Big Ten Football Preview: Week 1

Aug. 31, 2011


(2-11, 2-6 MWC)

Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011 • 7 p.m. CT • Madison, Wis. • Camp Randall Stadium (80,321)
ESPN/ESPN 3D • Announcers: Rece Davis, Craig James, Jesse Palmer, Jenn Brown (ESPN);
Dave Lamont, Tim Brown, David Diaz-Infante (ESPN 3D)
Series: Wisconsin leads, 7-2 • Last Meeting: Sept. 4, 2010: Wisconsin 41, UNLV 21

(11-2, 7-1 Big Ten)

Wisconsin will be the first Big Ten team to open the season with a Thursday night kickoff against UNLV  – a team it has defeated seven times in nine matchups, including three of the four meetings in Madison.  The Badgers return to defend its Big Ten title it shared last year and will look for another trip to the Rose Bowl.  This will be UW’s first Thursday night home game since Aug. 31, 2000, which was coincidently the season-opener following another Rose Bowl appearance.  The Badgers have won 13 straight season-openers and 28-straight regular-season non-conference games, the last loss of which came to UNLV in 2003.  The Rebels, who have won four their last five season-openers, are 2-9 all-time against the Big Ten, having only played UW and Northwestern.

The Badgers return five starters from an offensive unit that is led this year by an experienced backfield and a veteran newcomer under center.  Running backs Montee Ball and James White were both named to the Doak Walker Award watch list earlier this year, after each rushing for more than 900 yards in 2010. Ball's 6.8 yards per carry were the most in Big Ten play by any conference player since Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall averaged 7.7 yards per attempt in 2006, while White ranked fourth among all FBS freshmen in rushing yards  and was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.  Wisconsin has certainly had success running the  ball against the Rebels, having rushed for 488 yards in the previous two meetings with UNLV.  New under center this year is NC State transfer Russell Wilson, who went 19-17 in 36 career starts as the Wolfpack’s QB. Wilson had posted 93 touchdowns in his career with 76 passing and 17 rushing, and his 8,545 career passing yards rank fourth among active FBS players.  Wideout Nick Toon leads all UW receivers with 1,521 career receiving yards.  Last season UNLV had the fifth-worst rushing defense among FBS teams, allowing 223 yards per game, including 278 to the Badgers.  Wilson should also have time to set in the pocket as the Rebels only posted 12 sacks last year.  Look for defensive backs Will Chandler and Quinton Pointer to lead the UNLV defense.

The Rebels’ offense will be guided by sophomore signal caller Caleb Herring, who will be making his first collegiate start.  In limited time last year, Herring completed 28-of-56 passes for 365 yards, 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.  Herring’s leading wideout is senior Phillip Payne, who notched 71 receiving yards against the Badgers last year and hauled in 689 yards on the season.  In the backfield, Tim Cornett recorded 546 yards on the ground last year, scoring six times. Wisconsin allowed just nine rushing touchdowns in 2010. In the last six meetings with the Rebels, the Badgers have held UNLV to an average of just 224.7 yards of total offense. UW’s defense returns six starters and will need to replace All-American J.J. Watt, who is now set to play on Sundays.  Linebacker Chris Borland, the 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, has been cleared to play after missing the majority of the 2010 campaign with a shoulder injury. Safety Aaron Henry also returns after earning second-team All-Big Ten honors last year.


(3-8, 1-7 MVC)

Friday, Sept. 2, 2011 • 7:30 p.m. ET • East Lansing, Mich. • Spartan Stadium (75,005)
BTN • Announcers: Tom Hart, Derek Rackley, Lisa Byington
Series: First meeting

(11-2, 7-1 Big Ten)

Michigan State and Youngstown State are scheduled to meet Friday night for the first time ever in what will be just the 10th night game in Spartan Stadium history.  And while the two teams have never previously met, MSU head coach Mark Dantonio has a glowing past with the Penguins.  Dantonio served as an assistant coach from 1986-90, helping the Penguins to three trips to the NCAA I-AA playoffs. While serving as defensive coordinator in 1990, Youngstown State posted a perfect 11-0 regular-season record and ranked second nationally.  Entering his fifth season in East Lansing, Dantonio is looking to improve to 4-1 in season openers, while the Spartans will be looking for their 11th victory in the past 13 lid lifters. The Penguins had won 11 consecutive season openers before dropping their last four contests to power-conference programs. YSU lost at Penn State last season after previously dropping games at Pittsburgh (2009) and Ohio State (2008 and 2007).

Michigan State’s offense will be led once again this year by veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins, who threw for a career-best 2,825 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2010.  The Spartans’ attack is healthy and experienced in the backfield and on the ends, as senior wideout B.J. Cunningham is expected to be Cousins’ primary aerial target and first-team All-Big Ten tailback Edwin Baker is there to anchor the ground game.  Last year Cunningham had 50 catches for 611 yards and nine scores, and needs just 10 more grabs to become the school’s all-time leader in receptions.  Last season Baker rushed for 1,201 yards on 207 carries for 13 TDs and an average of 5.8 yards per carry.  On defense, the Penguins struggled a year ago, giving up 41 touchdowns, including 26 through the air.  They allowed 254.2 passing yards per game, which set the school record for most allowed by more than 40 yards over the previous total.   The Guins’ defense picked off just seven passes last year and Donald D'Alesio is the lone starter to return to the secondary. John Sasson is also back after tallying 89 tackles, including 44 solos last year.  YSU has an astonishing 49 players on the roster who were not with the program last year.  Of that, nearly two thirds are on the defensive side of the ball.

