The 2016 college football season got underway in the Big Ten this past weekend with most of the conference holding serve against lesser opponents — Northwestern being upset by Western Michigan the exception. Wisconsin pulled off the biggest upset of the weekend as it defeated the No 5 ranked LSU Tigers at Lambeau Field.
Big Ten Eastern Division:
Indiana Hoosiers 1-0 (0-0)
For most of the game, it looked like the Hoosiers were going to be upset by FIU, but a 22-point outburst in the final 15 minutes of the season opener ensured that the Hoosiers would start the year with a win. The Hoosiers offense finished the night with 486 total yards — 135 by running back Devine Redding — but it was a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Rashard Fant that kept them in the game and a 16-yard interception return for a score by linebacker Tegray Scales late that sealed the victory for Indiana.
Maryland Terrapins 1-0 (0-0)
Last season the Terrapins struggled with turning the ball over but in the 52-13 victory over Howard, Maryland had zero turnovers. Maybe it was the level of competition but this near flawless performance gives new head coach DJ Durkin has something to build upon once the schedule does get tougher. Senior quarterback, Perry Hills had an efficient afternoon completing 14-of-19 passes for 126 yards and six Maryland running backs scored — including freshman Lorenzo Harrison who led the team in rushing with 67 yards on nine carries.
Michigan Wolverines 1-0 (0-0)
The Wolverines kicked off the 2016 season with a dominating 63-3 win over Hawai’i. Everyone was focused on the new quarterback for Michigan but it was contributions from other newcomers that led the way in the route. Chris Evans was one of 17 true freshmen to see game action on Saturday and the running back showed out by running for 112 of the team’s 306 total rushing yards. Senior linebacker Mike McCray was making his first start of his career and made an instant impact as he led the Wolverines defense with 7.5 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and a forced fumble.
Michigan St. Spartans 1-0 (0-0)
It may have been a lot closer than what many MSU fans expected, but Michigan State got the job done in the 28-13 victory over Furman. An interception by linebacker Andrew Dowdell shifted the momentum back to Spartans late in the fourth quarter and Tyler O’Connor connected with tight end Jamal Lyles on the subsequent drive to push the lead to 15. Receiver Monty Madaris looks ready to step into the role vacated by Aaron Burbridge as he led the team with 85 yards on five receptions.
Ohio St. Buckeyes 1-0 (0-0)
Ohio State may be young — only six returning starters– but the 77-10 victory over Bowling Green showed that the team still has plenty of talent on the roster. Running back Curtis Samuel led the way with 261 total yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. There is no quarterback quandary this year and junior JT Barrett played with the confidence reminiscent of the 2014 season as he completed 21-of-31 passes for 349 yards and a school-record six touchdowns The Buckeyes defense limited Bowling Green offense to 244 total yards and forced three interceptions — including two by sophomore safety Malik Hooker.
Penn State Nittany Lions 1-0 (0-0)
Penn State got the job done in the 33-13 victory over Kent St. but the team wasn’t overly impressive in doing so. A new offensive coordinator was brought in to spark the offense but it seems as if the Nittany Lions are still only average on that side of the ball. The team only converted 33% of its third-down attempts and new quarterback Trace McSorley only completed 16-of-31 passes for 209 yards. Running back Saquon Barkley finished the day with 105 yards on 20 carries but missing from the running back rotation was highly-touted freshman Miles Sanders.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights 0-1 (0-0)
New head coach Chris Ash’s trip to the great northwest was an uneventful one as the Scarlet Knights were soundly defeated by the Washington Huskies 48-13. The Rutgers defense did its best to slow down the Washington offense — only allowed 380 total yards and 3-of-12 third-down conversions — but it wasn’t enough as the Scarlet Knights offense and special teams had troubles of their own. Offensively Chris Laviano carried over his turnover issues from 2015 as he struggled to hit open Rutgers receivers and had two costly turnovers. The special teams gave up a punt return and kickoff return for touchdowns and if this is any indication of how the season will be, Ash may be wondering if his job at OSU is still available.
Big Ten West Division:
Illinois Fighting Illini 1-0 (0-0)
The Lovie Smith era started with a bang in Champaign as Illinois soundly defeated Murray St. 52-3. Yes, it was a win over an FSC program but there are plenty of FBS schools that were upset by their lower rated brethren over the weekend. Wes Lunt led the way with 226 yards and three touchdowns while finding a new go-to receiver in junior Malik Turner who had three catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns. It was Kendrick Foster, not super sophomore Ke’Shawn Vaughn, that led the team in rushing with 118 yards on only four carries. Illinois handled its business against a cupcake, now let’s see what they do against better competition next week.
