Week 3 B1G Primer: The game Nebraska didn’t want has arrived
Everything you need to know about this weekend’s B1G slate.
There is only 1 Big Ten game in Week 3, but there are several interesting non-conference matchups. There are 5 B1G teams playing Power 5 opponents, plus a top-10 Group of 5 team comes to B1G country.
Here’s a breakdown of the Week 3 slate. Let’s start with an old rivalry:
Game of the Week: Nebraska at No. 3 Oklahoma (-19.5)
For Nebraska, it’s about self-respect. The Huskers have been a punch line nationally for a few years now. As a society, we seem to move on quickly to the next thing and forget about the past, so Nebraska’s glory days of the 1990s seem extra far away. In researching a story about the Nebraska/Oklahoma rivalry, it reinforced why so many people care about Nebraska football and why these last few years have been so frustrating. It used to be one of the best programs in the country. Now, it isn’t even one of the best programs in the Big Ten West.
As if losing wasn’t enough, Nebraska tried to get out of this game over the summer. It was spun as Nebraska simply needing another home game to recoup some financial losses from not having fans during the pandemic, but I think we all know that Scott Frost’s program needed another win. If Frost doesn’t take Nebraska to a bowl game, his job is in serious jeopardy. Winning 6 or 7 games may still not be enough. Only new athletic director Trev Alberts knows the answer to that one.
So really, the Huskers can’t embarrass themselves more than they already have. No one outside of Lincoln expects the Huskers to win, but by playing a competitive game against a great team, they can at least instill some confidence in the program moving forward.
The stat: These teams haven’t played in 11 years
OK, I’m not going to rehash the entire history of what used to be an annual rivalry, because I already highlighted the best moments. But it is worth mentioning, for the sake of context, what has happened since these teams met in the 2010 Big 12 Championship Game. Back then, Oklahoma was in a slightly higher tier, but the gap has widened significantly. The Sooners have finished ranked 16th or better in the final AP poll in 9 of the 10 years since then, while Nebraska hasn’t done it even once. These programs obviously don’t match up nearly as well as they did even 11 years ago, but that won’t dampen the enthusiasm for this game. It’s going to be great to get these teams back on the same field.
The key matchup: Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler vs. Nebraska’s defense
Spencer Rattler is projected by many to be the top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Should that scare Nebraska? Not really. Rattler has been very good, but I think part of the hype surrounding him is that he was a top recruit and now is playing in a system under Lincoln Riley that has produced 3 starting QBs in the NFL (Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts). Rattler, though, does have bad games. He threw 2 interceptions against Tulane in the season opener this year, and he threw 3 INTs in a loss to Kansas State early last season.
Besides, Nebraska’s defense has certainly improved over the last few years, as it is an above-average unit that isn’t going to lose the game for the Huskers. They are allowing just 13.3 points per game this season and have held 7 straight opponents under 400 yards. If Nebraska can get a few takeaways (and not have them negated by penalties), it will hang around.
The big question: Will Adrian Martinez make enough plays for Nebraska to keep up?
It seems like that is always the question for Nebraska in big games. With Nebraska’s top weapons outside of Samori Toure banged up against Buffalo, Martinez single-handedly willed the Huskers to victory. Nebraska definitely needs one of its backs (Markese Stepp, Gabe Ervin Jr. or Rahmir Johnson) to have a big day, because it’s asking an awful lot of Martinez to lead the team in rushing, even though he often does.
Oklahoma is a national title contender for a reason. Aside from just having a superstar QB, the Sooners have much more depth than Nebraska. While the Huskers may hang around early, I think Oklahoma will wear them down in the second half.
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Oklahoma 38, Nebraska 21
Maryland (-7.5) at Illinois
This is the lone B1G game this week, and it’s on Friday night. Is something weird about to happen? I don’t think so. These programs are going in opposite directions, as Illinois’ win over Nebraska in Week 0 seems like a lifetime ago. Since then, the Illini have lost to UTSA at home and by 28 to Virginia. Brennan Armstrong torched the Illini secondary to the tune of 405 yards and 5 TDs, so Taulia Tagovailoa has to be licking his chops at this opportunity. It’s early, but Tagovailoa could be the B1G’s best QB, and the Illini have the B1G’s worst defense.
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Maryland 41, Illinois 21
Michigan State at No. 24 Miami (FL) (-6.5)
I’m surprisingly intrigued by this one. I’ll admit, I was wrong about Michigan State (2-0), which has played as well as any team in the Big Ten outside of Iowa and Penn State. And Miami (1-1) hasn’t looked great either, getting blown out by Alabama and sneaking by Appalachian State. RB Kenneth Walker III has been as impactful as any B1G transfer thus far, and QB Payton Thorne has looked good. Did I just talk myself into picking Michigan State? Yes, yes I did.
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Michigan State 31, Miami 28
No. 8 Cincinnati (-4) at Indiana
Simply put, Indiana has to play better than it has through 2 games in order to pull the upset. Especially on offense. Michael Penix Jr. hasn’t played nearly as well as he did the last 2 years. His 4.77 yards per attempt is 117th nationally. This is a terrific Cincinnati defense that is allowing only 260 yards per game and last year finished 4th nationally in yielding just 4.57 yards per play. Indiana’s defense should be good enough to keep the Hoosiers in the game, but it will come down to whether Penix can deliver in big games in the way he has in the past.