As much as the Penguins struggled on defense last year, they found an equal amount of success on the offensive side of the ball. The Penguins set a school record by averaging 412.0 yards of total offense per game, lead by quarterback Kurt Hess – the MVFC Freshman of the Year. Hess became the first freshman to pass for more than 2,000 yards in a season, tallying 2,117 yards for an average of 192.5 yards per game.  Junior tailback Jamaine Cook rushed for 1,273 yards on 241 carries and scored 11 touchdowns last season. The Penguins were 10th in the FCS in rushing offense last year averaging 215 yards per game.  In the air, look for Ely Ducatel as a target, following a season of 336 yards on 27 catches and a pair of touchdowns.  Don’t be surprised, however, if the Guins start aiming for freshman standout Christian Bryan.  As for the Spartans’ defense, MSU ranked middle of the pack in the conference last year, giving up 133.7 rushing, 220.1 passing, and 353.8 total yards per game.  Trenton Robinson returns to lead the unit following a solid season of 76 tackles (35 solos) and four interceptions.


(7-6, 3-5 Big Ten)

Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 • Noon ET • Chestnut Hill, Mass. • Alumni Stadium (44,500)
ESPNU • Announcers: Rob Stone, Danny Kanell
Series: NU leads 2-1 • Last Meeting: Sept. 18, 1993: Northwestern 22, Boston College 21

(7-6, 4-4 ACC)

Northwestern is no stranger to opening the season against a high-profile team.  This year the Wildcats open against a BCS-conference opponent for the third time in four years.  With a win over Syracuse in 2008 and a road win at Vanderbilt last year, NU looks to keep the momentum going with a road trip to Boston College to open the 2011 campaign. Since 2008, the Wildcats have gone 11-5 outside of Evanston.  Northwestern leads the overall series 2-1, including a win in the last meeting back in 1993 – a 22-21 victory in Evanston. Boston College is 11-29 in 40 games against Big Ten opponents, including a 1-0 record in home openers.  The Eagles earned a 21-7 edge over Penn State on Sept. 11, 2004 inside Alumni Stadium.  BC last faced an opponent from the Big Ten in the 2007 Champs Sports Bowl when it captured a 24-21 victory over Michigan State.

Northwestern will field one of its deepest squads in 2011, with 18 starters back among a group that features 21 seniors and 23 juniors.  Offensively, the 'Cats bring back 82.6 percent of their rushing yardage (1,674 of 2,027), 100 percent of their passing yardage (3,057 of 3,057) and 83.0 percent of their receiving yardage (2,537 of 3,057) from a year ago.  Coming off a breakout season, in which he was named first-team All-Big Ten, quarterback Dan Persa will guide the ‘Cats under center.  Persa broke the Big Ten’s all-time record for completion percentage (.735) before suffering a season-ending ruptured Achilles’ tendon.  Persa’s primary targets are also back.  Wideouts Drake Dunsmore and Jeremy Ebert, a Biletnikoff Award candidate, each have 98 career catches.  Mike Trumpy and Jacob Schmidt will battle for the starting role in the backfield.  The Boston College defense has allowed just eight 100-yard rushers since 2005, which is tied for best in the country, and is pretty good at defending the pass as well. Last fall, the team recorded 20 interceptions and ranked eighth in the country in that category.  First-team All-America linebacker Luke Kuechly anchors the defensive unit, having registered 10 or more tackles in 22 consecutive games. In 2010, Kuechly led the nation in tackles (183) and solo stops (110) and was runner-up for the Butkus Award and a Bronko Nagurski Award finalist.

On the offensive side of the ball, Boston College returns Chase Rettig at quarterback, Montel Harris at running back, and Bobby Swigert and Chris Pantale as the aerial targets.  Rettig was 100-of-195 last year for 1,238 yards, six touchdowns and nine INTs.  Swigert (504 yds, 4 TD) and Pantale (338, 1 TD) each had solid 2010 campaigns, but the one Eagle who stood out last season will not be an issue for the Wildcats.  Harris, the ACC Preseason Player of the Year, is out of the opener with a knee injury.  Andre Williams leads the reserve group having served as Harris’ primary back-up who gained 461 yards on 95 rushing attempts as a freshman last fall.  Also look for wideout Colin Larmond, Jr. in a comeback effort.  After missing more than one year due to a left knee injury sustained during preseason training camp in August 2010, the junior returns to the field with 34 receptions, 692 yards, and six touchdowns in his two-year career.  NU has seven starters returning on defense, led by Vince Browne and Brian Peters.  Browne has 16 sacks and 31 tackles for loss in his career, while Peters has snatched seven interceptions during his career in Evanston.  Look for fifth-year seniors Bryce McNaul and Ben Johnson to get more reps at outside linebacker, while the corners will be locked up by senior Jeravin Matthews and Jordan Mabin.


