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Big 10 Weekly Preview

   by ASA - 08/30/2012

The College Football season kicks off this Thursday and we are here to breakdown the first installment of our week-by-week Big Ten Conference preview. There are a couple of marquee games this week (Alabama-Michigan & Boise State-Michigan State) that we have the inside scoop on!

Thursday

Minnesota (-8.5) at UNLV - 10:00 PM CST - CBS Sports Network

The Gophers kick off the season for the Big Ten in Las Vegas on Thursday night. Minnesota should be improved in the second season under head coach Jerry Kill. If that’s the case, it should be able to beat a struggling UNLV program, even on the road. Quarterback MarQueis Gray and this offense struggled to put up points a year ago, but they shouldn’t have much trouble here against this UNLV program that ranked 118th in points allowed last season at 40.4 PPG allowed. The Gophers defense improved over the 2nd half of last season and could get a boost of confidence with a big game here as UNLV ranked 117th in total offense a year ago.

Minnesota is 8-2 in road openers with the average win by 17 points per game. The Gophers played well on the road to open up the season last year, nearly pulling an upset over #25 USC as a 23-point underdog (lost 17-19). UNLV is 2-11 vs. Big Ten teams. The Rebels are 13-8 in home openers, but just 1-5 against BCS conference teams.

Friday

#13 Michigan State (-7) vs. #24 Boise State - 7:00 PM CST – ESPN

Two new quarterbacks are the big story here, as both get tossed into the fire against stout defenses. MSU will replace the team’s career leader in passing yards with junior Andrew Maxwell (18-of-26 in relief duty a year ago). Meanwhile, Boise State replaces the NCAA’s career wins leader with junior Joe Southwick (23-of-30 in relief last season). Along with the quarterback position, MSU has to replace its top four receivers from a year ago, but they do return 4/5 of the offensive line and RB Le’Veon Bell. Michigan State had the 10th best scoring defense and the 5th best overall defense in 2011 and this unit could be even better this year. They return eight starters, including their top two tacklers and top two pass rushers. The Spartans have won 13 straight home openers by an average of 23 points per game. Under Dantonio MSU is 14-1 hosting non-Big Ten opponents. However, they are just 6-13 vs. Top 25 opponents under Dantonio.

Boise State returns just five starters on offense and two on defense, but don’t sleep on the Broncos. Boise State is 8-1 vs. BCS schools since 2006, 21-1 the last four years in true road games, and 7-2 in road openers. This is the fourth straight year that BSU will open up the season against ranked BCS team.

Saturday

Northwestern (-1) vs. Syracuse – 11:00 AM CST - ESPN2

Northwestern has to replace longtime starting QB Dan Persa. QB Kain Colter steps in after starting three games last year and he gives the Wildcats a dynamic athlete under center. Colter led the team in rushing, tossed six touchdown passes, and caught 43 passes in 2011. This Northwestern defense can't be much worse than it was in 2011, and while there will be more youth throughout the unit, there also should be more talent. Syracuse ranked 90th in total offense a year ago, but the return of senior QB Ryan Nassib (22 touchdowns, 9 interceptions in 2011) should be a big boost for this unit. These two last met in 2009 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. It was an offensive shootout that saw 71 total points and 937 total yards in the Orange’s three point victory.

Syracuse is 2-6 ATS over its last eight games as a home underdog. Northwestern has won seven straight season openers by an average of 19 points per game. The last two years were wins against BCS schools; at Vanderbilt and at Boston College.

Penn State (-6) vs. Ohio 11:00 AM CST – ESPN

The Bill O'Brien era kicks off, and there are sure to be plenty of stories focusing on the atmosphere around Beaver Stadium after a tumultuous offseason for the Nittany Lions. The Lions will ride emotion and a stout defensive front seven this fall, and they could go further than most think after a brutal offseason. Penn State has just four returning starters on defense and two on offense and lost a lot of depth after players decided to transfer once the NCAA came down with all of the penalties. PSU really struggled to score points last year and it’s hard to envision this offense making a huge stride this season. Ohio, meanwhile, is off of a 10-win season that included a Bowl win and the Bobcats are the popular pick as a “BCS-Buster” in 2012. QB Tyler Tettleton returns after tossing 28 touchdowns and rushing for 10 more. The defense should also be strong as eight starters return.

Penn State has won 10 straight home openers by an average of 29 points per game. They are also 12-0 at home against non-BCS schools since 2007 with the average score of 41-8. Ohio is 4-10 in road openers (0-8 vs. BCS-schools). Since 1998, the Bobcats are 3-22 on the road against BCS-schools with six straight losses.

Illinois (-10) vs. Western Michigan – 11:00 AM CST – ESPNU

The Tim Beckman era begins against a Broncos team that played the Illini tough last year in Champaign. Beckman coached Toledo to a 66-63 victory over Western Michigan last year. When Illinois-WMU met last season, the Illini (-14) thoroughly dominated the Broncos in the statistical category – outgaining WMU by 150 yards – but only won the game by three points. Beckman came over from Toledo, where he coached from 2009-11. Over that span, he matched up with Western Michigan three times, winning each of the last two seasons. Defensively this unit ranked 7th in total yards allowed, 3rd in passing yards allowed, and 15th in points allowed in 2011. UI didn’t lose much and this defense still figures to be a stacked unit with seven starters returning. Defensively WMU was pretty terrible last season. They ranked 99th in total yards allowed and 76th in points allowed. They allowed 30+ points in six different occasions last season, including 66 points to the Tim Beckman coached Toledo Rockets.

