September 6, 2006

Big Ten: Week 2 Breakdown

McClellan's Big Ten picks national columnist Bob McClellan's predictions for Week 2 in the Big Ten.
Ohio State 30, Texas 22
Michigan 34, Central Michigan 16
Rutgers 27, Illinois 21
Northwestern 30, New Hampshire 14
Purdue 30, Miami (Ohio) 12
Wisconsin 45, Western Illinois 13
Notre Dame 27, Penn State 22
Michigan State 34, Eastern Michigan 17
Iowa 37, Syracuse 22
California 26, Minnesota 23
Indiana 29, Ball State 28
Last week: 9-1. Season: 9-1.

Kicking it off: The Big Ten went 11-0 last week for the first time in conference history. But before we make too big a deal of that, the Big Ten was favored in every game it played. It had three games against Division I-AA teams and six more against the Mid-American Conference. The MAC is now 3-44 against the Big Ten since 2002. If there is reason for real optimism it will show up this weekend, when Ohio State visits Texas, Penn State takes on Notre Dame, Illinois goes to Rutgers and Minnesota travels to California.

Best matchup: After struggling to find a good matchup last week, there are at least a couple of things to get excited about this week. The Nittany Lions and the Irish played each other every year from 1981-1992, but haven't met since. How about Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny against Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn? Charlie Weis matching wits with Joe Paterno? A suspect Irish secondary against splendid Nittany Lions wide receivers Derrick Williams and Deon Butler?

Worst matchup: Western Illinois has a cool nickname, but the Leathernecks are 44th in the Division I-AA poll this week. They will not be enjoying their trip to Wisconsin this weekend for the Badgers' home opener.

The pressure is on: Ohio State QB Troy Smith. Smith wasn't the starter last season when the Buckeyes lost to Texas 25-22 in Columbus. But this show will be his from start to finish. If he plays well and his team wins, a run to the Heisman Trophy and a national championship will come clearly into view. The Longhorns have won 21 consecutive games and 18 of 19 at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. The atmosphere will be less than friendly, and Gene Chizik will have his defense prepared.

Upset alert: Minnesota is a seven-point underdog at Cal in spite of the Golden Bears' showing at Tennessee. Meanwhile, the Golden Gophers have the Big Ten's longest non-conference winning streak in the regular season - 17 games. Minnesota hasn't lost a non-conference game in the regular season since 2001.

BCS implications: Texas has jumped to No. 2 in the polls this week, so its battle with top-ranked Ohio State will give the winner front-runner status for a berth in the national title game.

Who's hot: Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli looked fine in his debut last week against Akron, passing for 206 yards and three touchdowns. Will he respond as well in South Bend?

Who's not: Michigan quarterback Chad Henne. The Wolverines will need more out of Henne if they hope to live up to expectations. He was just 10-of-22 passing for 135 yards against Vanderbilt in the season opener in Ann Arbor.

Must-see TV: Do you really need help on this one? It's No. 1 vs. No. 2, the Buckeyes and the Longhorns. The top two teams in the country haven't met in the regular season since second-ranked Florida State upended No. 1 Florida 24-21 in Tallahassee in November 1996.

Newcomer who could have an impact: Oklahoma transfer Akim Millington is the starter at left offensive tackle for Illinois. The 6-6, 310-pound junior helped propel the Illini to 345 rushing yards in his debut last week. Granted it was against I-AA Eastern Illinois, but it was the third-highest rushing total in the land on opening weekend. A ground attack like that could augur well for the Illini against Rutgers, which allowed North Carolina 5.3 yards per carry on Saturday.

Key stat: Ohio State is 54-9-1 when ranked No. 1.

Take the line: Miami (Ohio) didn't show much offense in its opening loss to Northwestern. Look for Purdue to shut down the RedHawks and score enough to cover, laying 17. Season against the line: 1-0.

They said it: "I've rewatched the game (against Texas in 2005) at least 50 times. I want to remember that feeling. It gets me motivated. The feeling in the locker room after it was like you've been hit by a car. You're done. One week you have high expectations, and then a week later it's dashed." Ohio State junior offensive tackle Kirk Barton

Injury update: Purdue safety Torri Williams was lost for the season in the opener against Indiana State with severe leg injury. It's possibly career threatening. Also, the status of Boilermakers wide receiver Kyle Ingraham for this weekend is unknown. Purdue site says there are questions about some credit hours earned this spring at St. Mary's College in San Antonio. Iowa kicker Kyle Slicher is expected to return against Syracuse after missing the opener against Montana. Redshirt freshman Austin Signor stepped in admirably for Slicher, converting both of his field goal attempts (41 and 36 yards) and all five PATs.

Worth noting: The week's game against California in Berkeley will mark only the second time in Minnesota history that the Golden Gophers have opened a season with consecutive road games. The only other time it has occurred was in 1890. Ohio State is making its first trip to the Lone Star State in the regular season since a date with SMU in 1976. Northwestern got off just 56 plays in its opener against Miami (Ohio). It averaged 81 plays per game last season. Illinois is the only team in the Big Ten that currently has two career 1,000-yard rushers, Pierre Thomas and E.B. Halsey. Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill was just the second freshman in school history to top the 100-yard mark in his collegiate debut. The first was Anthony Davis in 2001. With his three touchdown passes, Iowa QB Drew Tate moved into second on the Hawkeyes' all-time list with 46. Chuck Long is the career leader with 74. 1980s rock bands Cheap Trick and .38 Special highlight Ball State's game day activities for the Saturday matchup with Indiana. They'll play a concert in downtown Muncie before the game.

Looking back: It's hard to get a real assessment of any team based on the season openers because of the lack of quality opponents, but if any team didn't look up to preseason expectations it's Michigan. The Wolverines passing attack struggled against a Vanderbilt defense that finished 69th against the pass last season. Chad Henne completed only 45 percent of his throws, and Michigan's receivers dropped passes as though being thrown microwaved potatoes. The worries are few against Central Michigan, but the schedule is about to pick up.

Freshman who impressed: Northwestern redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Kafka has the unenviable task of replacing Brett Basanez. But he came through the opener at Miami (Ohio) unscathed. Kafka rushed for 89 yards on 17 carries and completed 13-of-17 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown as the Wildcats prevailed 21-3.

More Week 2 Conference Previews: ACC | Big East | Big 12 | Pac-10 | SEC

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