Week three is the last week before conference action beg1ns. With few opportunities for a statement win, the conference has more to lose than to gain against these preconference foes. Here are our predictions and predilections for this week-to-get-through.
Illinois (2-0) @ #22 South Florida (2-0) -18
Plainly, no one is talking about the biggest upset of the season so far: Illinois’s 13-point victory over Western Kentucky. Sure, the Hilltoppers lost their coach to Purdue, but Jeff Brohm’s 2016 WKU team won 11 games. On Saturday, they lost by 13 to one of the worst teams this century.
For proof, we offer the line from that game: WKU -7.5. The Illini blew that out of the sportsbook. We would imbed highlights of that game, but Illinois is so revolting that watching their games in any form makes us wretch. The commercials are the best part of an Illinois game — Big Ten Network commercials, no less.
On the flipside, USF wasn’t able to practice earlier this the week because of Irma damage. Well, the Bulls have met their match in Lovie Smith, who has been known to cancel practice the minute he sees Mike Martz’s name on his caller ID…
As difficult as it was to imagine Illinois beating Western Kentucky, it’s exceedingly difficult to imagine Illinois beating South Florida. That’s the double-edged sword of an Illini win: by beating you, they lower your fans’ expectations. South Florida will suffer no such fate, and will instead start to live up to their lofty preseason expectations by covering comfortably.
Air Force (1-0) @ #7 Michigan (2-0) -24
Michigan’s frustrating home win against Cincinnati, during which the Big House booed the Maize and Blue for the first time in the Harbaugh Era, felt familiar, like family you can’t shake. It was a hokey win; literally, it felt like a quintessential Brady Hoke nonconference game (Akron and UConn in 2013, Air Force in 2012). Ira Klement and Biff Bluff were in Ann Arbor for that 2012 Air Force game, watching, curiously enough, from the Bar Louie chain at Liberty and Division. It was the day Sam Ficken missed five kicks against Virginia and Iowa lost to Iowa State 9-6, delicious appetizers in advance of the Michigan game.
The only things Biff remembers about the game itself are Ira saying Michigan should put in a freshman Amara Darboh, that he was going to be a star, and that the game felt like Cincinnati last week: a too-close win to an inferior outfit. So Ira and Biff called an audible in the fourth quarter. Drunk and overfull on shitty Big Ten football, we left early, walked to the neighborhoods of West Ann Arbor, and started throwing baseballs at targets. We learned after the fact that Michigan had prevailed by 6 and that Air Force had had a chance at the end. We were happy to have missed that in favor of inventing shots on a gorgeous afternoon.
Then the crowd filtered out of the Big House, got in their cars, and started the slow crawl back to the highway. They inched past us by the hundreds on Felch Street, Michigan Men and Women in their natural setting: behind the wheel of an automobile, dissatisfied with victory. Buoyed by our ballplaying bliss, Ira and Biff embraced the belief that a win is a win, and that every fall Saturday is a gift. Weaving in between the parade of cars and angry fans, we started a boisterous chant: Six-point-win! Six-point-win!
Mirthless middle-aged Wolverines glared at us with disdain before turning onto Main Street and getting out of town, back to Bloomfield and Brighton and Battle Creek to take Michigan’s win on their families and livers. Those are the kind of miserable fans the people who fake the Make Punt never want to be. So, Wolverines: when you beat Air Force on Saturday in an imperfect performance where you fail to cover and where the defense gives up a long run to Timothy McVey and Wilton Speight fucks up, relax. Enjoy the win. We only get so many.
