The Big Ten is not afraid to get a quick head-start on the football season.

By the first official Saturday of the season, 8 B1G teams will have already played a game — Illinois, Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan State, Penn State and Purdue. In fact, the Fighting Illini will have already played twice by the time Iowa starts its season.

There’s also a pair of entries in the conference standings already — Northwestern’s win over Nebraska in Ireland, plus Penn State’s dramatic comeback at Purdue Thursday night.

Jumping right into the deep end is a test for coaches and players. But the league office and TV execs know people will watch the heck out of it, so we can thank them for that.

For the 10 B1G teams in action on Friday and Saturday, this is what we’ll be looking for.

Western Michigan at No. 15 Michigan State

When: Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

B1G thought: For the Spartans, this season brings a pair of curiosities: how will they replace running back Kenneth Walker III, and will the pass defense improve after finishing 130th nationally last season?

The Broncos aren’t a bad tune-up for finding that out. Last year Western Michigan was 9th nationally with 8.9 yards per attempt. A quarterback change means that might not be replicated, but it’s still a potentially dangerous offense.

On run defense, Western Michigan was 90th in the country in yards per carry a year ago. So if Spartan running backs Jarek Broussard and Jalen Berger don’t get going, there could be some concern.

Illinois at Indiana

When: Friday, 8 p.m. ET, FS1

B1G thought: Maybe you see 2 bad teams. Or a far more compelling matchup if this was basketball season. The Hoosiers and Illini will be competing for the conference title in that sport.

But this is a compelling matchup for a pair of evenly-matched teams that probably need to win this game if they’re going to reach a bowl this season. That’s especially true for the Hoosiers, who have to navigate a bruising schedule that Phil Steele rates the 8th-toughest in the country.

Tom Allen’s team is looking to prove last year’s 2-10 record was an aberration. Bret Bielema’s Illini are trying to show Year 2 program growth. I think both things will be true, making this a game worth watching.

South Dakota State at Iowa

When: Saturday, Noon ET, FS1

B1G thought: Most Iowans seem skeptical about Kirk Ferentz’s offensive solution of adding quarterbacks coach to Brian Ferentz’s offensive coordinator duties. As are most non-Iowans. We’ll see how warranted that skepticism is against the Jackrabbits.

South Dakota State is no joke. The Jackrabbits are No. 2 in the FCS. They have 13 Iowa kids on the roster who have a shot to be hometown legends forever. I truly think this will be the closest game played by a Big Ten team Saturday.

Colorado State at No. 8 Michigan

When: Saturday, Noon ET, ABC

B1G thought: While everyone is focusing on Cade McNamara as he makes his case to be Michigan’s starting quarterback, I’m more interested to find out what we’ll learn from Michigan’s defense.

It is highly unusual for a team to possess a pair of edge rushers with the skill of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, and now both are in the NFL. And the secondary will miss Dax Hill’s versatile playmaking. I doubt much will be revealed against last year’s No. 97 scoring offense in the country, but we should at least get some clues.

Rutgers at Boston College

When: Saturday, Noon ET, ACC Network

B1G thought: Boston College was No. 3 nationally in pass defense last season. Rutgers was 114th throwing the ball. This concerns me. But if the Scarlet Knights find a way to make this close despite that — or even win — then I’m very interested in what Schiano’s Boys have on tap the rest of the year.

Buffalo at Maryland

When: Saturday, Noon ET, BTN

B1G thought: You can still find tickets for this game on the secondary market for $2, which about captures my excitement level as well.

That said, I’d love to see receiver Dontay Demus Jr. go off in his return from last season’s devastating knee injury. And I think we will see that.

North Dakota at Nebraska

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN

B1G thought: Surely Scott Frost can’t blow this one. Surely. Yet I’ll still have 2 bags of popcorn prepared for this game, because I cannot say that with 100% certainty after a long trip home from Ireland created a short week of preparation.

North Dakota has prepped for the Huskers all summer. Nebraska essentially lost a day of prep for North Dakota. And we can never rule anything out with the Cornhuskers.

We’ll see what Nebraska’s made of this season on Saturday. It should be the first win on the long road back to a bowl bid. But we’ll see.

Illinois State at No. 18 Wisconsin

When: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, FS1

B1G thought: Illinois State is an underrated party school. So the thought of Redbirds fans coming up an tailgating with Badgers fans for a night game makes me think the parking lots around Camp Randall will be a good deal more entertaining than this game.

My prop bet: Which will be higher — the average BAC of fans attending, or number of points scored by Illinois State? The Redbirds probably have to break 16 to have a shot at winning that wager.

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Ohio State

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC

B1G thought: Fun matchup, right? The golden domes of Notre Dame against Ohio State’s silver, pre-Buckeye stickered helmets is a shiny beauty to behold.

But historically the Fighting Irish haven’t upheld their end of the bargain when facing the Buckeyes. The scores of their past 4 meetings:

  • Ohio State 45, Notre Dame 26 (1995)
  • Ohio State 29, Notre Dame 16 (1996)
  • Ohio State 34, Notre Dame 20 (2006)
  • Ohio State 44, Notre Dame 28 (2016)

Even though both of these teams are in the preseason top 5, Ohio State is favored to win by 17 points. Which is a massive gap for teams only 3 spots separated in the poll.

If the Buckeyes are who we expect them to be — a national championship contender — they’ll roll as expected. And if they’re tested, it may say more about where Marcus Freeman has his team than it does Ohio State.