(5-6, 4-4 OVC)

Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 • 11 a.m. CT • Iowa City, Iowa • Kinnick Stadium (70,585)
BTN • Announcers: Tom Werme, Danan Hughes, Stacy Paetz
Series: First meeting

(8-5, 4-4 Big Ten)

Iowa and Tennessee Tech are set to square off for the first time in series history, while the Hawkeyes look for their 90th season-opening win in 123 contests.  In the last 10 openers, Iowa has averaged 38.2 points and a winning margin of 31.5.  Tennessee Tech is facing its first Big Ten opponent, but certainly has been put to the test by other powers conferences in recent years.  Last year, the Golden Eagles opened the year at Arkansas and TCU – teams that played in the Sugar Bowl and won the Rose Bowl.  TTU closed out the year winning four of its final six games.

Iowa returns five starters on offense, including wide receiver Marvin McNutt, Jr., and tailback Marcus Coker. McNutt is tied for fourth in career touchdown receptions (16) and is 16th in receiving yards (1,546).  Coker opened eyes in last year’s Insight Bowl win over Missouri, rushing for Iowa bowl records for attempts (33) and yards (219). His season totals included 114 carries for 622 yards and three touchdowns, while playing in just seven games. Junior QB James Vandenberg is slated to be Iowa's starter in the opening contest. Vandenberg is set to become the first native Iowan to open the season as Iowa's starting quarterback since 2001.  In 2010, Iowa ranked 11th in the nation in pass efficiency (155.72) and the Hawkeyes were 50th in scoring offense (28.9). The Hawkeyes were 49th in passing offense (234.5), 57th in total offense (382.9) and 70th in rushing offense (148.4).  They also took good care of the ball, having posted just 11 turnovers on the year, which ranked second in the nation. The Tech defense allowed opponents 378.8 yards per game, including 193.9 yards on the ground each time out.  Linebacker Marcus Edwards led the Ohio Valley Conference in quarterback sacks last year with 7.5.  Senior linebacker Jake McInitosh is the career leader on the roster with 177 total tackles.

Tech’s offense welcomes back quarterback Tre Lamb, who missed the final three games of last year with an injury. Lamb will guide the Tech unit that averaged 157.4 rushing and 157.5 passing yards per game in 2010.  Joining him in the backfield will be Dontey Gay (1,972 career all-purpose yards) and newcomer Adam Urbano, a transfer from Georgia Southern. Tech's offense will also feature All-OVC receiver Tim Benford, who is second in career receptions and third in career receiving yardage.  One year ago, Iowa ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense (17.0), sixth in rushing defense (101.5), 25th in total defense (332.1) and 24th in pass efficiency defense (115.1). The Hawkeyes ranked seventh in the nation in turnover margin (+1.0) and tied for 11th with 19 pass interceptions.  Junior DB Micah Hyde has 142 interception return yards, which ranks 10th among Iowa's career interception leaders.  Joining Hyde with leadership on defense is first-team All-Big Ten DB Shaun Prater and tackle Mike Daniels, who earned honorable mention recognition with Hyde last year.


(1-11, 1-7 MAC)

Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 • Noon ET • Columbus, Ohio • Ohio Stadium (102,329)
ESPN2 • Announcers: Dave Pasch, Urban Meyer, Chris Spielman, Quint Kessenich
Series: Ohio State leads 6-1 • Last Meeting: Sept. 8, 2007: Ohio State 20, Akron 2

(Vacated 2010 Record)

Luke Fickell is set to make his head coaching debut at Ohio State when the Buckeyes host in-state opponent Akron on Saturday. OSU is 6-1 all-time against Akron and captured the last meeting with the Zips in 2007 by a 20-2 outcome at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State has an all-time opening game record of 104-12-4 and has not lost a home opener in 33 years. The Zips finished last season 1-11, but feature 13 returning starters on offense and defense and 35 letterwinners.  Akron has dropped its season opener in each of the last three seasons, including losses to Penn State in 2009 and Wisconsin in 2008.

The Buckeyes return seven starters on offense, but will be led by a new quarterback this season. Senior Joe Bauserman, who has been Ohio State's primary backup the past two seasons, has played in 24 career games, completing 53.2 percent of his passes (25-of-47) with two touchdowns and one interception. Bauserman joined Ohio State as a walk-on in 2007 after spending three seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. He has not started a game his senior season in 2003 at Lincoln High School in Virginia.  To calm his nerves, OSU has senior All-America center Mike Brewster handing him the ball each snap.  The Buckeyes hit the ground running with juniors Jordan Hall and fullback Zach Boren.  In the air, junior tight end Jake Stoneburner is one of the most experienced receiving threats on the Buckeye roster and figures to be a key component in the OSU passing attack this year. He was the fourth-leading receiver on the team last season with 21 catches for 222 yards and two TDs. Over the final three games, he caught nine passes for 98 yards.  As for the Zips’ defense, junior linebacker Brian Wagner paces the unit as a candidate for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.  A preseason All-MAC selection, Wagner has been a starter in all 24 games of his collegiate career and has led Akron the past two seasons in tackles (130 in 2010, 132 in 2009). His 10.8 stops per game in 2010 ranked tied for 12th nationally.  Cornerback Manley Waller will also lead the Zips’ defensive unit. He has appeared in 35 of 36 games in his three seasons at Akron and has six career interceptions and 18 pass breakups.  

