Finally, the full Big Ten season is here! There are major headlines for the Big Ten as league play starts and the real teams show who they are. Rutgers has been hit with NCAA sanctions, Nebraska fired their athletic director for the fall of their football program, and Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State have major games in Week 4.
Here are the biggest matchups to watch for today, September 23rd, 2017.
No. 5 USC Trojans (3-0) @ California Golden Bears (3-0)
- 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
- Memorial Stadium | Berkley, CA
THE TEAMS: After a game that lived up to the billing this writer predicted last week, USC goes on the road for arguably their hardest challenge they have faced thus far. Texas came out exactly as expected with the first matchup since the epic Rose Bowl in 2006 with a hard-nosed defense and a respect and pride that was worthy of the stage they played on. Sam Darnold and company have to be much more efficient in this matchup. A rivalry game against the offensive juggernaut Cal Golden Bears will need all of Darnold’s supporting staff firing on all cylinders. Ronald Jones II and Deontay Burnett must get the Trojan offense down the field and often, because the home opponent will be looking to put up a lot of points compared to how Texas fared in the Coliseum.
The Cal Golden Bears have scored at least 21 points in each of the last four games against USC. Cal head coach Justin Wilcox, however, is a defensive minded individual. He coached with USC as their defensive coordinator from 2014-2015, while also having stops at Boise State, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin as DC. Will the defensive mind of Wilcox help the Golden Bears keep USC under 30, which has been a rarity for them since 2010. So far, the defensive stats haven’t lived up to Wilcox’ track record; 114th in total defense, 126th in passing yards per game, and 62nd in rushing yards per game. Everything will boil down to if Cal can finally stop a USC team that has struggled mightily so far in 2017.
THE MATCHUP: As mentioned above, the easily movable defense of Cal will have to slow down a tortoise-speed USC Trojan offensive attack. It may not be pretty to see, but this matchup will make or break this game. This rivalry in the last four seasons has been very high scoring and it would appear that will be the case again. Sam Darnold will have to wake up from his September slumber if this Trojan team wants to make the College Football Playoff.
PREDICTION: USC, 34-31
No. 16 TCU Horned Frogs (3-0) @ No. 6 Oklahoma State Cowboys (3-0)
- 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
- Boone Pickens Stadium | Stillwater, OK
THE TEAMS: Finally, we have a Kenny Hill sighting! It would appear that the former Texas A&M transfer is finally coming into his own at TCU. Gary Patterson has sprinkled his magic QB fairy dust again and has Hill firing on all cylinders after an awful 2016 campaign. Hill has a 75% completion percentage, eight touchdowns, and over 700 yards through three games. His growth was reason to celebrate in Fort Worth and they have managed to avoid faltering against two straight opponents in Arkansas and SMU.
On the home front, Oklahoma State is good, really good. This isn’t news to DSN sometimes writer/sometimes vlogger Paul Rochon, but some nationally were holding their breath on the hype coming out of Stillwater. What has transpired since is nothing short of magical. Mason Rudolph has been dynamic, receivers James Washington, Marcell Ateman, and Jalen McCleskey have all taken advantage of his play, and Justice Hill have kept the Cowboys offense two-dimensional. There’s nothing more to say than that OK State has the best offense in the country, bar none.
THE MATCHUP: The matchup will boil yet again down to the growth of Kenny Hill; has he made the Trevone Boykin transformation or not? The fighting Mike Gundys are all about capitalizing on turnovers with either the prowess of very athletic defensive backs or the monstrous offense scoring in one play in enemy territory. Will Kenny Hill be turnover prone or can he will TCU to another shocking victory?
PREDICTION: OKST, 47-27
No. 8 Michigan Wolverines (3-0) @ Purdue Boilermakers (2-1)
- 4:00 p.m. ET on FOX
- Ross-Ade Stadium | West Lafayette, IN
THE TEAMS: Dangerous games seem to be Michigan’s only option to start 2017. A less-than-stellar Michigan offensive attack has forced too close for comfort games against Florida, Cincinnati, and Air Force. What hasn’t been an issue is the defense that has been a pleasant surprise. By and large, teams are not running on the Wolverines and the young defense has held firm in the one quarter that has mattered. Wilton Speight remains a true mystery as his perceived third year growth has not occurred and murmurs abound in Ann Arbor of why Jim Harbaugh continues to defend his starting QB. A game against a real offensive opponent will answer any lingering questions that the Michigan fan base has, or at least inch closer to an answer in Speight’s case.
Purdue is a true wildcard in the 2017 Big Ten. First-year head coach Jeff Brohm has brought his winning culture over from Western Kentucky and the Boilermakers thus far feel different than they did in their previous post-Joe Tiller years. Their game last week against Missouri was an absolute statement win for the program that had turned into a laughing stock. Not only did their offense show real life but the defense shut out an offense that had scored over 70 points already this season. In arguably the biggest game in the program’s last ten seasons, how will Brohm and his staff handle the positive vibes coming their way and turn it into an actual, tangible advantage that Iowa was able to utilize to beat Michigan last year.
