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.