It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites, which is a heckuva lot harder to write on an iPad in a plane. I’m traveling from Omaha to Atlanta to Houston and hopefully Saturday I’ll be at Kyle Field. But today let’s cover action a little closer to home, starting with the biggest non-conference weekend of the season for the Big Ten.
Reputations are hard to change without success in January, but it’s fair to say Sept. 14 will go a long way in shaping Big Ten perception this season. Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Penn State all face their toughest non-con test. If those four stay unbeaten, it doesn’t really matter what happens to Iowa or Illinois. But a league is more than its upper tier, so let’s set the bar: What’s the over/under on Big Ten wins Saturday? Before you answer, we should rank the games by order of national importance.
1. Ohio State-Cal: It would be nothing short of a disaster for the Big Ten to lose its only bona fide national title contender in Week 3.
2. Nebraska-UCLA: The Huskers can win back some skeptics who remember the wreck in Indy.
3. Wisconsin-Arizona State: A sneaky good game. Can’t wait to see if the Badgers can stop ASU’s offense.
4. Washington-Illinois: The Illini opened some eyes beating up Cincinnati. A win here would be gravy.
5. Notre Dame-Purdue: Face it, the Boilers stink. But a blowout on national TV never looks good.
6. Central Florida-Penn State: Each week we learn a little more about Christian Hackenberg.
7. Iowa-Iowa State: When is the last time Iowa played well? Michigan 2011?
8/9. Western Michigan-Northwestern and Akron-Michigan: Just don’t get anybody hurt.
10. Youngstown State-Michigan State: The Spartans are having such a hard time replacing Kirk Cousins, you’d think he was John Elway. Don’t take MSU seriously until it finds a QB.
11. Bowling Green-Indiana: The loss to Navy was a setback in Kevin Wilson’s renovation. Bowling Green is capable of prolonging the hangover.
12. Western Illinois-Minnesota: Blah.
If you’re scoring at home, that’s two easy wins, five games the Big Ten should win, three toss-ups (Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa) and two chances to steal one (Illinois, Purdue). Where should we set the bar? I say 9-3. That would be a great week, especially if the Huskers and Badgers sweep. If it’s 7-5 or worse, send Jim Delany a sympathy card.
>> Email from Josh: “I’ve got to get this on the record now because it seems like everyone I talk to is acting like a loss to UCLA is a foregone conclusion …….and therefore no big deal if they do lose, and a nice surprise if they win. If you lose at home to a West coast team at 11 AM, that is a HORRIBLE loss. Don’t let the low expectations lessen the blow. Or inflate the value of the win.”
I wouldn’t say “horrible” — depending on margin of victory, of course — but the fan expectations do seem a bit low this week. This is a game that a Top-20 team should win. The reason for potential glee, as I wrote Monday, is that a win Saturday basically ensures Nebraska of entering November undefeated. That hasn’t happened since 2001 (remarkably, the Huskers have made it to Halloween with less than two losses just three times, ’03, ’10 and ’11. In ’03 and ’11, they squashed the excitement by losing the first week of November.)
>> Chadron State got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity last night to play at Jerry World in the Division II game of the week against West Texas A&M. The Eagles scored on their first snap and held a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t hold it, losing 34-31. What is it about Nebraska teams and that building?
>> Three years after Cam Newton, the SEC is re-earning it’s outlaw image, Pat Forde writes.
>> The week before the biggest September game in recent memory, it’s clear that Texas A&M is better than it’s ever been, George Schroeder writes.
>> The 10 most-hyped regular-season games of the past decade. The SEC isn’t No. 1!
>> I admire Bill Belichick’s record, but surrounding Tom Brady with this cast of receivers is downright arrogant. If you don’t want to re-sign Wes Welker, fine. But you knew Danny Amendola and Gronk were injury risks. You gotta give Tom Brady somebody. Wonder how long before Ochocinco’s agent reminds Belichick that his client is available.
>> We know where the Patriots went cheap this year. But at what positions do NFL teams like to spend their money? A cool team-by-team breakdown from USA Today.
>> Nine black quarterbacks started in the NFL last week. And many more are on the way. The Big Lead looks at a trend long overdue.
>> We’re not Kansas City, but I know plenty of Nebraskans who follow their sports teams. So how’s this for a weekend in September: the Cowboys are coming to Arrowhead for the home opener. The Royals, meanwhile, are in Detroit trying to close within 2 games of the wild card. Is it possible KC could produce two playoff teams this fall? Nah.
>> Speaking of Royals, Alex Gordon is having a strange and historic year at the plate.
>> Put me on record for Nebraska 38, UCLA 31. The alternate jerseys move to 2-0. Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.