Northern Illinois (1-1) @ Nebraska (1-1) -14
Late FG Lifts Boston College Past Northern Illinois is how the confederated press summarized the Huskies’ only FBS game so far, and when anything short of an act of God lifts Boston College past you, you’ve got problems. The Huskies admittedly rebounded against Tony Romo U last week, winning 38-10 against one of the most absurdly named directional schools in America–Petya grew up in Illinois and couldn’t possibly tell you what portion of the state is considered “eastern.” Among the Illinois State Legislature’s many, many failings, not chartering Downstate Illinois University is way up there. And so how does Rod Carey, whose win totals have shrunk every year since he took over full time in 2013, bring a not particularly good NIU team into Lincoln and find himself only a two touchdown underhusky? The answer is that Nebraska is 122 out of 129 in total defense so far, sandwiched between South Alabama and Florida Atlantic, and one of only 11 teams surrendering more than 500 yards per game.
Assuming Tre Bryant’s knees don’t decide to spend the rest of the cold months in an Arizona retirement community and Tanner Lee isn’t playing the first half in a smoke-filled Duck pond, the Huskers will score. But which Bob Diaco defense will we get? Will it be the Brian-Kelly-infused-purple-haze of blown coverages and piss-poor tackling or will it be the mediocre unit that outplayed itself and shut out the Ducks in the second half? We’re betting on the latter, and that’s why we’re broke. Lee connects with three different receivers for a total of 4 TDs and Devine Ozigbo punches in one of his own because he’s really becoming his best self. Compelling as this video is, we say the tables turn and the corn cobs eat the huskies this time.
#10 Wisconsin (2-0) -18 @ Brigham Young (1-2)
BYU’s having a rough September. Against LSU in the Superdome two weeks ago, they lost 27-0, and their offense didn’t make it past the 50. Last week at home, they lost yet another Holy War to Utah, their seventh straight defeat in the rivalry, and the fifth straight by a touchdown or less. Now, QB Tanner Mangum has an ankle injury and is questionable to play against the Badgers.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin is…what, exactly? Despite the Utah State game’s 59-10 final score, we remember when the Badgers were losing that game, and their win against FAU last week, 14-31, was unconvincing. FAU covered, and Lane Kiffin left with a job, ruining one of the season’s best chances to jettison him from college football and into the ranks of a professional job…
Yet we like Wisconsin to cover. “Utah” Jazz Peavy and Alex “Do I Make You” Hornibrook will make sweet music in the endzone, while freshman RB Jonathan Taylor “Thomas” makes BYU’s rush defense look worse than the chemistry between JTT and Chevy Chase in the trailer for Disney’s “Man of the House.”
Middle Tennessee (1-1) @ Minnesota (2-0) -9
Middle Tennessee State, just down the road from Nashville in Murfreesboro, was established as a “normal school,” i.e. a teacher’s college. Their most notable alum is Al Gore Sr., the grandfather of the internet. Before 1934, its sports teams were known alternately as the Teachers, the Normalites, and our favorite, the Pedagogues. That year, the newspaper held a contest to rename the school squad, with football player Charles “Stumpy” Sarver winning $5 for his submission of Blue Raiders. He later admitted raiding the name from Colgate.
In recent memory, Middle Tennessee is also the school that paddled a 5-seed Gophers squad in the NCAA tournament (having stunned Denzel Valentine’s 2-seed Michigan State team in 2016). In other words, the Blue Raiders are Big Ten killers, and this year, their football team has shown upset potential. Last week, MTSU beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. And as the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes with characteristic Minnesota modesty and worry: Middle Tennessee likely to put up good fight against the Gophers.
Ya know, we think they’re on to somethin’ there. Coached by Rick Stockstill, whose son, QB Brent Standstill, leads the offense, the Blue Raiders have made opposing defenses look like they’re standing still. WR Richie James is one of the nastiest players in Conference USA, a consensus top 5 pick in CUSA fantasy leagues, and certainly the best player the Gophers D will have faced so far.
In short, Minnesota is not normal. They are not what they were last year, nor are they what they will become under Fleck. They’re caught between worlds and styles, as if someone gave Tracy Claeys a bunch of sugar cubes to suck, but half the crystals were blow; or as if someone slipped some Ambien into Fleck’s morning caffeine enema. Or both!
