Happy days are here again.
College football is back, everyone. Thursday night, the 2015 campaign gets underway, and just an hour or so into the football season, the Big Ten slate starts up in earnest, with Michigan traveling to play Utah and Minnesota hosting TCU.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
And it means that you’re going to need to get prepped on this weekend’s Big Ten action. And make no mistake, it is a weekend-long event, with multiple games Thursday, Friday and, of course, Saturday and one game apiece on Sunday and Monday.
Things get started with the debut of Jim Harbaugh as the new head man at Michigan. And there’s no better finale than the defending-champion Buckeyes seeking revenge at Virginia Tech.
CSNChicago.com has everything covered, too, with live coverage from Northwestern’s season-opener against Stanford in Evanston and everything else you need to know from Week 1. Be sure to follow @CSNBigTen if you’re not already for links to all posts and updates throughout the weekend.
Got it? Good. Without further ado, your Week 1 Big Ten previews. And as always, all times are Central.
[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Preseason projections and All-Big Ten teams]
Michigan at Utah, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Fox Sports 1
Harbaugh’s debut will dominate the headlines as it has for the past … well, it’s seemed like an eternity that we’ve been talking about Harbaugh coming to Michigan. Fox even has dressed a giant bus up as the former Michigan quarterback to promote this game. As far as this game goes, Michigan has a good defense. As for the offense? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. We likely won’t know who’s starting at quarterback until the Michigan offense takes the field, and the offensive line is still a pretty sizable question mark after its poor play over the past two seasons. The Wolverines have a stacked running back corps, but will it succeed on a consistent basis? Another mystery. Michigan has had the talent in the past few seasons, it just hasn’t played up to its quality. Harbaugh could be the guy to fix all that. The defense will need to have a big day, which it’s certainly capable of doing, against running back Devontae Booker and fourth-year starting quarterback Travis Wilson. Maybe I’m buying into the hype, but while Michigan has all the same players it’s had over the past two underachieving seasons, Harbaugh has inserted freshness and excitement, enough of it for a perhaps surprising Week 1 win.
My pick: Jim Harbaugh and his BFF walrus
No. 2 TCU at Minnesota, 8 p.m. Thursday, ESPN
The Golden Gophers are a good football team and one that has won a bunch of games over the past two seasons. But they’ve got a couple gigantic tests in front of them this season, playing both the preseason Nos. 1 and 2 teams. No. 2 TCU is up first, and if what happened last season in Fort Worth is any indication, things won’t be easy for Minnesota, which was soundly defeated — blown out, really — 30-7. That was a different season and a different team, of course, but the Gophers are faced with a lot of the same problems from years past that have kept them from a division title and a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game. Most notably, those issues are on offense, where even big-time playmakers David Cobb and Maxx Williams couldn’t make Minnesota a point-producing machine. Those two guys are gone now, placing a lot of pressure on the shoulders of quarterback Mitch Leidner, who has yet to really consistently impress since assuming the starting job. The Gophers do have one of the country’s finest secondaries, which will hopefully stem the tide of plays being made by preseason Heisman favorite Trevone Boykin. But while the Gophers still try to figure out things on the offensive side of the ball in Year 4 of the Jerry Kill Era, the Horned Frogs — the Big 12 favorites and favorites for a spot in the College Football Playoff — will likely prove too much.
My pick: URBAN-REPELLING SUPERFROG!!!
[MORE BIG TEN: Fitz surrounded by cats highlights hilarious new BTN ads]
No. 5 Michigan State at Western Michigan, 6 p.m. Friday, ESPN U
While Western Michigan is one of the better MAC teams, finishing 8-5 last season under rising coaching superstar P.J. Fleck, Michigan State’s biggest test will be not looking past the Broncos ahead of a Week 2 showdown with Oregon. But first comes Western Michigan. This one is expected to be over in a hurry as Connor Cook leads the Spartans high-powered offense. In three non-conference games last season against Jacksonville State, Eastern Michigan and Wyoming, Michigan State scored a total of 174 points. Friday should provide an opportunity to check out the new starters, including redshirt freshman No. 1 running back Madre London, who’s tasked with replacing Jeremy Langford.