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Cincinnati 27, Indiana 21
Northern Illinois at No. 25 Michigan (-27)
Eventually, Michigan (2-0) will need to unleash Cade McNamara so he’s ready in big games. So far, the Wolverines haven’t needed him even a little. They are averaging only 16 pass attempts per game, which is 127th nationally and ahead of only the service academies (Navy, Air Force and Army). Why not unleash him a little bit in this one? Ronnie Bell’s season-ending injury probably has something to do with it, but Michigan has clearly tried to reshape its identity after last year’s dud of a season. Northern Illinois (1-1) won’t be a pushover, as it has an early win against Georgia Tech.
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Michigan 38, Northern Illinois 17
Minnesota at Colorado (-3)
I wasn’t surprised that Minnesota had to scratch and claw its way to a win against Miami (OH). Even in 2019, when Minnesota started 9-0, the Gophers never won by more than 1 score until the 5th game of the season. The Buffs surprisingly hung with No. 5 Texas A&M and only lost 10-7 after QB Haynes King left due to injury. Colorado seems to overachieve under head coach Karl Dorrell, as it went 4-2 last season. Minnesota, though, may be the B1G’s most resilient program. It weathered all kinds of COVID adversity last year and already has found a way to play without injured star RB Mohamed Ibrahim.
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Minnesota 21, Colorado 20
Purdue at No. 12 Notre Dame (-11.5)
This is a potential upset alert that no one would have flagged in the preseason. But Purdue (2-0) has looked good in knocking off Oregon State and UConn, while Notre Dame (2-0) struggled against a Florida State team that just lost to Jacksonville State and then needed a late TD to survive Toledo’s upset bid.
The Irish are averaging just 2.7 yards per carry, which is surprising because Kyren Williams is supposed to be one of the best backs in college football. If the Boilermakers can find a way to stop star tight end Michael Mayer, they have a shot. This game will be a great indicator of what lies ahead for Purdue in 2021.
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Notre Dame 31, Purdue 24
Delaware at Rutgers
Rutgers (2-0) has barely had to break a sweat offensively, as it won last week with just 195 total yards. The Scarlet Knights have forced 7 turnovers and put the offense into great spots. Playing against FCS Delaware (2-0) is a nice spot for Noah Vedral and the Rutgers offense to get in gear before Big Ten play starts with Michigan and Ohio State.
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Rutgers 49, Delaware 6
Kent State at No. 5 Iowa (-23)
After an early-season gauntlet, Iowa (2-0) gets a bit of a reprieve with a MAC opponent in Kent State (1-1). Dustin Crum came into this season as one of the top Group of 5 QBs, but he hasn’t gotten off to a sterling start thanks to a tough outing at Texas A&M. Let’s see if Spencer Petras can build some confidence in this one, because the Hawkeyes will eventually need their QB to make plays.
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Iowa 34, Kent State 13
Tulsa at No. 9 Ohio State (-24.5)
The Buckeyes (1-1) aren’t in any danger of losing to Tulsa, even if the Golden Hurricane (0-2) only lost to Oklahoma State by 5. But I think everyone in Columbus just wants to see a more complete performance after last week’s loss to Oregon in which they allowed the Ducks to run for over 7 yards per carry. It will be interesting to see what kind of adjustments Ohio State makes, but it will be hard to judge the effectiveness against a non-Power 5 opponent.
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Ohio State 49, Tulsa 14
Northwestern (-3) at Duke
Northwestern (1-1) is obviously a much better program than Duke (1-1), but here’s what should worry Pat Fitzgerald: Duke ran for 352 yards at 8 yards per carry in its loss to Charlotte, and Northwestern yielded 326 to Michigan State at 8.8 yards per carry. That’s not a great combination. Northwestern’s offense was stuck in the mud, and it may need to put up some more points this week than the 24 it scored against Indiana State.
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Northwestern 27, Duke 21
No. 22 Auburn at No. 10 Penn State (-5)
This is a big one. White Out, national TV in primetime, 2 ranked teams, conference supremacy, tons of recruits visiting and watching. Now we have all the chatter about James Franklin and USC. The question obviously is about whether Penn State (2-0) can come out and put all that aside and play the type of focused, mistake-free football it has through 2 weeks. The Nittany Lions were 113th nationally in turnover margin last year, and flipping that around this year has been a key in their great start.
Auburn QB Bo Nix has struggled on the road during his career, finishing 93rd nationally in 2019 in QB rating on the road and 99th last season. We don’t really know much about Auburn (2-0) yet because it has played only Akron and Alabama State, but racking up 680 rushing yards and only allowing 67 is impressive, regardless of opponent. Penn State has the athletes to control the line of scrimmage, but it has struggled to establish its run game thus far.
We know WR Jahan Dotson is good for a game-breaking play or 2; can RB Noah Cain deliver a few as well? In a game like this, your stars have to shine.
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Penn State 24, Auburn 20
Week 2 record: 13-1 straight-up / 10-4 vs. spread
Season record: 21-4 straight-up / 15-9-1 vs. spread