With the bottom half of the Southeastern Conference putting up a…shall we say…underwhelming showing yesterday, it now looks like the Big Ten Conference has the most depth in college football (while the SEC’s top-side endures). All but two teams won their games this weekend, though an easy schedule couldn’t have hurt matters.
1. (#5) Ohio State
Justin Fields did not disappoint in his debut as Buckeyes’ starting quarterback, throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for another in a six-minute span. Some might point to the team’s sluggish second-half performance as a red flag, but when a team leads by 28 at the end of the first quarter, some let-up is bound to happen.
2. (#19) Wisconsin
The Badgers had one of the tougher opponents among their conference friends this weekend at South Florida, but you wouldn’t know it from reading the box score. Running back Jonathan Taylor stomped all over the Bulls for two rushing and two receiving touchdowns along with 183 combined offensive yards, 26 more than the entire USF offense could manage against the tenacious Badger D.
3. (#15) Penn State
Penn State could hardly have asked for a better performance from Sean Clifford in his Nittany Lions debut. By the time he’d taken his spot on the bench at halftime, his 280-yard, two-touchdown performance had already put the season opener against Idaho out of reach.
4. (#7) Michigan
Let’s face it. The Wolverines came in as one of the Big Ten’s two realistic shots at competing for the national title, and they didn’t exactly play like it against Middle Tennessee State. They won, but not in a convincing fashion, and Josh Gattis’ “new” offense looked like a work in progress. Upcoming games against Army and the aforementioned Wisconsin will really test Jim Harbaugh’s squad.
5. (#18) Michigan State
The Wolverine State’s other team pulled out a decent, if not exactly dominant, 28-7 win over Tulsa. While there are bugs to be worked out in the Spartans’ running game, which managed only 2.7 yards per carry, the defense has potential to be a legendary force, and they showed that by holding the Hurricane to an incredible -33 yards rushing. (No, that dash was not a typo.)
6. (#20) Iowa
The Hawkeyes struggled a bit in the first half and came out with a mere three-point lead, but rode the arm of quarterback Nathan Stanley to a blowout 38-14 win. Stanley threw for 252 yards and three touchdowns.
7. (#24) Nebraska
Sure, Nebraska won, but it didn’t really feel right. Experts were high on the Cornhuskers going into the season, and surely expected a lot more from them than a 14-point squeaker over lowly South Alabama. Huskers head coach and offensive guru Scott Frost said it best: “That’s as anemic an offensive effort I’ve been a part of in a long time.” Ouch.
Sure, it was against the Akron Zips, but Illinois’ 42-3 rout suggested that coach Lovie Smith’s turnaround may finally be taking hold. Six Illini combined to rush the ball 39 times for 208 yards, with Smith spreading the carries evenly among them.
With the University of Maryland’s top brass still facing the wrath of the public – and to be honest, rightfully so – Terps fans need some hope to distract them from the chaos on campus. Trust me, I’d know. I live two blocks from the stadium (I’m a grad student at Maryland).
And yes, one can criticize them for running up the score against FCS school Howard. But for head coach Michael Locksley, their 79-0 win will be a great foundation to build off of, if nothing else.
The Hoosiers might have lost to the in-state underdog Cardinals of Ball State were it not for the performance of Michael Penix, who threw for 326 yards and a touchdown in Indiana’s 34-24 win. Penix showed why head coach Tom Allen chose him in preseason over fellow QB Peyton Ramsey.
Not that the Wildcats had high expectations going into the season, but their 17-7 loss to Stanford was just dismal. To make matters worse, an injury to starting QB T.J. Green midway through the game has derailed what little hopes they now have after this stinker.
The Boilermakers have long been the doormat of the Big Ten, and they showed why by losing a last-second heartbreaker to the Nevada Wolf Pack, who until that point had only won once against the Big Ten ever.