Ever wish there was a football version of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge?
Well, this weekend is as close as you're going to get.
Interestingly, five games between Big Ten and ACC teams are on the schedule this week: Illinois visits North Carolina, Northwestern visits Duke, Nebraska visits Miami, Purdue hosts Virginia Tech and Iowa hosts Pittsburgh. They aren't exactly the marquee matchups we get between the two conferences in basketball each season, but there are some very important games on this list.
Local boys Illinois and Northwestern will look to build upon their early season momentum by traveling down to Tobacco Road. It's Illinois' first true test, while newly ranked Northwestern has another big non-conference showdown after already beating Stanford this season.
And Nebraska's trip to Miami should be good for more than just nostalgia, as the Huskers could use a big non-conference win.
Oh, and Big Ten play begins this week when Rutgers visits Penn State.
We'll have you covered all day Saturday with live coverage from No. 1 Ohio State's game against Northern Illinois in Columbus and updates and links all day long on Twitter at @CSNBigTen.
Without further ado, here are your Week 3 Big Ten previews. All games are on Saturday, and all times are Central.
Illinois at North Carolina, 11 a.m., ESPN 2
It’s time to find out what the Illini really are. Illinois has looked terrific in its first two games, responding to Tim Beckman’s firing with a combined 96-3 margin victory to go 2-0 under interim head coach Bill Cubit. But as good as the Illini have looked, the fact that the wins have come against Kent State and Western Illinois demands skepticism. Well, Illinois gets a real opponent this weekend in North Carolina. The Tar Heels have already tested themselves with a season-opening game against South Carolina, and their uptempo offense will be quite the challenge for an Illini defense that’s been great in two games this season but, again, has yet to really be tested. It’s been a great start, now the Illini have to prove themselves.
The pick: Illinois
South Florida at Maryland, 11 a.m., ESPN U
The Terps are in need of one heck of a bounce back after getting torched in the fourth quarter by Bowling Green in what ended up a three-touchdown loss. Now, the Falcons are a quality team, but Randy Edsall has reacted as if disaster struck, changing starting quarterbacks and shaking up the wide receivers. Caleb Rowe — despite his two interceptions in three passing attempts last week — is in for Perry Hills at QB, with Hills dropping to third on the depth chart after a slow start. But all the offensive shake ups in the world won’t fix a Maryland defense that was scalded by Bowling Green’s passing game to the tune of 491 yards and five second-half touchdowns.
The pick: Maryland
[MORE BIG TEN: Caleb Rowe replaces Perry Hills as Terps' starting quarterback]
UNLV at Michigan, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network
Michigan got back on track with a sizable win over inept Oregon State last week. But credit the Wolverines’ defense for doing a bang-up job, as that unit is again looking like one that could turn in a monster year, similar to 2014. Most impressive, though, had to be the Michigan running game. It’s been stuck in the mud for the past few seasons, but the team rushed for 225 yards against Oregon State, with De’Veon Smith going for 126 yards and three touchdowns. Michigan is a big favorite this week against a UNLV team that is off to an 0-2 start and was crushed, 37-3, by UCLA last week. Looks like another great opportunity for the Wolverines’ defense.
The pick: Michigan
[MORE BIG TEN: Power Rankings: Spartans score season's most impressive win]
Air Force at No. 4 Michigan State, 11 a.m., ABC
Riding high off that big win over Oregon, Michigan State is again obviously expected to beat Air Force. But this one isn’t without its challenges. The Falcons are a run-heavy offense, and that’s quite contrary to the style the Spartans just faced with the Ducks. That being said, the Michigan State front seven could be in for another big week after a big performance against Oregon, when Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams was sacked four times. Linebacker Riley Bullough was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after recording 14 tackles. But Air Force has been an offensive juggernaut through two games, scoring 100 points and rushing for 822 yards against Morgan State and San Jose State.
The pick: Michigan State
Kent State at Minnesota, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network
The Gophers got the bounce-back win they needed after the season-opening loss to TCU, winning a tough road game over Colorado State and doing it in dramatic fashion. A late score made overtime possible, and when the Rams fumbled on the first play of OT, the Gophers followed with a game-winning field goal. Clutch. The Minnesota defense was again very good, but that offense remains a big-time bugaboo, with Mitch Leidner still not able to lead a really effective side of the ball. But a date with Kent State is the ease in the early season schedule the Gophers could really use, and maybe this will allow that Minnesota offense to find some rhythm.
The pick: Minnesota
[MORE BIG TEN: Is this the year of the return man in the Big Ten?]
No. 23 Northwestern at Duke, 11:30 a.m.
A colossal game on Tobacco Road. Northwestern has been sensational so far this season, with the defense leading the way and looking like the Big Ten’s best (Illinois is actually better, statistically, but Northwestern has done it against Stanford). Last week, it was Matt Harris starring with a pair of picks, one for a touchdown. Deonte Gibson has been getting to the quarterback in stellar fashion, and Anthony Walker remains a breakout star after his big game vs. the Cardinal. Now the Cats leave the comforts of Evanston to face what has been one of the ACC’s better teams in recent seasons. The key on offense will be to keep a talented rushing attack going behind a banged-up offensive line. Even with several starters missing on the O-line, the Cats ran for a jaw-dropping 344 yards last week. Best in the Big Ten West? So far, yeah.
