LSU-Badgers, W Michigan-Northwestern among best B10 openers
Some things to watch in the Big Ten as the season opens with two games Thursday, one Friday and 11 on Saturday.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Wisconsin vs. No. 5 LSU in the Lambeau Field College Classic in Green Bay on Saturday is chock-full of story lines. Dave Aranda, the architect of Wisconsin's top-shelf defense the last three years, is going against his former team as the Tigers' defensive coordinator. His replacement at Wisconsin, Justin Wilcox, must devise a plan to keep Leonard Fournette under control as the junior running back begins his Heisman Trophy campaign. The game also marks the first career start for Wisconsin quarterback Bart Houston.
Northwestern could have its hands full with Mid-American Conference favorite Western Michigan. P.J. Fleck's Broncos are known for prolific offense. Northwestern has posted back-to-back 10-win seasons, won 21 of its last 23 September games and return the top returning Big Ten rusher in Justin Jackson. The Anthony Walker-led defense was stellar most of last season, but it ended with an embarrassing 45-6 bowl loss to Tennessee. The Wildcats' new starting cornerback, Montre Hartage, will be kept busy with WMU's Corey Davis, the active leading receiver in the Bowl Subdivision.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Defending Big Ten champion Michigan State (vs. Furman on Friday) is 36-5 since 2013. ... Ohio State (vs. Bowling Green) is 32-1 against current MAC members. ... Maryland plays Howard for the first time, even though only 7.5 miles separate the schools. ... QB Wes Lunt has thrown 28 TDs against nine interceptions in two years at Illinois (vs. Murray State). ... Michigan (vs. Hawaii) plays its first five at home for the first time since 2011. ... Purdue (vs. Eastern Kentucky) has played an FCS opponent every year since 2010 and is 6-0 in those games. ... Rutgers (at No. 14 Washington) last played a ranked opponent to start the season in 1985. ... Nebraska (vs. Fresno State) will sell out its 348th consecutive home game since 1962.
Indiana has some mojo after going to a bowl but can't afford to take FIU lightly on the road Thursday night. The Hoosiers' defense is yet to prove it can stop anybody, and the Panthers bring back starters at QB, RB and WR. The Panthers, picked fifth in the East Division of Conference USA, led into the fourth quarter of their 36-22 loss in Bloomington last year.
PLAYER TO WATCH
QB Mitch Leidner can set the tone for Minnesota with a strong outing at home Thursday against an Oregon State team replacing seven defensive starters. Leidner, who'll be making his 30th start, passed for at least 250 yards in four straight games last season and was MVP of the Quick Lane Bowl. He missed spring practice after having offseason foot surgery. The Gophers have only 13 seniors, with Leidner among an FBS-low three on offense, so they need him to be really good if they hope to get back over .500 after going 6-7 in 2015.