Big Ten Football Week 3: Top Storylines and Matchups from Nebraska to Michigan State

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Entering Week 3 of the 2022 College Football season, several Big Ten teams are off to a strong start, including two teams sitting in the top four (No. 3 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan) and two more in the top 25 (No. 11 Michigan State and No. 22 Penn State). Meanwhile, other teams in the conference are not starting 2022 as they’d hoped, with Wisconsin coming off a surprising defeat at the hands of unranked Washington State and Iowa losing to rival Iowa State as the Hawkeyes struggle to make anything happen offensively.

No program has been as thoroughly disappointed as Nebraska, though, whose head coach Scott Frost was fired Sunday. How Nebraska reacts is among the storylines to watch in the conference this week, along with Michigan State and Penn State’s intriguing non-conference road games.

How will Nebraska respond under new head coach?

The Huskers enter a rivalry contest against No. 6 Oklahoma (2-0) under interim head coach Mickey Joseph after Scott Frost’s ouster, which came following two early-season losses to Northwestern and the Sun Belt’s Georgia Southern. After paying Southern nearly $1.5 million for the loss, Nebraska (1-2) decided to pay $15 million more to buy out Frost, which the school deemed urgent enough not to wait until October 1st, when the buyout would’ve been reduced by $7.5 million. Frost had coached the Huskers to four losing seasons before this one, the worst of which came last year with a 3-9 record.

Joseph says he’s hoping to not just be an interim solution for Nebraska, where he played quarterback from 1988 to 1991 and joined the coaching staff this season after several seasons at LSU. He is the first Black head coach at Nebraska, interim or permanent, in any sport. Joseph, 54, will coach the team for the remainder of the season.

At 1-2, the Huskers are likely already out of the conversation to compete for a Big Ten division or conference title, but there are certainly some reputation and pride points on the line in the rivalry matchup this week. Oklahoma is a road favorite by more than a touchdown, but the Sooners are relatively untested this season with wins over UTEP and Kent State, and despite the final results, Nebraska has proven capable at moving the ball in every contest this season. The Huskers have 866 yards through the air and 611 rush yards in three games this season, scoring at least 28 points in each.

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No. 22 Penn State travels to Auburn in big test for both programs

One of the more exciting matchups across the Week 3 college football slate on Saturday will see the Nittany Lions travel to Auburn’s Jordan-Hare stadium in an early litmus test for both teams, who are each sitting at a somewhat untested 2-0, having only faced unranked teams.

Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin said turnovers and discipline are concerns for the Tigers going into this game after the team turned the ball over twice and gave up 85 yards on 9 penalties against San Jose State in Week 2. He called Penn State “much better” than the teams they’ve faced so far, noting the Nittany Lions’ fast and physical style of .

The Tigers have an offensive star in junior running back Tank Bigsby, but with only one passing touchdown so far this season, they have shown little capacity to mix up their offensive approach, which may haunt them against a stronger defense like Penn State.

The game could prove crucial for Harsin, who many thought wouldn’t be around for a second season at Auburn after the Tigers went 6-7 in 2021.

Similarly, the win could build legitimacy for Penn State and head coach James Franklin, who are coming off a 7-6 year.

Freshman running back Nick Singleton had a breakout week for Penn State last week, putting up 179 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio and adding dimension to an offense that has been defined by Sean Clifford’s passing performances in recent seasons.

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Washington hosts No. 11 Michigan State in tough defensive matchup

Despite the big numbers both teams have put up in their early-season wins, this matchup between the Spartans and Huskies in Seattle is liable to turn into more of a defensive contest, as Michigan State (2-0) is averaging 6.5 points allowed (7th in FBS) and the Huskies (2-0) are averaging 13. Similarly, both teams are averaging fewer than 300 total yards allowed per game through two contests.

Michigan State has a standout defender in linebacker Jacoby Windmon, who leads all FBS players with 5.5 individual sacks and 4 forced fumbles this season. Windmon has only played two games as a Spartan since transferring from UNLV ahead of the 2022 season. His effort has helped Michigan State average only 81.5 rush yards allowed through the first two games of the season.

As a result, Washington is likely to rely on continued success from junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who’s averaging more than 330 yards per game with 6 touchdowns and 1 interception in the Huskies’ two wins this season.

Michigan State’s QB Payton Thorne is still looking for a rhythm, having thrown for 4 touchdowns but 3 interceptions so far. The Spartans’ rushing core has led the way on offense, highlighted by sophomore running back Jalen Berger’s 4 touchdowns, including three last week against Akron.

The Huskies are the slight favorite heading into the weekend, but Michigan State’s defense is likely to keep the Spartans in contention throughout the night, and head coach Mel Tucker’s coaching experience may give them even more of an edge against Washington’s Kalen DeBoer, who’s in just his third NCAA season and first with the Huskies.

 

Big Ten Football Week 3: Top Storylines and Matchups from Nebraska to Michigan State originally appeared on NBCSports.com