My pick: Italian accordion-playing Tom Izzo
Tom Izzo takes a turn on the accordion at MSU's farewell dinner in Venice. pic.twitter.com/yft5m7AjiW
— Spartan Basketball (@MSU_Basketball) August 31, 2015
Kent State at Illinois, 8 p.m. Friday, Big Ten Network
It’s been utter chaos in Champaign after Illinois fired head coach Tim Beckman a week before the season-opener. The move is one that certainly illustrates the unfortunate state of the program but also one that has detrimental effects on the football team. Getting rid of Beckman, per the details of the investigation released by athletics director Mike Thomas, was the right thing to do. But the timing can’t be easy for the players and remaining coaches. Thankfully for the Illini, the season-opening opponent is one they should be able to beat, regardless of the effect Beckman’s dismissal will have. Opponents the same caliber of Kent State allowed quarterback Wes Lunt to shine during last season’s non-conference schedule, and Lunt needs to be big this season if the Illini are going to surprise and make a run at a second straight bowl game. Illinois has plenty of issues and plenty of injuries, but it can worry about that down the road. Kent State should provide a great opportunity for a season-opening win.
My pick: The Galloping Ghost
[MORE BIG TEN: Bill Cubit hoping to inspire a much-needed rally for Illini]
No. 21 Stanford at Northwestern, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN
There’s a chance for a marquee victory right out of the gate with No. 21 Stanford coming to Evanston on Saturday. Northwestern has a defense full of playmakers, with a very strong secondary, two stalwarts at defensive end and a promising young linebacker in Anthony Walker. On the offensive side of the ball, Justin Jackson has the ability to be one of the Big Ten’s best running backs, and new quarterback Clayton Thorson takes over the job with a lot of hype. But for all the positives, Stanford presents some real challenges. The Cardinal typically boast one of the strongest defenses in the country, and this season should be no different. That could make life really hard for Thorson in his first career game. Plus, as good as the Wildcats’ defense is, Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan is a fourth-year starter and knows how to pick defenses apart. While Northwestern provides plenty of reason for optimism and belief in a successful 2015, Stanford might just be too much to handle right off the bat.
My pick: “The Trees” by Rush
[MORE BIG TEN: Calm, cool, collected: Clayton Thorson ready to lead Cats]
Illinois State at Iowa, 11 a.m. Saturday, Big Ten Network
This is a trickier opener than it might seem for the Hawkeyes, who are looking to avoid the close calls that plagued them during last year’s non-conference schedule. Iowa beat Northern Iowa by eight, Ball State by four and Pitt by four and lost to Iowa State by three. And though Illinois State is an FCS foe, the Redbirds are one of the FCS’ best, playing in last year’s FCS national championship game. Illinois State dominated its competition last year, holding opponents to just barely 120 rush yards a game. But as good as Illinois State was last season, it did play exclusively FCS teams. C.J. Beathard seemed the right choice at quarterback for Iowa as Jake Rudock — now at Michigan — couldn’t get the offense really humming last season. The Hawkeyes are far from a well-oiled machine, but they should at least be able to squeak out a home win to open the season.
My pick: Kirk Ferentz in a giant bird’s nest
[MORE BIG TEN: New faces take over for Hawkeyes' inconsistent run game]
Richmond at Maryland, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN U
There’s not too much to be excited about in College Park this season, which could perhaps be the reason why #BeatRichmond is a thing. Can’t imagine too many tweeters will be throwing that hashtag around. With a couple tricky non-conference games against Bowling Green and West Virginia, this opener against an FCS foe should allow the Terps a moment of glory. And it will be our first chance to see the new and improved Perry Hills, who surprisingly won this offseason’s quarterback competition. Maybe Brad Craddock will hit a 75-yard field goal or something.
My pick: #BeatRichmond
— Maryland Football (@MarylandPride) August 31, 2015
[MORE BIG TEN: Jihad Ward listed as probable for Illini season-opener]
Norfolk State at Rutgers, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPNEWS
Rutgers is a stone-cold mess heading into the season-opener. Head coach Kyle Flood is being investigated for potentially violating university rules by contacting a professor regarding the academic eligibility of one of players. Five Scarlet Knights, including wide receiver Leonte Carroo and quarterback Chris Laviano, are suspended for the first half for disciplinary reasons. Defensive lineman Darius Hamilton, perhaps the team’s best defensive player, is out with an injury. And on top of all that, the starting quarterback competition has yet to be 100-percent resolved, as Hayden Rettig will start with Laviano suspended but Flood saying it’ll be a halftime decision as to who starts from there. Thankfully for Rutgers, the Week 1 opponent is Norfolk State.
My pick: BRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE!
Penn State at Temple, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
In the matchup between these two teams last year, Penn State had an outlier of a day running the ball, amassing a whopping 254 yards on the ground, an oddity for a team that rarely got its rushing attack going in 2014. A similar day would obviously be a very good thing to kick off 2015, as it would provide a confidence boost out of the gate for running back Akeel Lynch and a much-maligned offensive line. The Penn State defense was also sensational in that game — as it was much of last season — limiting Temple to just 61 rushing yards. But Christian Hackenberg had a day to forget, completing just 12 passes for 112 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Played at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly, this game should draw an awful lot of Nittany Lion fans, creating a homey atmosphere.
