By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) After a somewhat slow first week of Big Ten football in which only two teams played other BCS opponents, things heat up slightly in Week 2 as four Big Ten teams will play BCS opponents.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure how many of those games will actually be competitive. Alabama appears to be much better than Penn State even though the game will be played in Happy Valley, Wisconsin should roll over Oregon State and Indiana is playing Virginia in a battle of two struggling football programs. The fourth one? Well, that would be the game of the week.
But before we get to my predictions, I promised to answer a couple of questions this week, so here we go:
Hoge, Northwestern got a great win last week on the road against a BCS opponent. Shouldn’t they get more credit for taking on a real opponent and winning the game without Dan Persa? – Pete, Edison Park
Well, I think I have been giving the Wildcats credit as I had them ranked No. 22 last week and now have them at No. 19. But you’re right, nationally, not many people talked about their win last week. Northwestern isn’t ranked in either major poll, but they are close to cracking the Top 25 for the first time in the Pat Fitzgerald era. I think the problem is that many experts are still worried about Dan Persa’s health. They can’t get over how bad Northwestern looked last season without Persa. That’s a somewhat valid fear, but the ‘Cats defense looks a lot better and Kain Colter showed last week that he can play at the Big Ten level. The good news is that Northwestern should go into their Oct. 1 battle at Illinois 3-0. If they win that game, Northwester will get a lot more hype.
With all the expansion talk around the country, do you think the Big Ten is set at 12 teams? – Sam, Valparaiso, Ind.
Sam, I assume this question has something to do with Notre Dame. If not, my answer does. I think the Big Ten is done is expanding… unless the Irish want to join the conference. But as long as the BCS exists, I don’t see that happening. I do envision a day when the BCS is gone and Notre Dame is part of the Big Ten, but I don’t see it happening soon. I think the Irish will always have an open invitation to join the Big Ten and that’s the only way you see more expansion in the conference.
If you’d like to submit a question for next week’s Big Ten Football Report, e-mail it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet it to me (@AdamHogeCBS).
Onto my Week 2 picks…
Game of the Week: Notre Dame at Michigan
These two teams might not be ranked but this one looks to be the most competitive Big Ten game of the weekend. Michigan looked great in a rain-shortened win over a tough Western Michigan team last week and Notre Dame still has a ton of talent and will be highly motivated after losing to South Florida last week.
I’m on record for saying I love the Brady Hoke hire at Michigan, even if his career record is 49-50. But the best hire in Ann Arbor in the offseason was Greg Mattison. Hoke made it clear that restoring the Michigan defense was priority No. 1 and it doesn’t get much better than hiring the former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator. The unit still has a ways to go, but you could tell last week that the defensive players have a different, more confident swagger about them. I predicted the Wolverines would only win four games in my 2011 Big Ten Preview, but it only took me about five minutes of watching that defense last week to realize they’ll probably win more.
The Irish, meanwhile, dominated South Florida last week on the stat sheet despite losing the game. I’m usually the one complaining about people overrating the Irish every season, but this year I was the one overrating them as I had Notre Dame ranked No. 14 last week. I don’t have them ranked at all now, but I still think there is a lot of talent on this team and I think Notre Dame can have a good season. It starts with winning games like these though and I’m not sure Tommy Rees is settled in at quarterback. Michigan’s defense will be good enough as Denard Robinson runs wild in the first ever night game at Michigan Stadium.
My pick: Michigan 34, Notre Dame 30
Other Big Ten games (home teams in ALL CAPS):
Iowa 27, IOWA STATE 13
This used to be a tricky game for the Hawkeyes, but hasn’t been recently. James Vandenberg and Marcus Coker should have big games.
MICHIGAN STATE 41, Florida Atlantic 10
After an uninspiring win over Youngstown State last week, the Spartans offense will click better this week and Kirk Cousins will put up big numbers.
OHIO STATE 27, Toledo 17
The Rockets are one of the better teams in the MAC and will hang with the Buckeyes early. I think we will learn a lot about Ohio State this week. If they handle their business then I think we can consider the Buckeyes as legit as ever. But if they struggle, it could be an indication of the up-and-down season many, including myself, have predicted.
WISCONSIN 38, Oregon State 13
The Beavers are better than they showed last week in a loss to Sacramento State (an FCS school) at home, but they’ll have a tough time hanging with the Badgers in Madison. Wisconsin’s defense will play better than it did last week against UNLV and the offense will continue to roll.
ILLINOIS 42, South Dakota State 14
The Illini offense looks good and the Jackrabbits — yes, the Jackrabbits — won’t be able to slow Nathan Scheelhasse and Co. down.
NORTHWESTERN 30, Eastern Illinois 10
Dan Persa is listed as questionable and probably won’t play again this week, but it won’t really matter. Pat Fitzgerald said his team didn’t even play that well in its win over Boston College. That’s not good news for Eastern Illinois.
MINNESOTA 38, New Mexico State 17
The Gopher defense didn’t let USC score in the second half last week. That bodes well against a bad New Mexico State team. Minnesota needs MarQueis Gray to play better, but Jerry Kill should get his first win as the Gophers’ head coach.
Alabama 27, PENN STATE 17
The Nittany Lions might keep this close because the game is at home, but Alabama is just plain and simply better Penn State. Too tough to predict an upset in this one.
RICE 24, Purdue 21
I had this one listed as a trap game for Purdue in my Big Ten preview. After seeing the Boilermakers nearly lose to Middle Tennessee State at home last week, I think they might in trouble going to Rice — which many people think is a bowl team this season.
Virginia 27, INDIANA 21
I like what Kevin Wilson is doing at Indiana, but he just doesn’t have enough firepower this season. For the second straight week, I’m predicting a Hoosiers loss.
NEBRASKA 31, Fresno State 10
Pat Hill’s program at Fresno State appears to be going in the wrong direction. The Bulldogs are still a decent team, but they won’t be able to score many points against the Cornhuskers.
Hoge’s season record: 9-3
For live analysis during Saturday’s games, be sure to follow Adam on Twitter (@AdamHogeCBS).
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.