rankings this week. Saturday delivered another terrific day of college football, but we also must remember and celebrate one of the best rock n rollers of all-time, Tom Petty, who passed away earlier this week. So, in addition to the usual top 25, you get some bonus rankings, my picks for the 25 best Petty songs ever. Enjoy.

With Week 6 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Clemson (6-0)

It wasn’t a blowout, but the champs rolled on with a comfortable-enough win over Wake Forest. Of bigger concern is Kelly Bryant, who left the game with an ankle injury.

No. 25: “Saving Grace” from Highway Companion, 2006

2. Alabama (6-0)

Bama held on to win by eight after a 21-point third-quarter lead shrunk down. But was it ever really in doubt for the Tide? They will no doubt roll through a weak schedule leading up to the Iron Bowl.

No. 24: “The Wild One, Forever” from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1976

3. TCU (5-0)

Defensively, the Frogs kept West Virginia out of the end zone through the first 41 minutes. Offensively, Kenny Hill had himself a day and matched the Mountaineers’ late charge. Oh, and TCU is now in complete command of the Big 12.

No. 23: “A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me)” from Hard Promises, 1981

4. Georgia (6-0)

The Dawgs delivered another SEC pounding — yawn — and have outscored their conference foes by 100 points in three games. Expect that number to balloon further with Mizzou on the schedule next.

No. 22: “Rebels” from Southern Accents, 1985

5. Penn State (6-0)

Saquon Barkley had a negative rushing total in the first half Saturday, and this one was somehow never in doubt. Barkley finished with a pair of touchdown runs as the Lions look far and away the best team in the Big Ten East.

No. 21: “The Same Old You” from Long After Dark, 1982

6. Wisconsin (5-0)

Things looked a bit dicey with Wisconsin tied with Nebraska in the third quarter. But the Badgers ran away, closing with three straight touchdowns and winning easily on Jonathan Taylor’s huge night: 249 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries.

No. 20: “Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)” from Damn the Torpedoes, 1979

7. Washington (6-0)

I doubted Washington early, and at this point I’m not sure why. The Huskies pounded Cal on Saturday night — yes, Chris Petersen, a night game — and are one of three teams (Alabama, Ohio State) in the top 10 nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense.

No. 19: “Century City” from Damn the Torpedoes, 1979

8. Washington State (6-0)

Wazzu’s still undefeated, taking complete advantage of an Oregon team without its starting quarterback, holding the Ducks to just 10 points, Oregon’s fewest since the LeGarrette Blount punch game.

No. 18: “Hometown Blues” from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1976

9. Miami (4-0)

What a wild finish in the rivalry game with Florida State, but Miami finally stopped its losing streak to the Noles. The Canes’ defense allowed more than 400 yards, but Malik Rosier threw three touchdown passes.

No. 17: “Listen to Her Heart” from You’re Gonna Get It!, 1978

10. Auburn (5-1)

Just like Alabama and Georgia, Auburn is clobbering everyone else in the SEC. Since only beating Mercer by 14, the Tigers have smoked Mizzou, Mississippi State and Ole Miss by a combined 144-47 score.

No. 16: “Runnin’ Down a Dream” from Full Moon Fever, 1989

11. Ohio State (5-1)

Somehow, the guy who was one of the most focused-on college football players of the summer, J.T. Barrett, is low-key having a phenomenal season. Saturday against Maryland: 320 passing/rushing yards and four total touchdowns.

No. 15: “Louisiana Rain” from Damn the Torpedoes, 1979

12. Virginia Tech (5-1)

Josh Jackson threw for 322 yards in the Hokies’ 13-point win over Boston College. You would’ve liked to see a bit more, but it was a nice bounce back after the loss to Clemson.

No. 14: “Ways to Be Wicked” from Nobody’s Children, 1995

13. Oklahoma State (4-1)

Okie State finally got to rest up after losing to TCU and almost losing to Texas Tech. The TCU loss looks better and better, but the Cowboys need to hope for a slip-up from the Frogs and not slip up themselves in the back-to-back gauntlet of West Virginia and Oklahoma.

No. 13: “Learning to Fly” from Into the Great Wide Open, 1991

14. Notre Dame (5-1)

Not expected to do much after last year’s eight-loss debacle, the Irish are kind of really good. They’re the No. 6 rushing team in the country, adding to their total with 341 more rush yards against North Carolina.

No. 12: “You Wreck Me” from Wildflowers, 1994

15. Michigan State (4-1)

Out of nowhere, here comes Sparty. A sensational defensive performance against a top-10 Michigan team in rain-soaked Ann Arbor, plus a not-so-bad loss to Notre Dame, has Mark Dantonio’s team skyrocketing.

No. 11: “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” from Stevie Nicks’ Bella Donna, 1981

16. West Virginia (3-2)

A valiant comeback attempt by Will Grier & Co. was shut down by Kenny Hill, but that doesn’t take away from West Virginia managing to look good on the road against one of the country’s best teams.

No. 10: “I Won’t Back Down” from Full Moon Fever, 1989

17. USC (5-1)

You don’t really get any points for beating up on terrible Oregon State. But things are about to get much tougher for Sam Darnold and USC with back-to-back games coming against Utah and Notre Dame.

No. 9: “Anything That’s Rock N Roll” from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1976

18. Oklahoma (4-1)

Iowa State played out of its mind, had a linebacker throwing passes and pulled the upset of the year. Baker Mayfield played well, the Sooners were just derailed by fumbling at the worst possible time. And like that, the Playoff chances take a nosedive.

