It's the last weekend of September, and in the Big Ten that means football teams (for the most part) have finished playing opponents like Western Illinois, Wagner and Idaho and will begin conference play Saturday.
The first almost-full weekend of Big Ten play sets up nicely if you're the sort that treats college football Saturdays like must-see TV. "But what about the trips to Home Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond?'' someone close to you might ask. Clearly, you won't have enough time.
The big day starts at 11 a.m. on FOX, with an interesting matchup of Maryland visiting No. 4 Michigan. Under fourth-year coach Mike Locksley, the Terrapins have methodically emerged from the malaise of the Randy Edsall era and the scandal that forced the firing of D.J. Durkin before the 2018 season. Locksley has ramped up the Terps' recruiting, and that helped Maryland finish 7-6 and earn its first bowl trip since 2016.
The Terps (3-0) are coming off a 34-27 victory over SMU that showcased playmakers like quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who's averaging 316.3 yards of total offense per game, and freshman running back Roman Hemby, who rushed for 151 yards on 16 carries against the Mustangs. That game also showed Maryland's weakness — a defense that's giving up almost 400 yards per game.
Winning at Michigan, the defending Big Ten champion, is a tall order for the Terps, but it's a challenge Locksley embraces.
"Unbelievable opportunity for our program,'' he said. "We have nothing to lose.''
It's also a chance for the Wolverines to test themselves a bit more than they could in routs of Colorado State, Hawaii and Connecticut by a combined 166-17.
At 2:30 p.m., you can flip over to BTN and see how the Gophers handle a true test in Michigan State on the road. By outscoring New Mexico State, Western Illinois and Colorado 149-17, the Gophers showed they can dominate struggling programs.
The Spartans, however, bring a lot more fiber to the diet. Playmakers like wide receiver Keon Coleman (15 catches, 236 yards, three TDs) and linebacker Jacoby Windmon (nation's-best 5.5 sacks, four forced fumbles) will be the best the Gophers have faced so far, and Michigan State will be motivated after falling 39-28 at Washington last week.
The challenge for the Gophers is straightforward: To become a contender, you must consistently beat other contenders.
At 6 p.m. on FS1, the rock fight between Iowa and Rutgers begins. The punting matchup of the Hawkeyes' Tory Taylor, who's averaging 48.3 yards on a whopping 23 punts, and the Scarlet Knights' Adam Korsak, a second-team All-America selection last year, might be the highlight between these two defensive-minded teams.
You'll have your fill of that game quickly, and fortunately, Wisconsin at Ohio State kicks off at 6:30 p.m. on ABC. The Badgers and Buckeyes have met in the Big Ten Championship Game three times since 2014, and both teams have designs on returning. "Everything means a little bit more,'' Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said.
The challenge for the Badgers is stopping the Buckeyes' multifaceted offense that leads the nation with 565.3 yards per game. Sell out on the run, and QB C.J. Stroud will find his stable of NFL-caliber wideouts. Try to shut down the pass, and Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson can run wild.
Wisconsin's strength is its defense, and coach Paul Chryst stressed the need to play as one unit. "When the ball declares,'' he said, "we've got to get as many hats to it as we can.''
Sounds like a nice, little Saturday.