Even though a bunch of teams played games on Thursday and Friday (and will on Sunday and Monday), yesterday was the true opening day for the 2015 college football season. Nine Big Ten teams were in action on Saturday, while two played on Thursday, one on Friday and one each will play today and tomorrow.
There were a fair share of close games, blowouts and even upsets among the 12 games Big Ten teams have played in already in 2015. We've already covered Northwestern's surprising win over Stanford in depth, so now it's time to check out the rest of the conference.
Let's take a look at those games and focus on how the Big Ten sides fared in their season debuts:
Top three storylines
In the only Week 1 matchup of two ranked teams, the Badgers faded in the second half after sticking with Alabama for two-plus quarters. Down 14-7 at the break, Wisconsin allowed Derrick Henry to score his second and third touchdowns of the day (he ran for 147 yards on 13 carries) in the third quarter to break the game open and seal a win on a neutral site in Texas.
Corey Clement — in his first game as a starter — underwhelmed on the ground, running for just 16 yards on eight carries while apparently battling an injury. That forced quarterback Joel Stave to make the big plays, something he's not used to doing. Stave ended up throwing for 200-plus yards and two touchdowns, but threw a pick and wasn't able to get much going while the game was still close.
It would have been huge for the Big Ten to get a statement win early on in the non-conference slate, but it's clear Alabama is a potential Playoff team in 2015 and Wisconsin is not. The game also showed how life after Melvin Gordon may not be as easy for the Badgers as they thought it would be; but in the end, it's Alabama, and barely anybody is going to be able to run against that defensive front.
Revenge of the Hail Mary gods!
Similarly to how they beat Northwestern in Lincoln (sorry for the reminder, 'Cats fans) a few years ago, the Cornhuskers dropped a heart-breaker to BYU on a last-second Hail Mary on Saturday. Having blown a 10-point halftime lead and with quarterback Taysom Hill sidelined with a foot injury, the Cougars needed backup Mitch Mathews to make a big play down 28-27 with one second left on the clock. And...
What did he do? Just threw up a crazy pass that somehow found one of his receivers open in the end zone... with roughly seven Nebraska defenders surrounding him. It took two days for college football to have a truly insane finish, even if it did involve a Big Ten team in Nebraska that really wanted to get off to a good start under new coach Mike Riley.
Prior to Saturday, Temple hadn't beaten Penn State in football since 1941. That changed yesterday, as the Owls were able to overcome a 10-point first quarter deficit to stun the Nittany Lions with 27 unanswered points. Christian Hackenberg, predicted to be among the conference's best quarterbacks, completed less than half of his passes for 103 yards and an interception in a severely disappointing season debut.
Without Hackenberg doing much, Penn State — outside of running back Akeel Lynch — didn't get much done on offense, allowing Temple to gain momentum quickly. Owls running back Jahad Thomas ran for 135 yards and two scores, leading his coach, Matt Rhule, to a win over his alma mater and a historic one for the Temple football program.
Penn State was a team expected to be one of the Big Ten East's better teams, but the weak debut might indicate underlying problems for James Franklin's Nittany Lions, who need Hackenberg to be effective if they're going to be good. Anyway, congrats to Rhule and Temple on the team's biggest win in years.
Other scores and highlights
The Utes spoiled Jim Harbaugh's (and Jake Rudock's) debut as Rudock, an Iowa transfer, threw three interceptions, including a fourth quarter pick-six to Justin Thomas that turned the tide of the game. Utah's Devontae Booker and Travis Wilson combined for 122 rushing yards and two scores to lead the Utes to an important win.
Minnesota hung tough with the Horned Frogs and Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin, but couldn't make enough plays to sustain a viable comeback. A 19-yard TD run for Boykin at the start of the second half that made it 17-3 TCU, and gave the Horned Frogs enough cushion to coast through the final 27 or so minutes with relative ease. Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner threw for 197 yards and a touchdown while Rodney Smith ran for 88 yards to go with a score.
The Spartans won the battle of Michigan, but not by as wide of a margin as they would have liked. Sparty broke out for 20 first quarter points, but only got into the end zone two more times on the day as Connor Cook (256 yards and two touchdowns) led Michigan State without having to make too many tough throws. The running game contributed with almost 200 yards on the ground with three touchdowns.
Maryland overcame an early deficit to take charge by the half with a 22-14 lead, and eventually run away with the game. Brandon Ross (150 yards), Ty Johnson (83 yards) and Wes Brown (74 yards) each were effective on the ground as quarterback Perry Hills struggled through the air for the most part. Also, cornerback/return specialist Will Likely set a Big Ten record with 233 punt return yards, which included a touchdown.
C.J. Beathard was pretty good in his first game as an unquestioned starter (15-24 for 211 yards with a touchdown) as the Hawkeyes shut down the Redbirds pretty well on both sides of the field. Also, running back LeShun Daniels Jr. added 123 yards in the winning effort for Kirk Ferentz's team.
After an eventful week in which five players were suspended and eventually kicked off the team, the Scarlet Knights needed an easy win over FCS Norfolk State, which is exactly what they got. Rutgers' quarterback duo of Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig combined for almost 250 yards and four touchdowns as Kyle Flood's team rolled over the Spartans. Wide receiver Leonte Carroo caught three passes, all of which were touchdowns, for 129 yards.
Illinois' football program has also been in turmoil lately, with a scandal involving mistreatment of players leading to the firing of former coach Tim Beckman. But, like with Rutgers, a big win was a nice relief from the constant speculation of what exactly the Illini will do at coach (Bill Cubit is the interim head coach) going forward. Quarterback Wes Lunt threw four touchdowns on just 11 passing attempts.
The Hoosiers barely avoided a brutal home upset by sniffing out a Saluki two-point conversion attempt with just 18 seconds left. Southern Illinois scored a few seconds before on a Mark Iannotti 25-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Jones, and decided to go for two rather than tie the game with an extra point. Iannotti rolled right and got a pass off but his receiver couldn't haul it in, letting Indiana let out a sigh of relief.
Sunday at 2:00 pm CST: Purdue vs. Marshall
Monday at 7:00 pm CST: No. 1 Ohio State at Virginia Tech