This could be a week that lifts the prestige of Big Ten football toward levels it once knew.
If it doesn’t happen this week, it can’t happen any sooner than Jan. 1.
The season is now. Friday night, Boise State is at Michigan State. Saturday night, Michigan plays Alabama in Arlington, Texas.
The Boise-MSU game is an appetizer. If the Spartans win, it’s a nice feather for the league’s cap. Boise State opened the last three seasons by defeating Oregon, Virginia Tech and Georgia, respectively.
Of course, those Boise State teams had Kellen Moore playing quarterback, and Moore was terrific. But it’s still Boise State, a program that attracts eyeballs from coast to coast. For the time being, anyway.
However, almost all the marbles are Saturday night. If Michigan beats defending national-champ Alabama on a neutral field in front of a national prime-time audience, the Big Ten league office will be popping champagne corks into Sunday morning.
Any football image-enhancing in the regular-season has to happen this week for the Big Ten. There simply aren’t other games that can make it happen.
Notre Dame has games against Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan on successive weeks, starting next Saturday. But they aren’t difference-makers. Nebraska has no such impact game. Its best nonconference contest is at UCLA, which is trying to rise up from mediocrity. Iowa has no such impact game. Nor do Ohio State or Penn State, not that it matters given both are on NCAA probation.
Wisconsin, the two-time defending Big Ten champ, plays its toughest nonconference game next Saturday when it goes to Oregon State. The Badgers can’t really add to their national profile with a win, but an upset loss would knock them down.
So it’s on you, Michigan, with possible help from your in-state rivals from East Lansing.
The Wolverines can dump the national-champs of the big, bad SEC, Denard Robinson can zoom past Matt Barkley on the September Heisman Trophy polling, and Jim Delany can beam like he would have had the Big Ten somehow prevented a four-team national-playoff, effective 2014.
Or, Alabama can keep the Wolverines and Big Ten in their places, and maybe the Big Ten will beat the SEC in an Outback or Gator bowl. Maybe.