The B1G East's perfect record will be put to the test in Week 3 road games
Just 2 weeks into the season, only 1 division in college football has nothing but zeroes in the loss column: the Big Ten East.
If that remains true after Week 3, it will be a heck of an accomplishment.
Not that it isn’t an accomplishment already. Though looking at Michigan’s schedule might give you a different impression, the entire East hasn’t subsisted on cupcakes.
Penn State opened the season with a tough comeback win over Purdue. Indiana pulled off a similar accomplishment winning its opener over a dramatically improved Illinois team. Ohio State beat Notre Dame, which at least looked impressive when they made the schedule. And Rutgers upset Boston College on the road, snapping an 11-game losing streak against the Eagles.
The degree of difficulty steps up a notch this weekend for a pair of ranked Big Ten East squads in particular.
Penn State, freshly into the Top 25 at No. 22, will be tested in a trip to Auburn. The Nittany Lions pulled off a 28-20 win over the Tigers in a classic at Beaver Stadium last season.
Michigan State, which is creeping up on the Top 10 at No. 11, heads out to Washington. Despite Washington coming off a 4-8 season, Husky Stadium is a tough enough venue that the Huskies have been tabbed 3.5-point favorites.
Here is what each team will be facing in these road contests.
Penn State at Auburn
When: 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
The Tigers have not lost a non-conference road game since playing Clemson in 2016. Those Tigers would go on to win a national championship. Prior to that, Auburn had not lost a non-conference home game since South Florida did the deed in 2007. As you may recall, the Bulls rocketed all the way up to No. 2 in the first BCS rankings during that wild season.
Point being, it’s hard to win a game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. And when a team does, that team turns out to be pretty good. Auburn is good at avoiding embarrassing itself at home.
But there’s also a reason Penn State is a 3-point favorite entering this game. So far, this Auburn team has provided nothing to write home about. Unless the letter says “Looks like they’ll actually go ahead and can Bryan Harsin this offseason.”
The Tigers beat FCS Mercer 42-16 before getting an unexpected dog fight from San Jose State. The Spartans led 10-7 at halftime before Auburn rallied for a 24-16 win.
Auburn quarterback TJ Finley has performed more like he plays in the Big Ten West than the SEC West, averaging 139.5 yards per game with a touchdown and 3 interceptions. Joey Porter Jr. and the Penn State secondary will no doubt be licking their chops.
If Penn State loses, it will be because the Nittany Lions did not get the job done up front. Which, given the offensive line’s performance the past several seasons, is a distinct possibility. Auburn has a respected defensive front, and has lived up to that hype by limiting opponents to 2.1 yards per carry in its first 2 games.
The Nittany Lions look back to their old ways, already ranking 100th nationally with 6 sacks allowed through 2 games. That plays right into Auburn’s biggest strength, and could swing the outcome.
Michigan State at Washington
When: 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Spartans fans surely scoffed Monday when the opening line indicated Michigan State is an underdog in this game. But this is not the same Washington team that opened 2021 with a loss to Montana and ended it with a 40-13 pounding at the hands of rival Washington State.
The Huskies told coach Jimmy Lake to go jump in a lake, and replaced him with Fresno State’s Kalen DeBoer. DeBoer was Indiana’s offensive coordinator prior to his 2-year head coaching stint in Fresno.
DeBoer brought in former Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to give his offense a jolt in Year 1. The old relationship is sparking. Penix is averaging 341 yards per game with 6 touchdowns and an interception in Washington’s 2-0 start.
This is Penix’s third crack at Michigan State.
He was impressive in 2019, going 33-of-42 for 286 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 40-31 Indiana loss. It was a more mixed bag a year later during Mel Tucker’s debut season. Penix had 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, but completed 65.8% of his passes and threw for 320 yards in a 24-0 Indiana win.
Point being, Tucker is familiar with Penix. And Penix is familiar with Tucker’s defense. But he’s not familiar with Jacoby Windmon, and that is where the Spartans may have an edge.
Michigan State leads the nation with 12 sacks, buoyed by Windmon’s 5.5 through 2 games. Western Michigan and Akron certainly may be factors in inflating those totals, but there’s ample reason to believe this pass rush can travel.
However, the Huskies live up to their name along the offensive line. By size, they are the Pac-12’s largest offensive line, and have 4 third-year starters. This is a fascinating test in the trenches, if you’re into that kind of thing.