The college football season moves into Week 3 with non-conference games still dominating the slate. Let’s look at the Big Ten schedule, highlighting four prominent national television games and offering some shorter notes on the other conference games for the weekend.
Nebraska Cornhuskers at Oklahoma Sooners
NCAA Odds: Oklahoma -22½
This is the revival of a classic college football rivalry which was played every year from 1928 through 1997. The 1971 Nebraska-Oklahoma game is regarded as one of the best college football games ever played and they met in the 1979 Orange Bowl. They played for the right to go to the Orange Bowl on a nearly annual basis from the late 1970s through the late 1980s. Nebraska had head coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne. Oklahoma had coaches Chuck Fairbanks and Barry Switzer. The programs dominated the former Big Eight Conference before that league died in the mid-1990s and expanded to the Big 12, which spelled the beginning of the end end of the annual rivalry. The two teams played occasionally as Big 12 rivals, meeting in the 2006 and 2010 Big 12 Championship Games. Then Nebraska moved to the Big Ten and the rivalry hasn’t been played since … until right now.
Nebraska has won its last two games against weak opposition, beating Fordham and Buffalo in consecutive weeks in what is easily the softest part of the Cornhuskers’ schedule. Oklahoma poses an entirely different and substantial test. The Sooners are ranked third in the country, expected to win the Big 12 championship yet again and favored by some to make the national championship game against Alabama. Oklahoma’s defense gave up 35 points in Week 1 to Tulane, so the Sooners will be intent on improving how they defend the whole field. It will be interesting to see what kind of test Nebraska’s offense can give to Oklahoma defensive unit.
Cincinnati Bearcats at Indiana Hoosiers
Odds: Cincinnati -4
The Indiana Hoosiers looked terrible in Week 1 against Iowa. They looked a lot better in Week 2 against Idaho, an FCS team. Beating up on an FCS team really doesn’t indicate how good a team is or how ready a team is for strong opposition, but at least the Hoosiers weeded out a lot of the crippling mistakes they had made the week before.
No. 8 Cincinnati was unbeaten in the 2020 regular season before losing in the Peach Bowl to Georgia. The Bearcats rely on their defense but have veteran quarterback in Desmond Ridder to lead their offense. Cincinnati needs to make sure that on a day when one of its units is struggling, the other can pick up the slack. With Indiana having a strong defense under head coach Tom Allen, Cincinnati’s offense might encounter tough sledding. It will be up to coach Luke Fickell’s Bearcat defense to smother Indiana’s inconsistent offense. In Week 1 against Iowa, Indiana quarterback Michael Penix threw two pick-sixes, hand-delivering 14 points to Iowa. Cincinnati will try to ball-hawk and make huge defensive plays which increase the Bearcats’ margin for error on offense.
Purdue Boilermakers at Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Odds: Notre Dame -7
This is a noticeably small point spread for a meeting between teams which entered the regular season under very different circumstances. People were wondering if Purdue was even going to make a bowl game. The Boilermakers aren’t a lock to do that just yet, but they already have two wins in their pocket and have greatly increased their odds of going bowling.
No. 12 Notre Dame, meanwhile, was fortunate to barely scrape out victories against a Florida State team which lost to Jacksonville State and Toledo. The Irish trailed Toledo very late in regulation before scoring a clutch last-minute touchdown to survive 32-29. The wobbly nature of Notre Dame’s performances has made some people question the Irish in this game, but it should be far better than Purdue. Let’s see if the Irish restore a measure of order here.
Auburn Tigers at Penn State Nittany Lions
Odds: Penn State -6
The No. 23 Auburn Tigers beat Akron 60-10 in their opening game, a bigger margin of victory than many expected. Meanwhile, No. 10 Penn State beat Wisconsin 16-10 with a great defense and a subpar offense. Penn State’s offense will need to thrive against Auburn’s defense if the Nittany Lions want to win this game comfortably. Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford has struggled both this season and last. The Nittany Lions need him to evolve under center and lead the offense with decisiveness and a steady hand. Penn State ought to win this game by a few scores, but if the offense stumbles, Auburn might be good enough to take advantage.
Around the Big Ten Conference
Maryland Terrapins at Illinois Fighting Illini (Friday): The Maryland Terrapins looked really good earlier this month in a win over West Virginia. Illinois beat Nebraska but has since lost to Texas-San Antonio and Virginia. Maryland is not a complete team, but it is a decent team. Illinois is a below-par team.
Michigan State Spartans at Miami Hurricanes: The Miami roster has been hit by a number of injuries heading into this game against a Michigan State team which hammered Northwestern in its season opener. Miami barely beat Appalachian State one week after being blown out by Alabama. Michigan State is definitely the team on the upswing here and Miami has to find answers at a number of positions if it wants to win this game. It will be very close.
Northern Illinois Huskies at Michigan Wolverines: The Michigan Wolverines easily handled the Washington Huskies last weekend. They now play the Northern Illinois Huskies, who beat Georgia Tech earlier this season. Michigan shouldn’t be tested by a physically inferior opponent, but it remains to be seen what its ceiling is on offense. That ceiling hasn’t been raised a whole lot in the first two weeks.
Minnesota Golden Gophers at Colorado Buffaloes: This is a very intriguing game. Minnesota tested Ohio State in its season opener before fading in the fourth quarter. Colorado held Texas A&M to just three points for the game’s first 57 minutes, only to lose on a late touchdown. The Colorado defense seems excellent. Minnesota should test the Buffaloes’ defense more than A&M did.
Kent State Golden Flashes at Iowa Hawkeyes: The Hawkeyes get an easy opponent after they handily defeated Iowa State on the road. Iowa has a strong shot at winning the Big Ten West .
Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Ohio State Buckeyes: The Golden Hurricane have struggled mightily on offense and are not in a position to threaten an Ohio State defense which gave up almost 300 rushing yards to Oregon last Saturday. The Buckeyes have to lick their wounds and move on. If you BetOnline, expect this to be a focused team.
Delaware Blue Hens at Rutgers Scarlet Knights: The Rutgers’ improvement project is going well under coach Greg Schiano. The Knights won at Syracuse to move to 2-0. They should go to 3-0 here.
Northwestern Wildcats at Duke Blue Devils: The Northwestern Wildcats and Duke Blue Devils have both looked really bad this season. Northwestern got blown out by Michigan State while Duke lost to Charlotte. Both teams are searching for a spark which can push them out of the realm of mediocrity and into a place where competence is a lot more commonplace. This should be an ugly, low-scoring game, with Northwestern having the edge. Go with them for your college football picks.