Week 4 of the college football season marks the unofficial official opening of Big Ten conference play - not counting Indiana-Ohio State kicking off the college football season week 1. Six schools will open up the 2017, 9-game slate of conference games this weekend mixed in with Michigan State and Notre Dame trying to make the battle for the Megaphone Trophy Great Again. Here are a few things to look for this weekend:
All Eyes on Me: Iowa Twitter began speculating after their week 2 win at Iowa State that ESPN's College Gameday would be coming to Iowa City for the Hawkeyes' match up with #4 Penn State Saturday night. The only showdown between ranked opponents this week is happening at Oklahoma State when they take on TCU. Most figured that ESPN is saving a trip to Stillwater for Bedlam later in the season when Oklahoma comes to take on the #6 ranked Cowboys. Gameday has since chosen to overtake Times Square in New York City where people may not be aware the state has any college football teams. It's hard to justify coming to Iowa City as Penn State rolled Iowa last year 41-14. But this game has a history of spectacular moments, most dramatically for Iowa in recent years.
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is a Heisman front runner. Saquon Barkley accounted for 211 yards and two touchdowns against Iowa last year in the trashing in Happy Valley. Iowa's defensive front seven was perceived to be the crutch the defense would lean on as the secondary replaced an All-American in Desmond King. So far, the Iowa defense has struggled with uptempo, mobile teams. Iowa is giving up 97 ypg on the ground, sixth best in the Big Ten. If Iowa cannot hamper Barkley and the very mobile Trace McSorely, this game could get very out of hand. On the flip side, Penn State has looked spectacular against three schools in Akron, Pitt and Georgia State that may win 10 games between the three of them. Penn State in giving up 126 ypg rushing on their end which to a Penn State fan could be concerning. Penn State will not want to put this game in the trenches or this will look a lot like Michigan's trip to Kinnick Stadium when they lost 14-13 last year, ruining their perfect season.
Penn State is the better team, they should win Saturday night but Iowa loves to play spoiler in this series. Iowa ended a then undefeated Penn State's run at a BCS chance in 2008, 24-23. Iowa went the next year to Penn State to knock off the then #5 Nittany Lions 21-10 on their own run to an Orange Bowl.
Try Not to Suck: It's no question that Notre Dame isn't the revered program it was in before any millennial was born, and it seems like an eternity since Michigan State made the College Football playoff in 2015. When we last left our battle of the Megaphone Trophyians, the year was 2013 and we were all still listening to "Blurred Lines." Notre Dame was a year removed from a National Championship appearance and Michigan State was in the midst of their third double digit win season in four years. Notre Dame would give Michigan State its only loss that year before taking a two-year hiatus in the rivalry only to be dug up last year. Boy did both teams look different on the other side. What's important is that Michigan State won the 2016 edition of the rivalry and that they would not win another game the rest of the way. Notre Dame would not fair much better, winning four games the entire year.
It does seem that last year was SOMEWHAT outlier on otherwise very successful past decades for the Spartans and Irish. 2017 has seen Michigan State start 2-0, though the wins have come against Bowling Green and a PJ Fleck-less Western Michigan in two very unauthoritative wins. With games still at Michigan and Ohio State and a hosting of Penn State still on the schedule, Notre Dame will be a litmus test of how far Michigan State will come from three wins last season.
Notre Dame has beaten Boston College and Temple but lost faux home game against Georgia 20-19. The Irish still have USC, Stanford and a trip to Miami left on the schedule. No one is expecting double digit wins in South Bend.
Expect this game to be run heavy. Notre Dame is rushing for an insane 330 ypg, led by running back Josh Adams and the more-than-capable Brandon Wimbush at quarterback. For Michigan State, they have a similar threat of a mobile quarterback and an established running back. Quarterback Brian Lewerke is the teams leading rusher while running back LJ Scott has gotten off to a relatively slow start with only 125 yards against defenses that aren't Big Ten defenses. It's simple really: whoever can contain the run game on defense, wins.
- Illinois, Northwestern, Minnesota and Wisconsin are all off this week.
- Nebraska fired their AD Shawn Eichorst as the Huskers are of to a 1-2 start. Coach Mike Riley is under contract through 2020. He is not fired.
- The Michigan-Purdue matchup may end up being one of the more exciting games of the weekend. Purdue is 13 of 13 in red zone success while Michigan boasts a top-5 defense nationally.
Filed under: What to Watch