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Around the Big Ten, Week One: New season, same conference

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

College football is back! And after an offseason filled with tons of turmoil and turnover at nearly every Big Ten school, Week One was...eerily similar to last year. Everywhere you looked, it was the conference’s traditional powers reasserting themselves. And in the last year of divisional play, the Big Ten is once again summoning all of its traditions. The Big Ten East has multiple national title contenders, and the Big Ten West has Wisconsin and Iowa covering up a complete dumpster fire behind them. There’s reason to hope for quite a few teams, but there’s also reason to worry for almost as many. Without further ado, let’s kick off a new season of Around the Big Ten.

Ohio State’s offense looks off

It is the year 2023, and the Iowa Hawkeyes have outscored the Ohio State Buckeyes so far this season. The reason for this is simple: after over half a decade of great quarterback play, Ohio State may finally be regressing to the mean. Kyle McCord, a top-3 quarterback in the Class of 2021, is finally receiving his moment after CJ Stroud’s departure, and the lights looked a little bright for him against Indiana. The Buckeyes won, 23-3, thanks to a horribly anemic Indiana offense, but McCord had some rough moments, going 20-for-33 for 239 yards and an interception. Devin Brown, a top-5 quarterback in the Class of 2022, pushed McCord all summer and very easily could have been named the starter. If McCord continues to struggle, especially as the schedule gets tougher, fans could start calling for Brown. This is arguably the most important season of Ryan Day’s tenure at Ohio State, and with average QB play, it might just be his toughest.

The Age of Allar looks appealing

Penn State almost certainly will get better QB play than the Buckeyes this year. That’s thanks to Drew Allar, who looked magnificent in Penn State’s 38-15 dismantling of West Virginia. In his first career start, the sophomore went 21-of-29 for 325 yards and three scores, including a 72-yard strike to KeAndre Lambert-Smith on the first drive of the game. Admittedly, it was a home game for the Nittany Lions against a below-average Big 12 squad. But Allar looked poised and made a lot of good plays, and he’ll have three more weeks before going up against his first real test in Iowa. With Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen in the backfield as well, Allar’s definitely in a good situation as a quarterback getting his first real collegiate action. And if he’s able to keep doing what he did against West Virginia, then Penn State’s ceiling is higher than all but a few teams in the country.

New coach, new offense, same Wisconsin

Luke Fickell was probably the best coaching hire of the offseason, and he made it clear that he planned to diversify Wisconsin’s offense from its traditional power approach. It remains to be seen how well that will work (Tanner Mordecai threw a pair of interceptions), but it didn’t need to Saturday. In Wisconsin’s 38-17 defeat of Buffalo, the Badgers rushed for a total of 314 yards on an eye-popping 7.9 yards per carry. Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen both looked spectacular, rushing for 157 and 141 yards, respectively. While Allen has been a 1,000-yard rusher for consecutive seasons already, Mellusi rushed for 473 yards in 10 games last season. If he’s able to get onto Allen’s level, then Wisconsin could be an extremely dangerous challenge in the Big Ten this year.

Big Ten West football is so back

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Nebraska lost a one-score football game. Matt Rhule’s coaching debut looked like it was going to be an impressive, physical win through 55 minutes. Then Anthony Grant fumbled, and Minnesota’s Daniel Jackson made a spectacular catch in the corner of the end zone, and Jeff Sims threw his third interception of the game (his second to All-American safety Tyler Nubin)...and then Minnesota’s Dragon Kesich drilled a 47-yard field goal at the gun. In Minnesota’s 13-10 victory, the two teams combined for five turnovers and just 38 first downs. Nebraska looked like they could be a really good defensive team, as did Minnesota, but both teams had several offensive issues. In other words, they’re perfect Big Ten West spoilers.

But an even better depiction of Big Ten West football took place on Sunday afternoon on CBS. Despite being in the Big Ten East, Rutgers put on a showcase of grind-it-out football in their 24-7 defeat of Northwestern. On the Scarlet Knights’ first two drives, they ran a combined 32 plays for 155 yards over a mind-melting 15 minutes and eight seconds. The defense also stood strong, holding Northwestern to just 12 rushing yards for the game. The key in the game was later downs: Rutgers went 8-for-18 on third down and 3-for-3 on fourth down, while Northwestern was 4-for-14 and 1-for-3 (including a fake punt with a route run a yard short of the first down). Northwestern transfer Ben Bryant looked shaky, with just 169 yards passing and two picks, but he was also sacked five times. Wildcat fans are probably hoping that Bryant will return to his Cincinnati form, especially if he’s able to stay upright and out of pressure.

The legend of Pur-don’t returns

Stop me if you've heard THIS one before: Purdue lost to a small school from the coast in a shocking upset. This time, though, it was on the football field instead of the basketball court. Despite being down double digits in the third quarter, Fresno State came back to stun the Boilermakers in a 39-35 victory. The Bulldogs torched the Boilermakers defense, tallying 487 yards, 371 of which came through the air. Purdue did what they could, and transfer quarterback Hudson Card looked very good, throwing for 254 yards and a pair of scores. Despite everything that went right for the Boilermakers — the performance from Card, a kickoff return for a touchdown and a missed field goal by Fresno State — Purdue was unable to come out on top. And it won’t get any easier for the Boilermakers: every team left on their schedule is in the Power Five.

Other Scores

Michigan State 30, Central Michigan 7

No. 2 Michigan 30, East Carolina 3

No. 25 Iowa 24, Utah State 14

Maryland 38, Towson 6

Illinois 30, Toledo 28