The time for preseason predictions and projections is all but over.
Kickoff Week has finally arrived in Big Ten country, and mercifully it’s bringing actual games to break down and discuss after a long offseason. Even better -- the slate promises to be both educational and entertaining as the season gets underway with a bang.
The Big Ten might not have the most loaded slates in the country this weekend, but there are going to be plenty of questions answered right away. Here are five of them, one from each of ESPN.com’s conference reporters, that we are anxious to have addressed.
Jesse Temple: Can Wisconsin elevate the Big Ten's profile with a big-time win?
The storylines are plentiful for Wisconsin's season opener against LSU. A rematch of a close game from two years ago. LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda meeting his old team. The first FBS game at venerable Lambeau Field. But the most important story is whether Wisconsin can actually beat a powerhouse SEC opponent after dropping the past two season openers against LSU and Alabama. Wisconsin is 15-62-2 all time against top-5 teams in The Associated Press poll. And the last occasion in which Wisconsin beat a nonconference top-5 team during the regular season came way back in 1974 against fourth-ranked Nebraska (then of the Big Eight). A win Saturday would be huge for the Badgers and the Big Ten as both seek to gain more national respect.
Austin Ward: What will Urban Meyer’s batch of young Buckeyes look like?
There is no reason to doubt the talent Ohio State has assembled on the recruiting trail over the past few seasons, but most of those guys have yet to validate the hype by actually playing in a game -- let alone shining on a big stage like the Horseshoe. The Buckeyes will have two chances to gain some experience in a hurry and get ready for a massive test on the road against Oklahoma, so they can hardly afford to waste an opportunity like the one Bowling Green (10-4 last season) will provide Saturday. Meyer is bringing back veterans in key spots, but he doesn’t need to find out if quarterback J.T. Barrett or Raekwon McMillan can handle the pressure of contributing for a playoff team. But youngsters such as running back Mike Weber, offensive guard Michael Jordan and defensive end Nick Bosa will be under the microscope as they debut.
Dan Murphy: Will Rutgers take a step forward with the new coaching staff?
It will be interesting to see what effect the coach spin-offs from Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh have on the East Division's weakest links this season. Maryland vs. Howard won't give us a whole lot to go on, but nobody outside of Wisconsin has a stiffer test to start the season than Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have to travel across the country to play No. 14 Washington. Head coach Chris Ash said he's most interested in seeing if his team handles its first big road trip professionally. Will the Scarlet Knights' new culture be evident on the field? And what type of firepower can Drew Mehringer's offense provide out of the gate?
Josh Moyer: Who is Michigan’s starting quarterback?
OK, OK. All signs point to Wilton Speight, but Jim Harbaugh is the most unpredictable coach in the Big Ten. And, even if everything goes as planned, it should still be interesting to see Speight line up under center in his first career start against Hawaii (0-1). He has just 25 career passes to his name, but Harbaugh hasn’t had many issues with developing quarterbacks. Most of us are expecting big things out of Michigan this season and beyond, so it’s definitely worthwhile to see the kind of tone that Spei ---err, the starting quarterback -- sets.
Brian Bennett: How will Penn State’s new offense perform?
The Nittany Lions’ offense the past couple of years could best be described as painful. They had a special talent in Christian Hackenberg at quarterback, but the offensive line couldn’t protect him and he never seemed the right fit for what James Franklin wanted to do. Well, now Hackenberg is in the NFL, and new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead will run a high-tempo spread. That should help a more experienced offensive line, which won’t have to hold its blocks as long, and Trace McSorley’s mobility provides an interesting wrinkle. With a skilled group of receivers and a sensational running back in Saquon Barkley, Penn State’s new attack will be intriguing to watch -- even against Kent State (3-9 last season).