Who should be on upset alert this weekend in the B1G?
Week 1 of the college football season is here — finally! — and all 14 Big Ten teams are in action. There should be some of the usual blowouts and the spotlight shines brightly on the best game of the weekend, a showdown between Michigan and Notre Dame in South Bend.
Ten teams are in action on Saturday. Michigan State kicks off its season Friday night and three teams got after it on Thursday night. Northwestern won the first Big Ten conference game of the with a 31-27 road upset (?!?!?) at Purdue and Minnesota handled its business at home, whipping New Mexico State 48-10.
The remaining 11 games this weekend feature B1G teams against nonconference foes. Maryland, who is hosting No. 23 Texas, is the only conference school not favored. The Terps are nearly two-touchdown underdogs, even at home.
Michigan and Notre Dame are a pick ’em, but everyone else is favored by at least 10.5 points.
But that doesn’t mean the other 10 will all skate home unscathed. Here are the latest lines:
- Utah State vs. No. 11 Michigan State (-24)
- Western Kentucky vs. No. 4 Wisconsin (-36)
- Oregon State vs. No. 5 Ohio State (-38.5)
- No. 23 Texas (-13.5) vs. Maryland
- Kent State vs. Illinois (-16.5)
- Texas State vs. Rutgers (-16.5)
- Appalachian State vs. No. 10 Penn State (-24.5)
- Northern Illinois vs. Iowa (-10.5)
- Indiana (-10.5) at Florida International
- Akron vs. Nebraska (-25)
- No. 14 Michigan (Pick ’em) at No. 12 Notre Dame
Who wears the upset target?
Who tops our list this week. That would be the Iowa Hawkeyes, of the teams playing on Saturday. (I know it’s hindsight, but I was shocked that Northwestern was an underdog to Purdue Thursday night. The Boilers would have been here had they played on Saturday).
I do like the Hawkeyes and think they’re going to have a big season, but Northern Illinois is one of the best teams in the Mid-American Conference and they aren’t the least bit afraid of taking on the big boys. The timing is bad here, and weird worlds are colliding.
But an upset? Sure, and here’s why. Iowa’s two starting tackles — Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson— are both suspended for this game. That’s a problem because Northern has one of the best defensive lines in the country, led by Sutton Smith, who had 14 sacks and 30 tackles for loss a year ago. He’s the real deal and he’s going to be a huge factor Saturday.
Iowa’s 23-21 upset loss at home to North Dakota State in 2016 is still a fresh memory for Hawkeyes fans. Could it happen again? Sure. The Hawkeyes better be ready.
Anyone else who should be careful?
Two teams, but for different reasons. Illinois is favored by 16.5 points against Kent State, but the Illini still have yet to prove that things are getting better under Lovie Smith. The game shouldn’t be a problem, because Kent State isn’t very good, but you never know. The Illini still have a lot to prove to everyone, including themselves.
Indiana is one of the few Big Ten teams starting on the road, and they’re traveling a long way to soupy Miami to play Florida International. That first road game of the year, especially with new starters at important positions, can be an adventure.
The Hoosiers are favored by 10.5 points, but this seems to be an awkward spot. It also doesn’t help that Morgan Ellison, last year’s leading rusher, was suspended indefinitely this week.
Indiana’s odds of getting beat are actually a little higher than Iowa, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). They could have been the upset-alert call just as easily.