THE MATCHUP: Aside from the obvious emotion and energy coming from the Boilermaker faithful, how will David Blough and his offense move a young Michigan defense? Despite their impressive play, the youth on the defensive side of the ball for Michigan has been susceptible to big plays, as is natural for younger teams. Brohm is an offensive mastermind and will want to get his players out in space and away from the vaunted defensive front of Michigan. Look for screens, swing passes, and misdirection to be the law of the day for the Boilermaker offense.
PREDICTION: PUR, 28-24
No. 4 Penn State Nittany Lions (3-0) @ Iowa Hawkeyes (3-0)
- 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC
- Kinnick Stadium | Iowa City, IA
THE TEAMS: Penn State will go into one of their biggest nightmares as a ranked team. The Hawkeyes have upset daunting Penn State teams in the past and will look to do so again with prospects of taking over the Big Ten West up for grabs. While steady and lacking in any one disappointing category, PSU hasn’t done enough to warrant ultimate confidence like Clemson, Alabama, or Oklahoma State have. Saquan Barkley is a jack of all trades, but the Nittany Lions offensive line has been weaker than expected. McSorley hasn’t needed to pull off any heroics but the night game in Kinnick Stadium will almost assuredly force him into very uncomfortable situations. Everything is a mental game for James Franklin and his squad, and the home of the water tower will give them the ultimate test.
A rivalry game grips the Big Ten West this week. The Iowa Hawkeyes may actually have a proficient offense believe it or not. Iowa QB Nathan Stanley has been surprisingly efficient with a 10-1 touchdown/turnover ratio, 61% completion percentage, and 655 passing yards. The Hawkeyes matchup against Iowa State specifically stood out as a major turning point for this team offensively. For years, Kirk Ferentz never fielded a team that was very threatening vertically but always were hard-nosed in the trenches, in 2017 Stanley seems to have flipped the script. The injury to DSN favorite Akrum Wadley will definitely hurt Iowa however, especially late in the game if they find themselves with a lead against Saquan (tha God) Barkley and Trace McSorley.
THE MATCHUP: Nathan Stanley must maintain his efficiency against Penn State. The less opportunities that Saquan Barkley has to get the ball, the better. While McSorley may be the best QB in the Big Ten, Kinnick Stadium isn’t known for being too friendly to quarterback play and the honeness of Penn State’s victory will be on Barkley’s more than capable shoulders. it will be imperative for Kirk Ferentz to keep his Iowa offense on the field as much as possible to keep the Nittany Lions at bay.
PREDICTION: IOWA, 21-20
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2-1) @ Michigan State Spartans (2-0)
- 8:00 p.m. ET on FOX
- Spartan Stadium | East Lansing, MI
THE TEAMS: Notre Dame meanwhile is going through their own minor existential crisis as Brian Kelly yet again starts a season in underwhelming fashion. Outside of an appearance in the 2012 BCS title game, Notre Dame hasn’t amounted to much under Kelly and his 4-8 2016 campaign left him scratching his always-red head for answers. He fired all of his staff and swore off his previously thorny attitude. What has transpired looks like much of the same aside from an inspired effort from junior quarterback Brian Wimbush. Wimbush had a Madden-esque stat line with four rushing touchdowns, 207 rushing yards, 96 passing yards, and 11 completions at Boston College last week. The efforts of Brian Kelly to right his ship will rest on Wimbush exposing a still untested Spartan defense.
This will be the last matchup for these storied rivals until 2026, the longest break in the rivalry’s history. What will occur under the lights at Spartan Stadium will go a long way in cementing either program’s place in the years to come. Michigan State’s fall from grace has been well documented and thus far, the Spartans have seemingly righted the ship. The defense hasn’t given up an offensive touchdown and QB Brian Lewerke has shown a lot of promise through two games. Mark Dantonio needs this victory over a rival desperately in order to further prove he didn’t lose track of his program and that the Spartan culture of winning that he had implanted is here to stay.
THE MATCHUP: Michigan State has had a real issue with their secondary ever since the amazing 2013 squad departed. Spartan defenses have been exposed by major offensive attacks and the edge is always the first place teams are willing to go. Can the supporting cast of Chris Frey, Josh Butler, Khari Willis, and Matt Morrissey be able to contain the rushing ability of Wimbush? Will Notre Dame get to the edge on MSU or can the Spartans keep containment against a duel-threat quarterback?
PREDICTION: MSU, 28-20
BIGGEST WINNER: No. 10 Ohio State Buckeyes (-40) vs. UNLV Rebels
UPSET SPECIAL: NC State Wolfpack (+10.5) @ No. 12 Florida State Seminoles
TEAM TO WATCH: No. 17 Mississippi State Bulldogs (@ No. 11 Georgia Bulldogs)
PLAYER TO WATCH: Kyle Shurmur, QB Vanderbilt (vs. No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide)