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Around the B1G: Football Week 1 Preview

Football season is finally here! Here’s how the Big Ten will be spending Labor Day weekend.

Football is back!

With the Australian appetizer of Cal-Hawaii out of the way, it’s time for the first of college football’s main courses. Once we have a few weeks of data, I’ll begin projecting the conference title race via my modified Bradley-Terry rating method, but until then this post will be just a basic rundown of the previous week’s results and a look ahead at the upcoming games. Here’s what to see over Labor Day weekend (and before); all times ET (Saturday unless otherwise specified).

Indiana at Florida International (7:30 PM Thursday, ESPNU)

Yes, you’re reading that correctly. FIU is hosting a Big Ten team for their opener. Indiana held off the Golden Panthers, who finished 5-7, 36-22 at home in Week 2 last year. That was the fewest points Indiana allowed in any game all season - even Wake Forest managed to put up 24 on them, a feat they did not achieve against another FBS team the rest of the year. The Hoosiers should be the more talented team pretty easily, but when it comes to #CHAOSTEAM, there is no outcome that would be a real surprise.

Oregon State at Minnesota (9 PM Thursday, BTN)

Tracy Claeys’s debut as (non-interim) head coach for the Gophers brings in an Oregon State team that is thanking the existence of Kansas for keeping them from holding the title of “worst team in a power conference”. They finished last year 2-10 and weren’t even competitive in many of the losses (although they somehow hung 42 on the Ducks in a losing effort, because rivalry games are weird). With relatively favorable crossover games in conference (Penn State, Maryland, and Rutgers), the Gophers are somewhat of a dark horse pick in a wide-open West Division; if they’re good enough to live up to that hype, they should win the Battle of the Rodents handily.

Furman (FCS) at Michigan State (7 PM Friday, BTN)

With a bye after this, Michigan State won’t play an FBS team until visiting Notre Dame in Week 3. Furman went 4-7 last year, but one of those four wins was an upset of Central Florida. (On second thought, “upset” might be generous, as UCF went 0-12 and only one other game, against FIU, was closer than 14 points.) Hopefully this goes more like Furman’s other FBS game last year, a 42-3 loss to Virginia Tech.

Hawaii at Michigan (Noon, ESPN)

Talk about jet lag. After opening the season with a 51-31 loss to Cal in Sydney, Australia, the Rainbow Warriors visit Michigan, ten time zones (and a crossing of the International Date Line) away. If that weren’t bad enough, two hurricanes are approaching Hawaii: Madeline is expected to pass just south of the Big Island on Wednesday, with Lester curling just north of the islands over the weekend. (The university itself, on Oahu, should be well clear of the path for Madeline, but Lester might come pretty close.) There wouldn’t have been much reason to expect too much trouble in the opener for the Wolverines anyway, but add travel concerns and the potential distraction of dealing with natural disasters back home and it’s no surprise the line for this game has Michigan favored by about 40.

Bowling Green at Ohio State (Noon, BTN)

As usual, the Buckeyes have an in-state team on the schedule early (although they did not last year). This time, it’s the defending MAC champions. The Falcons went 10-4 last year, beating Purdue and Maryland in September. Ohio State should present a much stiffer challenge, though. If the Buckeyes struggle to get in sync with all the new faces on offense this year, this could be close for a while, but I would be very surprised if this is the game that ends their streak of in-state dominance.

Eastern Kentucky (FCS) at Purdue (Noon, ESPN News)

If you like bad football, have I got good news for you! The Colonels went 6-5 last year, pushing Kentucky to OT before losing. Purdue was not good last year (inexplicable explosion of points against Nebraska notwithstanding), and they’re probably not going to be good this year either. I expect the Boilers to win this one, but it probably won’t be easy.

Western Michigan at Northwestern (Noon, ESPNU)

Western Michigan was the best of the Directional Michigans last year, finishing 8-5, giving the Spartans more of a tough game than I’d like to remember before losing in somewhat less competitive fashion to Ohio State. The Wildcats, meanwhile, had a remarkably quiet 10-win season last year, pulling out a number of close or semi-close wins (including a 16-6 win over Stanford in the opener in which the Cardinal’s complete game-theory incompetence still offends me) while losing three games by a combined total of 123-16. That’s usually a sign of a team that’s about to get hit hard by regression to the mean. This is the most likely to be interesting among the B1G’s noon kickoffs.

Howard (FCS) at Maryland (Noon, BTN)

Howard was bad last year. Very bad. 1-10 in FCS bad. “Allowed 76 points to Boston College” bad. (To put that in perspective: that’s more than Boston College scored in their next eight games, combined.) If Maryland still has their starters in after halftime, Terrapins fans should be terrified for the rest of the season.

Rutgers at Washington (2 PM, Pac-12 Network)

After a series with Washington State in the last two years, the Scarlet Knights open the season with the Cougars’ rival. The Huskies’ 7-6 record last year was in some ways the opposite of Northwestern’s season - lots of close or semi-close losses and several blowout wins - leading to a top-15 preseason ranking and a bit of dark-horse hype for Washington in the Pac-12 race. A win here for Rutgers would be a major upset.

Kent State at Penn State (3:30 PM, BTN)

The Golden Flashes gave Minnesota trouble last year (losing only 10-7), but they got blown out by Illinois and finished the season 3-9, scoring 7 or fewer six times. The Nittany Lions didn’t exactly have a spectacular offense last year, but they shouldn’t need one to deal with Kent State. Of course, this is the team that managed to give up a sack on a two-man rush against Temple last year, so it might not be wise to take that for granted.

Murray State (FCS) at Illinois (3:30 PM, BTN)

The Racers went 3-8 last year, losing to two upper-end MAC teams (Northern Illinois and Western Michigan). This shouldn’t be too tough a debut for Lovie Smith, even with an Illinois team that is one of only two that it feels safe to rule out of the West Division race.

Miami-Ohio at Iowa (3:30 PM, ESPNU)

A dream regular season for the Hawkeyes ended with the Never-Ending Drive in the B1G Championship Game and then a thrashing at the hands of Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Iowa’s unlikely to repeat last year’s 12-0 regular season, but they shouldn’t need much luck to deal with the Redhawks, whose only FBS wins last year came against Eastern Michigan and UMass.

LSU at* Wisconsin (3:30 PM, ABC; played at Lambeau Field)

The return game of a semi-home-and-semi-home series (LSU hosted in Houston two years ago) is easily the marquee matchup for Week 1’s B1G schedule, and the tailgating scene should be legendary. It’s the beginning of a brutally front-loaded schedule for the Badgers, who (after two tune-ups against Akron and Georgia State) begin Big Ten play with games at Michigan State, at Michigan, home vs. Ohio State, and at Iowa. LSU is a fairly clear favorite and expected to be a national contender, but Wisconsin might be able to keep things interesting.

Fresno State at Nebraska (8 PM, BTN)

Fresno State has been an occasional threat as a top non-power conference team, but the last two years have been rough ones. The Huskers beat the Bulldogs in 2011 and 2014, and Nebraska’s underlying stats suggest a better team than their 6-7 record last year (which featured some remarkably weird finishes, mostly against them). This one shouldn’t be too much of a struggle.