Here’s what to watch in the Big Ten this week:
GAME OF THE WEEK
Northwestern at No. 25 Stanford
It seems no one’s talking about Northwestern even though it won the Big Ten West last year. The chatter will start if the Wildcats beat the Cardinal on the road Saturday. Quarterback is the main concern after the departure of four-year starter Clayton Thorson. Whether Hunter Johnson or TJ Green starts, the Wildcats be going against a Stanford defense that always forces opponents to be ready for a variety of alignments. The Wildcats’ defense faces a challenging opening test from third-year starting QB K.J. Costello. The last time these teams meet, in the 2015 opener, Northwestern beat a third-ranked Cardinal 16-6.
Purdue at Nevada
This is an ideal opener for a Purdue defense that must start improving if the Boilermakers are going to challenge in the Big Ten West. The Boilermakers bring back lots of experience and have a talented newcomer in graduate transfer Ben Holt, who strengthens a linebacker corps featuring fourth-year starter Markus Bailey. Nevada, which is breaking in a new quarterback, was a bowl team last year and likes to air it out, but its run game merits respect.
FACTS AND FIGURES
Minnesota (vs. South Dakota State, Thursday) has won 15 straight nonconference games, the longest streak in the nation. … Wisconsin (at South Florida, Friday) is playing a regular-season game in the Sunshine State for the first time since 1988. … Rutgers (vs. UMass, Friday) will have theater students conduct a re-enactment of the Princeton-Rutgers game in 1869, the first college football game. … Indiana (vs. Ball State in Indianapolis) has won 14 of its last 15 nonconference games. … Idaho is Penn State’s first FCS opponent since 2011. … Iowa’s game against Miami (Ohio) will be its first opener under the lights at Kinnick Stadium. … Michigan (vs. Middle Tennessee State) leads the nation with 953 all-time wins. … Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson goes into Maryland’s opener against Howard after leading Power Five freshmen with 2,991 passing yards. … Ohio State (vs Florida Atlantic) leads the nation with 90 TD passes the past two seasons under Ryan Day, the quarterbacks coach in 2017-18 and now the head coach. … Mark Dantonio, whose team hosts Tulsa on Friday, needs three wins to pass Duffy Daugherty (109) as Michigan State’s career coaching wins leader.
Akron, 17-point underdog at Illinois
Injuries have taken a toll on Illinois’ defense, there’ll be a new quarterback, and depth is an issue all around. Not much is expected of Akron this season, but, buoyed by last year’s win over Northwestern, the Zips see this as winnable. It’s Tom Arth’s coaching debut and most of their offense returns. Lovie Smith is starting his fourth year at Illinois and has yet to show his program is gaining on the rest of the West. A loss here would crank up the heat another notch.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor
The stage is set for the 2018 national rushing leader and Doak Walker Award winner to get off to a big start on the road against South Florida. The Bulls were abysmal against the run last season, ranking 123rd, and questions abound about this year’s defense. Taylor’s 4,171 yards are most ever by an FBS player through his sophomore season. He’s been held under 100 yards in just five of 27 career games, and he’s gone over 200 in eight.
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