Sports department for the student run radio station 90.3 WRST at UW-Oshkosh
This week in the WRST Sports College Football blog we’ll look at the most intriguing non-conference matchups for each Big Ten team. Obviously, not all non-conference matchups in the world of college football can be as epic or as exciting as Rice vs. Kansas was last season (Yeah, right…), but each Big Ten team has a game that could be of some interest to the fans out there.
Here’s a team-by-team breakdown of what I think the most intriguing matchups in the non-conference are and the reasons behind that.
Game to Watch: September 14th (Vs. Washington at Soldier Field)
Why: Yes, yes, I’m well aware that Illinois was a dismal 2-10 last year, going winless in the conference and only notching victories over Western Michigan and Charleston Southern. This game jumps out at me for a couple reasons. For one, it’s a benchmark type of game. Washington is an on the rise Pac 12 team, and a win by the Illini can set the tone as to the type of season they can have. Also, it’s a quality out-of-conference opponent. A win over Washington takes you farther than a win over an FCS school does and the momentum can propel the team down the stretch.
Note: Illinois hosts Cincinnati the week before (September 7th). While I think that’ll be a solid matchup, Cincy is definitely a better team and will probably beat the Illini soundly.
Game to Watch: September 21st (Vs. Missouri)
Why: Face the facts, Indiana has been BAAAAAAD the last 20 years or so, save for a couple years with the late Terry Hoeppner as head coach. This game at home against an SEC team is huge, not only for the Hoosiers, but for the conference itself. Yeah, Mizzou didn’t have a very good first year in the ESS EEE SEE, but you take what you can get. If Indiana can learn how to play defense and the offense takes more strides in year three of the Kevin Wilson era, there could be some celebratin’ in Bloomington on your humble author’s birthday.
Game to Watch: August 31st (Vs. Northern Illinois)
Why: As a Hawkeye fan, I always look forward to the Iowa State matchup, part of the annual Cy/Hawk Series. Here, though, I’m going to go in a different direction and pick the rematch with Northern Illinois from last season as my game to watch. Iowa struggled last season, finishing with a 4-8 record, but did get an early-season 17-16 win vs. an Orange Bowl-bound Huskies squad. With dynamic QB Jordan Lynch returning, will NIU get revenge for last year’s loss on Iowa’s home turf? Will Iowa knock off NIU for the second year in a row? Will Iowa’s offense actually remember how to move the ball downfield? Will AIRBHG strike again? Tune in for week one and find out.
Game(s) to watch: Wolverines (September 7th) vs. Notre Dame; Spartans (September 21st) at Notre Dame
Why: Killing two birds with one stone, here, as both Michigan and Michigan State have rivalry games with Notre Dame (as usual) in their non-conference slate. Frankly, neither team has any other exciting non-conference action scheduled, so it was an easy pick. In the end, both teams lost close ones to the Irish last year on the way to ND’s undefeated season and absolute destruction at the hands of Alabama (ROLL TIDE ROLL) in the BCS Title Game. Will the Big Ten get a couple big non-conference wins? Is Notre Dame really a football team? Is Lennay Kekua going to be an honorary captain for the Michigan State game? Am I really writing this blog? WHO KNOWS!?
Game to Watch: September 21st (Vs. San Jose State)
Why: I’ll be honest; Minnesota has a pretty soft non-conference slate (UNLV, At New Mexico State, Western Illinois, and San Jose State). So, the obvious choice is the Spartans who will play their first year in the Mountain West after the death of the WAC. The story is that SJSU went 11-2 last season and came within three points (20-17) of knocking off eventual Rose Bowl Champion Stanford in the season opener. While it won’t likely be the same Spartans team from last season coming in to TCF Bank in mid-September, they will still provide a good test for the Gophers before conference play starts a week later.
Game to Watch: September 14th (Vs. UCLA)
Why: The Bruins beat the Cornhuskers 36-30 at the Rose Bowl early last season, with both teams going on to have very good seasons, culminating in their respective conference championship games. Can Nebraska gain an early edge and get revenge against UCLA? Will Taylor Martinez have a standout senior year in Lincoln? Can Nebraska win the Leaders Division two years in a row? This game will be an early measuring stick.
Game(s) to Watch: At California (NW—August 31st, tOSU—September 14th)
Why: The Golden Bears make formidable opponents for Northwestern and Ohio State, but for different reasons. For Northwestern, who usually challenges themselves regularly against low-to-mid level BCS teams (as opposed to playing the little sisters of the poor); it represents an early-challenge to the up-and-coming Cats, who won ten games last year. For Ohio State, the Golden Bears played them tough in Columbus, with the Buckeyes having to pull away late. After going undefeated and not being able to play in the national title game due to tattoo-gate, tOSU is hungry, not for the Crimson Tide, but hungry to prove themselves and get back to national prominence.
Game to Watch: September 21st (Vs. Kent State)
Why: Ok, I know what you’re probably saying. “DUDE THIS IS THE BIG TEN VS. THE MAC, PENN STATE SHOULD CRUSH THEM”….Ah! Ah! Ah! Hold on just one second, there, friends. The Golden Flashes won 11 games last year, beat a future Big Ten team (Rutgers) and had a solid attack on both sides of the ball. Although they lose coach Hazell to Purdue and obviously, will be different in 2013, they still could surprise. Penn State went 8-4 last year and is still banned from post-season play due to the Gerry Sandusky scandal. They struggled early on, but finished strong after a mass exodus of players in the pre-season. It will be interesting to see how PSU does in year two under Bill O’Brien.
Game to Watch: September 28th (Vs. Northern Illinois)
Why: The Boilermakers are officially ‘hopeless’ after Danny Hope’s firing (I’ll show myself out), and Darrell Hazell comes in to get the train back on the tracks in West Lafayette. I don’t see the Boilers doing much this season, but early games at Cincinnati, at home vs. Notre Dame and this one against Northern Illinois should test their mettle. Much like Iowa, this game is a big measuring stick. Will Jordan Lynch have a big day on Homecoming at Purdue? Can Northern Illinois crash the BCS again? Will Coach Hazell’s experience vs. NIU at Kent State push the boilers to victory? All of those questions can be answered at Ross-Ade in late September.
Game to Watch: November 9th (Vs. BYU)
Why: A rare late-season non-conference bout faces Bucky at Camp Randall as the Badgers take on BYU. The Cougars are a historic program (See Steve Young, Ty Detmer, etc) and more recently have been to bowl games in eight consecutive seasons. The Badgers have a relatively soft non-conference slate, (UMass, Tennessee Tech, At AZ State) in addition to BYU, so this contest could be an interesting one. With the game at Camp Randall, I’ll give an edge to Wisconsin, but BYU has been a very good defensive team under Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall, so watch for that. Plus, new Badgers coach Gary Anderson faced BYU as the HC of Utah State last season, losing 6-3. Will his experience against them help fuel the Badgers?
World of Sports
It’s Championship Week. Go watch College Basketball….
Oh, and R.I.P. Brandon Knight.
Sorry, Badger fans. I have to. Love it or Leave It!
Spencer Wagen—WRST-FM Station Manager and Sports Broadcaster