It’s the final hurrah of the non-conference season.
Sure, that Week 3 Penn State-Rutgers game means there are two more non-conference matchups for Big Ten teams down the road, but after this week, it’s almost entirely conference games until we get to bowl season, which is excellent.
Unfortunately, it means this week’s crop of games leaves something to be desired, with most teams using Week 4 as a tune up before the real stuff begins.
The without a doubt highlight of the weekend is Michigan’s game against BYU, the Cougars ranked the No. 22 team in the country after three straight contests that were entertaining as all get out. It’s a huge opportunity for Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines to score a big-time non-conference win.
The rest of the slate isn’t too pretty, but we’re going to give it to you anyway.
All games are on Saturday, and all times are Central.
Kansas at Rutgers, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network
Not many matchups between Power 5 teams can generate less excitement than this one. With no offense intended toward the Scarlet Knights or the Jayhawks, these are two programs that just can’t get it together right now. Rutgers’ problems have been well documented on this site and others, and this will be the second game of head coach Kyle Flood’s three-game suspension. Star wideout Leonte Carroo remains suspended following his arrest and assault charge. And all the off-field problems caught up with Rutgers on the field last weekend, when the Knights were crushed by Penn State. Kansas, meanwhile, has won a total of 12 games since the end of the 2009 season and is still looking for victory No. 1 in 2015 under new head coach David Beaty. The Jayhawks have lost to South Dakota State and Memphis in their first two games, allowing a whopping 96 points in those contests and losing that most recent game against Memphis by 32. It’s certainly an opportunity for Rutgers to get back on track after back-to-back losses.
The pick: Rutgers
[MORE BIG TEN: Cardale Jones to start for Buckeyes vs. Western Michigan]
No. 22 BYU at Michigan, 11 a.m., ABC
After a rocky season-opener against a good Utah team, Michigan has turned in back-to-back easy wins over Oregon State and UNLV. The defense has been sensational and currently ranks seventh in the country, allowing an average of 236.7 yards per game. The Wolverines D allowed just 138 yards to the Beavers and just 235 yards to the Runnin’ Rebels, allowing a total of 14 points in those two games. The 12.7 points per game mark is good for 13th in the country. The running game has also looked stellar the past two weeks, with Michigan rushing for a combined 479 yards in the two wins. But BYU brings a big-time test to Ann Arbor, as the Cougars have a 2-1 record with dramatic wins over Nebraska and Boise State under their belt and coming close against one of the best teams in the country, UCLA, last weekend. BYU has posted 91 points through three games, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Michigan secondary can stop one of college football’s top-25 passing games (310.7 pass yards per game) and if a generally slow-moving Michigan offense can keep up if the point total starts exploding.
The pick: BYU
Central Michigan at No. 2 Michigan State, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network
This counts as one of of those tune-up games for the No. 2 team in the country. While a season-opening road trip to Western Michigan exposed some concerns about this Michigan State team — WMU threw for 365 yards in that game — hosting Central Michigan should be a nice opportunity for an injury-plagued defense to get in a solid game. We know Connor Cook and the Spartans’ offense should have a nice day — though Central’s defense has been pretty good through three games, ranking 30th in the country and holding opponents to 308.7 total yards per game. But the Spartans’ defense has been the lone cause for concern for a team that looks poised to make a real run at a College Football Playoff spot. Defensive back Vayante Copeland is now out for the season, joining linebacker Ed Davis as starting defenders on the season-long shelf. So a tune-up game might be just what the doctor ordered for this defense.
The pick: Michigan State
Southern Mississippi at Nebraska, 11 a.m., ESPNEWS
The Huskers had a very good day when welcoming in South Alabama, so why not host another one of the South's state’s southernmost universities? The Conference USA dwellers have actually poured on the points in back-to-back wins, scoring a combined 108 in victories over Austin Peay and Texas State. Nebraska is coming off another tough loss, this one against Miami, a game in which the Huskers trailed 33-10 early in the fourth quarter but then came back to tie in the final minute of regulation. But Tommy Armstrong threw an interception on the first play of overtime, setting up a game-winning field goal for Miami. Not quite the brutal Hail Mary ending against BYU, but kind of gut wrenching nonetheless. Nebraska’s defense continues to prove incapable of slowing down opposing offenses, and while Southern Miss isn’t BYU or Miami, it’s been having little trouble scoring of late, posting more than 600 yards last week with running back Jalen Richard going for 230 yards and four touchdowns. Perhaps an unexpected test for the Nebraska D?