My pick: Anthony Zettel nearly killing someone
— Nick Bowers (@Nbowers28) August 10, 2015
[MORE BIG TEN: Nathan Scheelhaase to become Illini's RB coach]
BYU at Nebraska, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC
This one will come down to the Nebraska defense and whether it can stop Taysom Hill, BYU’s all-purpose king of a quarterback. Sure, the Huskers have plenty of intriguing aspects on the offensive side of the ball, like how good Tommy Armstrong looks in the new offense and how the running game will fare without Ameer Abdullah. But the defense’s ability — or inability — to stop Hill will be the determining factor. With a couple of players missing due to suspensions and injuries and an offense in its first game under Mike Riley, the Cougars could be a much bigger test than the Huskers bargained for. But Armstrong and Jordan Westerkamp should be able to come up with a couple well-timed big plays.
My pick: Remember this guy?
Bo is on our flight back to Omaha pic.twitter.com/4oSCe4qo5S
— Noah Rheinheimer (@noahrhein9) January 13, 2014
[MORE BIG TEN: Back to the MAC? Speculating who could be next Illini coach]
Southern Illinois at Indiana, 3 p.m. Saturday, ESPNEWS
Two seasons ago, a healthy Nate Sudfeld led one of the Big Ten’s best, most explosive offenses. Last season, with Sudfeld injured, the Hoosiers couldn’t keep their passing numbers at the same level. Well, Sudfeld is back, and the challenge is to be explosive all over again. Against Southern Illinois, that shouldn’t be a problem. Sudfeld has a new weapon, too, in UAB transfer running back Jordan Howard, who should run all over this SIU defense and make himself look like a reincarnated Tevin Coleman. (Tevin Coleman is not dead, FYI, just on the Atlanta Falcons.) The Hoosiers’ biggest task this season should again be stopping anyone in any possible fashion, and the defense might again struggle with that. But not against the Salukis.
My pick: John Cougar
No. 20 Wisconsin at No. 3 Alabama, 7 p.m. Saturday, ABC
Back-to-back season-openers against the SEC’s best are good opportunities for Wisconsin to get into the College Football Playoff conversation early. But, of course, a win is necessary to do that. Last year, things started well against LSU before the Badgers fell apart in the second half. Things might not get that far this time against No. 3 Alabama. Wisconsin is likely going to have another successful season, but with a lot of question marks along the offensive line and in the wide receiving corps, the Tide’s strong defense might keep the Badgers’ offense in check. Wisconsin has a very good defense that could certainly keep this one low-scoring. But unless Corey Clement has an overly amazing debut as starter behind a beat-up O-line, the No. 3 Tide should, well, roll.
My pick: Nick-Saban-riding-an-elephant wedding cake
Purdue at Marshall, 2 p.m. Sunday, Fox Sports 1
Rakeem Cato might be gone, but Marshall is still kind of a tough opening-game opponent for a Purdue team that has yet to show it’s capable of consistently winning football games. Austin Appleby will be at quarterback for the Boilermakers, and you have to wonder how long this season’s quarterback leash is after midstream changes at the position the past two seasons. Appleby needs to take care of the ball against the Thunder Herd to hold off backup David Blough, as the No. 1 threw more picks than touchdowns last season. If this game was in West Lafayette, it’d be one thing, but a road game against a defending conference champ isn’t what Purdue Pete ordered.
My pick: Matthew McConaughey
No. 1 Ohio State at Virginia Tech, 7 p.m. Monday, ESPN
Football coaches and players always, without a doubt, downplay the idea of revenge. But with Urban Meyer returning a startling number of players from last season’s national championship team, if you think revenge won’t be on the Buckeyes’ mind when they run into the only team to beat them last season, you’ve got to be crazy. Virginia Tech prevented a perfect campaign last season for Ohio State, and that was mostly Ohio State’s fault, with a yet-to-jell O-line allowing J.T. Barrett — in his second career game — to be sacked seven times. Everything’s changed for the Buckeyes since then, and they’re the heavy favorites to repeat as national champs. With months to prepare for the Hokies, the Buckeyes should be more ready than ever. There’s drama to be found in the quarterback situation and whether it will be Barrett or Cardale Jones under center. There’s slight intrigue with Joey Bosa suspended. There’s wondering if Ezekiel Elliott can keep his 200-yard game streak going. But when it comes to the outcome, there are far too many reasons for the Buckeyes to be beyond focused and execute to perfection.
My pick: The trophy