Pickin' on the Big Ten
In partnership with NBC Sports Philadelphia
Are you sure?
Good. Can I admit now I didn't watch the Olympics at all last week?
Why would I, with the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year so quickly upon us? Why watch actual competition, real human drama, and the 43rd time-filler about strange things they eat in China when I could be hard at work trying to find out if 'Coastal Carolina' is a real university or just something they made up for a minor plot line on Dawson's Creek?
Really, to give the games in the first week of the season any thought at all is to give them more thought than they deserve. If you scratch real hard you might find half of a good game in the Big Ten this weekend. Of course, that's what I thought last year, and you know how that turned out. But what difference does it make? College football is back. Sort of. The really good games are a couple weeks off. But with most of the Midwest now getting the Big Ten Network, at least we'll be able to see these oh-so-compelling matchups.
ILLINOIS @ MISSOURI @ St. Louis
Last year this game snuck up on everyone, because we didn't realize that Illinois was Illinois and Mizzou was Mizzou, if you know what I mean. This year this game isn't hiding from anyone. It's one of only two opening-weekend matchups of two top 25 teams, and one of two Big Ten games involving two teams with a pulse.
It's no secret Illinois has more questions to answer than Mizzou, starting with "Can Juice Williams be effective without an established running game?" and continuing through "If you've got a great defensive end and a true shutdown corner, is that enough to say you have a good defense?" Mizzou is further along and more balanced than Illinois, though they had some defensive issues last year. The Tigers will take the momentum from their thorough disassembly of Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl and build on it with a flouncing of an Illinois team that already looks a little overrated.
|RASHARD KNOCK LIFE||13|
|STILL IN THE CHASE||28|
Or, in other words, Evansville.
The Hilltoppers and their run-wacky offense did pretty well in their first season in Division I-A the Football Bowl Subdivision, if you look past the fact that they only beat one team at the FBS level. Indiana, as we know, went to a bowl game for the first time since Kurt Cobain was still alive. As of now, it's not certain whether QB Kellen Lewis has regained his starting job. They won't need him to win this game, but IU needs great play from whomever is their QB if they want to get back to a bowl game.
MAINE @ IOWA
Because Kirk Ferentz used to be the head coach there, that's why.
Despite what many of us think, Maine is a real state and not just a mail drop for the L.L. Bean catalog. As such, it has, like, towns and universities and stuff. The University of Maine opened in 1868, relatively late for a college in New England. (By comparison, the University of Iowa is more than 20 years older.) Not surprisingly, forestry and marine science are among the school's strongest programs.
While the "maine" campus (heh) is located in Orono, six other regional campuses serve the educational needs of Down Easters. Maine doesn't have much of a tradition in football but has won two national titles in hockey.
Maine's best-known alumnus is Stephen King, so if the Hawkeyes do happen to win by more than 30 points or so, Kirk Ferentz can expect to find a barely-disguised version of himself being chased through the woods by a mysterious graffiti-collecting salesman (who may or may not be Beelzebub) for about 450 pages or so.
Philosophical question: If everybody and their dog circles a particular game in the deep preseason and says "Look out for the upset," and then the upset happens, is it really an upset?
And if the only reason everybody and their dog circles that game is because they're looking at the brand of the home team and not the team itself, aren't they all being more than a little bit silly?
Michigan has always been an estimable quantity in the Big Ten, but not this year. New coach, new scheme, pretty much new personnel--it's impossible to know just what you're getting with this year's Wolverines right now. So I dunno. I'll take Michigan, I guess. But I have no idea why. Maybe I figure they can't lose two home openers in a row.
|OUT-PLAY, OUT-WHIT, OUT WEST||23|
|WE HAVE NO IDEA HOW GOOD WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BE||28|
MICHIGAN STATE @ CALIFORNIA
Can we please stop pretending Cal is a really good football team? Every year they're the Pac 10's official Brightly Lit Dark Horse, and every year they seem to fall apart long before Thanksgiving. Fortunately, in week one, they've drawn an opponent who can hit them right where they ain't. Michigan State plays intense, physical football, and Cal is not well equipped for such Midwestern shenanigans. It'll be a close game, but Sparty will wear down the Bears by the end of the third quarter. Kind of makes you wonder if anybody's going to start calling Javon Ringer a "system running back."
|READY FOR OUR 15 MINUTES||27|
|14:59 AND NOT HOLDING||20|
The Large Hadron Collider goes online in about two weeks. This massive particle accelerator lies on the border between France and Switzerland and can accelerate subatomic particles to near the speed of light. Scientists hope that the collisions produced in the LHC will provide them with proof of the existence of the Higgs boson, the "missing link" in the standard model of physics. Critics fear that the LHC might create miniature black holes, tiny little rifts in the time-space continuum that could open wormholes into the future, or into alternate parallel universes.
It would take a Large Hadron Collider the size of Australia to open up a wormhole to the parallel universe where this is a compelling football game.
|KILL OR BE KILLED||16|
|MATCHING LAST SEASON'S OUTPUT||33|
SYRACUSE @ NORTHWESTERN
Remember, Northwestern lost to Duke last year. Anything is possible.
I mean, Syracuse can't be as bad as they were last year. Right?
Wrong. They could be worse. And Northwestern could be dangerous, if they start playing defense.
|SCHOOL WITH A GOOD JOURNALISM PROGRAM||7|
|OTHER SCHOOL WITH A GOOD JOURNALISM PROGRAM||31|
That's not the number of points I expect Ohio State to score. That's the number of seconds I expect to elapse before Terrelle Pryor gets into the game.
|IF WE JOINED THE SEC, WOULD WE HAVE A CHANCE?||0|
|PRETTY HATE MACHINE||66|
COASTAL CAROLINA @ PENN STATE
When I saw this on the schedule I thought it had to be a misprint. Coastal Carolina? Is this a leftover first-round matchup from March Madness?
Then I realized Penn State was playing, so it couldn't be.
|JOEPA BUILT THIS WHOLE JOINT FOR YOU, CAROLINA||10|
|THAT'S "JEHOVAH," WHO WAS A CLASSMATE OF MINE||45|
AKRON @ WISCONSIN
If any Zips fans are making the trip to Madtown, be sure to check out the Dane County Farmer's Market down on Capitol Square. It'll be the most fun you have all day, I'm sure.
|THE ACADEMIC BEACON OF SOUTHWESTERN NORTHEASTERN OHIO||6|
|DON'T LAUGH, WE'RE THE ONLY THING STANDING BETWEEN OSU AND ANOTHER TRIP TO THE TITLE GAME||48|
Next week's games!
- Eastern Illinois @ Illinois: I could watch this, but ...
- Murray State @ Indiana: It's a nice day to paint the fence ...
- Florida International @ Iowa: Or walk the dog, repeatedly ...
- Fake Miami @ Michigan: Possibly organize the garage ...
- Eastern Michigan @ Michigan State: Maybe alphabetize the bookshelves ...
- Minnesota @ Bowling Green: Maybe go salt slugs in the garden ...
- Northwestern @ Duke: Perhaps the bowling alley has an open lane ...
- Ohio @ Ohio State: "Honey, is there anything around the house you need me to do?"
- Oregon State @ Penn State: NOTICE: ACTUAL FOOTBALL GAME
- Northern Colorado @ Purdue: "Okay, hon, I'm gonna go play in traffic now ..."
- Marshall @ Wisconsin: "... have you seen my blindfold?"
Comments? Questions? Concerns? Need this column translated into English? You can reach Mark at pickbigten at gmail dot com.