Big Ten

Week 3 Big Ten previews: Football gets its own Big Ten/ACC Challenge

anthony-walker-0917.png

Week 3 Big Ten previews: Football gets its own Big Ten/ACC Challenge

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

[MORE BIG TEN: After two easy wins, time to find out what Illini are really all about]

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

[MORE BIG TEN: Rutgers suspends Kyle Flood for three games for violating school policies]

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

[MORE BIG TEN: Urban Meyer: 'I don't know anyone else's schedule. I don't care.']

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

[MORE BIG TEN: At both receiver and safety, Tanner McEvoy a two-way starter for Badgers]

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

[MORE BIG TEN: With breakout game, Saquon Barkley brings hope to Penn State offense]

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

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

1121_baker_mayfield.jpg
USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?

See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings

1114_miami_hurricanes.jpg
USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 11 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (9-1)

The Sooners probably won’t be No. 1 in the Playoff rankings, as the committee will almost surely move Bama up a notch. But OU has an incredible resume, one much better than the Tide’s, with wins over Ohio State, TCU and Okie State. No one in the country can compete with those wins.

2. Miami (9-0)

The Canes are too legit to quit after pulverizing Notre Dame on Saturday night. That signature win teamed with the prior week’s win over Virginia Tech makes that near loss to lowly North Carolina seem like forever ago. Welcome to Miami, indeed.

3. Alabama (10-0)

A great win on Saturday night by the Tide in what seemed like their first actual game of the season. The schedule has been soft as silk, but now Auburn’s status as an SEC juggernaut makes the Iron Bowl a colossal clash.

4. Georgia (9-1)

Knocked off the top of the college football mountain, the Dawgs still deserve to be in the Playoff field, just a one-loss team with that one loss coming to another top team and that still-excellent win at Notre Dame. The resume’s still there, but now the SEC title game will be for all the marbles.

5. Wisconsin (10-0)

Bucky’s sitting pretty after making Iowa look like an FCS team on Saturday — especially impressive considering what Iowa did the week prior. Expect Michigan and Minnesota to provide decent enough challenges, but it seems like Wisconsin’s set up for a Big Ten title-game date with Ohio State.

6. Clemson (9-1)

Miami is the king of the ACC, but thankfully the ACC title game looks to be a Playoff play-in game between the Tigers and Canes. The champs still have as good a shot at this thing as anyone.

7. Auburn (8-2)

Two-loss Auburn in the Playoff? It’s not crazy at all after what the Tigers did to Georgia on Saturday, destroying the No. 1 team in the country and setting up what will be another titanic Iron Bowl meeting with Bama.

8. Notre Dame (8-2)

The Irish’s Playoff hopes sank like a ship in Biscayne Bay thanks to the demolition Miami dolled out on Saturday night. ND’s resume is still fine — two losses to two Playoff-caliber teams. But with no conference title to play for, a two-loss ND team might as well be a six-loss ND team.

9. Ohio State (8-2)

Guess who's still lurking in the Playoff race? It seemed Brutus was dead as could be after getting woodshedded by Iowa last weekend, but then Ohio State put a whooping on Michigan State and everyone’s ears perked up again. Appearing destined for the Big Ten title game, things could get interesting.

10. TCU (8-2)

The Frogs will most likely still get a crack at a Big 12 title — and revenge on the Sooners, who picked em apart on Saturday — but the Playoff might be out of the cards now.

11. Oklahoma State (8-2)

You know who’s still really good despite having losses to the two top teams in the Big 12? Okie State. That was some game between the Pokes and the ‘Clones on Saturday. If only the Mullet could be unleashed on the Playoff. Alas.

12. USC (9-2)

Dramatically overrated in the last batch of Playoff rankings, the Trojans now seem to be the cream of the unimpressive Pac-12 after Washington’s loss. All sorts of madness would have to occur in order for USC — or any Pac-12 team — to land in the final four.

13. Penn State (8-2)

Great job beating up on Rutgers this weekend, Penn State. Now what? With games against Nebraska and Maryland left, will any preseason favorite (outside Florida State, of course) get less attention down the stretch than the Lions?

14. UCF (9-0)

Central Florida is that Group of Five team this year. If it beats USF in the regular-season finale, people you know will be like, “Why shouldn’t UCF be in the Playoff?” And you’ll just have to give them a look and walk away.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Wazzu has to win one game and it’ll play USC for a Pac-12 title. Despite the lack of Playoff stakes, the Cougs winning a conference championship would be a pretty big deal.

16. Washington (8-2)

Of course, standing in Wazzu’s way is Washington, which tripped up against Stanford and could follow up last year’s Playoff appearance with absolutely nothing.

17. NC State (7-3)

The ACC and SEC seemed to have flipped roles overnight. The once-mediocre SEC now has three playoff-caliber teams and a couple other decent ones. The once-awesome ACC now has two of the best teams in the country and then … NC State.

18. Mississippi State (7-3)

The Bulldogs put up one heck of a fight against Bama on Saturday, and if it wasn’t for that ridiculous sequence of play-calling following Bama’s missed field goal, they might have won. Oh well.

19. LSU (7-3)

LSU beat Arkansas on Saturday, which isn’t a terribly difficult thing to do. 2017 will go down as a “what if” year for the Bayou Bengals. As in, what if they hadn’t lost to Troy?

20. Stanford (7-3)

Two of Stanford’s losses have come against ranked teams. It’s now beaten Washington and could beat Notre Dame in two weeks. It has one of the best running backs in America. So shouldn’t Stanford be better?

21. Memphis (8-1)

Since losing at UCF, Memphis has rolled everyone, winning five straight by an average of 47.8-27.2. Good job, Memphis.

22. Arizona (7-3)

The Wildcats are 7-3 this season and have scored at least 45 points in every one of those wins. That includes last weekend’s win over Oregon State, in which Khalil Tate ran for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Dude's good.

23. Northwestern (7-3)

Meow. The Cats are winners of five straight, even if their overtime streak came to an end. The quest for a 9-3 finish is on, with only Minnesota and lowly Illinois left on the regular-season schedule.

24. Michigan State (7-3)

Two losses in three weeks for Sparty, who got absolutely steamrolled by Ohio State this past weekend. Michigan State will likely be rooting for Michigan in The Game as it would figure to wrap its regular season with wins over Maryland and Rutgers.

25. West Virginia (7-3)

The ‘Neers have only lost to Virginia Tech, TCU and Okie State, which is not too bad. But that’s a couple losses too many in the high-flying Big 12.

Others receiving votes:

Virginia Tech (7-3)

Things have bottomed out for the Hokies, who have lost back-to-back road games to Miami and Georgia Tech after a 7-1 start. Without the loss to the Jackets, Virginia Tech’s resume would look real nice. But alas.

Iowa State (6-4)

There was almost another Attack of the ‘Clones this past weekend in a thriller with Okie State. But the Pokes came out on top, sending Iowa State to its fourth loss. That dream Big 12 title game featuring the ‘Clones? A fantasy. Sigh.

Michigan (8-2)

Michigan only has two losses, which means it has to be kinda good, right? Well, it’s lost its only two games against ranked teams and its best win is Florida, so … no, I guess not.

South Florida (8-1)

Way to beat UConn, South Florida.