Hot Reads: Big Ten Saturday Slate Ain't Great
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: Big Ten Saturday Slate Ain’t Great, But It’s Football

August 30, 2019

The Big Ten is 1-0 on the season. Barely.

Minnesota survived South Dakota State 28-21 thanks to two second-half takeaways (though they were much more of the giveaway variety) that led to 15 points. The Jacks outrushed the Gophers by 2 yards per play (5.1 to 3.1) and had more first downs (23-17), but football is like that sometimes. It was a rough night for a Minnesota squad that earned some offseason buzz, but . . .

https://twitter.com/brandonlvogel/status/1167287052527910912

As you’ll see with what’s below, this isn’t a great opening slate for Big Ten teams. Does that diminish how excited I am for football to be back? Not one bit.

Three more conference teams play tonight, and here’s a quick look at all of the Big Ten action on Saturday.

Akron at Illinois (-18) | 11 a.m., BTN

These potentially ugly Week 1 games are extra important for a handful of teams. Illinois is one of those. If the Illini have any bowl hopes this season, going 3-0 in nonconference play is pretty much required. If this line holds at -18 it will be the largest spread in favor of the Illini since Illinois was a 33-point favorite over Murray State to open 2016. This is Tom Arth's first game as head coach at Akron. He's an inspiring lower-division hire, but there's a lot of work to do for the Zips.

Ball State at Indiana (-17.5) | 11 a.m., CBS Sports Network

Almost everything I said above about bowl eligibility applies here as well (with almost the same line). Indiana has finished 5-7 the past two seasons and that involved going 3-0 in nonconferege games both years. Hoosiers coach Tom Allen gave the starting QB job to Michael Penix Jr. over Peyton Ramsey, Indiana's starter the past two years and the NCAA's active leader in completion percentage. Penix may not be as accurate, but he brings a rushing element that could be big for Indiana in the long run.

Florida Atlantic at Ohio State (-27.5) | 11 a.m., FOX

Lane! In The Horseshoe! That sounds fun on its own, but the real intrigue here will be getting a look at Ryan Day's Ohio State and quarterback Justin Fields. Reports out of Buckeyes camp were that the defense impressed for most of August. The Owls might offer something of a test early on, but don't get it confused––this game is largely a showcase for a new Ohio State and everyone will (over)react accordingly.

Howard at Maryland (-29.5) | 11 a.m., BTN

I have no real idea what to expect from Maryland this season. They're talented, but Mike Locksley's track record as a head coach ain't great. That said, the Terps are nearly a 30-point favorite, so in terms of reading anything into the Terps this game doesn't offer a ton of upside. Howard is almost certainly the worst team any Big Ten team will play this week.

Northwestern at Stanford (-6.5) | 3 p.m., FOX

On paper, this is the biggest Big Ten game on Saturday. This feels like a pretty good spot for Northwestern; on the road, little respect after winning the division last year and an opposing style of football that shouldn't make the Wildcats too uncomfortable. The Big Ten doesn't have much of a chance to impress in Week 1, but Northwestern could win a little glory for the league with a win here.

Idaho at Penn State (-39.5) | 2:30 p.m., BTN

This game is on BTN, but it would probably be a better fit on Shudder because it's going to be bloody for the Vandals. I guess we'll get a look at new Lions QB Sean Clifford, so that's worth something, but I doubt he'll be seen much in the second half. If Idaho scores twice on this Penn State defense––and I would count two field goals here as that would mean Idaho was in field goal range twice––it will be a massive success.

Miami (OH) at Iowa (-22) | 6:30 p.m., FS1

Consider me mildly intrigued by this one. After winning five total games between 2013 and 2015, the RedHawks are 17-20 over the last three seasons. They're at least a competent football team now. Iowa should still be too much for them, but I wouldn't be surprised if its close enough at halftime that you say, "Huh, Iowa's only up X?" I'll be keeping a close eye on the Hawkeyes’ ground game. It faded a bit over the past two seasons, but I think Iowa's going to need it this year.

Middle Tennessee State at Michigan (-34.5) | 6:30 p.m., BTN

It's not like the competition is that stiff, but Middle Tennessee should end up being one of the better teams a Big Ten squad faces in this less-than-impressive Week 1. It's not going to matter here, however. The Blue Raiders are one of just 12 teams that returns less than 50% of its total production from last season. It's almost an entirely new team and Michigan's new (what-took-you-so-long-to-get-here) spread attack will probably do whatever it wants.

The Grab Bag

  • Scott Frost called center Cameron Jurgens a “game-changer” last week. Derek Peterson asked Greg Austin and Trent Hixson about what makes Jurgen’s so valuable. (Premium)
  • Speaking of Hixson, he’ll be making his first start on Saturday, too. Jacob Padilla has more on the Huskers’ latest walk-on success story. (Premium)
  • Mike Babcock revisits the bizarre player pass scandal of 1986 in this week’s Tom’s Time.

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