Here’s what to watch in the Big Ten this week:
GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 14 Michigan at No. 12 Notre Dame
The Wolverines are looking for more in year four under Jim Harbaugh. This old rivalry is being renewed for the first time since 2014, and the trip to South Bend should offer a clue as to whether Big Blue is ready to challenge for Big Ten East supremacy. Both teams are loaded on defense. The game is all about Ole Miss transfer QB Shea Patterson , who can be a dynamic playmaker for the Wolverines if the offensive line doesn’t give up 36 sacks again and — in spite of Tarik Black being injured — the wide receivers corps elevate their play.
Purdue defense vs. whoever plays quarterback for Northwestern on Thursday night.
Maybe this category should be called the mystery matchup. Northwestern hasn’t announced whether Clayton Thorson or TJ Green will start in a key early Big Ten West matchup. Thorson’s 39 consecutive starts are tied for most in the FBS, but he’s coming off a torn ACL in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 29. Purdue’s defense is a question after it lost seven starters from the much-improved 2017 unit. Coach Jeff Brohm likes the makeup of the ‘D,’ which is led by two-year starting LB Lorenzo Neal.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Northwestern is looking for its ninth straight win, which would tie the program’s longest streak since 1995. … Of Minnesota’s 113 players, 60 are true freshmen or redshirt freshmen — most in the FBS. … Illinois’ combined 24 juniors and seniors are the fewest in the FBS. … Wisconsin has allowed an average of 240.1 yards per game at Camp Randall Stadium over the last five years, the best mark among major colleges. … Mike Weber and J.K. Dobins are the first set of Ohio State running backs to enter a season with each already having 1,000-yard rushing campaigns. Braxton Miller and Ezekiel Elliott did it in 2015, but Miller was a quarterback. … Rutgers LB Trevor Morris is the leading returning tackler in the Big Ten (9.8 per game). … Kirk Ferentz is one away from passing Hayden Fry as Iowa’s all-time win leader. Ferentz enters his 20th season 143-97. Fry was 143-89-6 in 20 years. … Penn State’s defense is coming off back-to-back 40-sack seasons for the first time since 2007. … Indiana QB Peyton Ramsey’s 65.4-percent completion rate (134 of 205) last year was a school single-season record.
Maryland, 14-point underdog to Texas
The circumstances are drastically different from a year ago, when the Terrapins beat Texas 51-41 in Austin to ruin Tom Herman’s debut as Longhorns coach. Maryland is a mess this time around. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada is interim head coach with DJ Durkin on administrative leave. A commission formed by the school continues to investigate alleged bullying behavior by the staff. The matter came to light after offensive lineman Jordan McNair collapsed from heatstroke during an offseason workout and later died.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez.
Martinez will be the first true freshman to start at quarterback in a Nebraska opener when the Cornhuskers host Akron on Saturday night. Martinez won a close competition against redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia, who left the program two days after Martinez won the job. Martinez was the top recruit in Scott Frost’s first recruiting class and gets the keys to the team’s new no-huddle spread-option offense. He’ll be playing in his first game since November 2016, when he injured his right (throwing) shoulder as a high school junior.
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