The college football season will involve a number of tension points. One of them is the Big Ten, the most successful regular season conference in the country in 2016. The Big Ten put four teams in New Year’s Six bowl games last season, more than any other in the country. The league would love to be able to retain that level of supremacy, but upsets could get in the way of its plans. Here are some of the landmines – but also the opportunities – which lie ahead for the conference in 2017.
Maryland Terrapins at Texas Longhorns
There is a generally accepted sense that Texas will be better this season, but Texas might not hit its stride under new coach Tom Herman until October. The team might need time to adjust to a new system, with rough edges in terms of its offensive performance and the rapport between quarterback and head coach. Maryland, meanwhile, took a step forward as a program last season under coach D.J. Durkin. The Terrapins have a right to think that they are gaining credibility and are solidifying their habits. This is not a team which can bank on being able to play Texas toe to toe, but it’s a team which could sneak up on Texas if the Longhorns aren’t careful. Texas could very realistically be ambushed – it would hardly be the first time a team came out flat as a favorite in a season opener, which is what this game is.
Wisconsin Badgers at Indiana Hoosiers
The Badgers deserve the benefit of the doubt as the team to beat in the Big Ten West Division, but Indiana has a knack for regularly giving a tough time to better teams in the Big Ten. Indiana is not a heavyweight, and it usually fails to win big games, but it consistently plays Ohio State, Michigan, and other tough teams close at home. Just a few plays could turn a seven-point loss into a three-point win. This is definitely a game in which Wisconsin has to be on guard and can’t become complacent.
Michigan State Spartans at Michigan Wolverines
The Michigan State Spartans aren’t likely to beat the Michigan Wolverines, but they weren’t likely to win two years ago, either. Yet, they came up with a botched punt return for a touchdown on the final play to win. Even last year, when Michigan had the far better team, Michigan State hung around and was still competitive deep into the fourth quarter. This is a rivalry game in which the less talented team could hang around for a long time and maybe steal the contest in the end. The Spartans won’t be playing for the College Football Playoff in 2018, so this will be their Super Bowl. They’ll go all out for this game.
Ohio State Buckeyes at Nebraska Cornhuskers
This is a dangerous game for the Buckeyes. They crushed Nebraska last season, but that might fill the Huskers with a desire for revenge which, in a home game, could give them a surge of momentum and confidence. Nebraska also has a defensive coordinator, Bob Diaco, who when at Notre Dame (before he became head coach at Connecticut), bottled up a lot of high-powered offenses. If Ohio State’s offense gets stuck, it wouldn’t be the first time – it happened last year at Penn State. The Buckeyes can’t afford to look past the Cornhuskers, who are a team on the rise in the Big Ten. They’re looking for a signature win and this could be it.
Nebraska Cornhuskers at Minnesota Golden Gophers
This is the game Nebraska has to watch out for. The Huskers will try to pull the upset against Ohio State, but it will be the wearer of a target against Minnesota as P.J. Fleck coaches the Golden Gophers after leading Western Michigan to the Cotton Bowl last season. Fleck’s enthusiasm will have Minnesota amped up to play this game. Nebraska has to maintain its composure and avoid big mistakes on the road.
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