As for the Akron’s offense, second-year head coach Rob Ianello has gone with a newcomer at quarterback, opting for sophomore transfer Clayton Moore over junior Patrick Nicely, who was a preseason All-MAC selection and started every game last year.  Moore, who originally signed with Ole Miss, arrives from Mississippi Gulf Coast CC where he completed 155-of-257 passes for 2,395 yards and 23 touchdowns last season while leading the Bulldogs to the JUCO state championship and earned MVP honors at the Mississippi Bowl.  The Zips turn to another JUCO at receiver, as Marquelo Suel posted 1,426 yards and 16 touchdowns in two seasons at Allan Hancock Community College (Calif.).  After missing the 2010 season due to injury, Broderick Alexander returns to active duty as the Zips’ No. 1 running back. In five games as a freshman in 2009, he carried the ball 59 times for 198 yards.  In 2010, Ohio State led the Big Ten in every defensive category.  Among the national ranks, OSU rated fourth in total defense (262.2), third in rushing defense (96.7), eighth in pass defense (165.5), fifth in scoring defense (14.3) and fourth in TO margin (+1.15). Junior defensive lineman John Simon was named one of 12 Players to Watch at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon in July.  Simon has 55 career tackles and 12 TFLs in his first two years as a Buckeye.  Senior defensive end Nathan Williams was named to the Ted Hendricks Watch List earlier this year after recording 46 tackles, including 9.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks in 2010.  He has recorded 89 career tackles and 20.5 TFLs over his career. Expected to contribute more this year is senior linebacker Andrew Sweat, who has 54 stops in his career.


(6-5, 4-4 MVC)

Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 • Noon ET • University Park, Pa. • Beaver Stadium (106,572)
BTN • Announcers: Matt Devlin, Glen Mason, Dionne Miller
Series: First meeting

(7-6, 4-4 Big Ten)

Penn State is looking for its 10th-straight season-opening victory when it hosts Indiana State for the first time ever on Saturday.  The Nittany Lions have claimed 18 of their last 20 openers and own an impressive 103-19-2 (83.9) record in the first contest of the season.  For Indiana State, a team that finished 6-5 last year for its first winning season since 1996, the Sycamores will try for its first victory over a Big Ten opponent in nine tries.  Saturday will mark a milestone for ISU as the anticipated Beaver Stadium turnout will mark the largest crowd Indiana State has played in front of in school history.  

Penn State averaged 142.5 rushing and 229.7 passing yards along with 24.5 points per game last season.  It remains to be seen just who will be leading the Nittany Lions’ offense this season.  Quarterbacks Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden both spent a lot of time under center last year.  McGloin was 118-of-215 passing for 1,548 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions.  Bolden was 112-of-193 for 1,360 yards and five touchdowns and seven picks.  Back for more in the receiving corps is Derek Moye (885 yds, 8 TD), Justin Brown (452 yds, 1 TD) and Devon Smith (363 yds, 1 TD).  Looks for SIlas Redd (437 yds, 2 TD) to command the majority of carries in the ground game. Indiana State’s defense gave up 387.9 total yards per game last year, including 203.3 on the ground.  Junior defensive lineman Ben Obaseki has been named to the 2011 Buck Buchanan Watch List – a top award in FCS – and will be looked upon to lead the Sycamores this year.  Obaseki recorded 70 tackles and 16 TFLs last season.  Also contributing to the ISU defense will be Jacolby Washington (92 tackles, 10 TFL) and Alex Sewall (70 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT).

The Indiana State offense is coming off a season where it amassed a school record 351 total points. What is most remarkable about the mark is that the Sycamores scored a program-low 99 points in 2009.  Averaging 411.8 total yards per game last year, ISU boasted a balanced attached with averages of 193.5 yards on the ground and 218.4 yards in the air.  Ronnie Fouch is back at quarterback with numbers of 2,252 yards on 168-of-289 passing, with 20 touchdowns and five picks.  Justin Hilton is the team’s primary target with 684 yards and seven scores to his credit. With running back Darrius Gates, the nation’s No. 2 leading scorer in 2010, having graduated, rushing duties will fall to sophomore Shakir Bell (95 carries, 649 yds, 2 TD) and first team All-MVFC fullback Brock Lough (50 carries, 243 yds, 1 TD).  Penn State gave up 346.8 total yards per game last year, including 165.6 on the ground.  Redshirt junior linebacker Michael Mauti will be among the primary leaders for the defense and is on the watch lists for the Butkus Award and the Bronko Nagurksi Trophy. Earning 2011 preseason first-team All-Big Ten recognition, Mauti finished fifth on the team with 67 tackles last year despite missing all or parts of four games last year with injuries.  Senior safety Drew Astorino, senior cornerback D’Anton Lynn and senior defensive tackle Devon Still were all honorable mention All-Conference selections last year. 