The Illini have won 14 straight home openers by an average of 27 points per game. Western Michigan has lost 17 straight road openers by 24 points per game (all to BCS-schools).

#18 Ohio State (-24) vs. Miami (OH) – 11:00 AM CST - Big Ten Network

Urban Meyer coaches his first game for the Buckeyes, who are heavy favorites over the RedHawks. This offense will have a much different look and dual-threat QB Braxton Miller should really reap the benefits. This unit will be much better than last year’s version that ranked 105th in yards per game and 81st in points per game. Defensively the Bucks ranked 19th in total D in 2011, and with nine starters back that number could rise into the top-10. Eight of the top 10 tacklers return, along with the entire defensive line and secondary. The RedHawks should be much improved than their 4-8 campaign in 2011. They have nine returning starters on offense including QB Zac Dysert (23 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions). Defensively they lost their top three tacklers from a year ago and they could have a difficult time stopping the speed of Ohio State on Saturday.

Ohio State has won 33 straight home openers by 22 points per game. The Buckeyes are also 16-0 vs. the MAC since 2000, with the average winning margin of 25 points per game. Miami is 1-8 SU in its last nine road openers, but they are 4-1 ATS – with covers at Missouri, Florida, at Michigan.

Iowa (-10) vs. Northern Illinois – 2:30 PM CST – ESPNU

Hawkeyes fans are sure to pack Chicago's Soldier Field to watch their team take on the Huskies, who went 11-3 and won a Bowl game last season. Iowa returns senior QB James Vandenberg (25 TD & 7 INT in 2011), but has to replace its top RB, top WR, and 3/5 of the offensive line. The defensive unit is in worse shape. This unit struggled a year ago (60th in total defense) and they return just five starters. This would be a popular upset pick if Northern Illinois wasn’t replacing seven of 11 starters on its offense that ranked 11th overall in 2011.

Iowa is 7-0 against NIU with an average win margin of 31 points per game. The Hawkeyes have won 11 straight season openers, but are 0-3 ATS the last three seasons. Northern Illinois is 2-8 SU but 5-4 ATS its last 10 games against BCS-schools.

Purdue (NL) vs. Eastern Kentucky – 2:30 PM CST – Big Ten Network

Purdue head coach Danny Hope faces his alma mater here, but the FCS Colonels shouldn't be much of a match for what appears to be an improved Purdue squad. Danny Hope repeatedly called this his best Boilers team during the offseason. QB Caleb TerBush is one of eight returning starters on offense, including the top rusher and top receiver. They also get a strong return on defense as seven starters are back. Both units should be much improved from 2011 (offense ranked 72nd and defense ranked 73rd) and this should be an easy win for Purdue.

Purdue has won eight straight home openers with the average score of 46-19. It has failed to cover three of the last four, however.

#17 Nebraska (-20) vs. Southern Miss – 2:30 PM CST - ABC regional

The Huskers don't have a gimme in their opener against the Golden Eagles, who went 12-2 in 2011. But Southern Miss has a new coach and several new starters, including its star QB Austin Davis (30 touchdown passes in 2011). Nebraska returns 15 starters, including QB Martinez, RB Burkhead, and its top three receivers. Martinez is said to have greatly improved his accuracy from 2011, when he completed just 56.2% with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Defensively the Huskers lots its top three playmakers on all three levels. So this unit that ranked 37th overall will have to develop new leaders and playmakers.

Southern Miss has dropped seven straight road openers (dropping the last five by 15 points per game), the last win was in 2004 against Nebraska. The Huskers are 26-0 since 1985 in home openers. They’ve won the last five by an average score of 47-11.

#12 Wisconsin (NL) vs. Northern Iowa 2:30 PM CST – Big Ten Network

Northern Iowa is a good FCS program that won 10 games last season. But the Badgers, who will be debuting new starting quarterback Danny O'Brien, usually make quick work of outmanned opponents at Camp Randall Stadium. The offense might not be as electric as it was the past two seasons, but Heisman finalist Montee Ball is back and they should have no problem putting up big points against UNI.

The Badgers have won 16 straight home openers at Camp Randall Stadium by 20 points per game. They are 50-4 straight up and 27-16-1 ATS as a home favorite at home since 2004.

#8 Michigan (+13.5) vs. No. 2 Alabama – 7:00 PM CST – ABC

This game will be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Wolverines could plant a big flag for the Big Ten and themselves if they can pull this one off. Michigan senior quarterback Denard Robinson expects to have Michigan in the hunt of a Big Ten title this season and also has his foot in the Heisman race. He’ll need a big game against nations reigning top-scoring and top-overall defense from 2011. Alabama did lose its top three defenders, but Nick Saban has built too much depth there to think there will be much of a drop off. Meanwhile, Alabama’s offense that returns starting QB AJ McCarron and what could be the top offensive line in the nation will give Michigan’s defense a huge early season test.

Alabama is 19-2 in its last 21 season openers. Since ’99 the National Champion from the previous year is 13-0 with the average win of 45-13 in the season opener. Michigan is 5-1 SU against non-conference BCS opponents the last two seasons, but 0-1 against SEC opponents.

Indiana (NL) vs. Indiana State 7:00 PM CST – Big Ten Network

The Hoosiers will be attempting to win their first game since September 17 of last year here against FCS Indiana State. Indiana shouldn’t go 1-11 again, and they could be dangerous on the offensive side as sophomore QB Roberson improves in the passing game. The top RB and WR return to aid Roberson. And seven starters on defense, along with an influx of junior college transfers. Indiana will be improved, but are still a few years away from contending from a Big Ten title.

Indiana is 3-0 against Indiana State, outscoring them 119-10.

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