Bouncing around the Big Ten: Nebraska looks to rebound against North Dakota

Aug. 31—With Week 1 looming and football right on the horizon, the Mitchell Republic sports staff is taking a look at Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota's upcoming contests, as well as a glimpse at the rest of the Big Ten and a few games that might fly a bit under the radar to look out for around college football each week in the first edition of the web-only Bouncing around the Big Ten.

Here's what to keep an eye on as college football season gets going.

Led by linebacker Jack Campbell, Iowa finished 10-4 last season (7-2 in Big Ten play) as the defense forged the team's hard-nosed identity.

The Hawkeyes held opponents to an average of 19.2 points per game en route to the Big Ten West title. Over the past five years, the Hawkeyes have been one of just two defenses in college football to allow 30 or more points in less than 10 percent of its games.

Campbell, named the preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, will again be headlining the defense after leading the nation with 143 tackles, the fifth-most in a season in program history.

He will have to be ready if he wants to make things easy for the offense led by quarterback Spencer Petras, who threw for 1,880 yards with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season. Iowa is set to host SDSU at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

Nebraska will look to bounce back from a demoralizing season-opening loss to Northwestern when it hosts North Dakota on Saturday in Lincoln, Neb.

The Cornhuskers, who were hoping for a breakthrough season under fifth-year coach Scott Frost, fell apart in the second half against the Wildcats in a Big Ten game in Dublin, Ireland, and lost 31-28.

Northwestern scored two touchdowns in the final 24:37 to deal the Cornhuskers their seventh straight loss dating to last season.

The Cornhuskers are the first major-conference team in the AP Poll era, which goes back to 1936, to drop seven straight contests by single digits, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

"We've just lost too many close games," Frost said. "These guys need something to believe in. We need to believe in ourselves as a team. I think they do."

Casey Thompson went 25-for-42 for 355 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions, both of which occurred in the fourth quarter that derailed any hopes of a comeback. Anthony Grant had 19 carries for 101 yards and two touchdowns and Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda had four catches for 120 yards and a score.

Defensively, the Cornhuskers allowed 528 yards of total offense, including 314 through the air, against a Northwestern team that Nebraska defeated 56-7 last year.

Nebraska hopes a turnaround from last year's 3-9 season — its fourth straight losing season under Frost — will start with a win over North Dakota, an FCS school that won two of its final three games last year to finish 5-6.

As Minnesota aims for a successful 2022 season, the Golden Gophers are getting a blast from the past.

Facing former coach Jerry Kill for the first time since he left the program in 2015, Minnesota opens against his New Mexico State squad on Thursday night in Minneapolis.

Minnesota is a heavy favorite, thanks to star running back Mohamed Ibrahim (3,003 rushing yards, 33 touchdowns in 28 career games), quarterback Tanner Morgan (8,072 yards, 56 touchdowns, 27 interceptions in 42 games) and six returning starters from a defense that allowed an average of 17.3 points during its 9-4 2021 season.

There is intrigue aplenty with the return of Kill, who went 29-29 — 0-3 in bowl games — during four-plus seasons at Minnesota before leaving in 2015 due to his epilepsy concerns.

Kill was not happy when the university fired his assistant and successor Tracy Claeys amid turmoil within the program. Or current Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck, who said he had to "rebuild" the Gophers program after taking over in 2017.

New Mexico State (0-1) must rebound from Saturday's 23-12 home loss versus Nevada. The Aggies managed 303 total yards, while committing five turnovers and eight penalties. Receiver Kordell David caught seven passes for 56 yards and a touchdown.

In 2018, Ibrahim ran for 101 yards during Minnesota's 48-10 victory over New Mexico State, which has lost 18 straight road games. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. on Thursday.

Saturday, Aug. 27

Northwestern 31, Nebraska 28

Illinois 38, Wyoming 6

Thursday, Sept. 1

Penn State at Purdue, 7 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 2

Western Michigan at Michigan State, 6 p.m.

Illinois at Indiana, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 3

Buffalo at Maryland, 11 a.m.

Colorado State at Michigan, 11 a.m.

Rutgers at Boston College, 11 a.m.

Illinois State at No. 18 Wisconsin, 6 p.m.

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Ohio State, 6:30 p.m.

Three FBS games you should tune into this weekend:

No. 7 Utah at Florida — 6 p.m. Saturday — If the Utes want to prove they're real contenders for the College Football Playoff, they'll have to win against an SEC foe in Week 1, which is never an easy task, especially at The Swamp.

West Virginia at No. 17 Pitt — 6 p.m. Thursday — No Kenny Pickett for the Panthers this year, instead Kedon Slovis will lead Pitt into the Backyard Brawl, and who doesn't love a good Week 1 rivalry game?

No. 23 Cincinnati at No. 19 Arkansas — 2:30 p.m. Saturday — Cincinnati lost a ton of talent to the NFL Draft after it was the first Group of Five team to make the CFP last year, and it gets a tough road draw against a formidable SEC opponent to test both teams Week 1.

Note: This report was compiled in part through previews from Field Level Media.