In many ways, last year’s Big Ten season was defined by Week 2.
Its teams went 0-3 against Pac-12 opponents that week, as Arizona State crushed Illinois, Oregon State upset Wisconsin and UCLA stunned Nebraska.
The Big Ten basically never recovered, closing the season with just one team — postseason-ineligible Ohio State — ranked in the top 15.
Two weeks into a new season, Big Ten teams haven’t had many chances to truly distinguish themselves. The conference is a combined 21-3, but most of those wins have come against cream puffs, with Michigan’s victory over Notre Dame the most notable exception.
This Saturday, the conference has a chance to show something again, especially with four games against Pac-12 opponents.
“There’s certain weekends of the year that you can change the perception,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “As you look at the schedule, this is one of those weeks.”
Iowa has a chance to avenge last year’s Week 2 loss to Iowa State on Saturday, but the Pac-12 showdowns are particularly intriguing. A closer look:
No. 16 UCLA (1-0) at No. 23 Nebraska (2-0), 11 a.m., Ch. 5
Last year’s 36-30 loss to UCLA in Pasadena was a nightmare for Nebraska, as the defense surrendered 653 yards. Later in the season, that nightmare recurred in losses to Ohio State, Wisconsin and Georgia.
“We missed a lot of tackles [last year], which really hurt us,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said.
Nebraska’s defense looked terrible again in its opener against Wyoming but improved some last week against Southern Miss. The Cornhuskers might be relieved that UCLA’s Jonathan Franklin headed for the NFL after rushing for 217 yards against them last year. But his replacement, Jordon James, rushed for 155 yards in Week 1 against Nevada.
Illinois (2-0) vs. No. 19 Washington (1-0), 5 p.m., BTN
Illinois is the surprise of the Big Ten after upsetting Cincinnati 45-17 last week. Now the Illini head to Soldier Field to face a Washington team that opened the season with a win over then-No. 19 Boise State 38-6.
Illinois went 2-10 last year, but senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase looks like a completely different player. Coach Tim Beckman said the main reason is health. “Last year, he got injured in the first game and really fought through it,” Beckman said. “His knee was a lot worse than people thought.”
No. 3 Ohio State (2-0) at Cal (1-1), 6 p.m., Ch. 9
Cal went 3-9 last year and still gave the Buckeyes a 35-28 scare in Columbus. This time, the Buckeyes travel to Berkeley, where the Bears opened the season with a hard-fought 44-30 loss to Northwestern.
The Buckeyes have a terrific defense, but new Cal coach Sonny Dykes and true freshman quarterback Jared Goff will challenge them with their air raid offense.
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is questionable with sprained left knee, but the offense didn’t miss a beat last week with backup Kenny Guiton.
No. 20 Wisconsin (2-0) at Arizona State (1-0), 9:30 p.m., ESPN
The Badgers trampled UMass and Tennessee Tech by a combined 93-0, but their fans will learn a lot more this week. The same goes for Arizona State, which won its only game 55-0 over Sacramento State.
Big Ten teams have gone 0-8 at Sun Devil Stadium over the years, with most of them wilting in the heat. The forecast calls for a high of 101 degrees in Tempe on Saturday, and it’ll still be in the mid-90s for kickoff.
Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen had his team travel to Phoenix on Thursday, one day earlier than normal, to help acclimate.
BIG TEN SHORT TAKES
• Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald hails from the Chicago suburbs and played linebacker on the Wildcats’ 1996 Rose Bowl team, so it’s hard to imagine him leaving. But if Texas fires Mack Brown, or if USC fires Lane Kiffin, all bets are off.
The Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein wrote that Texas and USC are the only two landing spots that make sense for Fitzgerald, beyond Evanston. He’s had recruiting success in Texas, and USC athletic director Pat Haden is said to be a big fan.
• Iowa is 6-8 against Iowa State under coach Kirk Ferentz, and both teams need a victory Saturday.
The Hawkeyes got 180 rushing yards from Mark Weisman last week as they ended a seven-game losing streak against Missouri State. The Cyclones had a bye week after losing to Northern Iowa, from the FCS, in Week 1.
• Michigan State has played three quarterbacks this season with little success, and that number could grow to four this week. Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press wrote, “Not only do I believe [true freshman] Damion Terry will play Saturday against Youngstown State, I’ll throw out this prediction: Terry starts Oct. 5 at Iowa.”
BIG TEN POWER POLL
1. Michigan (2-0): The Devin Gardner to Jeremy Gallon connection was unstoppable against Notre Dame.
2. Ohio State (2-0): Braxton Miller’s backup, Kenny Guiton, could start for half of these Big Ten teams.
3. Wisconsin (2-0): Key stretch coming vs. Arizona State (road), Purdue, Ohio State (road) and Northwestern.
4. Northwestern (2-0): The Wildcats are 15-4 in their past 19 games, including wins this year over Cal and Syracuse.
5. Nebraska (2-0): The Cornhuskers better be ready for another shootout Saturday against UCLA.
6. Penn State (2-0): It’s easy to understand the hype for Christian Hackenberg when you see him throw.
7. Michigan State (2-0): Season TD totals: Spartans offense 2, Spartans defensive end Shilique Calhoun 3.
8. Gophers (2-0): Season TD totals: Gophers special teams 3, Gophers defense 2, Gophers offense 7.
9. Illinois (2-0): The Illini, 2-10 last year, showed this will be a different season, defeating Cincinnati 45-17.
10. Indiana (1-1): Facing Navy’s triple option, Indiana fell behind 17-0 and couldn’t recover in a 41-35 loss.
11. Iowa (1-1): Shaky to this point, the Hawkeyes could restore faith this weekend by beating Iowa State.
12. Purdue (1-1): Notre Dame comes to West Lafayette this week, coming off a disappointing trip to Ann Arbor.