It’s not that there’s a fleck in the ointment; on the contrary, it’s that there’s still ointment on Fleck. We predict MTSU will benefit from some slippery Gophers turnovers, leading to PJ’s first loss as Gophers’ HC.
North Texas (1-1) @ Iowa (2-0) -21.5
For all its bravado, Texas is actually a dreadful state, far worse than Iowa. Just ask legendary Iowa coach Hayden Fry. He was a descendent of one of Texas’ first families, his great great grandfather fighting alongside Sam Houston for Texas independence. Fry quarterbacked Odessa High to the 1946 Texas state high school championship and then played for Baylor. From 1973 to 1978, Fry was the head coach of the North Texas State Mean Green, compiling an impressive 40-23-3 record.
But despite being Texas royalty, Fry accepted the Iowa job in 1978, without ever having set foot in the state. He knew Texas, and anywhere was better than Texas, he figured. He was right, going on to set records in the Hawkeye state. Now, in honor of Fry, Iowa hosts the Mean Green every few years as a means of cultural exchange for those poor souls who’ve never had the opportunity to live outside of northern Texas. In 2015, Iowa won 62-16 and the Mean Green flew back to Denton with 28 fewer players than they’d arrived with. Expect a similar result this year: Iowa will win by 6 touchdowns, and at least a third of the North Texas squad will defect to the Midwest.
Morgan State (0-2) @ Rutgers (0-2) -24
Last week’s Eastern Michigan-Rutgers game proved that all streaks must come to an end. For Ypsilanti’s Eagles, beating the Scarlet Knights 16-13 meant the end of a 59-game losing streak to Power Five teams.
That Rutgers is included even tangentially in a group with “Power” in the title is one of the ephemeral absurdities of college football, and will be until the Power Bottom conference gets formed from the dregs of the AAC, the ACC, and the CAA.
Those who found video of Illinois-WKU too mild a purgative are prescribed this 36-second “highlight reel” from Rutgers-EMU, which concludes in Kyle Bolin expelling the ball from his chest like an alien after a two-man rush finds paydirt.
To emerge from the 2017 season with a single win, the Scarlet Knights must get past Morgan State, an 0-2 FCS team that hasn’t scored a point this season.
Nevermind; we prefer to think they’ve been saving their best offensive innovation for Rutgers.
Indeed, Morgan State has had this game circled on their schedules as one of the most winnable, and will be prepared to shock the New York Market with trick plays, slip screens, and a ferocious one-man rush.
Contrarily, with the bloom of Rutgers’ close-feeling loss to Washington well off the rose, we’ve no reason to believe the Scarlet Knights’ streak of losses has to end this week, or any week. In fact, given that the origin of zero was discovered in an ancient Bakhshali Rutgers preview, we should revise our law: every streak must come to an end, unless you’re Rutgers.
Purdue (1-1) @ Mizzou (1-1) -7
The Boilermakers have arguably been the Big Ten’s most impressive preconference team, losing close to Louisville and lighting up Ohio in a machine-gunning of the Bobcats.
Mizzou, on the other hand, fired its defensive coordinator after a 72-43 “win” over in-state FCS pseudo-rival Missouri State, though head coach Barry Odom assured everyone that it wasn’t about the score, but rather that he and DC Demontie Cross had philosophical differences. Allegedly Cross was an irrational positivist, while the more Aristotelian Odom believes form and matter to be indissoluble.
These are difficult decisions to hash out on the football field, and Cross’s departure is for the best, though South Carolina did take advantage of the confusion by ruthlessly interrogating the premises of Mizzou’s special teams unit in last week’s 31-13 loss.
Purdue, meanwhile, eschews high-minded philosophical discourse in favor of chanting to its new guru, Brohma.
This could be the highly watchable shootout we’ve been waiting for from the ‘Due. David Blough has seemingly re-seized the reins to the offense, while running back Tario Fuller has emerged from a crowded backfield by showing off some impressive moves. Getting seven points is a gift from the gods; Purdue will win by at least that many.