The pick: Northwestern
[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern faces important challenge against Duke]
Nebraska at Miami, 2:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN 2
There wasn’t much to be gleaned from the Huskers’ 48-9 whomping of South Alabama last week other than Mike Riley’s new offense is capable of putting up a lot of points. In fact, even with that Hail Mary loss in Week 1, Nebraska is averaging 38 points per game. Not bad for an offense that many thought would take a while to jell. But Miami has been scoring a ton, too, totaling 89 points in its first two games. Tommy Armstrong vs. Brad Kaaya is a prime quarterback matchup, but it might come down to which defense can do a better job. Nebraska struggled against BYU, and Miami just let up 20 points and nearly 400 yards to Florida Atlantic.
The pick: Miami
[MORE BIG TEN: Huskers get awesome new shoes for game vs. Canes]
Northern Illinois at No. 1 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN 2
People might have raised an eyebrow or two when Ohio State was beating Hawaii by only 17 after three quarters last week. But there’s no reason to panic with these Buckeyes until they actually lose a game. “Lackluster” performances from quarterbacks Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett aren’t the end of the world when Ezekiel Elliott scores three touchdowns and the defense reigns supreme in a 38-0 victory. If the Warriors were "hanging with" the Buckeyes, where were their points? Pitching a shutout in a nearly six-touchdown win is a perfectly acceptable thing for the No. 1 team in the country to do. NIU has been one of the better Group of 5 programs in recent seasons, and the Huskies are off to a 2-0 start. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to dent the Buckeyes’ armor come Saturday. Expect another Ohio State rout.
The pick: Ohio State
Virginia Tech at Purdue, 2:30 p.m., ESPN U
After Austin Appleby threw four picks in the season-opening loss to Marshall, Appleby and Purdue bounced back in great fashion with a win over FCS foe Indiana State. Appleby tossed four touchdowns, three of them going at least 50 yards. And after Virginia Tech was defeated by Ohio State in its season-opener, the Hokies beat up on Furman, another FCS team. That’s what Purdue and Virginia Tech are supposed to do against FCS teams, of course. It’ll again be on Appleby to avoid turnovers, as they buried the Boilermakers against Marshall. Virginia Tech is obviously a step up in competition from Indiana State. We’ll see which Purdue team emerges.
The pick: Virginia Tech
[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern No. 23, Spartans up to No. 4 in AP poll]
Troy at No. 24 Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
If just about everything went wrong in the season-opening loss to Alabama, then just about everything went right in the Week 2 win over Miami (Ohio). After getting run all over by Derrick Henry and the Tide run game, the Badgers’ defense held the RedHawks to a negative rushing total. And even though Corey Clement remains banged up, the Badgers’ run game bounced back nicely after an uncharacteristically awful day against the Tide. And Joel Stave looked great for the second straight week. That, of course, was the point of playing Miami (Ohio) after the brutal test of facing Alabama in the opener, and a similar situation presents itself this week against Troy. Clement might still not be back, but it’s just another opportunity for the offensive line to come together and for Stave to keep good going.
The pick: Wisconsin
Western Kentucky at Indiana, 3 p.m., ESPNEWS
Indiana football: Buckle up. Things went significantly better for the Hoosiers in a Week 2 win over Florida International than they did in the Week 1 win over Southern Illinois. But that doesn’t mean all the problems from that near-loss to the Salukis were fixed. After yielding 659 yards and 47 points to SIU, the Indiana defense bumped that number down to 406 yards and 22 points. Still not great against a team that went 4-8 last season and won its Week 1 game by scoring 15 points and blocking a late field-goal attempt. And now here comes Western Kentucky, a team with some offensive prowess and the 19th most passing yards in the country through two games. It could mean another long day for Indiana’s pass defense, which has been all too familiar in its inability to stop anyone.
The pick: Western Kentucky
[MORE BIG TEN: Star receiver Leonte Carroo the latest Rutgers player arrested]
Rutgers at Penn State, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network
The first conference game of the season will be overshadowed by the continuing off-field drama at Rutgers. Kyle Flood was suspended for three games — including this one — after knowingly violating university policies forbidding coaches from communicating with professors regarding players’ grades. Star wide receiver Leonte Carroo is suspended indefinitely after being arrested and charged with assault. And that’s just this week. On the field, Rutgers lost last week to Washington State, a team that the week before lost to Portland State. So it’s not so great all around.
For Penn State, a bounce-back win came after that miserable loss to Temple to open the season. While Christian Hackenberg continues to struggle, the Nittany Lions might have a couple breakout offensive players in running back Saquon Barkley and receiver Brandon Polk, both true freshmen. The Penn State defense played well, especially that defensive line, where Anthony Zettel batted down a pass into the hands of Carl Nassib, who had a huge game in general. If Penn State can keep the running game going, it’ll be a huge boost to a passing game that can’t off the ground.
The pick: Penn State
Pittsburgh at Iowa, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network
A rematch of one of the Hawkeyes’ bigger wins of last season, this was perhaps the game that really made everyone clamor for C.J. Beathard to be the starting quarterback, as he led a second-half comeback victory. Well, he is the starting quarterback now, and that decision has paid big dividends through the team’s first two games. Iowa’s offense isn’t the ineffective attack it was last season under Jake Rudock, instead dominating each of the first two contests against Illinois State and Iowa State. Beathard’s been great, completing 30 of 49 passing attempts for 426 yards and four touchdowns — and no interceptions — to go along with a pair of rushing touchdowns in two games. This new Iowa offense has the Hawkeyes looking like one of the Big Ten West’s best.
The pick: Iowa