Big Ten Report - Week 1
August 27, 2014
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GAME OF THE WEEK
Wisconsin (+5) vs. LSU - Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET (Houston, TX)
The Badgers named Tanner McEvoy the starting QB for this game and he will make his first career FBS start at QB against the Tigers of LSU. To help ease McEvoy's nerves is Heisman hopeful RB Melvin Gordon (1,609 yards, 12 TD in 2013) and a veteran offensive line that returns four of five starters. UW's offense will be going against an inexperienced, albeit very talented, LSU defense. The Badgers proved that they can trade punches with SEC-level defenses in last year's Capital One Bowl against South Carolina when they rushed for 293 yards (6.8 YPC). LSU also has a bit of inexperience on the offensive side where sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris will split snaps at QB. They also lost their top rusher and top three receivers from 2013. The Tigers are counting on three freshman to fill that void, most notably #1 recruit RB Leonard Fournette - who has been getting rave reviews at fall camp. The Badgers have won 16 straight season openers and have won 43 of the last 46 regular season non-conference games since 2002 - the 2nd best winning percentage over that span to none other than LSU (45-0 since 2002). Wisconsin is 6-2 ATS last eight games as an underdog of 3.5 points or more and of their 14 losses since the beginning of 2011, only one of those has been by more than seven points. LSU has opened four of the last five seasons at a neutral site and they are 3-0 ATS against three ranked teams, winning by an average of 10 PPG.
BEST OF THE REST
Minnesota vs. Eastern Illinois - Thursday, 7:00 p.m. ET
The Gophers finished with eight wins in 2013, their most since winning seven in 2008. It ended with a bit of a sour taste as Minnesota dropped its final three games against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and the bowl game against Syracuse. Eight starters return on offense and seven return on defense as the Gophers try to get over the hump in 2014. Rushing the ball appears to be their strength heading into 2014. Top RB David Cobb (1,202 rush yards, 7 TD) is back along with a stable of capable backups (Jeff Jones, Berkley Edwards, Donnell Kirkwood). QB Mitch Leidner is also a threat to run as he added 407 rush yards and 7 TD. Eastern Illinois will also try to win the battle of the trenches with RB's Shepard Little and Taylor Duncan, who combined for 2,539 rushing yards in 2013 (2nd in FCS). The Gophers lost to FCS South Dakota in 2010 and FCS North Dakota State in 2011, so they know not to take these games lightly. They've handled business the last two years against FCS opponents, beating New Hampshire and Western Illinois by a combined score of 73-19. Minnesota is 16-3 the last 19 home openers while EIU is coming off of a 12-2 campaign.
Rutgers (+8) at Washington State - Thursday, 10:00 p.m. ET (Seattle, WA)
Rutgers will be playing its first ever game as a member of the Big Ten Conference on Thursday. Rutgers is seeking its first ever win against a school from the Pac-12. The Knights are 0-4 all-time against the Pac-12, with the last game in 2005 to Arizona State in the Inisght Bowl. Rutgers is just 9-5 in season openers since 2000. Last year they lost to Fresno State, 51-52. The Knights finished 6-7 in 2013, losing the Pinstripe Bowl to Notre Dame. On paper, this team should be much better in 2014. They return their top QB, RB, WR, all five OL, and top four defenders from a year ago. Washington State owns a 13-22-1 record against the Big Ten Conference but the Cougs haven't beaten a FBS foe to start a season since 2005 (Idaho). Washington State has played six games at Century Link Field (home of the Seattle Seahawks) since 2008. The Cougs are 0-6 in those games, losing by an average of 24 PPG. WSU made its first bowl appearance since 2003 last year in the New Mexico Bowl. The Cougars ended the 2013 campaign 6-7 overall. Head coach Mike Leach has installed his vaunted “Air Raid” offense for the Cougars and the results have been impressive. Washington State led the nation last season in pass attempts and completions while ranking fourth nationally with 4,784 passing yards. Senior QB Connor Halliday threw for 4,597 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2013 - ranking third nationally in yards and tied for seventh in touchdowns. On defense, Washington State struggled in 2013. The Cougars yielded 458 YPG (103rd nationally) and 32.5 PPG in 2013.
