March 9, 2016
Every Sunday, after an entire Saturday’s worth of college football, we’ll take a look around the Big Ten. As the conference as a whole fights as respectability in the non-conference, or as its power dynamics shift on a week-to-week basis in this fall, we’ll follow every team and try to piece togather the puzzle that is the 13-week-long season all the way up until Indianapolis.
Here are the top three storylines from Week 1:
1. Wisconsin pulls major upset, outmuscles No. 5 LSU
The Badgers made possibly the biggest statement of any team opening weekend by beating LSU at its own game, controlling the lines of scrimmage and playing suffocating defense. Wisconsin led 6-0 at the half and held off a third quarter surge from the Tigers to pull out the victory. This is a big-time win for Wisconsin before it faces Michigan St., Michigan, and Ohio St. in three consecutive games starting Sep. 12.
The skinny: The Badgers opened the season with a marquee win over an SEC power, which should vault them into the Top 25.
2. Conference blue-bloods look the part
No. 6 Ohio St. (70-10) and No. 7 Michigan (63-3) had easy days at the office, outscoring Bowling Green and Hawaii 140-13 combined. Michigan QB Wilton Speight threw an interception on his very first pass before throwing three touchdowns in his debut. Buckeye QB J.T. Barrett announced his early-season Heisman candidacy by throwing for 349 yards and accounting for seven TDs.
The skinny: Though both teams faced weak competition, Ohio St. and Michigan looked like playoff contenders in Week 1.
3. No. 17 Iowa, Nebraska win comfortably
Iowa dominated Miami (OH) 45-21, averaging 7.3 yards per carry in the contest. Lead back Akrum Wadley, who torched NU last season, rushed for 121 yards on 12 carries. Nebraska held a tribute for late punter Sam Foltz by lining up without a punter for its first punt attempt. The Cornhuskers led 14-10 just at halftime, but outscored Fresno St. 29-0 in the second half en route to a 43-10 win.
The skinny: Like last season, Iowa is big, strong and disciplined, and will be a force to be reckoned with in the conference. For Nebraska, QB Tommy Armstrong was inconsistent (5/10 passing), but the Huskers were tough in the trenches; they rushed for 294 yards and allowed just 31 yards rushing on defense.
- In a game that had Spartan fans sweating, Michigan St. overcame FCS foe Furman 28-13. The Spartans led 21-13 with under 12 minutes to play. QB Tyler O’Connor threw three touchdowns in his first start replacing three-year starter Connor Cook, but the offense failed to dominate the way many people expected they would against an FCS defense. The skinny: Running back L.J. Scott looked good, and the Spartan defense is strong as usual. But it remains unclear whether O’Connor and the offense will move the ball well enough to knock off perennial conference favorites Ohio St. and Michigan.
- Minnesota held on to defeat Oregon St. 30-23 after losing three defensive players to targeting ejections throughout the game. Despite QB Mitch Leidner’s shaky night throwing the ball, RB Rodney Smith and Leidner combined for 201 yards and four touchdowns rushing. The Gopher defense had four sacks, though the Beavers had some success throwing the ball. The skinny: Minnesota will have to play much cleaner football to be a factor in the Big 10 West, but the defense and running game look solid.
- Despite missing three starters from suspensions, Indiana beat Florida International 34-13. But, that score line doesn’t tell the full story. The Hoosiers trailed 13-12 entering the fourth quarter before outscoring FIU 22-0 in the final period. The Indiana defense had three interceptions and allowed just 63 yards rushing. The skinny: Indiana’s offense took a while to get going against a team that went 5-7 last season, but the Hoosiers played solid defense and can score in bunches.
- Penn St. opened its 2016 campaign with a 33-13 victory over Kent St. New quarterback Trace McSorley struggled early on, but made no major mistakes in his debut. Star running back Saquon Barkley rushed for 105 yards and one score. The skinny: McSorley will have to be more efficient if the Nittany Lions want to upset some of the top teams in the conference, but Barkley and the defense looked sharp.
- Purdue is now one win away from matching last season’s win total after pummeling Eastern Kentucky 45-24. The skinny: It was an important win for Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell, but it was against Eastern Kentucky.
- Maryland defeated Howard 52-13 in a local showdown. The skinny: While the score looks nice for Terp fans, anything but a blowout win would have been a major shock.
- Illinois won 52-3 over Murray St. The skinny: Like Maryland, the scoreline came as no surprise.
- Rutgers fell 48-13 to 14 Washington. The skinny: Rutgers is rebuilding, and it showed against a tough opponent.