(6-7, 5-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 • Noon ET • West Lafayette, Ind. • Ross-Ade Stadium (62,500)
BTN • Announcers: Wayne Larrivee, Joe Tiller, Jon Jansen
Series: First meeting

(4-8, 2-6 Big Ten)

Purdue opens the 2011 campaign looking for its sixth-straight win in a home opener, and it will do so against a Middle Tennessee squad that have never battled the Boilermakers.  Purdue has been pretty unkind to others when playing for the first time, posting an 80-29-3 record (.728) in the initial meeting against 112 different opponents.  Middle Tennessee, coming off a 6-7 season, has played in back-to-back bowl games and participated in postseason play three times in the last five years.

The Purdue offense has been stricken by bad luck once again.  A year after missing running back Rob Bolden for the entire season due to injury, the Boilermakers recently learned they will be without the services of quarterback Rob Henry for the foreseeable future.  Henry tore his ACL in practice on Aug. 23, which means the Boilermakers will now start the season with a different quarterback for the fourth consecutive year. Caleb TerBush is poised to be the starter against Middle Tennessee after spending the previous season as the scout team leader. Expect to see backup Sean Robinson during the game though, as Purdue continues to find a leader under center.  The good news is that Bolden is back in the backfield. He finished 2009 with 935 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on 200 carries and was named second team All-Big Ten by the media and coaches. Antavian Edison is the Boilers’ leading receiver, having hauled in 32 balls for 316 yards and four TDs.  Should the offense stall, one weapon Purdue boasts this year is Carson Wiggs’ leg.  The first-team preseason All-American made headlines in the spring when he converted five field goals during the Black and Gold Spring Game from 42, 47, 52, 57 and 67 yards out.  On defense, Middle Tennessee gave up 386.9 yards of total offense in 2010, including 187.9 yards on the ground. Last year the Blue Raiders ranked 17th nationally in quarterback sacks and 10th nationally in tackles for loss. The Blue Raiders’ 34 sacks in 2010 ranked third-most in a single season and just four off the school record of 38 set in 2009.  Justin Jones enters the contest Saturday with 68 total tackles and 6.0 TFLs to his credit.

Last year Middle Tennessee averaged 371.9 total yards per game, including 191.2 through the air.  But the offensive turnaround has been in the running game.  After averaging just 124.5 yards a game on the ground during the first three years of the Rick Stockstill era, the Blue Raiders put an emphasis on the ground attack, which has now been one of the best in the nation the past two years. The Blue Raiders churned up 186.0 yards per game in 2009 to rank 27th nationally while going over the 200-yard mark five times. In 2010, the Blue Raiders averaged 180.8 yards a game to rank 31st nationally, and topped the 200-yard mark six times.  Overall the past 26 games, MT is averaging 183.4 yards a game on the ground and has topped the 200-yard mark 11 times. D.D. Kyles leads the team with 77 carries for 414 yards and four scores. Logan Kilgore paces the squad under center, having completed 50-of-80 passes for 540 yards with three TDs and 5 INTs.  Defensively, Purdue is tasked with filling the void left by drafted 2010 All-American end Ryan Kerrigan. Players to keep an eye on include a healthy Gerald Gooden, junior Robert Maci, redshirt freshman Ryan Russell, sophomore Ryan Isaac, and fifth-year senior Adam Brockman.  Safety Logan Link leads the team with 91 total tackles, including 2.0 for loss. Cornerback Ricardo Allen, starting all 12 games as a true freshman, garnered second team Freshman All-America and All-Big Ten honors after finishing his rookie season with 73 tackles, including 3.5 for losses with a sack.


(4-8, 4-4 Sun Belt)

Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 • 2:30 p.m. CT • Champaign, Ill. • Memorial Stadium (62,870)
BTN • Announcers: Tom Hart, Chris Martin, Rebecca Haarlow
Series: Illinois leads, 2-0 • Last Meeting: Sept. 14, 2002: Illinois 59, Arkansas State 7

(7-6, 4-4 Big Ten)

Illinois opens the 2011 season looking for its first back-to-back bowl appearances since 1991-92, having capped off the 2010 season with a 38-14 decision over Baylor in the Texas Bowl – the Illini’s first bowl victory since 1999.  Illinois is 83-33-5 all-time in home openers and has won its last 13, including last year's 35-3 win over Southern Illinois.  Saturday's game will be the third meeting between Illinois and Arkansas State. The Illini won the previous two meetings in convincing fashion both at Memorial Stadium, 41-3 in the 1999 season-opener, and 59-7 in 2002.  While the Illini will be paced by seven-year head coach Ron Zook, A-State is led by first-year mentor Hugh Freeze, who served as the Red Wolves’ offensive coordinator in 2010.

Heading into last year’s season opener, Illinois fans weren’t sure what to expect on the offensive side of the ball with a redshirt-freshman at quarterback and a first-year offensive coordinator calling the plays.  The results were more than impressive. The 2010 Illini led the Big Ten in rushing (246.1 ypg) and broke school records for points in a season (423) and points per game (32.53).  Sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase hopes to begin 2011 where he left off in 2010. Scheelhaase tossed 13 touchdowns and just one interception over the last seven games last season, and saved his best performance of the season for the Texas Bowl win over Baylor. In the 38-14 win, the redshirt-freshman completed all 13 of his first-half passes for 170 yards and finished the game 18-of-23 for 242 yards, while also rushing for 53 yards and a touchdown.  Senior running back Jason Ford's contribution of 480 yards and seven touchdowns on 99 carries last year has earned him the starting role in the backfield.  Senior receiver A.J. Jenkins was Illinois’ top receiving threat during 2010. He had 56 catches for 746 yards and seven touchdowns. Arkansas State returns seven starters on defense, including four of its top six tacklers, seven players that accounted for 17.5 of its 27 sacks, and five more that recorded eight of its 11 interceptions.  Not included in that group is corner Darron Edwards, who led ASU last season with 10 pass break-ups.  Senior linebacker Demario Davis, a 2010 first-team All-Sun Belt choice, has been named to the Lombardi Award Watch List, while senior defensive lineman Dorvus Woods and senior safety Kelcie McCray joined him as preseason All-Conference honorees.

