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Recapping the first week of college football in the Big Ten

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

College football is back, and what an opening weekend it was! There was plenty of excitement, a few surprises, one non-starter, and at least one absolute WTF moment. In other words, it was exactly what you’d expect in Week 1.

Hoosiers

Indiana beat Florida International 38-28 in Miami, with Peyton Ramsey passing for three touchdowns, and Michael Penix adding another score in the second half. Turnovers were the real difference in the game, with the Hoosiers recovering a fumble on FIU’s first drive and Jonathan Crawford returning an interception 33 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.

The Hoosiers are happy to have a game under their belts before playing Virginia in the home opener on Saturday. With Indiana football, 1-0 is good, but not necessarily a good predictor, and you can hardly blame fans for taking this view:

When you account for the long-time suffering of Indiana football, you may often think to yourself one important question: Why? Why do I put myself through this when I know the end result? Why couldn’t I be doing something else for 3.5 hours every Saturday afternoon for three months? And why Indiana University, of all places?

Terps

Maryland may not have been the best add for the Big Ten, especially in view of the program’s current off-field issues. But this one fact is indisputable: Maryland owns Texas. The Terps are 2-0 against the Longhorns, following a 34-29 victory in Landover on Saturday.

That the win may owe more to Texas’ incompetence than anything else is irrelevant right now. Maryland was playing for Jordan McNair, and the players honored their fallen teammate by leaving his spot on the offensive line open on the first play, and after the game too.

Quarterback Kasim Hill went 17-of-29 for 222 yards, but the day belonged to Jeshaun Jones, who caught a 65-yard touchdown pass but also ran for a score, and threw for another one.

Maryland hits the road on Saturday to take on Bowling Green.

Wolverines

The Michigan-Notre Dame series is back after a long hiatus, but it’s a good bet Michigan fans want no part of it in hindsight. The Irish ran up a huge lead and then held on to beat the Wolverines 24-17 in South Bend.

Michigan’s running game never got untracked. Averaging less than two yards a carry, Michigan managed only three points of actual offense, although a 99-yard kick return helped bring the Wolverines to within three by halftime. Shea Patterson played better in the second half, and with some help from Dylan McCaffrey, but it was too little too late, and a fumble on the final series sealed Michigan’s fate.

Since 2015, Michigan is 1-6 against its biggest rivals. If you’re keeping track, that’s 0-3 against Ohio State, 1-2 against Michigan State, and 0-1 against Notre Dame. So is Jim Harbaugh on the hot seat? Probably not, but former Wolverine Braylon Edwards tweeted sharp (and perhaps ill-considered) criticism of certain players and the program, and was promptly suspended by BTN in response.

Michigan should be able to get a win this weekend against Western Michigan, in a series with a long and very unstoried history.

Spartans

Michigan State beat Utah State 38-31 in a game that never should have been that close in the first place. That the Spartans won despite looking like warmed-over canine fecal matter for much of the game is perhaps credit-worthy, but this game has to give Michigan State fans a bit of pause.

There was plenty to be excited about in this game too though. Running back Connor Heyward had two touchdowns on the night, including an 13-yard run with two minutes left to give the Spartans the lead. That run was set up by a brilliant 31-yard catch by wide receiver Felton Davis on a desperate heave by quarterback Brian Lewerke.

The defense might be another story. The Spartans struggled a bit with Utah State’s up-tempo offense and seemed gassed when they couldn’t get off the field quickly. The secondary too failed to impress despite the obvious talent on display.

These defensive problems might come home to roost when the Spartans travel to Arizona State to take on the Sun Devils and the desert heat.

Buckeyes

FInally! After weeks of finger-pointing, conspiracy-theorizing, and whining, Buckeye fans got to see their team in live action. Ohio State beat Oregon State 77-31, and no, that is not a basketball score.

Taking all their collective frustration out on the hapless Beavers was pretty much exactly what the doctor ordered. New quarterback Dwayne Haskins threw for five touchdowns and the Buckeyes scored on five of the first six possessions of the game. By halftime, it was pretty much over, but Ohio State would go on to amass 721 yards of total offense against an actual Pac-12 opponent. If you’re not scared of the Buckeyes’ offense, you should be.

On the other hand, the defense didn’t exactly impress. Oregon State is a Power 5 team alright, but also probably the worst P5 team on the Buckeyes’ schedule. Against this team, Ohio State gave up over 300 yards on just seven plays, largely because of missed assignments by linebackers and in the secondary.

