Five Big Ten teams will be in action before we even get to the first full Saturday of college football. Here's a quick look at what you need to know about those games. Two of them, involving West Division teams, could get pretty interesting.
Or they won’t, which could also be telling. We’ll hit the rest of the conference slate on Friday.
South Dakota State at Minnesota (-13.5) | Thurs., 8 p.m., FS1
The Gophers get things going for the Big Ten with a tricky game against South Dakota State, the third-ranked team in the preseason FCS poll. A few online sports books have a line for this game and it opened at Minnesota -12.5, so this isn't your typical FCS v. FBS walk-through. The Gophers return pretty much everything on offense while the Jacks have to replace some key pieces. I'll be very interested in how Minnesota looks here. Don't know if this changes your rooting interest at all, but South Dakota State has two Nebraskans among its six captains, defensive end Ryan Earith and fullback Luke Sellers, both of Papillion.
Tulsa at Michigan State (-23) | Fri., 6 p.m., FS1
Let's see that ever so slightly reworked Michigan State offense in action! After averaging 18.7 points per game last season (126th), Mark Dantonio opted to simply move the furniture around rather than make any big staff changes. Tulsa's game notes tout the fact that the Golden Hurricane ranked eighth against the pass last year and that's true from a yards per game standpoint, but Tulsa faced the eighth-fewest passes in the country (because opponents could run at well). In terms of yards per play, the pass defense ranked 40th. Not terrible, and the Golden Hurricane do have eight starters back on defense, but you've got to be able to stop the run against the Spartans. This one probably isn't going to tell us a whole lot, blowout or not. Michigan State has a habit of playing close in openers against lower competition.
Wisconsin (-12.5) at USF | Fri., 6 p.m., ESPN
Paul Chryst opted for experience in selecting Jack Coan to start at quarterback in the Badgers' opener. Probably the smart and safe choice when you're on the road and have a Jonathan Taylor in the backfield. South Florida struggled mightily against the run last year allowing 5.63 yards per rush (not including sacks, 112th) and giving up an explosive run on 19% of the carries it defended (124th). Nothing about that seems like good news for the Bulls, particularly if the Badgers get back to badgering defense this year. USF’s best hope here might be a shootout.
Massachusetts at Rutgers (-15.5) | Fri., 6:15 p.m., BTN
After you've had your 15 minutes of Wisconsin or Michigan State, you can down to the business of watching real football as the Minutemen take on the Scarlet Knights. An hour before this game kicks off, Rutgers is conducting a reenactment of the first football game from 1869 on its practice field and it will feature "Rutgers theatre students dressed in late 1800s costumes." Can we watch that? Chris Ash has yet to announce who his starter is at quarterback, incumbent Artur Sitkowski or Texas Tech transfer McLane Carter, though signs point to Carter. UMass, meanwhile, is under the direction of new coach Walt Bell, a shining star in the coaching ranks a few years ago who is, well, not as shiny any more. Might be the only game Rutgers is favored in this season.
Purdue (-10.5) at Nevada | Fri., 8:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Behind Jacks-Gophers, this is the game that most intrigues me of the Big Ten weeknight slate. Purdue and Nevada were about equally accomplished on offense in terms of points per play (49th and 50th respectively in 2018). The Boilermakers return Rondale Moore, which is big freakin' deal, but are breaking in an almost entirely new offensive line. The Wolfpack was solid defensively last year at 0.365 points per play (same as Ohio State, which was 51st nationally) and ranked 11th with 103 tackles for loss. The line has been climbing up here in Purdue's favor, from -6.5 to -10.5, but if the Boilermakers' o-line struggles this one could get interesting. Nevada also returns the Mountain West's Freshman of the Year in running back Toa Taua.
The Grab Bag
- Jay Foreman on what his Blackshirt means to him. (Premium)
- Really good Lo-Down this week from Lauren West. If you want a detailed look at some key questions for the Huskers this season, here it is. Jacob Padilla also previews Nebraska’s outside hitters ahead of Friday’s opener.
- Caleb Tanner has confidence, quickness and a chance as Nebraska’s top outside linebacker for the opener.
- Greg Smith spoke with inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud about the start of the high school season in Nebraska.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.