One of the first things I read on fall Saturday mornings is Lee Barfknecht’s Big Ten picks. I agree about 87.6 percent of the time, and I have at least one laugh 100 percent of the time.
So as I take over the weekly selections — and along with it, Big Ten rankings and the notebook — take note: I’m half as funny and half as bright. You’ve been warned.
Which, naturally, brings us to Michigan vs. Notre Dame.
I grew up on this game in the 1980s and 1990s. Over a 10-year span (1985-1994), every game was decided by 10 points or less — Notre Dame won five, Michigan four and one ended in a tie. It was part of a balanced college football diet.
These days, it feels crowded out. Half as fun. Half as essential.
Though the game has a primetime slot on NBC, and it’s likely to be the most-watched game of the weekend, some matchup between Auburn and Washington feels as big, if not bigger. That’s because the national title implications in that game loom larger.
Perhaps the game in South Bend will factor in, too. This feels like a College Football Playoff knockout game for Notre Dame; a loss to Michigan and the Fighting Irish are playing for a bowl and pride. Except in Las Vegas, where oddsmakers give Michigan a good chance of winning the national title, most don’t expect the Wolverines to contend this year.
Jim Harbaugh — “King Khaki Pants” in Lee B parlance — isn’t really on a hot seat, of course. Who else is Michigan going to hire? But an 8-5 finish last year meant the whole brand-building schtick — the overseas trips, the Amazon TV series — fell a little flat.
Harbaugh has dialed down a lot in the offseason. He overhauled his coaching staff. Better, he pursued a starting quarterback — Mississippi transfer Shea Patterson — who has enough mobility to help Michigan become more of a spread offense.
On Saturday night, consider it just enough. Las Vegas says the game is a toss-up, which is the best kind of Michigan-Irish tilt. The Wolverines kick off the year right and win by a field goal.
Michigan 24 Notre Dame 21
Akron (0-0) at Nebraska (0-0)
7 p.m., Fox
Husker fans have waited 10 months for native son Scott Frost to coach his first game in Memorial Stadium. What’s a little thunderstorm if the game gets delayed a few times? It could happen.
Line: Nebraska by 26
My pick: Nebraska 38 Akron 14
Texas (0-0) vs. Maryland (0-0)
11 a.m., FS1
According to the Baltimore Sun, 13 members of the Champions Club, top Terrapin boosters, sent a letter in support of coach DJ Durkin this week to Maryland’s Board of Regents. Durkin is on leave from the program as his treatment of players is investigated. With all that swirling, I don’t see another Maryland-beats-Texas headline like last year.
Line: Texas by 13½
My pick: Texas 31 Maryland 21
Oregon State (0-0) at Ohio State (0-0)
11 a.m., ABC
Not even an Urban Meyer-created mess in Columbus can derail the Buckeyes this weekend against the Beavers, starting completely over with their third coach in five years. OSU might miss Meyer at TCU in Week 3. Not in Week 1.
Line: Ohio State by 39 ½
My pick: Ohio St. 61 Oregon St. 14
Northern Illinois (0-0) at Iowa (0-0)
2:30 p.m., BTN
The Huskies are giant killers. They beat Iowa in 2013. They beat Nebraska in 2017. They won’t be afraid in Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes have just enough firepower to stay out in front of an upset-minded NIU, though.
Line: Iowa by 10
My pick: Iowa 24 Northern Illinois 17
Appalachian State (0-0) at Penn State (0-0)
2:30 p.m., BTN
Boone, North Carolina, home of Appalachian State, looks like a lovely place online. Of course, so does State College, Pennsylvania. And Happy Valley is awfully picturesque. So is driving there from a major city. The drive takes a long time. A long, long time.
Line: Penn State by 24
My pick: PSU 34 Appalachian St. 14
Indiana (0-0) at Florida International (0-0)
6 p.m., CBSSN
If Indiana wants to make a bowl, it can’t just fall on its face at FIU. Indiana beat the Panthers in 2015 and 2016. It’s a good recruiting trip for the Hoosiers, who like to recruit in South Florida.
Line: Indiana by 10 ½
My pick: Indiana 35 FIU 31
Texas St. (0-0) at Rutgers (0-0)
11 a.m., BTN
The Scarlet Knights averaged 15.7 points in 2016 and 18.0 in 2017, so how much can a true freshman quarterback, Artur Sitkowski, set them back? Texas State, meanwhile, is the last team featured in the 2018 Phil Steele magazine. Alabama is first. Figure it out.
Line: Rutgers by 16 ½
My pick: Rutgers 23 Texas State 9
Kent St. (0-0) at Illinois (0-0)
11 a.m., BTN
Lovie Smith, a defensive guru beset by mediocre quarterback play, taps former Husker AJ Bush to run the show in the opener. The Illini deliberately played freshmen and sophomores last season, took a lot of lumps in the process, and should resemble a decent Power Five defense this season.
Line: Illinois by 16 ½
My pick: Illinois 24 Kent State 13
2018 College Football Preview: Metamorphosis
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