The BIG Kickoff is Upon Us
This near fall-like weather we’ve enjoyed in Maryland the past few days has likely whetted your appetite for football, and it is finally upon us. Even better, unlike preseason Ravens’ games, there will actually be points scored during the opening week of BIG football, sometimes a lot.
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If you remember Casey Kasem’s classic show “American Top 40” that reviewed the weekly music charts, just before he would reveal the biggest hit in the USA, he would usually say, “let’s look at the other charts.” In honor of that, I’ll touch on some of “the other” fall sports in the Big 10 and see which schools are at the top of those charts.
Men’s soccer is probably the most interesting non-football sport for Terps fans given Maryland’s success under Coach Sasho Cirovski. Since coming to Maryland in 1993, Cirovski’s Terps have only failed to make the NCAA tournament twice. They won national championships in 2005 and 2008, and seemed destined to claim another one last season when they entered the NCAAs with an undefeated record. A shocking 5-4 loss to Providence in the second round ended those hopes, but expect Maryland to bounce back strong this season.
The Terps have won the Big Ten tournament all three seasons they have competed in it, and are the solid favorites to make it 4 for 4 this season. Maryland opens the season ranked #6 nationally, just ahead of another perennial power, Indiana, at #7. Michigan State, at # 22, is the other top 25 BIG program.
Maryland’s women’s soccer team has also had stretches of success, but not recently. Last year saw the Terps finish last in the Big 10, a result they are predicted to repeat this season. Penn State is the dominant program in the Big 10, having won or shared the BIG championship 18 of the last 19 years. They are expected to make it 19 of 20 this year and are ranked #3 nationally. Northwestern (#18), Rutgers (#20) and Nebraska (#23) are other nationally ranked conference teams.
The Maryland field hockey dynasty under coach (and former star) Missy Meharg is also worth mentioning here. Meharg is entering her 30th year as head coach with seven national championships to her credit and an active streak of 22 straight NCAA appearances. The Terps have won the Big 10 regular season championship all three seasons they have competed, and begin the season ranked #6 in the nation. Their strongest competition is expected to come from Penn State (ranked #7), Michigan (#11), Northwestern (#14), and Iowa (#17).
The BIG Kickoff:
It’s a BIG opening week with 13 games on tap. As is common practice, most of the top teams have scheduled games they are likely to win, but I’ll highlight a few I think are worth keeping an eye on.
#2 Ohio State @ Indiana (Thursday, 8:00 PM-ESPN)-I don’t expect this to be a great game, but it is the only conference game of the week, and it will be our first indication of how much the Buckeyes will open up the offense against a Hoosiers’ defense that should be fairly stout. A winning margin of less than 20 points will likely result in some furrowed eyebrows in Columbus.
#8 Washington @ Rutgers (Friday, 8:00 PM-FS1)-Rutgers is trying to turn this into an event, labeling the game “War Before the Shore” and giving away beach towels, tank tops, and sunglasses (always handy for a night game). The sunglasses might actually come in handy to blot out what could be an epic beatdown, something that Rutgers fans (God bless ‘em) got all too used to last year. I think this game could be exhibit A of the problems that can be caused by scheduling games years in advance.
Maryland @ #23 Texas (Saturday, 12:00 PM-FS1)-Obviously a tough opener for a team that may still be unsettled at quarterback like Maryland. If the Terps can run the ball effectively enough to keep the defense off the field, they may be able to hang with the Longhorns. Tough to get a feel for this game, but as I wrote earlier, Maryland must be competitive with ranked teams this year to show progress. Saturday will be their first chance to do so.
Wyoming @ Iowa (Saturday, 12:00 PM-BTN)-There is a lot of hype surrounding Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen; ESPN’s Todd McShay has him projected as the #2 quarterback in next spring’s NFL draft. Here is his chance to show what he’s got against a strong defense on the road. If he can put up numbers, Iowa’s passing game is likely to struggle to keep up.
#11 Michigan vs. #17 Florida in Arlington, TX (3:30-ABC)-This is the marquee game of the week in the Big 10, but Michigan will face a depleted Florida squad that may use three quarterbacks and will be without suspended playmaking wide receiver Antonio Callaway. The Wolverines need a decisive victory to quiet the skeptics in Ann Arbor, at least for a little while.
The Big 10 is well represented at the World University Games wrapping up in Taipei. Maryland’s Women’s Basketball team is competing as the USA team, and will play for 5th place tomorrow. They breezed through the qualifying round, including a 121-34 win over Uganda, but lost to Australia 76-69 in the quarterfinals. Purdue’s men’s hoops squad is still alive for a gold medal, facing Serbia in the semi-finals. Iowa’s baseball team is also still in the gold medal hunt, facing the Czech Republic in the semi-finals there.
Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder (by way of nearby Woodbine, MD) won his second World Wrestling championship to go along with his 2016 Olympic gold medal. He returns for his senior season with the Buckeyes. Former Nebraska wrestler Jordan Burroughs also won his fourth world championship, only the second American ever to accomplish that impressive feat.
Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz and his wife donated $1million dollars to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s hospital to assist in researching ways to improve survival rates for premature babies. They lost a prematurely born granddaughter in 2014. For a coach often linked to other schools’ coaching jobs, that’s a very strong commitment to Iowa by Coach Ferentz.
Don’t forget, you can follow me on Twitter @The_BIGBlog and reach me by e-mail at [email protected] I also hang out on the message boards, mostly in the University of Maryland & NCAA sections, where I periodically post links to BIG news stories you might find interesting.
My next column will take a look at some of the stories from opening week of football you may have missed, and will look ahead to week 2, which features a mega-game, Oklahoma visiting Ohio State in a contest with, as they say, playoff implications. Until then, live large and have a BIG week everyone!