Pickin' on the Big Ten, Week 2
It wasn't hard to see that Michigan had a shot at winning and winning big. UConn's defense was just average last season, becoming much worse than average against pretty good teams. I thought Denard Robinson looked better than Tate Forcier last season and expected him to have a big game once the offense was his. The only place where I thought I was out on the ice was in expecting that Greg Robinson's defense would improve from his first year to his second. The jury's still out on that one, I guess.
I figured a 10-point lead would force the Huskies out of their offensive game plan, making them throw the ball more than they wanted to. I also didn't think UConn could run the ball as well without Andre Dixon to take some of the load off Jordan Todman. It just seemed to me like everyone was either giving UConn too much credit, or they weren't giving Michigan enough credit.
Now I know. Even Michigan fans didn't believe in their team. Hence, Rodriguez is deep in the weeds. In two seasons, the fans have come to expect that the Wolverines will lose winnable games until they have a new head coach. I understand all the reasons why they feel that way. But what if RichRod actually starts winning?
Right. The games.
Southern Illinois at Illinois
It was tempting to call for the upset here, but I just don't see it happening. Southern Illinois 28, Illinois 24.
Iowa State at Iowa
The Iowa State Cyclones frighten and confuse me. I watched most of their game with Northern Illinois last week. At times, the Clones looked like a team that could make some serious noise in the Big 12, with a defense that clamped down on NIU's playmakers and a solid quarterback in Austen Arnaud. Then, from one series to the next, they'd completely change personality. Defensive backs would hang back like the kid in right field who's more interested in watching bugs than playing baseball. Arnaud would throw passes that his receivers couldn't catch without a 14-foot butterfly net.
I've been observing ISU football for almost 30 years. It has always been like this.
Iowa showed a couple vulnerabilities against Eastern Illinois last week. A fake punt burned it badly. The ensuing uptempo drive clearly had the team flummoxed, leading to EIU's only score. The Hawkeyes still won by 30 points. This game won't be as easy, but these two teams are not in the same place. Iowa 31, Iowa State 13.
Michigan at Notre Dame
Brian Kelly's debut last week against Purdue was impressive. Purdue was a better team last season than its record indicated. Adding Robert Marve to the mix made the Boilermakers more powerful. The Irish played with a toughness that hadn't been seen in a while, looking markedly better on both sides of the ball. Michigan we've already discussed.
Defense will make the difference in this game. I think Notre Dame has made more progress on defense than Michigan has. I don't have huge confidence in this pick because Denard Robinson could always go nuts again, but I like the Irish in a squeaker. Notre Dame 30, Michigan 27.
Michigan State at Florida Atlantic
Remember a couple years ago when Florida Atlantic had a pretty good team that looked like it could evolve into a giant-killer? Good times. Michigan State 38, Florida Atlantic 14.
South Dakota at Minnesota
I would rather watch Art Garfunkel lick all the paint off of a freeway sign than watch this game. Minnesota 34, South Dakota 3.
Know Your Non-Conference Tomato Can: South Dakota
Nearly every state in the union has a public university with both a law school and a medical school. Of all of these universities, one of them has to be the smallest, and it's the University of South Dakota. There are just 9,600 students on the USD campus, located on the Missouri River in the far southeastern corner of the state. USD has been around since 1862, 27 years before South Dakota became a state.
The list of USD alumni includes every South Dakota politician ever. However, their best known alumnus is former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw. Just be aware that not everybody from South Dakota talks like that.
Illinois State at Northwestern
Fresh off a win over Vanderbilt in a game that was more thrilling than it should have been, the Wildcats return to Ryan Field to face Illinois State. The Redbirds are coming off a thrilling, confidence building 55-54 win over Central Missouri.
Or at least it would have been, but for the fact that Central Missouri is a Division II team. Northwestern 56, Illinois State 0.
Miami (the real one) at Ohio State
Both these teams beat up on badly overmatched opponents last week, which makes it difficult to gauge just where they are. Last season ended with Ohio State winning the Rose Bowl and Miami getting punked by Wisconsin, which helps explain why the Buckeyes are nine-point favorites in this game.
I'm not sure, but I think Miami quarterback Jacory Harris just might be better than the two guys who played quarterback for Marshall last week. They spent most of the game running for their lives and throwing incompletions. Harris should have considerably more success. The kid's a player.
Whether he'll have enough success is the real question. Ohio State can keep him off the field for unimaginably long stretches. Five different Buckeyes got at least five carries last week and four of them had runs of 12 yards or greater. There's an obvious difference between Marshall's defense and Miami's, though. I doubt the Canes are going to give up nearly 300 yards on the ground.
If the Buckeyes want to continue to be taken seriously as national title contenders and want Terrelle Pryor taken seriously as a Heisman candidate, they need a sound win here. Pryor needs to show what he can do against a quality non-conference opponent. More importantly, Ohio State needs to look impressive so Boise State doesn't leapfrog it in the polls. What is "a sentence no one could have written ten years ago," Alex? Ohio State 23, Miami 17.
Penn State at Alabama
Paterno! Saban! Bowden in the house! Along with the eerie spectre of a coach whose death almost 30 years ago might well be the reason why Paterno is still coaching and Florida State had to force Bowden into retirement! It's not just football, it's an encounter with the undead! Live on national TV!
Sorry. Guess I've been reading too many Penn State-Alabama articles this week.
As for the game itself, Penn State is just outmatched. If Mark Ingram doesn't play, then Penn State's Evan Royster will be the best running back on the field. Other than that, you would probably choose almost any 'Bama player over his Nittany Lion equivalent.
Yes, there are scenarios in which Penn State can pull off the upset. As soon as you come up with one that doesn't involve a Saturday morning outbreak of salmonella at Alabama's training table, let me know. Alabama 28, Penn State 10.
Western Illinois at Purdue
The loss at Notre Dame last week had to sting Danny Hope and his Boilermakers. Notre Dame was beatable. Robert Marve threw two interceptions, one of which led to an Irish touchdown and the other of which happened at Notre Dame's three yard line. That was the difference in the game, and it masked an otherwise fine performance by Marve.
This week Purdue gets to play at home against an FCS team that went 1-10 last season but won its opener against Valparaiso 45-0. Valpo, it must be noted, doesn't offer football scholarships. Purdue 48, Western Illinois 12.
San Jose State at Wisconsin
Cheer up, Spartan fans. You'll probably look a little better against the Badgers than you did last week against the Crimson Tide. Wisconsin 45, San Jose State 10.
Next week's games:
Northern Illinois at Illinois: Just how many teams in Illinois are better than the Illini, anyway?
Indiana at Western Kentucky: Or, in other words, Evansville
Iowa at Arizona: So many people have said Iowa could lose this game, there's no way it possibly can
Massachusetts at Michigan: Wolverines flaunt strong academics by choosing non-conference foes that are tough to spell
Notre Dame at Michigan State: Good candidate for BK's first loss, unless I'm wrong about this week
Southern Cal at Minnesota: USD last week, USC this week, followed by a USB port next week and all of America in two weeks; USB port currently a 3 1/2 point favorite
Northwestern at Rice: NU's nonconference schedule is so funny Dane Cook is working it into his act
Ohio at Ohio State: Who comes up with this stuff?
Kent State at Penn State: The same person who comes up with this stuff
Ball State at Purdue: And this stuff
Arizona State at Wisconsin: ASU possibly showing signs of life