Michigan State vs. Jacksonville State - Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET
This will be a bit of a dress-rehearsal for Michigan State as they prepare for the September 6th trip to Autzen Stadium to play Oregon. All but one of Michigan State's 13 2013 victories came by 10 points or more (4-point Rose Bowl win over Stanford is the lone outlier). Michigan State’s defense is replacing six starters, but coming off a season in which it was the top-rated defense in the Big Ten for the third straight season and finished the season ranked No. 2 in the country in total defense. Michigan State was the only school in the country to rank among the top three in total defense, rushing defense, scoring defense and pass defense. After the Braxton Miller injury was revealed, experts are now tabbing these Spartans as the Big Ten favorite. They'll get their 2014 campaign started this Friday against the Gamecocks of Jacksonville State. Jacksonville State finished 11-4 last year and advanced to the 3rd round of the FCS playoffs. The Spartans have won 15 straight home openers by an average of 21.3 PPG. This will be the Spartans' fifth game against an FCS foe since 2009. They are 4-0, winning by an average score of 43-8.
Penn State (+1) at Central Florida - Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET (Dublin, Ireland)
The early risers will be treated with one of the top Big Ten games of the day as Penn State faces Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland. Penn State will usher in a new era with head coach James Franklin making his debut. Franklin previously served at HC at Vanderbilt, leading the Commodores to back-to-back nine win seasons. QB Hackenberg was the Big Ten freshman of the year in 2013, but will have his work cut out for him here as his top WR and 4/5 of the offensive line have to be replaced. It won't be a easy task here in week one against reigning AAC champ UCF. Central Florida is off of a 12-1 campaign in 2013 which ended in a 52-42 Fiesta Bowl win over Big 12 champion, Baylor. The Golden Knights lost QB Blake Bortles (3rd overall pick in NFL Draft) and leading rusher Storm Johnson. Coach George O'Leary named redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo the team's starting QB. The top three receivers return, which will help aid the transition for DiNovo, along with nine starters on a very stout defense (29th in total defense in 2013). Penn State was a 4.5 point favorite when these two met in week one last year. UCF built a 28-10 lead in the 2nd half and a PSU rally fell short as the Knights pulled off the upset, 34-31.
Ohio State (-14) at Navy - Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET (Baltimore, MD)
The line on this game went down from -17 to -12 after and the total dropped from 63 to 55.5 after the news broke on OSU QB Braxton Miller. The line is now sitting at -14 as the Buckeyes prepare for a season without star QB Miller, ushering in freshman JT Barrett. Coach Urban Meyer has praised Barrett's accuracy and athleticism, but in all likelihood the Buckeyes will not be nearly as explosive without Miller at the helm. After winning 24 consecutive regular season games, the Buckeyes have dropped two straight - losing both the Big Ten Championship and Bowl game. They look to start a new streak on Saturday against Navy in Baltimore, MD. It will be a brand new look for the Buckeyes on offense, who are without their top QB, RB, WR, and 4/5 of the offensive line from 2013. Urban Meyer has recruited well enough that there is immense talent on this roster, but with it comes inexperience. The defense lost its top three tacklers from 2013, but returns arguably the best front four in the nation. Three of them - Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, and Michael Bennett - are all potential All-Americans. They'll be leaned upon in this game against Navy's rushing attack that averaged 325 rush YPG in 2013. The triple-option attack is tricky to prepare for, but OSU has enough speed on defense to limit its effectiveness. OSU is 2-0 the last two meetings with Navy (the last meeting was in '09). The Bucks were a double-digit favorite in both meetings but failed to cover in both, winning by just four & three points. Ohio State is 0-3 SU & ATS in its last three neutral site games. Navy is 14-7 ATS in its last 21 games as an underdog of two touchdowns or more.
