Every year the bigger conferences get panned for their selection of non-conference foes, mainly because the fans would rather see a marquee matchup between two heavyweights than watching the fourth-stringers of some top 10 team knock seven shades out of some beleaguered FCS team. But while I heartily agree from a fan perspective, these “exhibition” games serve some purpose. For the big boys, they serve as tune-up games, knocking the rust off the starters and getting the backups some valuable reps in a game environment. For the opponents, there’s the big payday that helps run their football program, not to mention testing themselves against BCS opponents.
Then of course, there’s always that moment when David stands up to Goliath and the world of college football is turned on its head. So we will address each of the Legends non-conference (or OOC) schedules, comparing opponents and the team’s chances of success. As always, leave your opinions, objections and abuse in the comments section, or find me on Twitter.
Aug 31, Northern Illinois
Last year the MAC champions pushed the Hawkeyes all the way, despite a poor first outing from QB Jordan Lynch, with Iowa coming out 18-17 victors. This year, the Hawkeyes will have a new QB, while Lynch will be attempting to start his Heisman campaign with a bang. NIU has lost some key contributors on defense, but their BCS experience will have them believing, and they’ll win a close one.
Sep 7, Missouri State
After the tough loss to the Huskies, the Hawkeyes will need something to boost their confidence, and they’ll get it from the Bears. Missouri State only managed a 3-8 record last season, and while they are headed in the right direction, they aren’t ready to go toe-to-toe with the Hawkeyes, who’ll beat them handily.
Sep 14, @ Iowa State
The Cyclones are coming off a bowl season and have beaten the Hawkeyes in their last two contests. Both have holes on offense, especially at quarterback, but are strong at running back. The Hawkeyes have more returning defenders, but the Cyclones are used to competing with explosive Big 12 defenses, and this game will come down to who makes the fewest mistakes. Always a hard game to call, this will be tough and close, but ISU will take it. The Hawkeyes haven’t travelled well the last few seasons.
Sep 21, Western Michigan
With the Hawkeyes coming off their second OOC loss, they need a win to help steady the ship before entering league play, and the Broncos may be just the ticket. WMU were roundly expected to win the MAC last season, but flamed out, winning just four games and costing head coach Bill Cubit his job. Now, with a new staff, new systems, and a ton of new starters on what was a prolific offense, Western Michigan will round out their tough OOC schedule with a loss, while Iowa enter league play on a high note.
Iowa’s non-conference record: 2-2
Aug 31, Central Michigan
The Wolverines are coming off a disappointing season and will see some changes on offense and defense, but after facing Alabama last season, the Chippewas will be a breather. CMU has been almost cleaned out on offense, and won’t stand a chance against Big Blue, who will need to rack up some serious points to garner any positive attention. The Chips know Michigan well, and will keep it close for maybe a half, but this one will get out of control as the game progresses.
Sep 7, Notre Dame
The Wolverines better not be overconfident with the Fighting Irish coming to town. The Irish have had a rough offseason, but the Wolverines have their own scandal brewing, which may be a distraction. The Irish offense has taken a hit with some key losses, as has the Michigan defense, but the ND defense will be the key in this game. They’ll still be nasty with Manti Te’o, or in spite of him, and will keep the Wolverines in check in a fieldgoal-fest.
Sep 14, Akron
With the tough loss to ND still stinging, the Wolverines get the week off against Akron. Terry Bowden has the Zips headed in the right direction, but this stop at Ann Arbor will be a hard lesson for a Zips team that were fun to watch at times last season, but are breaking in a new QB. It will be effectively over by halftime.
Sep 21, @ Connecticut
The Huskies were a tale of two teams last season – the offense was ineffective at best, but the defense kept the Huskies in most games, finishing 9th in the country. With a new coaching staff in place, it will likely be more of the same, as the defense will keep the Wolverines in check for a couple of quarters before the superior talent depth of Michigan allows them to pull away.
Michigan’s non-conference record: 3-1
Aug 31, Western Michigan
As mentioned earlier, the Broncos are rebuilding, but this game may turn out to be a bit closer than the Spartans could hope in what should ideally be a layup. WMU still have some pieces in place and should be able to make plays against a Sparty defense that is rebuilding the front seven. MSU’s offense will likely struggle to run the ball, but an improved passing attack will make the difference as the Spartans pull away in the second half.
Sep 7, USF
The Bulls may have had their problems over the last couple years, but a new coaching regime and some decent talent on campus could make this a decent battle. USF have some speed on defense, and could cause problems for a Spartan offense that will still struggle to move the ball consistently on the ground. The Bulls will also struggle to move the ball, and the Spartans will in a game that could go down to the wire.
Sep 14, Youngstown State
The Penguins were 7-4 last season, but could have made the playoffs but for a midseason slump. They have some key players back on defense, plus their starting quarterback who is entering his fourth year. With all that being said, their hopes of beating a Spartans squad that has had to scratch and claw their way to victory thus far are slim to none. Michigan State win handily.
Sep 21, @ Notre Dame
When you can’t run the ball effectively, facing a team with a pass rush like Notre Dame’s is probably going to end badly. The defenses will have the upper hand for both teams here, but ultimately the Fighting Irish’s balance on offense, plus home field advantage, will make the difference. It will be close, and no quarter will be given, but the boys from South Bend will come out victors.
Michigan State’s non-conference record: 3-1