Schwartz: Five Early-Season Big Ten Questions

August 22, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

We are close. Sooooo close to the start of college football season. Miami and Florida play Saturday, then next week Iowa and the rest of college football kick off.

The first month, before the main slate of conference games begins, is always fascinating. The teams aren’t quite yet what they’re going to be. They’re a work in progress, stuck with lingering questions and untapped potential.

Five Big Ten questions to keep an eye on throughout the first month of the season:

1. Could Iowa at Iowa State be the nation’s premier Week 3 game?

As of now, Hawkeyes-Cyclones has the pole position. They’re presently ranked 20th and 21st, respectively, in the nation and should stay around there so long as neither suffers an upset before the Sept. 14 matchup.

Other games in the contention for the nation’s attention that weekend will be Stanford at Central Florida, Arizona State at Michigan State, and Clemson at Syracuse.

2. What can we expect out of Michigan at Wisconsin on Sept. 21?

For one, not much scoring. This is going to be a defensive battle.

The Big Ten’s first premier matchup will feature a Wolverines squad that will always feel like a letdown until it wins the conference and a Badgers squad that didn’t come anywhere near what it was supposed to accomplish last season.

We’ll know a lot more about the shape of the Big Ten before the calendar turns to October.

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3. How much will Ohio State’s offense drop off from last season?

It happened in Utah.

It happened in Florida, too.

Whenever Urban Meyer leaves a program, the offense leaves with him. It might still be competent, but it’s never quite the same as when he’s in control. The Buckeyes will still be loaded with talent, but whether they can do the same things on the offensive end as they had over the past decade remains to be seen.

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And based on history, the numbers are not in their favor. Michigan and Penn State fans have to be drooling that the Big Ten East is theirs for the taking.

4. Does Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald really think “stats are for losers”?

Who knows. It’s a hilarious statement from a tough-talking coach who acts like he copied his coaching persona from a Dazed and Confused outtake reel.

We can say what we want about the Wildcats, tease their coach all we want, but no Big Ten school plays as difficult a first month of the season as NU:

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Stanford, UNLV, Michigan State, Wisconsin.

That’s a hell of a schedule. Stats might be for losers, but no one can question Northwestern’s competitive spirit.

5. Will Nebraska’s new blackshirt alternate jersey be worn ironically, or have they finally figured things out on defense?

It’s been years since the Huskers put up a D-I level defense, but that hasn’t stopped them from living in the past while marketing the present. They host Ohio State on Sept. 28, their fifth game of the season.

We’ll know then whether the jerseys are symbolic of something rediscovered or just another hollow marketing ploy dreamed up in a conference room.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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