One of the great traditions of college football is. . . presumptive predictions.
For example, the only thing we know for sure in the Big Ten is that Ohio State will steamroll through the conference.
The Buckeyes’ recruiting says it. Their coaching staff oozes it. History says it. And face-painting Buckeye fans chant it.
Yes, there was that blip last year—a shaky defense—that gave Michigan an opening. All credit to Jim Harbaugh for driving the Wolverines through that crack.
But don’t look for that to happen again.
If Ohio State is going to stumble, the most logical place is at Penn State on Oct. 29. The Buckeyes play at Michigan State on Oct. 8, then take on Iowa in the Horseshoe on Oct. 22.
Those two games could either expose where Ohio State is vulnerable—or get the Buckeyes feeling too good about themselves.
Ohio State facing its toughest challenge at Penn State?
Talk about a presumptive prediction.
Here is a key game for each Big Ten East team. It might be a must-win, or simply a must-avoid-a-letdown. However you label it, it will be important in shaping the season.
Ohio State: At Penn State on Oct. 29. For the above reasons.
Michigan: At Ohio State on Nov. 26. For all the obvious reasons.
Penn State: Vs. Minnesota on Oct. 22. The Gophers’ visit comes between Penn State’s trip to Michigan and that Ohio State game. Easy to not be ready for the one in the middle.
Michigan State: The temptation is to say that Sparty’s Sept. 17 trip to Washington is fraught with peril. Because it is. The trickiest game, though, might be the Oct. 1 trip to Maryland—a week after a potentially potent Minnesota, and with Ohio State and Wisconsin on tap after Maryland. It wouldn’t be surprising if Michigan State doesn’t get up for Maryland, which also could be better than many experts think.
Indiana: The Hoosiers and their fans will get a quick barometer of where they stand in their opener against Illinois on Sept. 2. With its likely low ceiling this year, this shapes up as a game Indiana needs. But the Illini seem to be improving under Bret Bielema, and they will have the benefit of an Aug. 27 opener against Wyoming.
Maryland: The Terps will make a statement, one way or another, when they play host to Purdue on Oct. 8. In college football, it’s important to win your winners because you’re likely to lose your losers. If Maryland can win its nonconference games, it will be 3-0 going into its Big Ten opener at Michigan on Sept 24. Then it faces a seemingly uphill battle with Michigan State. If the Terps can handle Purdue, another program trying to have a pleastant autumn despite some daunting opponents, they’ll have momentum for their next two, against Indiana and Northwestern, before a rugged November slate that includes trips to Wisconsin and Penn State before a home date with Ohio State.
Rutgers: Nobody’s expecting much this fall, just a few more encouraging signs from Greg Schiano. The place to make that statement is against Nebraska, which comes to Rutgers on Oct. 7. There will be a lot of attention on the Cornhuskers and their embattled coach, Scott Frost, this fall. Barring a miracle, no one will be paying attention to Rutgers. Schiano can make a statement against a closely watched Nebraska.