If this week's column comes across as a little disconnected, I'm truly sorry. Just as I was sitting down to write I got a tersely worded statement from Michigan State University denying "any knowledge of and/or involvement with any football game or games played in the state of Arizona this past Saturday." It's kind of hard to write after getting something like that. On the one hand, it makes me angry. On the other hand, it might be the smartest PR move that university has made in the last year or so.
Last week's slate had a few snazzy traditional rivalries and a sizable collection of revenue-producing, bowl-securing snoozers. Also, Purdue lost to Eastern Michigan. Since those games were a bit uninspiring, surely this week's games are [checks schedule] ... almost certainly going to be played.
South Florida vs. Illinois (at Soldier Field)
The Illini have to hope the Bulls are looking past them to East Carolina.
(Shh ... you didn't hear me say it, but Illini football might not be completely hopeless this season. Western Illinois is a more-than-competent FCS team, and Lovie's squad simply gooned them last week.) USF 27, Illinois 24.
Ball State at Indiana
People might want to keep an eye on this game, if for no other reason than to see if Notre Dame might not be a touch overrated at No. 8 right now. If the Hoosiers beat the ... "Alexa, what is Ball State's team name?" ... Cardinals by more than eight points, the answer is probably "yes." But those people will be knowingly keeping tabs on a Ball State-Indiana football game for the sole purpose of possibly getting to mock Notre Dame fans, who won't care anyway. Life is just too short for that, man. Indiana 17, Ball State 10.
Temple at Maryland
Forget what I said last week. Beating Texas, Towson, and Bowling Green, then losing to Temple, would be the most Maryland thing ever. Fortunately for the Terps, Temple might be the worst team they've played so far. They aren't even as good as Texas! Maryland 48, Temple 14.
SMU at Michigan
This has the potential to be a pretty good game, if somehow it manages to be played in 1938. Michigan 40, SMU 13, 23 skidoo!
Nobody at Michigan State
... did much of anything to stop Larry Nassar.
Fake Miami at Minnesota
The Gophers are going to be 3-0, because the last time the RedHawks were any good at all, Ben Rufflesproggendorfner was their quarterback and Kirk Ferentz was still being referred to as "Iowa's new coach." But don't worry. As with so many Gopher seasons, 3-0 is just a point they're passing through on their way to 6-6. Look at their schedule if you don't believe me. Minnesota 38, Fake Miami 16.
Troy at Nebraska
Scott Frost may not have the team he's hoping for quite yet, but I'm pretty sure they can beat one guy. Nebraska 35, Troy 21.
Akron at Northwestern
Northwestern 33, Akron 20.
TCU vs. Ohio State (at Six Flags Over Jerry Jones's Mortality)
When tOSU announced it was sending Urban Meyer to the naughty chair, this was the game that everyone circled. Urbs isn't back back yet. He is allowed to coach practices but he cannot coach this game. It is generally assumed that this may make a difference. I am not so sure. The Horned Frogs look amazing on the stat sheet through two games ... against SMU (which see Michigan prediction above) and Southern Utah, which I'm not even sure is real. One of my ironclad rules of college football is "eat cupcakes early, puke up frosting later" and I'm expecting TCU to barfoosh all over the place.
Of course, the Buckeyes haven't really been challenged either, but they've at least played nothing but Power 5 teams, even if they were really bad ones. Ohio State 44, TCU 31.
Kent State at Penn State
The reason I know Nebraska can probably beat some guy named Troy is that Kent State totally took it to Howard last week. Wait ... Kent is a guy's name too. Is it? I mean, is it still? It seems like more and more names are going unisex, or just flat-out crossing over from men's names to women's names. There's a preschool out there somewhere with a little girl named Kent, though it's probably spelled Khenth. Or Qent. I swear, one of these days I'm going to meet a woman named Madison Emily, but her name is going to be spelled "Medicine Mole."
Anyway, Penn State is either playing a MAC team, your middle school math teacher, or a preschooler this weekend. Which of those it turns out to be should have little effect on the outcome. Penn State 42, Please Do The Odd-Numbered Problems on Page 86 and Show Your Work, Plus I Want Goldfish 7.
Missouri at Purdue
Mizzou, do Purdue. Too-new PU guru threw WKU into view. New clue: PU to spew goo through '22. You knew? Eww! Mizzou 42, PU 32.
BYU at Wisconsin
Here's a fun thing to do with a younger college football fan: Ask them which one of these teams has won a national championship. If they need a hint, tell them it never would have happened unless this team had defeated Michigan in a crucial December game. If they still don't get it, tell them that nobody on the team had a meaningful NFL career. If that's not enough, tell them that many people consider the claim of "national champion" for that season a bit dubious. That still won't be enough, so just tell them it was BYU. Confusing? Convoluted? Certainly. But that will probably be more interesting than this game will be. Wisconsin 28, BYU 17.
Northern Iowa at Iowa
Iowa leads this all-time series 16-1 and there is almost no reason to think that it won't be 17-1 by Sunday morning. But unlike that other in-state rival, these games tend to be uncomfortably close.
Mark Farley has coached the Panthers since 2001. Up until 2011, his Panthers finished lower than third in their conference only once and never missed the playoffs in consecutive years. Since 2011, they've finished higher than third only once and have made the playoffs only three out of six seasons. Granted, the MVFC is the toughest conference in the FCS, and not just because North Dakota State is in it, but still, there is evidence that the Panthers have dropped off a bit as of late.
Still, don't sleep on this game. UNI just might be small and quick enough to give the Big Ten-optimized Hawks some fits, and they've had two full weeks to prepare for this game. However, a whole bunch of stuff didn't work in UNI's opener against Montana, most notably the passing game. (Panther quarterbacks combined to go 16 of 42 for 164 yards with one TD and a pick.) Engage typical Hawkeye September mode: close at halftime, a bit wider at the end, underwhelming victory that somehow proves instructive and helpful for a unit that needs to taste a little success (in this case, the secondary). We won't love it, but we'll take it. Iowa 30, UNI 22.