The pick: Nebraska
Bowling Green at Purdue, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network
Despite its 1-2 record, Bowling Green is the best passing team in the nation, and that’s not good news for a Purdue team fresh off a shellacking at the hands of Virginia Tech, a game in which the Boilers’ defense yielded 51 points and 471 total yards. The Falcons have experience this season against the Big Ten, beating up on Maryland two weeks ago with a three-touchdown win spurred on by a 28-point fourth quarter. Purdue wouldn’t figure to have the capability to slow that down, and it could be a long day for Darrell Hazell’s bunch. If it’s any consolation, though, the Bowling Green defense hasn’t been anywhere near as effective as the offense, surrendering 103 points in its two losses to Tennessee and Memphis. Now, Purdue’s offense isn’t as prolific as those, but maybe there’s a way newly named No. 1 quarterback David Blough could have some success in his debut replacing starter Austin Appleby.
The pick: Bowling Green
Indiana at Wake Forest, 11:30 a.m.
The Hoosiers are a perfect 3-0, but their play has been anything but perfect. That being said, up against a traditionally not-good Wake Forest team, Indiana has a good shot at improving to a perfect 4-0. The Demon Deacons might be 2-1, but they’re not firing on all cylinders, unsure over who will start at quarterback this week and coming off an aesthetically unpleasing 17-14 win over Army. The team’s other victory came against Elon. With only 346 total yards in that game against Army — a needing a walk-off field goal to win — Wake Forest is a pretty enticing matchup for the Indiana defense, which has stepped up its game after that embarrassing season-opening win against Southern Illinois, when it surrendered more than 600 yards of offense and 47 points to a .500 FCS team. The Hoosiers’ defense is far from world-beaters, but any signs of improvement are welcome ones, and a good showing against Wake would earn a lot of respect for one of the Big Ten’s remaining undefeated teams.
The pick: Indiana
[MORE BIG TEN: Corey Clement progressing toward return for Badgers]
Maryland at West Virginia, 2 p.m., Fox Sports 1
It’s been a rocky start for the Terps. They are 2-1, but the quarterback situation has been the source of much turmoil in the fan base. Perry Hills was yanked in favor of Caleb Rowe after just two games, and Rowe proceeded to throw three interceptions in his first start of the season, just one game after throwing two interceptions in a relief role, bringing him to a whopping five in less than five quarters of work. But there was good news, too, as Rowe had the Maryland offense clicking much better than Hills did. Rowe threw four touchdown passes in the Terps’ win over USF. But the competition steps up this weekend with West Virginia. The same, though, can be said for the Mountaineers, who haven’t really gone out of the way to challenge themselves, pummeling Georgia Southern and Liberty by a combined score of 85-17. So this is a mysterious game. What will West Virginia do against some semblance of competition? What will Rowe do against a Power 5 opponent in a hostile environment?
The pick: West Virginia
[MORE BIG TEN: Power Rankings: Who's No. 1? Buckeyes or Spartans?]
North Texas at Iowa, 2:30 p.m., ESPN U
It’s been a terrific 3-0 start for the Hawkeyes, and it looks like that start will stay terrific with a move to 4-0 this weekend. North Texas visits Iowa City, and North Texas has struggled in its first two games of the season, surrendering a combined 69 points in losses to Southern Methodist and Rice, a pair of Conference USA teams that aren’t exactly the cream of college football’s crop. Iowa’s offense has made a complete 180 from last season, humming under C.J. Beathard in a way it never could under Jake Rudock. Beathard has eclipsed 200 yards passing in each of Iowa’s first three games, throwing for a season-high 258 yards in last week’s dramatic win over Pitt. He’s got seven total touchdowns and just one interception. North Texas has been giving up truckloads of yards so far this season, so Beathard could have his biggest day yet.
The pick: Iowa
[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern jumps up to No. 17 in AP poll]
Ohio at Minnesota, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
You’d like to think a MAC foe like Ohio could provide the Minnesota offense a chance to get off the ground, but that’s what you liked to think last week heading into a game against MAC foe Kent State, a game the Gophers won by a stunning 10-7 score. Mitch Leidner and the Gophers’ offense can’t do a thing against just about anyone right now, despite the team’s 2-1 record, with the lone loss coming against TCU, one of the top-ranked teams in the country. That success is thanks to the Minnesota defense, which has played terrifically through three games. But until the offense can get going, the Gophers’ contender status remains on hold. And with a 3-0 Ohio team visiting the Twin Cities — a team with a much better 2015 track record than Kent State, to be sure — things could remain shaky. The Bobcats have already scored 45 points in a road game this season and held a Marshall team that dropped 41 on Purdue to just 10 points.
