Boilers & Terps on Tap. Pants optional at Northwestern.

Patterns are emerging.

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For all the fascination with super-powers Ohio State and Michigan, the Big Ten title game seems to be tracking for a rematch between Penn State and Wisconsin.

And for all the fascination with Michigan’s win over Florida, and Ohio State’s not-even-close loss to Oklahoma, two results that really intrigue me are Maryland’s 51-41 shocker over Texas, and Purdue’s 35-3 drilling of Missouri.

If the Terrapins and the Boilermakers can play like this in the league, they not only will make their matchups against the Big Ten’s big boys more watchable. They could throw a monkey wrench into the plans of big boys who aren’t careful.

Commissioner Delany and his television partners are already rubbing their hands at the ratings possibilities.

TERPS & BOILERS

We probably won’t find out about Maryland until at least Sept. 30, when the Terps open their Big Ten slate at Minnesota, another team that could exceed expectations with energetic oarsman P.J. Fleck rowing the boat. Key Maryland question: Can true freshman QB Kasim Hill, who has looked sharp since sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome went down with a season-ending knee injury in the Texas game, keep it going?

With Purdue, the answer will come much sooner. On Saturday, the Boilermakers play host to Michigan, which is still wobbly on offense and oh-so young on defense.

Is Purdue, which hung around with Louisville in its opener, capable of an epic surprise against coach Khaki Pants? Stay tuned.

National experts already are speculating on whether first-year coach Jeff Brohm might be moving up from West Lafayette to a fancier address. If the Boilers’ 2-1 start becomes 3-1—well, just shows how high the stakes are at college-football programs with deep pockets.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

PENN STATE TESTER

Beyond Michigan-Purdue, Penn State’s trip to Iowa on Saturday shapes up as another Big Ten opener that will shed some light.

Hats off to the Nittany Lions for taking care of business in their first three home games. But a pair of shutouts (Akron and Georgia State) and a 33-14 handling of Pitt (smoked at home 59-21 by Oklahoma State on Saturday) is a whole different deal than traveling to Iowa City.

This year’s Hawkeyes are plodders. But they’re plodding nicely so far. Probably not capable of shocking Penn State. But Penn State better not think that way.

Oh, and by the way, what’s James Franklin’s deal? After making an ambiguously loaded remark about Pitt being just another game, he iced Georgia State’s kicker, then claimed it was about his second-string field-goal unit.

And we wondered if he was trying to preserve the shutout.

Franklin-Harbaugh Week could be really entertaining.

SPARTY-CUSS

Remember last year, when Michigan State went to South Bend and out-everything-ed Notre Dame, building a 36-7 lead, then held on for a 36-28 win?

At that point, Sparty looked like a serious player in the Big Ten East. Problem was, that was all, folks. Michigan State lost its next seven games and finished 3-9. Yup, injuries contributed to a general meltdown. But as the great philosopher Ron Zook once told me, ``Nobody cares.’’

Now comes Notre Dame to Spartan Stadium. Maybe Michigan State should reverse the trend: Lose to the Irish and win nine of its next 10.

Since that’s not going to happen, Sparty figures to be poised to get back on the horse, and try to beat Notre Dame again.

This game isn’t as big a deal this year. But one of these teams will take a good step forward. And neither wants to be the team that doesn’t.

Ought to be entertaining. At least.

PANTS OPTIONAL

After coaching Northwestern’s first two games in shorts, Pat Fitzgerald went with pants for the Wildcats’ night game against Bowling Green.

At halftime, though, the shorts went back on.

``It was just warm,’’ Fitz said. ``I was kind of ticked off at myself that I didn’t go with shorts. But I was like, `It’s gonna be a nice night, got a nice breeze. ‘ Maybe it was all the hot air from all the fans. It definitely got a lot warmer down on the field. If I’m sweating that bad, I know some of our other staff members are. I told them it was optional. Some of the guys made the change. Part of the scheme. I get out of the shower sweating.’’

And no, it had nothing to do with inspiration. Northwestern, which bowled over Bowling Green 49-7, was up 35-7 at the half.

We’ll have to wait a week, though, to see what’s next in Fitz’s wardrobe. The Wildcats have a week off before back-to-back games that will define their season: At Wisconsin and vs. Penn State.[/membership]

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