Week One, Get Gamm Previews
Editor's Note: To "Get Gamm" simply post your scores for each game in the comments area. You have to play all season to qualify for the prize.
Minnesota at Kent State (8/31)
Big Ten vs. MAC part one. Given the success that the MAC has had against the Big Ten over the years, it only makes sense that the Big Ten give a reciprocal visit or two to their Midwestern little brothers. The Golden Flashes were perfect for the part because, well, the chances for a Minnesota loss on the road to Kent State are highly remote, even if the Gophers are retooling a bit this fall. Kent State was the nation’s worst running team a season ago – by a landslide. Minnesota was an elite running team. KSU takes a step up there, Minnesota a step back, but any way you slice it, the Golden Gophers should have their way with a defense that gave up points in droves a season ago. Minnesota 44 – Kent State 17.
Northwestern at Miami-OH (8/31)
This Big Ten v. MAC contest might ordinarily get a little passing interest from college football fans but not much more than a glance from most. This year it is different. Randy Walker, the beloved head coach for Northwestern with major ties to Miami-OH died of a heart attack over the summer which means that the emotions will be ratcheted up several notches in this one. Both teams replace some key starters, most notably at quarterback. However, the Wildcats return Ohio product Tyrell Sutton at tailback and he will be the difference maker. In what will likely be the closest game on the schedule for the opening weekend, Northwestern guts out a big opening victory. Northwestern 24 – Miami-OH 23.
Eastern Illinois at Illinois
Think this is a blowout game waiting to happen? A contest where the mighty D1 squad does its part to help the 1-AA school by giving up a chunk of its gate? Maybe that’ll be the case when other big schools line up against the directional school of their choice, but not necessarily here. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect Illinois to lose. I really don’t expect them to win by any less than three touchdowns. But, stay with me here, Eastern Illinois is good. The Panthers won the Ohio Valley Conference last year and are a top 15 team in 1-AA heading into fall. They’ll give this more than the old college try; they will trek to Champaign with victory in their minds. It’ll be close for a quarter or so, but Illinois is slowly coming together and will run all over EIU for a solid win to start the season. Illinois 45 – Eastern Illinois 20.
Western Michigan at Indiana
Another one of the six MAC vs. Big Ten contests on the slate to kick off the 2006 season. Western Michigan was a bit of a surprise in 2005 but put a few key offensive players into the NFL and has had to overcome some injury issues at quarterback. Still, don’t just assume that the Broncos will roll over and play dead. WMU may be a year away from being a really good team in the MAC, but remember that most pundits had this team pegged for two wins last season and the Broncos won seven. The reason Indiana could and should beat Western is the horrid pass defense that WMU brings to the table. That is a certain strength of the Hoosier offensive attack and could be the difference in the game. I’m starting to talk myself out of the upset I picked in my previews, but will stick with it. In a shocker: Western Michigan 27 – Indiana 24.
Montana at Iowa
Another highly ranked 1-AA squad takes on the Big Ten when the No. 3 Grizzlies head to Iowa City to face my pick to win the Big Ten – Iowa. Iowa beat a very good 1-AA team in Northern Iowa last year but Montana is perennially in the hunt in 1-AA football. Lou Holtz hard sell of an opponent out of the way, there is virtually no chance for Montana in this game. Drew Tate and Albert Young are a fantastic one-two punch on offense and the Iowa defensive front hopes to establish itself early in 2006. Montana is keeps it respectable, if only because the Hawkeyes empty the bench early. Iowa 48 – Montana 21.
Vanderbilt at Michigan
Now, this might be a ball game if Vandy QB Jay Cutler were still donning the gold and black, but alas, he was a high first round draft pick and well, this is Vandy. Vanderbilt is to the SEC what Northwestern used to be to the Big Ten – the sure win. This is the perfect first game for Michigan. A team from a big conference to get their attention, but someone to knock around a bit so that the second and third stringers can see the field. This will be a good time for Michigan to get the all-important backup quarterback some quality game time. In a yawner… Michigan 41 – Vanderbilt 13.
Idaho at Michigan State
This is a nice way for Michigan State to start the season. Idaho is where MSU coach John L. Smith got his start. It is where two-time NFL boss and former big time college football field boss Dennis Erickson returns in hopes of reviving the Vandal football program and his career. Idaho has not won more than three games in a season since 2000. It’s been a long time since JLS ran the show out west – a time when the Vandals enjoyed five of six seasons with nine or more victories (albeit in 1-AA). Some say he’s on the hot seat in East Lansing this year and what better way to get out of the gate than to play bully to a pip-squeak. The Spartans have been strong starters of late under Smith’s reign and this opener will be no different. The best part to watch will be to see if the defense really is better and if State finally has a kicker worth his weight after struggling in that arena last fall. Michigan State 47 – Idaho 7.
Northern Illinois at Ohio State
The fourth battle with the MAC might actually be one of the best. Not in terms of how I expect the game to play out (see above) but because these are arguably the best respective teams from the two conferences. Not much needs to be said about Ohio State. They are a nightmare to prepare for offensively and will find a way to have success on defense. In reality, NIU is a perfect pre-Texas test for the scarlet and gray. Garrett Wolfe might be one of the best tailbacks that no one has heard of (outside of the MAC) in the nation and he will be the essay portion of the defensive exam for the Buckeyes. Look for it to be close early, but for OSU to pour it on in the second half in preparation for a huge trip to Austin. Ohio State 38 – Northern Illinois 13.
Akron at Penn State
The fifth in an opening weekend series of intriguing B10 v. MAC battles. Akron finally broke through with a bowl berth and MAC championship last season after getting snubbed for two straight years when now Cleveland Browns starting QB Charlie Frye was leading the show. The Zips have another savvy senior signal caller that could carry them into the postseason again in Luke Getsy. However, the Zips are faced with the daunting task of opening up in front of a six-digit crowd of rabid Nittany Lion fans. Penn State wants to get out of the gates fast to erase any doubt that last year was a last hurrah for the ageless Joe Paterno. Akron will battle, but Penn State has too much fire power. Penn State 45 – Akron 14.
Indiana State at Purdue
I’m not sure about you, but when I think Indiana State I think Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson in the 1979 NCAA basketball finals. This 1-AA team will find out right away where it stands when the Sycamores travel up the road to West Lafayette to take on the Boilermakers. It’s a chance for some gate money and at least regional attention for ISU and a chance for Purdue to get off to a strong start – the perfect way to compliment last season’s strong finish. This should be the easiest of Purdue’s 13 games this fall with plenty of chances to get game experience for unproven players on the depth chart. Purdue 52 – Indiana State 9.
Wisconsin at Bowling Green (Cleveland)
The last of a big weekend pitting a major and mid-major from the Midwest takes place on a “neutral” field. I say “neutral” because Cleveland is certainly closer to Bowling Green than to Madison. The Falcons were a bit of a disappointment last season and are in a sort of rebuilding/reloading mode. Wisconsin is in the same boat at several positions and with quarterback John Stocco questionable due to a bum knee, this game will be closer than many might imagine. Bowling Green has become known for its break-neck pace on offense but is facing a tough Wisconsin defense. I look for a slow start for the Badgers and first year head coach Bret Bielema but in the end, the bigger, stronger boys from the Big Ten prevail. Wisconsin 33 – Bowling Green 20.