Michigan (-34.5) vs. Appalachian State - Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET
The Wolverines open the season against foe they'd like to exact some revenge against. In 2007 the Mountaineers traveled to Ann Arbor and pulled off the unthinkable: an upset of 5th ranked Michigan in the Wolverines' home opener. It was the first win by an FCS school over a ranked FBS foe in history. This will be the first meeting since that game and though the Michigan program has drastically changed, you can bet that the school & fans would like to see some redemption. Michigan is 21-3 in its last 24 home openers. The Wolverines are 16-0 SU & 11-5 ATS the last five years at home vs. non-conference foes. Michigan is 3-8 ATS in its last 11 games as a favorite of 25 points or more.
Purdue (-11) vs. Western Michigan - Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET
The Boilermakers look to end a 10-game losing streak against Western Michigan on Saturday. Purdue's lone win came in September last year against FCS Indiana State before dropping 10 straight by an average margin of 24.8 PPG. Purdue gets a solid chance of ending that losing streak here against WMU, who also finished with a 1-11 record last season. Purdue, on paper, should trot out a much improved team. They return sophomore QB Etling, who flashed greatness at times last season (10 TD, 7 INT as a freshman). Also returning is leading RB Hunt, the top eight receivers, and seven starters on defense. Purdue is 3-0 all-time against WMU. The last meeting with the Broncos was in the 2011 Little Caesars Bowl (Purdue W, 37-32). Though Purdue has won 10 straight home openers, the Boilermakers are just 3-9 ATS last 12 home games overall. They are also just 11-17 ATS in the last 28 games as a favorite of 10 points or more. Western Michigan is 5-10-1 ATS in its last 16 as an underdog of 10 points or more.
Illinois vs. Youngstown State - Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET
This is the first meeting between the two schools. Illinois enters the season under 3rd year head coach Tim Beckman, whom many believe is on the hot seat. Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt will start at QB. Lunt sat out last year per transfer rules after winning the starting job at OK State as a true freshman. Lunt, along with talented RB Josh Ferguson, should give the Illini one of the better offensive units they've had here in a while. The defense returns eight starters to a unit that really struggled in 2013 - allowed 482 YPG and 35.4 PPG. The Illini have won 16 straight home openers by an average of 25 PPG. Illinois is 10-0 the last 11 seasons vs. FCS opponents with the average score 43-13. Youngstown State finished 8-4 last year, and that included a 55-17 loss to fellow Big Ten member, Michigan State. YSU has faced six Big Ten schools since 2006 and is 0-6 SU, losing by an average of 33.2 PPG.
Indiana vs. Indiana State - Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET
The Hoosiers had no problem moving the rock on offense last year, averaging 509 YPG and 38.4 PPG. Eight starters return, including the top QB & RB, and all five starting offensive lineman. This offense will again be a force to be reckoned with, but the defense will decide the Hoosiers fate in 2014. This unit was abysmal in 2013 as it allowed 38.8 PPG and 528 YPG. Nine starters return, so there's expected improvement, we just don't know how much. Indiana is 5-0 all-time against ISU, outscoring the Sycamores 216-62. ISU finished just 1-11 last year, but has had some recent success against Big Ten opponents. Indiana State has faced four B1G squads since 2011. They are 3-1 ATS in those meetings, nearly pulling off upsets in 2012 (17-24 L to Indiana) and 2013 (14-20 L to Purdue). Indiana is 6-4 SU & 4-6 ATS in the last 10 home games against non-conference foes (lost to Navy & Missouri in 2013).
