Though Northwestern did not play a football game this weekend, the other 13 teams in the Big Ten took the field, whether it was their season opener or trying to rebound from a loss overseas (sorry Nebraska). Nonetheless, it was an eventful weekend in the conference, from the blowouts to the top-five matchups to the conference openers that lasted until the final minute. Here’s a look at some of the best storylines from Week 1:
Drama in West Lafayette
Thursday night provided the arguably best Big Ten game of the year so far, though it may be a small sample size. Both Penn State and Purdue entered their season opener unranked but with high expectations, with James Franklin’s Nittany Lions looking to bounce back against the Boilermakers, who have talent around Aidan O’Connell and can make some noise in the largely unproven Big Ten West.
Penn State was the better team for most of the first half and was able to take an 11-point lead into halftime, but the second half brought the real action. The Boilermakers were able to immediately insert themselves back into the game, scoring a touchdown less than four minutes in to cut the lead to four. Ross-Ade Stadium grew loud, and the Penn State offense could not move the football. Soon enough, Purdue scored again to make it a 24-21 game in its favor.
The fourth quarter was the most memorable part of this game. Penn State scored early to take the lead. After this, Purdue stalled out on offense, giving the ball right back to the Nittany Lions. Then, Chris Jefferson was able to intercept Sean Clifford and take it 72 yards to the house, giving Purdue the lead and giving the internet something to rave about (puke six!). Still, this was not enough to beat Penn State.
The Nittany Lions were able to take their last drive down the field and score in the final minute, with Clifford connecting with Keyvone Lee for a ten-yard touchdown with 57 seconds left in the game. Though closer than Franklin likely intended, the win reassured PSU fans that their team can, in fact, win primetime games. Nevertheless, Purdue held its own and could be a dark horse for the west this year.
No. 2 Ohio State takes down Notre Dame, proving its worth
Saturday night was not just a chance for the Buckeyes to prove they are the best team in the conference, but one of the best in the country. After a disappointing season last year where they failed to beat Michigan and win the Big Ten but still won the Rose Bowl, Ohio State entered the year ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll. With No. 5 Notre Dame coming into the Shoe, Ryan Day’s group had a difficult task at hand.
Though they started slow, the Buckeyes were able to overcome hurdles to beat the Irish. The most notable was an injury to Jaxson Smith-Njigba in the first quarter which pretty much sidelined him for the rest of the game. Without his number one target, CJ Stroud relied mostly on inexperienced wideouts, such as Emeka Egbuka, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Xavier Johnson. Though it took some time, Stroud was able to connect with his targets and the second half was much better for the Heisman favorite.
Ohio State also displayed a running back tandem that is one of the best in the country; TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams combined for 175 yards on the ground (91 and 84 respectively) and were key to Ohio State managing the clock when they had the lead. The Buckeyes showed something that they lacked last year in their two losses: physicality. Ohio State was able to punish Notre Dame later in the game, as the Irish had no solution for the run and this opened up the passing game for Stroud and co. The Buckeyes emerged victorious with a 21-10 dub, looking terrifying as ever.
There was a blowout, or two...or three
The reigning Big Ten champions Michigan and two Big Ten west contenders Wisconsin and Minnesota had no problems in their season openers.
Starting with the Wolverines, who easily dispatched Colorado State in the Big House, 51-7. Though Michigan blew out their opponent, the most notable storyline from Ann Arbor is the quarterback controversy: Cade McNamara started this week, but J.J McCarthy still got snaps, and next week, McCarthy is slated to be the starter against Hawaii. McNamara showed his discontent after the game for the first time, and Jim Harbaugh’s interesting management of the situation makes this a story to follow for the Wolverines.
Wisconsin made Illinois State look like a division two team in Madison. The Badgers were dominant in every area of the field, from their offensive line which did not have a problem to Braelon Allen, who looks like one of the best running backs in the country, to their defense, which should be one of the best in America this season. Obviously, this was a tune-up game for more difficult games to come, but boy, the Badgers looked good.
Minnesota, who can make some noise in the Big Ten west this year, also had no problem in their season opener Thursday night. The Gophers put up an identical score to the Badgers, defeating New Mexico State 38-0. There was no difficulty for Minnesota in this game. P.J. Fleck’s team looks better than they did last year, led by Mo Ibrahim, who like Allen is one of the top running backs in the country, and Tanner Morgan, who in his sixth year has more experience than pretty much anyone. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin will be hurdles for the ‘Cats, but that only means more fun, right?
Defense does, in fact, win games.
Iowa made the Big Ten Championship last year; it’s not a question of whether they deserved to be there, they made it. Then they were blown out by Michigan. Saturday, they opened up against South Dakota State in Iowa City, and some fans might have rather watched the championship game from last year than what transpired there.
Iowa won the game 7-3. How do you win a game 7-3? Well, that’s easy, score a touchdown and concede a field goal. Well, not for the Hawkeyes, who did concede a field goal, but actually did not score a touchdown. Iowa’s defense outscored their offense, putting two safeties on the board to go along with a field goal. In stark contrast to the high-firing offenses of Minnesota and Wisconsin, Iowa’s defense won the game, which should make for some interesting conference matchups down the line.
It was a pain to watch for Hawkeye fans, who have expectations for their team this season. Spencer Petras put up a rating of 1.1, Iowa combined for 57 rushing yards (Petras had -25) and Iowa’s offense looked terrible against an FCS defense. Defense does win championships, but they will need to have some answers on offense to make it back to Indy this year.
Michigan State 35, Western Michigan 14
Indiana 23, Illinois 20
Maryland 31, Buffalo 10
Nebraska 38, North Dakota 17
Rutgers 22, Boston College 21