The pick: Minnesota
[MORE BIG TEN: After ugly win, Gophers still looking for answers on offense]
Western Michigan at No. 1 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN 2
What to expect out of the Buckeyes this week? I think it’s safe to say that nobody knows. What we do know if that the defensive effort should once again be outstanding, as Ohio State’s defense ranks fifth in the country, allowing just 225 yards per game. That’s a remarkable number, and the defense’s terrific day last weekend was overshadowed by the offensive issues. Though it might not be the way everyone expecting, the Buckeyes could be doing their winning this season thanks to a dominating defense. But on offense, the unit everyone assumed would pound every opponent into submission is, to borrow a word from Urban Meyer, discombobulated. Neither Cardale Jones nor J.T. Barrett has had a smooth go of things so far in 2015. Jones will again get the start Saturday against Western Michigan. But the offensive line and receivers haven’t played well, either. An option: Keep feeding Ezekiel Elliott, who even amid the sky-is-falling offensive day for the Buckeyes last week managed 108 yards and now has 331 and four touchdowns through three games. Western Michigan is obviously no joke of an opponent, but expect another lockdown performance from the Buckeyes’ defense. As for the offense? Who knows.
The pick: Ohio State
[MORE BIG TEN: Mixed bag for Caleb Rowe in Terps' win]
San Diego State at Penn State, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
The Nittany Lions’ fortunes have turned around dramatically following what looked like an end-of-the-world loss to Temple to open the season. The reason? Two words: Saquon Barkley. While the true freshman running back obviously isn’t the lone reason for back-to-back wins over Buffalo and Rutgers — not the most difficult competition, of course — he symbolizes an important change that needed to be made and maybe has been made in the minds of the Penn State coaching staff, and that’s getting away from an obviously not working passing attack, getting away from Christian Hackenberg and giving the ball to guys that can actually produce. NFL scouts’ drooling over Hackenberg has made him the focal point of the team. He shouldn’t be when he can’t get anything done. Barkley has been terrific in two games, going for 115 yards and a touchdown against Buffalo and 195 yards and two touchdowns against Rutgers. With the Penn State defense playing very well since the Temple loss and Barkley providing the offense, maybe things aren’t as bad as we thought in Happy Valley.
The pick: Penn State
Middle Tennessee State at Illinois, 3 p.m., ESPNEWS
The Illini’s feel-good 2-0 start was quickly upended last week in North Carolina, with the Tar Heels pummeling the Illini to the tune of 48-14. That game was a disaster on both sides of the ball, the offense unable to do much of anything up against a real defense for the first time — and receivers not helping things with a bevy of dropped balls — and the defense run all over and yielding one late touchdown after another as it tired. The question of whether Illinois was for real was soundly answered. But that doesn’t mean there will be no more wins. But Middle Tennessee State could be another test for the Illinois defense. The Blue Raiders have two wins — over the lowly competition of Jackson State and Charlotte — in which they’ve scored a combined 143 points. Yeah, 70 points in each game. MTSU allowed just 28 combined points in those two wins, too, but there’s also a 37-10 loss to Alabama in there. A return trip home against a Group of 5 team would figure to allow the Illini the opportunity to finish the non-conference portion of the schedule at 3-1, but you never know.
The pick: Illinois
[MORE BIG TEN: Spartans' Aaron Burbridge the frontrunner for catch of the year]
Ball State at No. 17 Northwestern, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network
The Cats are rolling right now, winners of all three games they’ve played so far and owners of perhaps the most dominant defense in the country. Northwestern ranks No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense (5.3 points per game) and No. 6 in total defense (235 yards per game). The Cats have forced seven turnovers in three games. Linebacker Anthony Walker is one of the nation’s leading tacklers after a jaw-dropping 19-tackle effort last week in a huge road win over Duke. Northwestern has yielded just one touchdown on the season and has two big wins over Stanford and Duke, looking like one of the country’s best teams through three games. A matchup this weekend with Ball State should allow Northwestern’s defense to flex those muscles once again, but more importantly, it could allow a struggling Northwestern offense to get going. Clayton Thorson has yet to really impress at quarterback, and head coach Pat Fitzgerald lamented the play of his wideouts in the Duke game. Ball State is 2-1 but allowed 56 points in its only game against a Power 5 opponent.
The pick: Northwestern
Hawaii at No. 22 Wisconsin, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network
The fact that Corey Clement is going to miss a lengthy period of time is bad news for the Badgers, but it shouldn’t be an issue against Hawaii. The Badgers have put up back-to-back expectedly impressive performances against Miami (Ohio) and Troy, winning those two games by a combined 86-3 margin. Joel Stave has looked great through three games, and the Wisconsin running game, while still last in the Big Ten, has made some progress without its top back after the embarrassing 40-yard output against Alabama. The injury to Clement is huge and will have impacts on the Big Ten West race. But Stave & Co. should still be able to manage against Hawaii, and a talented Badger defense should have little trouble. After all, this Hawaii team lost to Ohio State, 38-0, two weeks ago in what was considered then a lackluster performance by the defending champs.
The pick: Wisconsin