It was a tough week for the Big Ten. . . bashers.
The Midwestern Behemoths strutted their stuff against opponents from sea to shining sea, winning 10 out of 12 nonconference encounters.
Even the two losers did a lot of encouraging things.
Rutgers—which is usually the punch line, if not the punching bag—made No. 8 Washington sweat into the third quarter, trailing only 10-7 in a 30-14 loss. What an encouraging opener for second-year coach Chris Ash.
Purdue, better known as Pur-don’t lately, one-upped Rutgers, leading No. 16 Louisville and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson 28-25 in the fourth quarter before falling 35-28. What a great debut for new Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm.
A Big Ten tailender scaring the daylights out of an ACC ranked team? That ought to muffle those utterances about ACC supremacy.
The Big Ten also fared well in its marquee matchup. No. 11 Michigan throttled No. 17 Florida 33-17 in Arlington, Tex. Even if half of the Gators roster was standing in the corner rather than playing due to bad behavior, 11 rushing yards is an awfully impressive number for the Wolverines defense. That’s barely one yard per new defensive starter.
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I say this facetiously because I think ranking the conferences is over-rated. Long-time readers will know that I have routinely touted the SEC, the Land of Mr. College Football, as the nation’s best league—when I weighed in at all..
In other words, I am not a Big Ten homer. But when you’re hot, you’re hot.
And no one was hotter on Saturday than Maryland, which shocked No. 23 Texas (and everybody else who follows college football) by a 51-41 count.
Adios, Big 12.
If three of the nation’s top 11 teams weren’t in the Terrapins’ rugged Big Ten East division—well, all I’ll say is, `Fear the Turtle.’ Especially if your name is Mark Dantonio.
That’s the top takeaway in my mind from the Big Ten’s opening slate. What a great win for second-year coach D.J. Durkin. They’ll be talking about that day of infamy in Austin for a long, long time.
In the lone conference game, Ohio State shrugged off a sluggish start at Indiana and did what it had to do, 49-21. No need to overthink it. We’ll find out about the Buckeyes on Saturday, when No. 7 Oklahoma comes to the Horseshoe.
But meanwhile, a pretty good debut for new IU coach Tom Allen.
To sum up, the Big Ten’s three losers—Rutgers, Purdue and Indiana—all moved up in my mind, in terms of their chances of exceeeding expectations this fall.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin and Penn State will write the checks to Utah State and Akron—thanks for visiting—and move on from their routs. It’s pretty much the same deal with Michigan State (Bowling Green) and Minnesota (Buffalo), even if the margins weren’t as gaudy. Don’t know much about Sparty and Goldie at this point.
And kudoes to Iowa for stymying Wyoming and its future NFL stud QB Josh Allen 24-3. Think of the stories Hawkeye QB Nathan Stanley will be able to tell his grandchildren.
I was in Evanston for Northwestern’s 31-20 comeback win over Nevada, which required two touchdowns in the final 5-1/2 minutes from the Cats, who had trailed most of the afternoon.
I’ll trust Pat Fitzgerald’s explanation that the Wolf Pack, under new coach Jay Norvell, trotted out a lot of befuddling new stuff. And that Northwestern’s survive-and-advance was a big positive, considering that the Wildcats started 0-2 last year (against Western Michigan and Illinois State).
And I will not overthink Nebraska’s 43-36 escape against Arkansas State, which took a couple of end-zone shots from 11 yards out as time expired.
I will say that this is not your father’s Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are more diverse on offense, and they’ll need to be, with their defense. I will also say that I like Mike Riley a lot. He’s very refreshing, even if Mike Riley in Nebraska feels like a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
And now I finish with the biggest enigma of the Big Ten’s opening week—drumroll, please: Lovie Smith and the Fighting Illini.
First off, congratulations to Lovie and the Illini for pulling out an opening win. But scrambling to beat Ball State 24-21 on a late TD with two minutes left?
A win is a win. But Illinois had better mind its Xs-and-Os this week against Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers return 10 starters from last year’s 11-3 team, which beat Rice 46-14 and lost to Vanderbilt in overtime.
After Western Kentucky, Illinois’ schedule is filled with ominous matchups for a program in flux.
While it’s true that Illinois is very young and it’s very early in Lovie’s rebuilding effort, it’s also true that the Illini’s games against Rutgers, Purdue and Indiana are looking a lot more daunting after the Big Ten’s round of opening games.
And as the great philosopher Ron Zook once said, when it comes to a football team’s troubles, ``Nobody cares.’’[/membership]