Scroll through the first week of the B1G football schedule and a few thoughts will run through your mind:
- Thought No. 1) There aren’t many great matchups
- Thought No. 2) Those are a lot of winnable games
The first week of the season in the B1G is less-than-stellar. Northwestern is the only team playing a Power Five opponent and only two teams are playing road games. Oh, and three teams are playing FCS foes. Not exactly riveting television.
Nonetheless, it’s worth looking through the matchups to see what B1G teams have the best chance to start 1-0, which matchups are toss ups and who should be extremely nervous about their Week 1 game.
I’ve broken down the first week of the B1G football season into four categories based on their opening matchup.
Lock it down
South Dakota State vs. Minnesota
Not the easiest FCS opponent to open with, as South Dakota State went 10-3 a year ago and was one win away from reaching the championship game. Still, Minnesota won’t have much trouble with the Jackrabbits in a Thursday night matchup that kicks off the B1G season.
Tulsa vs. Michigan State
Tulsa finished the 2018 season with just three wins and fielded an offense that ranked 103rd in scoring nationally. Even though there are questions about Michigan State’s offense — and the Spartans tend to struggle in season openers — the defense is too good for Tulsa to sneak out of East Lansing with a win.
Middle Tennessee vs. Michigan
Under Jim Harbaugh, Michigan is a perfect 8-0 against Group of Five opponents (if you include BYU), winning by an average of 32.3 points per game. Middle Tennessee played in the C-USA title game a year ago and finished the season with eight wins, but the Blue Raiders are still no matchup for the Wolverines, especially in the Big House.
South Alabama vs. Nebraska
A highly-anticipated season in Lincoln will get off on the right foot in 2018 — assuming there are no rain cancellations to spoil the opener. Nebraska enters the year with a lot of momentum and one of the top quarterbacks in the B1G. Scott Frost will start his second season with the Huskers 1-0.
Florida Atlantic vs. Ohio State
The game will draw a lot of attention as Lane Kiffin comes to Columbus for the first game of the Ryan Day era. The Owls may have some fun offense highlights from the game, but the Buckeyes shouldn’t have much trouble with an FAU team that ended last fall with just five wins.
Idaho vs. Penn State
James Franklin will tweet out the word “Idaho” about 1,000 times before the two teams meet on the field to prove Penn State is only focused on its first game of the year. But the Nittany Lions won’t have to worry about an FCS team that finished with a sub-.500 record. Penn State’s season opener should be wrapped up by halftime.
Howard vs. Maryland
What a great way to kick off the Mike Locksley era in College Park. The program is going through a lot of changes and wins will be hard to come by for the Terrapins. Still, this should be an easy win for Maryland and Locksley should get an early taste of victory with his new team.
Should be safe
Wisconsin vs. South Florida
Both Wisconsin and South Florida took a step in the wrong direction in 2018, but Paul Chryst and Charlie Strong are two coaches capable of making the necessary changes to get their programs back on track. The biggest concerns for Wisconsin are an inexperienced offensive line, the departure of three-year starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook and some new faces on defense. Playing USF on the road also makes things difficult. The Badgers should be able to escape Tampa with a win, but it could be a closer-than-expected outcome.
Miami (OH) vs. Iowa
This was close to being put in the “Lock it Down” category, but Iowa sometimes has that “what on earth was that?” performance from time to time. Miami finished last season 6-6 and competed well, even in their losses. The Hawkeyes lost several key defenders from last season, so the defensive may not be quite as crisp. Things could be a little more worrisome for Iowa if ex-Penn State quarterback Tommy Stevens is seriously considering the RedHawks, too.
Flip a coin
Purdue vs. Nevada
After a 3-9 season in 2017, Jay Norvell led the Wolf Pack to an 8-5 campaign last fall. Getting Purdue in Reno with a late kickoff is a benefit for Nevada. Plus, the Boilermakers lost over 70 percent of their offensive production from last fall. Rondale Moore returns and several big-time receivers are expected to make an impact, but Purdue is a young team opening the season on the road. This could be a pretty entertaining showdown.
Indiana vs. Ball State
The season opener is an important for Tom Allen and Co., especially if the Hoosiers hope to return to a bowl game in 2019. Indiana didn’t have any trouble with the Cardinals last season, but the last time the two teams met at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ball State came away with a 27-20 win. IU has better athletes and should beat Ball State, but an in-state matchup at a neutral site keeps this game in the “Flip a Coin” category.
Akron vs. Illinois
This is another game in which the B1G team will have superior talent and should come out on top. But the Illini have struggled against nearly every opponent and have had close contests with MAC opponents in the past. Plus, Akron defeated Northwestern last year, beating a B1G team for the first time in program history, so there’s that. Illinois’ quarterback and receiver situations are concerning heading into the fall, as well.
Be very nervous
Northwestern vs. Stanford
Yes, Northwestern won the B1G last season and will likely have Hunter Johnson under center. Those are some good things for the Wildcats. But, in case you forgot, Northwestern lost all three non-conference games a year ago, falling to Akron, Notre Dame and Duke. The fact that the Wildcats have to open the year so far away from home against a program as consistent as Stanford is worrisome. Then again, Pat Fitzgerald is 11-2 in season openers, which included a win over the Cardinal in 2015 in Evanston.
UMass vs. Rutgers
The good news for Rutgers is that UMass had one of the worst defenses in the nation last season, ranking 127th after allowing more than 42 points per contest. The bad news for Rutgers is that it finished last season 1-11 and hasn’t shown much sign of improvement. This is about as good of an opening-season matchup as Chris Ash could hope for, but that’s still not saying much for the Scarlet Knights.