Iowa vs. Northern Iowa - Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET
Iowa is 15-1 all time against their in-state FCS foe with the lone loss coming in 1898. The last two meetings have been close, however, with Iowa escaping in 2009 (W 17-16) and 2012 (W 27-16). Iowa players know not to overlook the Panthers; "They’re not a typical team from that level," said defensive tackle Carl Davis. “Typical teams from that level don’t go to Wisconsin and play them toe to toe or go to Iowa State and win. We know what we’re getting into." Northern Iowa returns 18 starters from 2013, including preseason all-American RB David Johnson. The Hawkeyes are a trendy pick to come out of the Big Ten West division this year as they have a veteran QB, really strong offensive line, and a stable of capable running backs. Iowa has dropped back-to-back home openers (L to Iowa State in 2012 and L to Northern Illinois in 2013) and is 0-4 ATS over the last four years. The Hawkeyes are just 3-6-1 ATS the last 10 non-conference games. Over the last four years, Northern Iowa is 3-0-1 ATS in four games against FBS foes. That includes a near upset at Wisconsin in 2012 (L 21-26).
Northwestern (-11) vs. California - Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Northwestern looks to bounce back after a disastrous 2013 season that saw the program lose seven of the final eight games after a 4-0 start. The 2014 campaign hasn't gotten off to a promising start as the Wildcats recently lost two of its top playmakers on offense as top WR Christian Jones was lost to a season ending knee injury and top RB Venric Mark decided to transfer. They do return eight starters on defense and figure to be better than the unit that allowed 427 YPG and 27 PPG. They'll be tested early here as they face Cal and Sonny Dykes' spread offense that averaged 454 YPG in 2013. Despite successful offensive numbers, the Bears struggled to a 1-11 record in '13. Defensively they allowed a staggering 530 YPG and 45.9 PPG. Their five top defenders return, which is a start in the right direction, but this unit is still far from being considering "good." These two met in week one of 2013. Northwestern won by 14 as a -5.5 point favorite at Cal in a game full of fireworks. Both combined for 1,057 total yards and 74 points. The Wildcats used two interception returns for TD in the 2nd half to pull away from the Bears. Northwestern is just 10-21 ATS in its last 31 games as a favorite of 9.5 points or more.
Nebraska (-23) vs. Florida Atlantic - Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
The Huskers open up the season with a home game against the Owls of Florida Atlantic. Nebraska returns Heisman hopeful RB Ameer Abdullah (1,690 rush yards, 9 TD in 2013) and a defense that returns its top five defenders. That defense will have to deal with FAU dual-threat QB Jaquez Johnson, who tallied 1,876 pass yards, 772 rush yards, and 22 total TD in 2013. The Owls don't have much talent outside of Johnson, so expect the Huskers to pay a lot of attention to the junior signal-caller. Florida Atlantic is on a current 17-5 ATS run over its last 22 games. They've had a handful of games against marquee schools over the past three seasons and the Owls haven't fared well. In road games against Florida, Michigan State, Auburn (2x), Georgia, Alabama, and Miami; FAU is 0-7 SU & 4-3 ATS - losing by an average score of 41-9. In the only prior meeting (2009), Nebraska won 49-3 but had just 132 more yards. FAU missed a FG, had three turnovers, and was stopped on downs twice. The Huskers haven't lost a home opener since 1985. They are 7-3 ATS in the last 10 home openers, winning by an average of 30.2 PPG. They have been very valuable as a heavy favorite, covering eight of the last nine as a favorite of 20-points or more.
Maryland vs. James Madison - Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Maryland will make its debut as a member of the B1G conference in a home date with FCS James Madison. The Terps feature a veteran-heavy squad. Sixth year QB CJ Brown leads the way as Maryland returns its top four rushers, top five receivers, and 13 of the top 15 defenders from 2013. Perhaps most importantly, the Terps get WR's Stefon Diggs and Deon Long back after both suffered season-ending leg injuries in 2013. Diggs and Long are two of the top playmakers on the team and completely change the way Maryland performs on offense. Maryland is 15-1 in the last 16 home openers, with 8 straight wins by 18 PPG. The Terps are 2-0 all-time against James Madison, but did deal with a big of trouble in the last game in 2009 - needing overtime to beat JMU, 38-35.
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