The Big Ten had it easy the first two weeks of the college football season.
Other than Wisconsin’s game against LSU, which brought a bit of early national praise with the Badgers’ victory over a top-10 SEC team, the Big Ten hasn’t been tested.
That all changes this weekend.
Ohio State goes from playing Little Leaguers (having crushed Tulsa 48-3 last week) to big-leaguers: Oklahoma.
Michigan State warmed up for Notre Dame by squeaking by Furman (28-13, Week 1) before their bye.
Nebraska toyed with Wyoming 52-17, but that won’t be much preparation for Oregon.
Everyone will see exactly how good these three Big Ten teams are on Saturday.
Then there’s a game that, with the Gophers on a bye week, should pique fans’ interest: five-time Football Championship Subdivision champion North Dakota State playing No. 10 Iowa on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz joked that he and his athletic director Gary Barta probably should have a scheduling meeting, after playing top FCS teams three years in a row.
The Hawkeyes played tough games vs. Illinois State and Northern Iowa the past two years, but NDSU is on another level.
“I marvel at the fact that they’ve won  playoff games in a row,” Ferentz said. “It’s like looking at Bill Russell’s record in playoffs. It’s ridiculous.”
The real marvel is NDSU’s 8-3 record against Football Bowl Subdivision teams since 2006, including three wins against the Big 12 (Kansas in 2010, Kansas State in 2013 and Iowa State in 2014).
And the Bison beat one Big Ten program — twice. You know who that is.
They received a $375,000 payout and national recognition for an impressive 37-24 win over the Gophers in 2011. Four years earlier, the Bison picked up their first victory against the Big Ten, 27-21 over the Gophers at the Metrodome.
“I remember them beating Minnesota, how well they played in that ballgame,” Ferentz said. “It wasn’t a fluke by any stretch. The way they played in that game, it’s still the same thing you see over the last couple of years.”
The FCS dynasty going strong in Fargo came a long way since beating up on the Gophers five years ago. The Bison won their first of five straight national championships that year. The first three titles were under Craig Bohl, now Wyoming’s coach. Bohl’s former defensive coordinator Chris Klieman took over and won the past two crowns.
And, of course, there’s that Carson Wentz guy. The 6-5 strong-armed North Dakotan went from missing eight games for NDSU last year with a wrist injury to being picked No. 2 in this year’s NFL Draft and winning his NFL debut as the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback last week. Iowa hasn’t produced a top-two draft pick since offensive lineman Robert Gallery in 2004. The Gophers have never had a pick that high.
Those victories over the Gophers helped the Bison build widespread respect — especially from Minnesota, which might respect them enough to never schedule them again.
The Big Ten now discourages scheduling FCS teams, but the Hawkeyes have ties to NDSU. Barta is a former Bison football player. His top senior associate AD Gene Taylor lined up the matchup to help bring money to his former program. Taylor, who was AD in Fargo for 13 years, helped build the Bison to where they are now.
Despite the Bison’s impressive record against FBS teams, they have not taken down a ranked opponent from a level above, let alone a top-10 team.
If NDSU (and its roster of 36 Minnesotans) competes with Iowa on Saturday, it will hurt the perception of the Big Ten, probably even more than if Ohio State, Michigan State and Nebraska struggle against the Power Five elite.
• The top three teams in the country have never played road games against ranked teams on the same day before — a fact that will expire in about 24 hours. For the first time in AP poll history, one, two and three hit the road against ranked opponents on Saturday: No. 1 Alabama at No. 19 Ole Miss, No. 2 Florida State at No. 10 Louisville and No. 3 Ohio State at No. 14 Oklahoma. Another “never before” fact: The top 3 have never lost on the same day in the regular season. All three are favored Saturday.
• The big three are not the only teams taking nervous plane rides. Check out these road underdogs: No. 12 Michigan State at No. 18 Notre Dame, No. 17 Texas A&M at Auburn and No. 22 Oregon at Nebraska. More about the epic Saturday ahead: No. 16 Georgia tangles with the Tigers in Missouri, and out west No. 7 Stanford is host to USC while No. 11 Texas takes their revival show to Cal. And ... well, you get the idea: Don’t mow the lawn Saturday. Don’t have date night. Grab the remote and enjoy.
• For Gophers fans, the dilemma: Root for NDSU, because Iowa is a big rival you like to see stumble? Or root for Iowa, because you want the Gophers and Hawkeyes to be undefeated for their Oct. 8 game?
JOE CHRISTENSEN'S BIG TEN POWER POLL
1. Ohio State (2-0): Last Oklahoma showdown: 1983. Earle Bruce topped Barry Switzer 24-14 in Norman.
2. Michigan (2-0): Beat Colorado 27-23 in 1997, but who could forget Kordell Stewart’s “Miracle at Michigan” in 1994?
3. Wisconsin (2-0): Corey Clement will try shaking his ankle injury quickly, given his durability questions for NFL.
4. Iowa (2-0): The Hawkeyes haven’t played North Dakota State since 1947. The Bison should be a tough test.
5. Nebraska (2-0): Heading into Oregon showdown, the Cornhuskers have committed one turnover after committing 27 last year.
6. Michigan State (1-0): The Spartans have had some great battles with Notre Dame, last beating the Irish in 2010.
7. Gophers (2-0): Rank 31st in nation in rushing defense, allowing 99 yards per game, down from 166 last year.
8. Penn State (1-1): After Pitt loss, Nittany Lions won’s sleep on Temple, which sacked them 10 times last year.
9. Indiana (2-0): The Hoosiers have reeled off eight consecutive regular-season nonconference victories.
10. Maryland (2-0): After pounding Howard and Florida International, Terps will keep riding easy early schedule vs. Central Florida and Purdue.
11. Illinois (1-1): Illini sold out Memorial Stadium for the first time since 2011, only to lose by 25 against UNC.
12. Rutgers (1-1): This team might not be good, but Janarion Grant has four kickoff return TDs in past 14 games.
13. Purdue (1-1): David Blough tossed five interceptions vs. Cincinnati, two went off receivers’ hands.
14. Northwestern (0-2): Momentum from 10-win season gone after losses to Western Michigan and Eastern Illinois.