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Holy smokes. Less than four weeks until the Big Ten football season opens. On Aug. 27, NORTHWESTERN and NEBRASKA will clash at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland.

If the Cornhuskers lose, Scott Frost has to paddle home. Pat Fitzgerald will have a paddle handy.

I deplore the speed with which summer has passed. That used to be true simply because I like summer. Now it’s true because at this age, I don’t want any amount of time to pass quickly.

That said, games sure will beat the heck out of yakking about schools jumping around for money, aka Conference Realignment.

And so, a few thoughts on the season that will be here later this month.

It’s as easy as One, Two, Three.

OHIO STATE is still The One. . . Kudos to MICHIGAN man Jim Harbaugh, who got the proverbial monkey off his back by finally cracking the Buckeyes last season. But that will only make Ohio State mad. And with the talent Ohio State has amassed, the Buckeyes will rule the roost again.

Two Dark Horses that I want to see. . . MICHIGAN STATE and PURDUE.

Gotta love the way Mel Tucker has made the Spartans relevant again. A tidy little 11-2 last year, including a win over ``Big Brother’’ Michigan. I say this, knowing that `Big Brother’ will rankle a certain diehard Spartan in Saugatuck. And Mark Dantonio, wherever he is counting that last bonus that he collected by retiring late. Which led to Tucker being an under-the-radar brilliant hire.

Tucker is an absolute Pied Piper at bringing in talent. It’ll be fun to see how far that goes in a division with Ohio State, Michigan and PENN STATE

Maybe the Boilermakers are more of a reach than the Spartans. But maybe not. The Big Ten West is not a juggernaut like the East. The important thing is, I am a big fan of the way Jeff Brohm dials up a passing game. And with Aidan O’Connell, Purdue could be armed and dangerous.

Last year’s 9-4, Purdue's highest win total in 18 seasons, included a 24-7 upset of No. 2 Iowa in Iowa City and a 40-29 takedown of No. 3 Michigan State in West Lafayette. In three starts against AP top-10 teams, O’Connell completed 75 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and no interceptions.

If published reports were true, Purdue turned to Brohm only after being turned down by P.J. Fleck.  Fleck is a strong recruiter and master at motivating. But Brohm, who had a lot more rebuilding to do, is a passing wizard capable of doing for Purdue what Joe Tiller did back in the day.

A pretty good case could be made for Minnesota to be a so-called dark horse. Except that considering the talent that the Gophers return, and considering the flaws in Big Ten West perennials Iowa and Wisconsin, I expect the Gophers to be a very serious contender, rather than a surprise.

A TALE OF THREE COORDINATORS. . . Face it. When it comes to publicity, coordinators have more in common with offensive linemen than head coaches, quarterbacks, running backs, pass-rush monsters and the guy who handles the beverages in the luxury suites.

When it’s bad, everybody wants their scalp. When it’s good, blockers and coordinators tend to not be noticed.

But the stakes will be high this fall for three new Big Ten coordinators. Like offensive linemen, they’re going to be under the microscope if things don’t go well. If things do go well, I’m going to try and remember to give them credit.

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Buckeyes defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who received some DC-of-the-year honors last season at Oklahoma State, comes to Ohio State amid talk of a top-10 defense. Actually, it’s not talk. Head coach Ryan Day said that is the expectation this fall.

Last year, the Buckeyes finished 38th in scoring defense (22.8 points a game) and 59th in total defense (372.9 yards).

Nebraska offensive coordinator Mark Whipple comes to Nebraska from Pitt, where he directed an explosive offense that helped the Panthers win their first ACC Championship in 2021. All he has to do is save Scott Frost's job.

With Frost on perhaps the hottest seat in the nation, there’s a lot of talk about how close the Cornhuskers were last year—and how they are due for a big turnaround this fall.

Yes, they went 3-9 last year with all nine losses by fewer than 10 points. But in my experience, losing close can be a measure of how close a team is—or a bad trend. And the truth is, Nebraska was not a well-coached team last year. It made a lot of mistakes.

Will Whipple be able to change that? Will the defense and special teams step up, too? Is Nebraska as talented as some people seem to think?

We’ll find out.

—Just a hunch. But with all the attention focused on ``Top 10'' Knowles and ``Must-Win'' Whipple, I wonder if Wisconsin offensive coordinator Bobby Engram might be in the best position of this trio.

A position coach for Paul Chryst at Pitt, is reuniting with his old boss after a fine run as an NFL receiver and offensive assistant. Engram won the first Biletnikoff Award in 1994, when he had a brilliant season for an unbeaten Penn State. He knows the drill.

He comes to a Badger program that is solid just about everywhere. Jim Leonhard runs an excellent defense. The offensive line needs to mesh, but Wisconsin has the bodies for that. And if the receivers aren’t world beaters, another stud Badger runner, 6-foot-2, 240-pound sophomore Braelon Allen, ought to give them breathing room.

The one big question is ballyhooed quarterback Graham Mertz, who has floundered in his first two years. Huge question, actually.

Is Mertz over-rated? There’s a strong case for that. The thing is, 2020 was a disjointed COVID-addled year, especially for Mertz and the Badgers. And in 2021, Wisconsin scheduled itself into oblivion by playing Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan in its first four games.

No excuses, though, for the lame performance in the finale at Minnesota, which cost the Badgers the division title. No excuses for Chryst, that is.

I tend to think that Chryst has mishandled Mertz for a variety of reasons. Some of them—COVID, the schedule, some O-line issues, the time it took to get to Allen, Chryst’s low-keyed style—were understandable.

A theory: If Engram is really good, he’ll figure out a way to get Mertz going. I have a hunch that a new OC is just the thing Mertz needs—especially if Chryst doesn’t meddle.

You heard it here first.

Enjoy the games—after this last beautiful stretch of summer.