The Red Wolves return their leading passer, top five rushers and three of their four most productive receivers from last year's team that finished second in the Sun Belt in total offense and broke nine school records. Arkansas State posted at least 300 yards of total offense in all 12 games last season for the longest streak in school history.  ASU posted over 300 yards of total offense in just six games the season prior to Freeze taking over as offensive coordinator. Junior quarterback Ryan Alpin led the passing game in 2010 with nearly 3,000 yards passing, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.  Senior wide receiver Dwayne Frampton is the first player in school history to ever be named to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List for the nation's top receiver.  Frampton finished his junior season with the second most receptions (69) and seventh most receiving yards (738) in school history.  Illinois’ defense, which allowed 351.3 total yards last season, returns six of its top 10 tacklers in 2011. Linebacker Ian Thomas ranked fourth a year ago with 67 stops, followed by Trulon Henry (64), Justin Green (55), Tavon Wilson (48), Akeem Spence (45) and Michael Buchanan (40). The Illini ranked second in the Big Ten with 1.77 sacks and 6.15 tackles for loss last year, which could cause plenty of issues for an ASU offensive line that gave up plenty of sacks in 2010.


(6-6, 5-3 MAC)

Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 • 3:30 p.m. ET • Ann Arbor, Mich. • Michigan Stadium (109,901)
ABC • Announcers: Mike Patrick, Craig James, Jeannine Edwards
Series: Michigan leads, 5-0 • Last Meeting: Sept. 5, 2009: Michigan 31, Western Michigan 7

(7-6, 3-5 Big Ten)

The Brady Hoke era gets underway in Ann Arbor on Saturday when the Wolverines open up against in-state opponent Western Michigan.  This will be the sixth meeting between the two schools and Michigan has been hailed the victor in the previous five outings.  The Wolverines last faced the Broncos in the 2009 season opener, resulting in a 31-7 victory.  U-M is 108-20-3 all-time in 131 season openers.  Western Michigan is coming off a 6-6 record, which saw the Broncos having to rally late in the season to win their final three contests to pull to the .500 mark.  WMU ended 2010 on the right note by winning the last two contests by a combined score of 79-10.

Michigan returns nine starters to a unit that set a school record with 6,353 yards of total offense in 2010.  The Wolverines fielded a balanced attack, leading the Big Ten in total offense (488.7 ypg), and finishing second in passing (250.2 ypg) and third in rushing (238.5 ypg).  Denard Robinson, the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, set the NCAA and conference record for most rushing yards by a quarterback (1,702), and became the first signal caller in NCAA history to rush and pass (2,570) for 1,500 yards in a season. Junior wide receiver Roy Roundtree is U-M’s active leader with 1,369 career receiving yards.  Two other Wolverines wide receivers are poised to join Roundtree on the 1,000-yard career receiving plateau as seniors Martavious Odoms (956) and Junior Hemingway (939) are quickly approaching the milestone.  WMU allowed 221.3 passing yards and 387.8 total yards per game last year.  Mitch Zajac, the team's leading tackler last season, returns at linebacker, while Paul Hazel anchors the line with eight sacks from a year ago.  Lewis Toler picked off five passes and finished fourth on the team in tackles in 2010.

On offense, WMU returns its top rusher and receiver in the same season for the first time since 2008. Jordan White’s program record 1,378 receivers yards in 2010 ranked fifth among all receivers in Division I-FBS and he’ll look to improve that mark as he was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Western Michigan returns five running backs that had 10 or more carries in 2010. Tevin Drake appeared in six games but led the team with 405 rushing on 40 carries, scoring four times.  He rushed for over 100 yards in each of the last two games of the year.  Brian Fields also had a late-season burst, finishing with 362 yards on 56 attempts. The Broncos also return junior Alex Carder who started every game for WMU in 2010 and threw for 3,334 yards, completing 63.1 percent of his passes.  Michigan’s defense returns nine starters, including three defenders who finished among the Big Ten’s top 25 tacklers, led by Jordan Kovacs.  The All-Big Ten honorable mention ranked second in the conference with 116 stops (8.9 avg) and tied for the team lead with 8.5 TFLs.  Ryan Van Bergen has held down the line by contributing 90 tackles, 15 TFLs, nine sacks, six pass break-ups and one fumble recovery during his career.


