Published Friday, September 13, 2013 at 9:45 pm / Updated at 2:16 pm
Barfknecht: Pac-12 games give Big Ten a chance at a breakthrough

Even though the Big Ten and Pac-12 Conferences failed two years ago in putting together a formal scheduling agreement, you wouldn't know it from this week's football slate.

The leagues go head-to-head four times Saturday, and all are interesting early-season matchups: No. 16 UCLA at No. 23 Nebraska; No. 4 Ohio State at California; No. 20 Wisconsin at Arizona State; and No. 19 Washington vs. Illinois at Chicago's Soldier Field.

As poor as Big Ten schools are at scheduling notable nonconference games, this serves as a monster day for a league in need of some positive press.

“There are certain weekends of the year that you can change perception,'' Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “As you look at the schedule, this is one of those.''

Michigan provided the Big Ten a much-needed boost last week by knocking off Notre Dame 41-30. Other than that, about the only thing that passes for a head-turning victory in this league so far is Illinois' 45-17 upset of Cincinnati.

Clearly, the Nebraska-UCLA game is the focus locally. Our crack Husker staff has covered every angle, so let's look at the other critical Big Ten game.

Wisconsin might have the best chance to increase the league's profile by going on the road and beating Arizona State.

Badgers coach Gary Andersen noted the Big Ten is 0-8 at Sun Devil Stadium. Breaking that streak won't be easy with a late-night start and a kickoff temperature predicted at 102 degrees.

“It's important for the Big Ten for a lot of reasons,'' Andersen said. “It's a huge opportunity for us and for other schools and the conference to hop out of conference play ... and show what we can do against another quality conference.''

Get the latest Big Ten headlines from The World-Herald and from beat writers around the nation.

Wisconsin hasn't allowed a point in beating Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech, while Arizona State mauled Sacramento State. In other words, neither team has had a true test.

But Andersen feels his team is ready to pick on someone its own size.

“We've spent enough time watching Arizona State, and trust me, our guys understand the level of competition is stepping up,'' he said. “They've waited for this moment and are excited about it.''

Arizona State has a high-octane, high-tempo offense, a powerhouse defensive front seven and home-field advantage. But Andersen, who has spent most of his coaching career in the West, will know how to deal with the situation, so I sense a Big Ten breakthrough here.

My pick: Wisconsin 30, Arizona State 27

Other Big Ten games

No. 16 UCLA (1-0) at No. 23 Nebraska (2-0)

11 a.m., ABC: Nebraska benefited from playing last week to get the Wyoming taste out of its mouth. UCLA benefited from the open date in getting extra time to prepare. This game should be just as close as last year's, with the home team winning again. Nebraska 35, UCLA 31

No. 4 Ohio State (2-0) at California (1-1)

6 p.m., Fox: Star OSU quarterback Braxton Miller (sprained knee ligament) is questionable, but that's not as big a concern as at most places because senior Kenny Guiton is a very capable backup. The return of OSU All-America cornerback Bradley Roby is key, too. Ohio State 35, California 21

No. 19 Washington (1-0) vs. Illinois (2-0) in Chicago

5 p.m., BTN: The Illini, 2-10 a year ago, have been an early-season national surprise. Another upset this week would be monumental, but Washington looks too strong. Washington 27, Illinois 21

Bowling Green (2-0) at Indiana (1-1)

11 a.m., ESPNU: The Hoosiers got knocked off at home last week by Navy, and it could happen again here. Somebody at IU has to figure out how to play defense, and soon, after giving up 35 and 41 points in the first two games. Bowling Green 35, Indiana 34

Western Illinois (2-0) at Minnesota (2-0)

11 a.m., BTN: The Gophers need to find some offensive rhythm. They have scored five defensive or kick return touchdowns in the first two games, but those aren't points you can count on regularly. Minnesota 27, Western Illinois 14

Akron (1-1) at No. 11 Michigan (2-0)

11 a.m., BTN: Even with a hangover from the Notre Dame victory, the Wolverines should cruise against the Zips coached by Terry Bowden. Michigan 42, Akron 14

Youngstown State (2-0) at Michigan State (2-0)

1 p.m., BTN: The Spartans' defense has outscored the offense 28-19. So Mark Dantonio spins the quarterback wheel again, coming up with sophomore Connor Cook to start and true freshman Damion Terry allegedly as the backup. Michigan State 20, Youngstown State 10

Iowa (1-1) at Iowa State (0-1)

5 p.m., Fox Sports 1: The Hawkeyes' bowl-eligibility hopes make this a must win. If Iowa can clean up its penalty and lack-of-concentration mistakes, it should be able to pound the ball on the ground and win. Iowa 20, Iowa State 14

Central Florida (2-0) at Penn State (2-0)

5 p.m., BTN: This is the trendy upset pick this week as mentor George O'Leary brings UCF to face his former pupil Bill O'Brien at PSU. But I see the Nittany Lions holding serve. True freshman QB Christian Hackenberg is the real deal. Penn State 28, Central Florida 17

No. 21 Notre Dame (1-1) at Purdue (1-1)

7 p.m., ABC: Really? This is ABC's prime time game instead of Nebraska-UCLA? This is just a shabby ratings grab for ABC in one of the rare times it gets to show Notre Dame instead of NBC. Enjoy this mess. Notre Dame 50, Purdue 10

Western Michigan (0-2) at No. 17 Northwestern (2-0)

8 p.m., BTN: The Wildcats continue to prove they are a legitimate Big Ten title contender. The momentum won't be slowed this week. Northwestern 45, Western Michigan 13

* * *

Video: Big Ten Preview Show, Sept. 11

Video: Pelini discusses the UCLA game following Thursday's practice

Video: Big Red Today Show, Sept. 10

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.



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