No. 8: “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” from Greatest Hits, 1993

19. North Carolina State (5-1)

Don’t talk back to the Wolfpack, who now have beaten Florida State and Louisville this season. A Week 1 home loss to South Carolina — how did that happen? — is all preventing the Nov. 4 game against Clemson from determining the ACC.

No. 7: “Breakdown” from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1976

20. Stanford (4-2)

With a big win over previously undefeated Utah, the Cardinal are really still in the mix for the Pac-12 crown. Two losses (even two good ones) might box Stanford out of the Playoff race, but Bryce Love & Co. are a good team.

No. 6: “Don’t Do Me Like That” from Damn the Torpedoes, 1979

21. South Florida (5-0)

No game for the high-scoring Bulls this weekend. All eyes are on the season finale against UCF.

No. 5: “Even the Losers” from Damn the Torpedoes, 1979

22. Louisville (4-2)

Not even Lamar Jackson’s 427 total yards and three total touchdowns could put Louisville past NC State. The Cardinals have allowed 37.3 points per game in their four contests against Power Five teams this season.

No. 4: “Free Fallin’” from Full Moon Fever, 1989

23. San Diego State (6-0)

Another win for the Aztecs and another big day for Rashaad Penny. They’ve got six wins, two of them coming against Pac-12 teams, and can’t possibly lose to another Mountain West team, right?

No. 3: “The Waiting” from Hard Promises, 1981

24. Michigan (4-1)

The Wolverines’ offensive ineptitude really bit them hard on Saturday night, as the Big Ten-iest game of all-time ended in Michigan State walking out of the Big House with a win. Michigan can’t run the ball, nor can it throw the ball, which is a horrendous combination.

No. 2: “American Girl” from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1976

25. Utah (4-1)

The Utes are undefeated no more, losing to a good Stanford team on Saturday. In a crowded and competitive Pac-12, Utah gets no rest: USC next and Oregon, Wazzu and Washington down the line.

No. 1: “Refugee” from Damn the Torpedoes, 1979

Others receiving votes

UCF (4-0)

The Knights are rolling just as well as any Group of Five team out there, dropping 51 points in three quarters on Cincinnati.

Georgia Tech (3-1)

Off week for the Jackets, who have the second-best rushing offense in the country (shocking, I know) and a one-loss record in a crowded ACC.

Iowa (4-2)

The Hawkeyes finally got to exhale from those back-to-back losses to Penn State and Michigan State, two of the best-looking teams in the Big Ten. Iowa beat up on Illinois for a near 30-point win.

Texas Tech (4-1)

Scoring 65 points against Kansas is always fun! A good tune up for the Red Raiders who play road games at West Virginia and Oklahoma over the course of their next three games.

LSU (4-2)

Good for Coach O to go into The Swamp and get a huge road win over a ranked Florida team to stop his program’s free fall. Beating Florida is a whole lot better than losing to Troy.

Florida (3-2)

The Gators somehow lost a home game to an LSU team that lost to Troy last weekend. But I wanted to include Florida here to sign off with what The Swamp did to honor Tom Petty. It was awesome.

Other Tom Petty songs receiving votes

“Baby’s a Rock N Roller” from You’re Gonna Get It!, 1978

“Letting You Go” from Hard Promises, 1981

“Straight Into Darkness” from Long After Dark, 1982

“Make It Better (Forget About Me)” from Southern Accents, 1985

“The Apartment Song” from Full Moon Fever, 1989

“Surrender” from Anthology: Through the Years, 2000

New quarterback but similar result as Illini get walloped by Iowa

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New quarterback but similar result as Illini get walloped by Iowa

Illinois had a new quarterback at the helm of its offense Saturday, but the result was all too similar for Lovie Smith's team.

Jeff George Jr. got the start and had some flashes early on, but the Iowa Hawkeyes dominated the Illini for a 45-16 runaway win in Iowa City.

Illinois actually hung with Iowa for an entire half, holding a second-quarter lead and trailing at halftime by only four. George led a game-tying, 85-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, and the Illini took the lead after intercepting Nathan Stanley and turning that giveaway into a field goal. But an Akrum Wadley touchdown run in the final seconds before halftime brought an end to Illinois' last lead of the day.

George had the Illini in a position to retake the lead midway through the third quarter, but an 89-yard Iowa pick six pretty much sealed the deal, swinging the momentum entirely in the Hawkeyes' favor. They poured it on in the fourth quarter, scoring four touchdowns to turn an eight-point game into a 29-point rout.

Illinois matched Iowa in many respects, both teams going over 440 total yards. But George's three interceptions proved to be difference, especially when one of those turnovers was taken back for a back-breaking touchdown. George and Stanley threw for a nearly identical number of yards, but Stanley had just one pick to George's three and also threw a trio of touchdown passes.

After making the quarterback change after last weekend's loss to Nebraska, Smith saw an offense that moved much better than it had in previous weeks under Chayce Crouch's leadership. But the Illini still turned the ball over at critical moments and failed to produce many points. This time, though, the defense couldn't hold up its end of the bargain, either, especially late as the score snowballed.

Illinois dropped to 2-3 with the loss and is 0-2 in its two conference games. Iowa stopped the bleeding after losing back-to-back games to Penn State and Michigan State.