The Big Ten Trying to Escape a Very Mixed Opening Weekend

By Phil Clark

During the opening weekend of college football, the Big Ten conference’s fortunes were a mixed bag. There were some close calls, including a few that shouldn’t have been, a few very nice bright spots, and of course, a couple noteworthy defeats.

The bright spots from opening week were mainly in the form of slaughters against far lesser foes. The best of these slaughters was the debut of Urban Meyer as the Ohio St. Buckeyes’ head coach with a 56-10 victory over the Miami (OH) Hawks. Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller continued from where he left off last year with an impressive outing, throwing for over 200 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 167 yards and another score. This was the most complete and dominant performance from a Big Ten team this weekend, though there were a few more good ones, including the Purdue Boilermakers‘ 48-6 win over Western Kentucky and the Illinois Fighting Illini defeating Western Michigan 24-7.

The Nebraska Cornhuskers‘ 49-20 wipeout of Southern Miss was another bright spot for the Big Ten this weekend, but more specifically, it was a bright spot for Cornhusker quarterback Taylor Martinez. Martinez, always known for his running ability, threw for five touchdowns with at least one TD pass in each quarter. Potentially more important to Martinez and the Cornhuskers’ success this season is the fact that Martinez may have a real 1-2 attack in the backfield with Ameer Abdullah and Rex Burkhead. The two combined for 149 yards on just 15 carries in the win with Burkhead scoring on a 57-yard run just over a minute into the game and Abdullah catching a fourth quarter touchdown pass from Martinez.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Big Ten suffered a couple of big losses this weekend that were on the national stage, albeit for different reasons.

In the first football game in over a half century that Joe Paterno wasn’t in the stadium, the Penn St. Nittany Lions fell to the Ohio University Bobcats 24-14. The game garnered national attention due to the significance of it being the first game since Paterno’s death, the Jerry Sandusky trial, and the NCAA laying the hammer down on the university in the form of unprecedented penalties. For new head coach Bill O’Brien, the players that decided to stay, and the fans & students of the school, this was the beginning of the healing process. Unfortunately that beginning was marked by what will be a common occurrence in the foreseeable future for Penn State: losing.

The Michigan Wolverines were on the national stage because of their Heisman hopeful quarterback, their turnaround from the Rich Rod era being in motion, and because they were in Dallas to take on the defending National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide. The outing was doomed from the start and would result in quarterback Denard Robinson being battered throughout the game, cornerback Blake Countess being lost for the season with a torn ACL, and an embarrassing 41-14 defeat.

And then there were those games that had people scratching their heads. Such games included the Indiana Hoosiers‘ slim 24-17 win over Indiana St., the Iowa Hawkeyes‘ 18-17 win over Northern Illinois, and the Minnesota Golden Gophers‘ 30-27 win over UNLV that took three overtimes to obtain.

Most troublesome among the Big Ten’s wins this weekend had to be the Michigan St. Spartans‘ slim 17-13 win at Boise State Friday night and the Wisconsin Badgers‘ 26-21 edging of Northern Iowa on Saturday.

Most troubling with the Spartans was the fact that running back Le’Veon Bell had to provide the great majority of the team’s offense, and was required to carry the ball over 40 times to do it. With the Badgers, their offense did just fine as Danny O’Brien had a spectacular debut as their starting quarterback and running back Monte Ball‘s numbers were average, but still just fine for a season opener. What’s troubling for the Badgers is that their offense did its job and yet it took a defensive stop in the final two and a half minutes to prevent a major comeback from being completed.

All in all, the weekend was successful in the sense that the only highly ranked team in the conference to lose was beaten by Alabama at a neutral location, while the other Big Ten teams in the top 15 were able to avoid defeat.

To go along with that, the Northwestern Wildcats‘ win over the Syracuse Orangemen came in what was easily the best game of the week, by a dramatic 42-41 score while adding to a lineage of classic college football games to take place in the Carrier Dome during the month of September that goes back at least 17 years.

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