Big Game Hunting: Same old Wolverines? Please. Plus: Spartans-Buckeyes, Illini-Gophers

Michigan is nothing to sneeze at, but it has much to prove after being blown out at Wisconsin two weeks ago. That was as poorly as the Wolverines have played under coach Jim Harbaugh, whose own reputation isn’t what it used to be, either.

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Michigan v Notre Dame

Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh is still trying to get his team to bring its A-game twice in a row.

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It’s a Big Ten kind of day in college football.

The league has the best-looking morning matchup withNo. 14 Iowa (+3½) at No. 19 Michigan(11 a.m., Fox-32) and the game of the night inNo. 25 Michigan State (+20) at No. 4 Ohio State(6:30 p.m., Ch. 7).

All four teams are gunning for the Big Ten title this season, and that’s no bull.

Then again — and with all due respect — Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is kind of full of it.

“Looking at Michigan,” he said, “things really haven’t changed since the first time I was ever exposed to them — 1981.”

Well, let’s do a quick accounting of that statement. In 1981, Ferentz the whippersnapper was on the Iowa staff in his first season as a full-time assistant coach. What was up at Michigan then? Nothing much, except that the Wolverines were defending Big Ten champs (and would win the title again in 1982). Nothing much, except that the Wolverines were in a 4-1 stretch against their bitter rival, Ohio State. Nothing much, except that Bo Schembechler expected his team to dominate every single week.

This isn’t Bo’s Maize and Blue, folks.

And everybody, even Ferentz, knows it.

Michigan (3-1) is nothing to sneeze at, but it has much to prove after being blown out at Wisconsin two weeks ago. That was as poorly as the Wolverines have played under coach Jim Harbaugh, whose reputation isn’t what it used to be, either.

Coming off a 52-0 victory over bottom feeder Rutgers, Harbaugh’s goals are, well, modest.

“If you can play two really good games in a row, it’ll be a trend in my mind,” he said. “Three or more will become a habit. So we’re trying to cement that as a goal for us, and that’s where we want to be.”

Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes (4-0) are pillars of consistency. They don’t turn the ball over. They don’t commit penalties. They have good run-pass balance and an outstanding offensive line. They’re rugged, if unspectacular, defensively.

Drilling Rutgers is meaningless. Michigan 17, Iowa 14 is a different story.

And then there’s Spartans at Buckeyes, which likely will be played with even more of an edge — these programs have some serious recent history.

MSU coach Mark Dantonio has a few giant victories over the school where he used to serve as an assistant to Jim Tressell.

“We’ve had success down there in the past,” he said. “We look forward to trying to replicate that.”

Defensively, the Spartans shut down the run as well as anybody. That’s a tall order against Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields and star running back J.K. Dobbins, but it’s a must to stay in this game.

“This is one of the best run defenses in the last decade in the country,” OSU coach Ryan Day said.

Offense is always an adventure for the Spartans, but they’re getting better on that side of the ball, too. Upset alert? Let’s not get crazy here. Buckeyes win 26-17.

In other Week 6 action:

No. 7 Auburn (-3) at No. 10 Florida(2:30 p.m., Ch. 2): The Tigers (5-0) have faced a tough early schedule and aced every test. The Gators (5-0) haven’t taken a whole lot of meat off the bone yet, so we’ve yet to learn just how ferocious they are. Is UF quarterback Kyle Trask, who began the season as a backup, up for this level of a challenge? Upset in OT.

California (+18) at No. 13 Oregon(7 p.m., Fox-32): The Bears (4-1) already have won at Washington. Backing that up with an upset on the home turf of the Ducks (3-1) would create one of the most intriguing Pac-12 stories in years. Remember when any notion of defense being played in a game between these teams would’ve been laughable? Nobody’s laughing at that these days. Ducks bring their hard hats, win 27-13.

No. 11 Texas (-11) at West Virginia(2:30 p.m., Ch. 7): This isn’t the sort of light-it-up Mountaineers offense we’ve seen in recent years. Will Grier is gone. Dana Holgorsen is gone. A Big 12 also-ran is what’s left — and here comes the most potent Texas offense in a while. It’s just hard to envision WVY keeping up, even in a charged environment at home. Longhorns win and cover.

My favorite favorite:No. 3 Georgia (-23) at Tennessee(6 p.m., ESPN): I’ve got to think Clemson’s close call at North Carolina in Week 5 got the attention of all the national title contenders. Dawgs bring their A-game.

My favorite underdog:Army (+3) vs. Tulane(11 a.m., CBSSN): There’s no doubt the arrow is pointed up big-time for the Green Wave program, but it’s one thing to become an early “it” team and quite another to beat an excellent opponent in its own backyard. Until Army loses at Michie Stadium, I’m rolling with the heart and discipline of the Black Knights.

Last week:6-1 straight-up, 5-2 vs. the spread.

Season to date:22-13 straight-up, 22-13 vs. the spread.

THE LOCALS

ILLINOIS AT MINNESOTA

The facts:2:30 p.m., BTN, 890-AM.

The records:Illinois 2-2, 0-1 Big Ten; Minnesota 4-0, 1-0 Big Ten.

The storyline: It still boggles the mind somewhat, but the Illini beat the Gophers 55-31 last season. Everything clicked for their running game that day, and it’s the running game that has to click again for the Illini to have a chance at a second straight win in the series. QB Brandon Peters has taken too many hits — and holds on to the ball too long — to have to throw another three or four dozen times. How real-deal are the Gophers? They’ve won a bunch of close games against a very meh list of opponents. Then again, if Illinois isn’t a meh opponent, who is?

The line:Gophers by 14.

Greenberg’s pick:Minnesota, 34-30.

BOWLING GREEN AT NO. 9 NOTRE DAME

The facts:2:30 p.m., Ch. 5, 1000-AM.

The records:Bowling Green 1-3; Notre Dame 3-1.

The storyline: The last time the Irish faced a lower-end MAC team at home was last September, and Ball State gave them trouble in a 24-16 game. That outcome was more a reflection of the Irish’s mail-it-in effort than anything. So, hey, here’s an idea — don’t mail it in against the Falcons. This time, a lower-end MAC foe should be knocked about from the get-go.

The line:Irish by 45½.

Greenberg’s pick:Notre Dame, 45-7.

BALL STATE AT NORTHERN ILLINOIS

The facts:2:30 p.m., espn3, 560-AM.

The records:Ball State 1-3, 0-0 MAC; NIU 1-3, 0-0 MAC.

The story line: It’s a trophy game! There’s no love lost when the Bronze Stalk is at stake. Actually, the Huskies might be a tad overconfident heading into this one considering they’ve beaten the Cardinals 10 years in a row. This is a nice chance for NIU quarterback Ross Bowers to shine. He didn’t transfer from the Pac-12 just to be outmanned against a bunch of Power 5 defenses.

The line:Huskies by 5.

Greenberg’s pick:NIU, 31-20.

NORTHWESTERN AT NEBRASKA

The facts:3 p.m., Fox-32, 720-AM.

The records:Northwestern 1-3, 0-2 Big Ten; Nebraska 3-2, 1-1 Big Ten.

The story line: Which team is in a worse way? Is it the Wildcats, whose growth offensively has been so stunted, it must feel like they’ll never score an easy six again? Or is it the Huskers, who were utterly destroyed at home by Ohio State last weekend in front of a prime-time audience? Clearly, neither the defending Big Ten West champs nor the hot preseason pick to succeed them is going to win at a high level in 2019.

The line:Huskers by 7½.

Greenberg’s pick:Nebraska, 23-20.

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