(6-5, 5-3 Southern)

Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 • 2:30 p.m. CT • Lincoln, Neb. • Memorial Stadium (81,067)
BTN • Announcers: Kevin Kugler, Kelly Stouffer, Ahman Green
Series: First meeting

(10-4, 6-2 Big 12)

Competing in its first football contest under the Big Ten Conference banner, Nebraska will not only make its inaugural debut in the conference, but also on the Big Ten Network and against opponent Chattanooga.  The two teams have never met in the Cornhuskers’ 122 years of football.  NU enters the season on the heels of back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since 2002.  FCS-member Chattanooga concluded the 2010 campaign with a 6-5 season, marking its first back-to-back winning seasons since 1990 and 1991.  No stranger to top competition, the Mocs have squared off against Auburn, Alabama and Oklahoma in its past three season openers.

Nebraska averaged 247.6 yards rushing, 150.6 yards passing, and 398.1 total yards overall last season.  Clearly the Huskers’ bread and butter was in the running game, pacing the Big 12 and ranking ninth nationally.  Nebraska's national rushing ranking was its highest since 2003 (7th) and the 247.6 yards per game were its best since averaging 268.7 yards on the ground in 2002. The Huskers return a pair of runners who each topped 900 yards on the ground in 2010. I-back Rex Burkhead finished his sophomore season with 951 rushing yards, while quarterback Taylor Martinez netted 965 yards despite being injured for much of the second half of the year.  Martinez's 2010 rushing total ranked second nationally among returning quarterbacks, trailing only Michigan's Denard Robinson.  The Burkhad/Martinez tandem combined for 1,916 last year, which makes them the third-highest returning quarterback-running back rushing tandem in the country.  Look for Kyler Reed to help in the passing game as the junior tight end was named earlier this season to the John Mackey Award Watch List.  The eight returning starters hope to shore up a Chattanooga defense that ranked 80th in the FCS last season in total defense and 95th in scoring defense. The Mocs return four of their top five tacklers, but must replace the production of Chris Donald, who led the team in sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (12.5) as a senior in 2010.  Look for linebacker Ryan Consiglio and DB Kadeem Wise to carry the load on defense.

Offensively, the Mocs put up impressive totals last season, averaging 430.0 yards per game to rank 11th in the FCS. Chattanooga also ranked eighth in passing (277.2 yards per game) and 17th in scoring (31.6). UTC must replace its top two rushers from last season and three of its top five receivers.  B.J. Coleman threw for 2,996 yards with 26 TDs and 13 picks last year, while Joel Bradford averaged 116.7 receiving yards per outing and registered eight scores on the year. Nebraska finished third nationally in pass efficiency defense (96.29 rating) and fifth in passing yards allowed (153.6 ypg) in 2010. Nebraska allowed opposing passers to complete just 48.7 percent of passing attempts, a mark that ranked second nationally. Over the past two seasons, Nebraska has allowed 20 touchdown passes, while picking off 39 opponent passes. Jared Crick enters his final season with 19.0 career sacks and 32 career tackles-for-loss. His 19.0 sacks rank third nationally among active players and are tops among interior defensive linemen.  Lavonte David set a school record with 152 tackles in his first year as a Husker in 2010. David's career average of 10.9 tackles per game ranks third nationally among all returning players.


(3-9, 2-6 Big Ten)

Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 • 12:30 p.m. PT • Los Angeles, Calif. • Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (93,607)
ABC • Announcers: Carter Blackburn, Brock Huard, Shelley Smith
Series: USC leads 5-1-1 • Last Meeting: Sept. 18, 2010: USC 32, Minnesota 21

(8-5, 5-4 Pac-10)

Jerry Kill is ready to officially get things started in Minneapolis, but the first-year head coach’s Golden Gopher career will begin on the road at USC. Minnesota is opening the season on the road for the third straight year. The Gophers lifted the lid on 2009 at Syracuse with a 23-20 OT win and won 24-17 at Middle Tennessee to open the 2010 campaign. They have won 14 of their last 16 season-openers and four straight when opening the season on the road. Minnesota is 89-32-6 all-time in season-openers (.724), while USC’s record in season openers is 87-23-8 (.771).  The Trojans have won its last 13 openers and 15 of the last 17. Minnesota and USC faced off last season at TCF Bank Stadium, with Troy taking a 32-21 victory.

The Gophers finished the 2010 season with averages of 23.2 points, 135.2 rushing yards, 226.1 passing yards, and 361.3 total yards per game.  Not only will Minnesota face a new offensive scheme this year under Kill, but it will also have to get used to a new quarterback.  Gone is ironman Adam Weber, who started every game for four years straight and set a Big Ten record for consecutive starts by a QB with 50.  Enter do-everything man Marqueis Gray, who has gone from wide receiver to cornerback to quarterback during his time in Minneapolis.  Gray hauled in 42 receptions for 587 yards and five touchdowns last season as a wide receiver. He also saw some action as a Wildcat quarterback, rushing 23 times for 110 yards and a TD.  For his career, Gray has thrown just 23 passes, with eight completions for 86 yards with one touchdown and one interception.  Duane Bennett is expected to be the featured back in 2011.  He shared carries last year following a 2009 campaign in which he led the team in rushing. Senior Da’Jon McKnight is the most accomplished wide receiver returning for the Gophers, as his 10 receiving TDs last year helped his candidacy on the 2011 Biletnikoff Award watch list. USC was the No. 84 total defense and the No. 63 scoring defense in the country last season, allowing more than 400 yards and nearly 27 points per game.  The defense’s strength in 2011 should be the line, which returns six players with significant starting experience, highlighted by defensive end Nick Perry (7.5 TFL, 4 sacks in 2010) and linebacker Devon Kennard (72 tackles, 7 TFL in 2010).  Starting safety T.J. McDonald (89 tackles, 3 INTs), USC’s 2010 tackle leader and All-Pac-10 second teamer, will also anchor the unit.