Iowa Hawkeyes 1-0 (0-0)
The more things change, the more they stay the same in Iowa City. Last year Iowa used multiple running backs to lead the way to a West Division championship and in the 45-21 win over Miami (OH) it was the run game that led the way again. Akrum Wadley finished with 121 yards on 12 carries and LeShun Daniels contributed 83 yards on 10 carries. Teams are looking to avoid all-conference cornerback Desmond King on defense but he still found a way to impact the game on special teams as he had two kick returns for 70 yards and one punt return for 15 yards.
Minnesota Golden Gophers 1-0 (0-0)
If it’s one team that really dislikes the targeting rule, it will be the Gophers as it cost them three players in the 30-23 win over the Oregon St. Beavers on Thursday night. One of the ejected players was true freshman Tai’yon Devers who did not play like it was his first collegiate game as he collected two sacks before being sent to the locker room. Offensively Minnesota struggled — a snap over quarterback Mitch Leidner’s head led to a safety and the senior quarterback missed multiple open receivers — but it’s better to get those kinks out against lesser competition and still get the win.
Nebraska Cornhuskers 1-0 (0-0)
It was an emotional evening as the program paid tribute to punter Sam Foltz who tragically died in a car accident during the off-season. Once the players dried their tears, Nebraska went to work and easily defeated Fresno St. 43-10. The passing game still needs work — Tommy Armstrong Jr. only completed 50% of his passes for 108 yards — but the run game dominated as nine players contributed to 292 yards and five touchdowns. It’s still too early to know if the blackshirt defense is back in Lincoln, but the Cornhuskers limited Fresno St. to 31 yards rushing and Kieron Williams and Chris Jones had interceptions.
Northwestern Wildcats 0-1 (0-0)
The Wildcats were outplayed in every aspect of the 22-21 upset loss to the Western Michigan Broncos but still had a chance to win the game until quarterback Clayton Thorson fumbled on the goal line. The offense had its issues — only 319 total yards, no passing touchdowns and lost the time of possession battle by almost 19 minutes — but it was the defense’s inability to stop Western Michigan when it mattered that cost the Wildcats the game. WMU converted 7-of-17 third-down conversions and also converted four fourth-down attempts as well. Justin Jackson rushed for 124 yards and all three Northwestern touchdowns but will need help if the Wildcats want to reach 10 wins again in 2016.
Purdue Boilermakers 1-0 (0-0)
Purdue used a 78-yard interception return for a touchdown by Gelen Robinson and 145 yards on 24 carries from Markell Jones to cruise to a 45-24 victory over Eastern Kentucky. Quarterback David Blough still has to make better decisions — only completed 58% of his passes and had one interception — but it looks as if this season the Purdue offense may be able to put up some points. It will be needed as the defense still cannot consistently get stops when needed. Outside of the three turnovers, Purdue surrendered almost 400 total yards against an FCS school that was shut out by NC State 35-0 last season.
Wisconson Badgers 1-0 (0-0)
In what some will call the upset of the weekend, Wisconsin defeated the LSU Tigers 16-14 in a neutral site game at Lambeau Field. This was a game of momentum as the Badgers held a 13-0 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter but then saw a costly interception by Bart Houston and a fumble by George Rushing on consecutive drives result in touchdowns for the Tigers. It still wasn’t until D’Cota Dixon intercepted an ill-advised pass from LSU quarterback Brandon Harris with 57 seconds remaining that the victory was sealed for the Badgers. Cory Clement looks to finally be over the injury bug from 2015 as he rushed for 86 yards on 21 carries. Head coach Paul Chryst will need Clement and the other Badgers running backs to carry the load if Houston is going to continue to make mistakes like he did on Saturday.
Sports Q&A Big 10 Player of the week:
Curtis Samuel Running back-Ohio State University
Against Bowling Green, Samuel showed that he could be the next dual-threat star for the Buckeyes as he rushed for 84 yards on 13 carries and had nine receptions for 177 yards. Yes, it was against a MAC school but ask Northwestern fans about struggling against teams from that conference.
Game of the Week:
Penn St. @ Pitt
The Nittany Lions travel to the Steel City to face a tough defensive minded Panthers team that limited their Week 1 opponent, Villanova, to 172 total yards and no offensive scores. Neither team ran the ball well last week, so the team that is able to establish the run should have the advantage; I give that edge to Saquon Barkley and Penn St. PSU 31 Pitt 27
Week 2 Predictions:
Maryland over Florida Atlantic
Michigan over UCF
Nebraska over Wyoming
Cincinnati over Purdue (upset of the week)
Rutgers over Howard
Minnesota over Indiana St.
Northwestern over Illinois St.
Ohio St. over Tulsa
Wisconsin over Akron
Indiana over Ball St.
Illinois over North Carolina
Iowa over Iowa St.