Week One: The Big Ten's Big Three Games

Big Red Report Big Ten Reporter Kyle Phillippi takes a look around the conference, highlighting some of the better match-ups.

Northwestern at Boston College
Saturday @ 12 PM ET
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
 
Still recovering from surgery on his Achilles heel, senior quarterback Dan Persa remains questionable for Saturday's affair with the Eagles. Persa, who needs just 195 passing yards to reach the 3,000 yard plateau in his career, is the Wildcats most valuable player this season, and his recovery will play a huge role in where they finish this season amongst the Big Ten teams.

Northwestern will look to win their 13th opener in the past 17 seasons, and fourth win over a non-conference BCS opponent since head coach Pat Fitzgerald took over .

This will be their first meeting with Boston College since 1993 when they defeated the Eagles by a score of 22-21 at Evanston. The overall series is led by Northwestern, 2-1.

The match-up to watch in this game has to be senior wide receiver Jeremy Ebert, who needs just two more receptions to reach 100 for his career, and the Boston College secondary. Defensive back Donnie Fletcher was named to both the Bednarik and Jim Thorpe award watch lists, and will have the responsibility of shutting down Ebert.

If Northwestern is serious about contending the Big Ten Legends division, then they must defeat the projected fourth best team in a conference that only features two teams ranked in AP poll.  


Minnesota at USC
Saturday @ 3:30 PM ET
Los Angeles, California
 
The Jerry Kill era begins with a very difficult road trip against No. 25 USC. Minnesota coaches have not fared well in their debuts -- the last coach to win in his debut was John Gutekunst in 1986.  

Minnesota, who is 1-5-1 against USC all-time, will rely on wide receiver-turned-quarterback  MarQueis Gray; oddly enough, Gray hasn't started a game under center since his high school days. Nonetheless, the Gophers are expecting Gray to be a major contributor in 2011, despite just throwing 23 career passes.  

Replacing running back DeLeon Eskridge will fall on the shoulders of Duane Bennett, who finished behind Eskridge last season with 529 yards and three touchdowns. Bennett will also contribute in the passing game as he has compiled multiple 100-yard receiving games -- none since 2009, though.  

The Gophers defense will have a challenging time trying to contain the USC offense, which ranked 26th last season in total offense. Linebacker Brandon Beal, who transferred from the University of Florida and had to sit out the entire 2011 season, will see his first action on the field this weekend as he prepares to join forces with Keanon Cooper, who finished third on the team with 68 tackles, and Mike Rallis, who led the team with three interceptions in 2011.  

The odds are stacked against Minnesota, but the Gophers have won four straight season openers on the road; unfortunately, though, USC has won their past 13 openers.  

Michigan vs. Western Michigan
Saturday @ 3:30 PM ET
Ann Arbor, Michigan
 
Under new head coach Brady Hoke, the Wolverines will be moving to a pro-style offense, forcing duel-threat quarterback Denard Robinson under center. Robinson, who broke the record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season last year (1,702), will have to adjust to the new style of offense this season, making Saturday's game a must watch for any Michigan fan as they find out if Robinson can play under center.  

If Robinson has a tough time against Western Michigan, then Hoke might have to revert back to the spread offense.  

Aside from Michigan's Heisman hopeful, the Wolverines will be going for their 109th win in home openers against a Western Michigan team that has never defeated their inner-state rival (0-5 all-time).  

18 starters return from last year's team, with four starters from the offensive line all back for this season. Western Michigan will have a tough time getting pressure on Robinson, and even if they do sneak their way in, it's not a guarantee they will even be able to catch him anyways.  

Michigan will be without one of their top receivers, Darryl Stonum, for not only their opening game, but for the entire season after he was redshirted because of a series of legal troubles. Receivers Roy Roundtree, Martavious Odoms and Junior Hemingway will all be responsible for providing help to compensate for the loss of Stonum.

*** Josh Harvey ***

Kyle Phillippi covers the Big Ten Conference for BigRedReport.com. His work has also been featured in Big Red Report Magazine. Previously, his stories were featured on PonyStampede.com, covering SMU athletics.
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