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