It’s judgment day for the Big Ten.
That might sound ominous, but the conference has a chance Saturday to make a statement with three marquee out-of-league games that could resonate with the College Football Playoff selection committee come December.
No. 7 Michigan State faces the stiffest test. The defending Big Ten champions play at No. 3 Oregon, a game that even Commissioner Jim Delany acknowledged has potential to be “disproportionately important” for the perception of the conference.
“I don’t downplay the game, it takes on an added dimension,” Delany told SI.com earlier this week. “I think all the emphasis on these games is merited. They’re potential pivot points for the decision-making.”
The other pivotal points come in South Bend, Indiana, where Michigan faces No. 16 Notre Dame, and Columbus, Ohio, where No. 8 Ohio State hosts Virginia Tech.
• MARQUEE MATCHUPS
No. 7 Michigan State (plus 12½) at No. 3 Oregon — It’s not just a big game for Spartans. The Ducks get dinged for not being tough enough against power-based teams (see consecutive losses to Stanford). Statement opportunity for Oregon, too. ... OREGON 31-21.
Virginia Tech (plus 11½) at No. 8 Ohio State — Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer says Virginia Tech’s defensive line might be the best Ohio State faces this season. Hokies coach Frank Beamer says it’ll take “110 percent” effort to block Ohio State’s disruptive front. Whichever offensive line holds up best wins ... OHIO STATE 23-14.
No. 14 Southern California (plus 2½) at No. 13 Stanford — In a conference filled with star quarterbacks, USC’s Cody Kessler and Stanford’s Kevin Hogan can get overlooked. Cardinal coach David Shaw called them the “Rodney Dangerfields” of the Pac-12’s elite QB class ... STANFORD 27-24.
Michigan (plus 5) at No. 16 Notre Dame — It’s the last game scheduled between the Wolverines and the Fighting Irish, because Notre Dame needed to clear some room on its schedule to accommodate its new ACC relationship. Surely, those future games against North Carolina State and Wake Forest will be just as exciting ... NOTRE DAME 27-23.
• CONFERENCE CALLS
No. 15 Mississippi (minus 20) at Vanderbilt — Commodores’ opener under new coach Derrick Mason couldn’t have gone much worse (37-7 loss at home to Temple) ... MISSISSIPPI 31-20.
No. 20 Kansas State (minus 12½) at Iowa State — Hawkeyes lost to North Dakota State to open season — just as the Wildcats did to open last season ... KANSAS STATE 28-21.
• UPSET SPECIAL
No. 24 Missouri (minus 5) at Toledo — Tigers coach Gary Pinkel returns to the place he coached from 1991-2000. He joked that when he agreed to the game, he figured he’d be fired by the time it was played. Jokes aside, potentially tricky spot ... TOLEDO 35-28.
• WORTH A LOOK
San Diego State (plus 15) at No. 21 North Carolina — Tar Heels ran 93 plays last week against Liberty, the most for the UNC since 1994 ... NORTH CAROLINA 41-17
East Carolina (plus 16½) at No. 21 South Carolina — Gamecocks try to rebound from A&M beating against another potent offense and talented quarterback in the Pirates and Shane Carden ... SOUTH CAROLINA 45-24.
• UNRANKED BUT NOT UNINTERESTING
Arizona (minus 7) at Texas-San Antonio — Coach Larry Coker’s Roadrunners can take their Conference USA breakout national with a Pac-12 upset ... ARIZONA 38-24.
BYU (plus 3½) at Texas — Cougars QB Taysom Hill ran for 3,000 yards against Longhorns last season. OK, it wasn’t that much, but it sure felt that way ... BYU 24-23.
Colorado State (plus 10½) at Boise State — Rams can take an early lead in MWC’s Mountain Division ... BOISE STATE 28-21.
Northern Illinois (plus 6½) at Northwestern — Wildcats are unbeaten in seven meetings against Huskies. ... NORTHWESTERN 31-24.
No. 4 Oklahoma (minus 24½) at Tulsa — Sooners have won 12 of 13 against the Golden Hurricane scoring at least 45 in the last four ... OKLAHOMA 45-14.
San Jose State (plus 31) at No. 5 Auburn — Tigers coach Gus Malzahn is finding new toys to play with on offense: junior college transfer receiver Duke Williams had nine catches for 154 yards against Arkansas ... AUBURN 56-17.
Memphis (plus 24½) at No. 11 UCLA — Would be a more interesting basketball game ... UCLA 45-17.
No. 17 Arizona State (minus 26) at New Mexico — Speaking of basketball, Lobos might be favored against Sun Devils on the hardwood ... ARIZONA STATE 49-21.
Last week: Record straight: 15-5; vs. points 8-12.
Best bet: 0-1.
Upset special: 0-1.
It’s judgment day for the Big Ten.