Every week, just before the all the Saturday buzz, Phil Harrison gives you five things to keep an eye on with the slate of games scheduled in the Big Ten conference.
After a bit of a ho-hum schedule last week, this week brings the juicy matchups dripping, and it’s the last week before B1G conference play begins in earnest. Here are five of the biggest questions heading into a packed week three:
5. Will Michigan face a more stern test against Colorado?
To date, Jim Harbaugh has had a lot of down-time to shop for khakis at the local Gap because film study has likely been light with the first two opponents. There’s a good chance that changed this week.
Colorado isn’t anything close to the 2000 Miami Hurricanes, but this also isn’t the same old Buffalo team we’ve seen the last few years. Colorado has scorched its first two opponents, and done it with great balance on offense – (top 20 in the country in both passing and rushing yards per game – and a stout defense that’s only yielded seven points per contest.
You’d have to be crazy to call an upset in the Big House, but there should at least be a bit of a push back this week to provide a little better gauge of what the Maize and Blue are made of.
It might be more of a contest, but I’ll doubt we’ll see anything like this if you want to reminisce:
4. Can the Huskers outscore the Ducks?
It’s in Lincoln, so that should give Tommy Armstrong and the ‘Huskers a much needed lift in what is sure to be a high-scoring, fast-paced rubber-neck type of contest between two offenses that like to get after it.
In years past, getting into an up and down contest against Oregon and all of its 237 uniform combinations would be the farthest thing from a brilliant idea, but Nebraska might just have the personnel to pull it off with Tommy Gun going Duck hunting through the air.
The key will be for the Nebraska defense to at least limit Oregon running back Royce Freeman from breaking off to many explosive plays.
3. Will Iowa Sleep on North Dakota State?
Don’t for one moment think that this is an easy FCS pushover. The Bison are the five-time defending FCS national champs and have made a habit of visiting FBS schools for big pay-days and walking away with a boatload of cash and a win.
Since 2010, North Dakota State has beaten five FBS schools on the road. Those five schools include Iowa State, Kansas State, Colorado State, Minnesota, and Kansas. Those aren’t your blue-bloods of the sport, and the Hawkeyes are better than any of those squads, but this is not a game to take lightly. In fact, this might be Iowa’s best opponent to date.
2. Are the rebuilt Spartans ready for a B1G statement win?
You’re kidding yourself if you think Mark Dantonio was happy after week one’s performance against Furman. Then again, do we know if Coach D would even crack a smile after finding the winning lottery ticket outside the Breslin Center? The jury is still out on that one, but one thing is for certain, the Spartans have to show marked improvement to go to Notre Dame Stadium and pull out a victory.
On display for the Irish will be a dynamic offense led by quarterback DeShone Kizer who can make plays down the field with his arm, yet keep plays alive and gain yards in chunks on the ground with his legs as well.
The Spartans defensive front is untested, and the offense seemed to be seeking an identity with Tyler O’Connor behind the wheel against Furman. This is going to be a statement game either way, but which way it goes and what it says for the Spartan program this year remains to be seen. Perhaps the bye-week will provide a different look Spartan team.
And maybe, just maybe, we’ll see more plays like the Little Giants fake field goal from 2010. Classic:
5. Is Ohio State’s youth ready to perform on the B1G-stage?
And here we go. This game was circled by all college football junkies prior to the 2016 season because we have two of the all-time great programs squaring off. This is the AP Poll’s all-time two best teams, with many other traditions and accolades following in tow — both in Norman and Columbus. This matchup is dripping with tradition.
The loss to Houston in week one may have taken a little luster off this game, but it’s still going to be a whale of a contest.
The big question is whether the inexperience of Ohio State is ready to walk into Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium and be able to still perform at the high level we’ve seen in the first two weeks in the cushy surroundings of the ‘Shoe. The Buckeyes have looked dominant and explosive on both sides of the ball (albeit against competition we are still unsure of) after having to replace sixteen starters from a year ago — the most in all of FCS.
But this is a different ball of wax all together.
Oklahoma has to win to keep its CFP hopes alive, but a win by Ohio State will serve notice that this team has maybe arrived a year ahead of expectations.