Offensively, USC ranked 26th in the nation in total offense and 37th in scoring offense last season. The Trojans racked up more than 431 yards and scored 31 points per game in 2010. USC will be guided in 2011 by junior Matt Barkley, who was 236-of-77 passing for 2,791 yards and 26 TDs last year.  Wideout Robert Woods, a 2010 Freshman All-American and the Pac-10 Offensive Freshman of the Year, hauled in 65 catches for 792 yards and six touchdowns.  The Minnesota defense allowed 392.2 total yards per game last season, including 191.4 on the ground.  The Gophers has had some good news regarding senior safety Kim Royston.  After missing the 2010 season with a broken leg suffered in the spring of 2010, it looked like Royston’s career might be over. But he was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and now he hopes to improve on his 2009 campaign, in which he ranked third on the team with 86 stops.  Senior Keanon Cooper tallied 68 stops to rank third on the team last season.


(5-7, 1-7 Big Ten)

Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 • 7 p.m. ET • Indianapolis, Ind. • Lucas Oil Stadium (67,604) • Announcers: Jim Barbar, Adam Archuleta
Series: Indiana leads, 4-1 • Last Meeting: Sept. 13, 1997: Indiana 35, Ball State 14

(4-8, 3-5 MAC)

Saturday evening will mark a series of firsts in the all-time series between Indiana and Ball State.  The Hoosiers and Cardinals will meet for the first time at a neutral site, which will be Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis – the site of the first-ever Big Ten Championship.  In addition, both teams will be guided by a first-year head coach, with former Oklahoma coordinator Kevin Wilson taking the reins of an Indiana ballclub that has won its last seven season openers and eight of its last nine.  History could help in Wilson’s opener with the Cream and Crimson.  The last time the Hoosiers did not open the season at Memorial Stadium came back in 2005 when Terry Hoeppner won his IU coaching debut with a 20-13 victory at Central Michigan.  Ball State will be led by first-year head coach Pete Lembo, who posted a 35-22 mark at Elon from 2006-10.  IU has won four of the five games in the all-time series against Ball State. The Hoosiers won the first four contests before BSU earned a victory at Memorial Stadium in 2008.

Last season was nothing but productive for the Indiana offense.  The Hoosiers averaged 27.2 points and 387.5 yards per game and scored 38 TDs from scrimmage, all of which were the highest marks since the 2007 season.  But things have changed in Bloomington.  Gone is hometown hurler Ben Chappell, who started every game for the Hoosiers, and wide receivers Tandon Doss and Terrance Turner have moved on as well.  So now Wilson must regroup with a host of Hoosiers that are short on playing time.  IU is still without a starting quarterback so expect Ed Wright-Baker, Dusty Kiel and Tre Roberson to see action Saturday.  Wright-Baker is the top returner from last year and he threw for just 80 yards on 5-of-12 passing for a score and an interception.  The good thing is is that Indiana allowed just 12 sacks last season, the 11th-fewest total in the nation. The offensive line surrendered one sack per 42.8 pass attempts, which led the Big Ten. Junior tailback Darius Willis, who rushed for 278 yards and four TDs in an injury-plagued 2010, is not quite ready for 2011 and will it out the opener with an injury.  IU does return aerial threats in Damarlo Belcher, Duwyce Wilson and Ted Bolser.  Belcher had 832 yards and four scores last year, while Wilson led all Big Ten freshmen with his 32 catches and 488 yards, and Bolser caught 27 passes for 407 yards with five TDs and an average of 15.1 yards per catch.  Ball State allowed 178.3 rushing yards, 220.0 passing yards, and 398.3 total yards per game last year.  The Cardinals’ top returner is Sean Baker, an All-MAC second-team selection a year ago.  Baker was second on the team with 88 tackles from his safety position in 2010, while linebacker Travis Freeman recorded 109 stops, including six for a loss.  Fellow linebacker Tony Martin tallied 76 tackles with 3.5 TFLs.

On offense, the Cardinals put up 22.0 points and 305.8 total yards per outing last year. Keith Wenning will start under center having thrown for 1,373 yards on 128-of-235 passing with 14 TDs and 14 INTs.  David Brown heads up the backfield with 348 rushing yards and a score in 2010, while Jack Tomlinson notched six scores on 29 receptions for 484 yards.  Indiana’s Darius Johnson led the team with 4.5 sacks, was third on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss, and was fifth with 65 tackles.  He finished tied for sixth in the Big Ten in sacks and ranked 26th with 5.9 tackles per game.  Linebackers Jeff Thomas and Leon Beckum will also contribute to the Hoosiers’ defense.  Thomas finished second on the team with 82 tackles, 45 solo stops, 7.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions last year, while Beckum made 69 tackles, 41 solo, with three sacks and a team-high nine tackles for loss.