Key things to watch in Big 10

Published 2:58 am Friday, September 4, 2015

The Associated Press


Some things to watch in the Big Ten as the season begins with 14 games over five days.

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GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 1 Ohio State is out to avenge its only 2014 loss when it begins the defense of its national title at Virginia Tech on Monday night. Whether J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones starts at QB, the Buckeyes are bound to get better play from that position than they did a year ago when Barrett was 9 of 29 and threw three interceptions in the 35-21 loss in Columbus. The Buckeyes’ defense won’t miss a beat even with star Joey Bosa suspended, and Urban Meyer should run his record to 14-0 in openers as a head coach.

BEST MATCHUP: It’s anyone’s guess what will happen when BYU visits Nebraska on Saturday. What’s known is that it’s the first game for new Cornhuskers coach Mike Riley. What’s not is how many players will be suspended. Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall isn’t saying who will sit for joining in a fight with Memphis at the Miami Beach Bowl. Riley is holding out five of his players for team rules violations but won’t identify them until closer to the game. Also unknown is what Riley’s offense — which might be more of a mish-mash than his preferred pro-style — will look like against an aggressive and physical BYU defense.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Minnesota, which hosts No. 2 TCU on Thursday night, hasn’t beaten a top-10 opponent at home since No. 1 Michigan in 1977. … No. 20 Wisconsin, which faces No. 3 Alabama on Saturday night, is playing the second of three straight openers against Southeastern Conference opponents. … Nebraska’s 29 straight wins in openers lead the nation. … Penn State, which plays at Temple on Saturday, is unbeaten in 39 straight against the Owls.

LONG SHOT: Illinois State merits Iowa’s full attention on Saturday. The Redbirds were the 2014 FCS runners-up and are the division’s No. 2-ranked team in the preseason. They won’t be intimidated. QB Tre Roberson started for Indiana in 2011 and played well in a loss at Kinnick Stadium. LB Reggie Spearman appeared in 21 games for Iowa before transferring to Illinois State. The Hawkeyes finished poorly in 2014 and are picked no higher than fourth in the Big Ten West. The heat is rising on Kirk Ferentz. Lose this one, and it will be downright hot in Iowa City.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Whoever starts at QB for Michigan at Utah on Thursday night. One of the sidelights to the long-anticipated opener for new Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is the mystery surrounding the quarterback. Co-No. 1s Jake Rudock and Shane Morris know who will start. Harbaugh just hasn’t said who it is publicly. Utes coach Kyle Whitting told reporters he’s expecting Rudock, a graduate transfer who started 25 games for Iowa.