West Point (2-0) @ #8 Ohio State (1-1) -30
Since college football began, the military and The Deep Ohio State had arranged for these two teams never to meet.
It would get too ugly, they said, for the military-industrial complex and the vast apparatus known as The Deep Ohio State — which maintains the Buckeyes’ position as the preeminent Ohio team via sabotage of other Buckeye State teams — to butt up against one another.
Yet given the preeminence of the latter over the former, that deadlock has been broken, and Army is set to play Ohio State precisely when it works out in Ohio State’s favor. The Buckeyes’ dead-last pass defense gets to take the day off against a team that doesn’t throw.
Ohio State should consider doing the same, as that’s where last week’s loss to Oklahoma really got away from them. We predict the laughs from JK Dobbins will last until the fourth quarter. But Army stealthily covers on a long run in the fourth to make it 41-14.
Georgia State (0-1) @ #5 Penn State (2-0) -38
After beating Pitt last week, James Franklin dismissed the notion that the Panthers are Penn State’s rivals, saying “it was just like beating Akron.” We predict that, after handily beating Georgia State this week, Franklin will rub salt in the wounds, stating: “This was just like beating Pitt.” (And when the PSU offense shreds OSU on October 28th, it’ll be cosmically satisfying for Buckeye haters to hear Franklin say it was no different than beating Georgia State.)
The Panthers have spent the last two weeks making sense of their humiliating loss to Tennessee State, who just cracked the FCS Top 25 after squeaking past Jackson State. A rough way to begin the Shawn Elliott era in Atlanta. But if there’s one thing Elliott learned after being thrust into South Carolina’s interim head coaching role in 2015 following the sudden resignation of Steve Spurrier, it’s that you can’t quit, even when you’re fucked. That’s particularly encouraging considering James Franklin has a nasty habit of letting his starters linger in games well out of reach, so Elliott should have plenty of cause not to quit in this one. After all, Franklin’s got Heisman stats to help his stars inflate.
Bowling Green (0-2) @ Northwestern (1-1) -22
Northwestern’s hand crank offense was bedeviled by the Blue Devils in Durham last week, accounting for just 191 total yards and 3 turnovers against last year’s 68th best defense. Behind a confused offensive line, Wildcats legend Justin Jackson carried 7 times for 18 yards, touching the ball only once in the second half. The Wildcats, favored by a field goal on the road, lost 41-17 on the heels of a lackluster home win against Meh-vada in week one. Unfortunately for everyone’s 2nd favorite Big Ten team, Northwestern’s conference slate is frontloaded. Purple travels to Madison in two weeks and hosts Penn State in three. If they’re to have any hope of fulfilling their unusually lofty preseason promise, they need to get their shit together, fast.
While Northwestern is 0-2 all-time against Bowling Green (their 2001 loss was first-year head coach Urban Meyer’s first win against a Big Ten team), this year’s Falcons are a welcome sight in Ryan Field. Fitz’s boys may have just gotten whooped by the 4th best team in the Carolinas, but Bowling Green just lost to the 4th best team in the Dakotas. The FCS South Dakota Coyotes travelled to Doyt Perry Stadium and hung 520 yards on Bowling Green, last year’s 110th best defense. If Clayton Thorson and Justin Jackson can’t move the ball this week, against this Falcons defense, it’s time for Cats fans to panic and brace for impact.
Indiana (1-1) @ Florida International (1-1)
In 2017, Indiana will only play nonconference opponents who were recently the primary subject of national media attention. They took on Virginia shortly after Charlottesville was rocked by white supremacist demonstrations and their attendant violence. This week, they were set to play Miami’s Florida International just days after Hurricane Irma was supposed to wallop it, but that game has been cancelled and replaced with Charleston Southern on October 7. We shudder to think what will happen in Charleston, SC before the Buccaneers travel to Bloomington…