Welcome back! This is the I-don't-know-how-many-th season of Pickin' on the Big Ten. I mean, I started writing it in 1999, but I took one or two seasons off along the way, so I'm not totally sure how many seasons I've actually written this.
Not gonna lie: This one was tough to get started with. Week 1 is always a tough week to write anyway, since we all know exactly nothing about any of the teams except for their names and last season's records. There's more than a little guesswork involved here. Also, every year I have to remind myself that the conference really did add Rutgers and Maryland, so I need to pay a little attention to them. But only a little. Life is too short to devote much of your brain to Rutgers football. In fact, I may ignore the Dear Old Rutgers Knights in Scarlet (DORKS) after next week.
But this week, there's games sprayed all over the place like Silly String at a six-year-old's birthday party. So we might as well just dive right in.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE AT MINNESOTA (8:00 PM CT, FS1)
Proof that the top five teams from last season's Big Ten West were basically interchangeable: People are talking about the momentum the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who haven't had an offensive playmaker since ... Marion Barber III? Rickey Foggie? Nebuchadnezzar? ... are bringing into the season. You saw the Moaning Golfers play last season. So did I. That was a slightly above average team playing in a division where all the teams were slightly above average. (Except Illinois. And Nebraska, for most of the year.)
The Gophers probably thought they were pretty smart scheduling the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, back before SDSU started getting good. (The Jacks are fourth in the preseason FCS poll.) As it stands, they have a pretty good shot at becoming the first Power 5 team to lose to three different teams from the Dakotas (they've previously lost to South Dakota in 1912 and 2010 and to North Dakota State in 2007 and 2011). I don't think they will, but this will be harder than most of us think.
Minnesota 24, South Dakota State 17
TULSA AT MICHIGAN STATE (6:00 PM CT, FS1)
Those of us who are of a certain age may remember the Golden Hurricanes often appearing on Iowa's schedule as the "tossup" portion of Hayden Fry's "a tuneup, a tossup, and Iowa State" nonconference scheduling philosophy. Tulsa actually took one from Hayden in 1996, 27-20. Hayden settled the score the next season, 54-16. Tulsa was also the alma mater of Iowa-born quarterback TJ Rubley, who had a cup of coffee in the NFL, and spilled it on himself. The Golden Hurricanes also once had phenomenally ugly uniforms, so bad that they've been scrubbed from the interwebs, it would seem. None of this matters, but Sparty still sheltered Larry Nassar, so I'm not going to talk about them.
Victim Blamers 33, Tulsa 10
WISCONSIN AT SOUTH FLORIDA (6:00 PM CT, ESPN)
Who goes to Tampa this time of year? Did Barry Alvarez learn nothing from scheduling a season-opening night game at Arizona State? I hope the Badgers have been practicing in full parkas and snow pants.
This actually could be a pretty good game, with both teams playing tough, straight-ahead football. I think the Badgers have the better talent, but I still believe Charlie Strong is a good coach and Paul Chryst is okay at best. Another season-opening pants stress test for the Badgers, methinks.
Wisconsin 23, USF 20
UMASS AT RUTGERS (6:15 PM CT, BTN)
If any school in this conference can lose to a Pixies song, it's Rutgers. Maybe not this song, but they'd lose to Debaser. I Am Un ... Chien! And We're Losers! 30, UMass 13.
PURDUE AT NEVADA (8:30 PM CT, CBS Sports)
I can't believe Jeff Brohm is still there either. If he didn't leave for Louisville, he's never leaving. That's good, it may end the bubble screen in the Big Ten West, and that can't happen too soon.
Meanwhile, nobody tell anyone where Colin Kaepernick went to college.
Undue Perversity 45, Nevada 24
AKRON AT ILLINOIS (11:00 AM CT, BTN)
The Illini finally pulled the plug on the curious yet unsuccessful Lovie Smith experiment after last season, and they will now be led by ...
"Hey Siri, who coaches the Illini now?"
Siri thinks she's funny, but she's not.
Illinois 14, Akron 7
INDIANA VS. BALL STATE (at Indianapolis) (11:00 AM CT, CBS Sports)
It's great they scheduled this game at a neutral site. We all know what sort of bad blood there is between these two schools. It's like an even more intense version of Eastern Illinois-Murray State. Is it obvious I haven't even bothered looking up anything about either team? I mean, would you?
Indiana 40, Ball State 16
HOWARD AT MARYLAND (11:00 AM CT, BTN)
Haven't looked up much about Maryland football either, but I'm pretty sure they can beat one guy.
Maryland 48, Howard 7
FLORIDA ATLANTIC AT OHIO STATE (11:00 AM CT, FOX)
The Ryan Day era starts with a visit from Lane Kiffin. Charlie Weis's son coordinates FAU's offense now. That's probably a sign of something, but doggone if I know what it is.
An Ohio State University 56, Florida Atlantic 10
SOUTH ALABAMA AT NEBRASKA (11:00 AM CT, ESPN)
BOO-yaaaahh! There's an early FROST WARNING for the entire nation, LOL. Air Nebraska has a stealth fighter called Adrian Martinez and he's gonna drop the BOMB on you, LOL! Husker Nation will rise up, LOL, and we're gonna take down Bamma! Clemson showed us the way, LOL, you just have to out-tough them! Well, what's tougher than Nebraska BEEF, LOL! Just put our name on the Cristal football now, but don't worry IOWA, we'll let you look at it LOL, since it will never be yours!
Nebraska 44, Please Don't Tell Husker Todd It's Actually South Alabama 0
IDAHO AT PENN STATE (2:30 PM CT, BTN)
I thought Idaho dropped football. Turns out they've had one more first-round NFL draft pick than Iowa State has, so it's a good thing they didn't!
Paternos 35, Potatoes 14
NORTHWESTERN AT STANFORD (3:00 PM CT, FOX)
Even more proof that the Big Ten West was a random number generator last season: Northwestern won the division despite losing all of its nonconference games, handily defeated the No. 20 Utah Utes in the Holiday Bowl, and yet it's Stanford that is in the Top 25 right now. Nobody was impressed with our division last year, and nobody should have been. I'm guessing the Cats get jetlagged here.
Stanford 24, Northwestern 21
MIDDLE TENNESSEE AT MICHIGAN (6:30 PM CT, BTN)
Okay, I'll say it: Jim Harbaugh is the John Cooper of the north. He can beat anybody except the only school the entire fan base wants him to beat. Well, this is his season. This is his moment. He is going to shut everybody up by finally laying a big-time hurt on that school down south.
No, not that one. The commuter college in the Nashville suburbs.
Almost As Good As We Think We Are 38, Middle Tennessee 17
And now what you've all been waiting for...
FAKE MIAMI AT IOWA (6:30 PM CT, FS1)
The first game I attended at Kinnick was Fake Miami in 2001. It was a perfect early fall afternoon, the stadium was packed even though Ferentz hadn't had a winning season yet, and Miami's quarterback was really good, some dude named Ben Frothingslosh or something like that. But the rest of the Fake Miami team was terrible and the Hawkeyes dogwalked them.
That was one of the best Fake Miami team of the past twenty seasons. I always hate being confident in Iowa's first game, but I'm confident here and I don't even feel all that bad about it.
Iowa 30, Fake Miami 12