Ohio State gets an early conference test as Rutgers visits Columbus on Saturday.

Nittany Lions

Memo to Big Ten teams. Maybe don’t schedule Appalachian State anymore. Penn State barely escaped Appalachian State 45-38 and needed overtime to do it.

It was exactly 11 years to the day from Appalachian State’s monumental upset of Michigan, and the Mountaineers had scored on three straight possessions in under six minutes in the fourth quarter to go ahead 38-31. With less than two minutes to go in regulation, quarterback Trace McSorley turned into the game’s great hero. Throwing off his back foot, he found the game’s other hero, KJ Hamler, for a 15-yard score that tied the game and sent the teams into overtime. From there, it was all Penn State.

Should fans be worried about the narrow win? Like Ohio State, Penn State has an offense that will keep the Lions in most games, and like the Buckeyes, the defensive issues may be the reason they don’t win those games. Only time will tell.

Penn State takes on arch rival Pitt on Saturday night.

Scarlet Knights

Rutgers beat Texas State 35-7 on the strength of two touchdowns each for Raheem Blackshear and Jonathan Hilliman. More importantly, for the first time in three years, Rutgers begins the season 1-0.

It was really important for the Scarlet Knights to have a good game in the opener, if only to build some confidence for true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski. The IMG product had a rough day though. He had three interceptions, including a pick-six. A touchdown pass was negated by a flag, and there were several bad throws where he locked into a receiver and didn’t go through his progressions. But he didn’t look fazed by the moment, and that may be the bigger deal for Rutgers for the rest of the season.

With Ohio State coming to Piscataway on Saturday, there’s little time for Rutgers to ponder the opener anyway.

Illini

Illinois was almost a victim of #MACtion on Saturday but somehow managed to hold it together for four quarters to beat Kent State 31-24. The Illini have now won 21 straight home openers, the fourth-longest streak in the country.

Illinois’ offense was AWOL for much of the first half, and Kent State made light work of the defense, running up a 17-3 lead. Then AJ Bush happened. He was 13/23 for 129 yards, but did his best work with his legs, rushing for 139 yards of 21 attempts. While Bush wasn’t perfect, he did offer the sort of calm leadership the Illini needed to mount a comeback.

But alas! All is not happiness and rainbows for Illinois, because wide receiver Mike Dudek blew out his knee during the game and will miss the rest of the season. Recall that Dudek have over 1000 receiving yards in his freshman season in 2014 but had to miss most of the 2015 and 2016 seasons with injuries. This just seems like the worst sort of luck.

The Illini take on the Western Illinois Leathernecks on Saturday night.

Hawkeyes

Iowa began the 2018 campaign with a comprehensive 33-7 beatdown of Northern Illinois. With the win, Kirk Ferentz became the winningest coach in Iowa history, which probably says more about Iowa football than it does about Ferentz.

The first half didn’t go particularly well for Iowa, with a Nate Stanley interception and several drops keeping the offense from really getting untracked. Fortunately, Northern Illinois really couldn’t get anything going against Iowa’s defense, so the 3-0 lead at halftime didn’t send the team or the fans into panic mode. The second half was all Iowa, with the swarming defense getting some key stops while Iowa’s offense—still nowhere near as potent as it will need to be—managed to put up serious points.

Everybody hates Iowa, and so every week for Iowa is #HateWeek, but no Hate Week is more Hate Week-y than the Hawkeyes’ annual throwdown with in-state rival Iowa State. The two teams will battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy on Saturday afternoon.

Huskers

There’s one sure-fire way to never lose a game. Just don’t play the game, and then declare victory afterwards anyway.

Nebraska’s opener against Akron was cancelled by lightning. Scott Frost and history will just have to wait until the Huskers take on Colorado on Saturday.

Wildcats vs Boilermakers

In a much-too-early-for-the-Big-Ten conference game, Northwestern beat Purdue 31-27 in a game that turned out to be way more interesting than anyone expected.

Purdue had a terrible first half. Three interceptions from Elijah Sindelar turned into three touchdowns for the Wildcats, and the Boilers found themselves in a 31-14 hole at halftime, thanks in part to great effort from running back Jeremy Larkin who had 143 yards and two touchdowns on the day, and from quarterback Clayton Thorson, finally back from injury. In the second half, a furious Purdue rally fell short and Northwestern iced the win with a will-sapping clock-killing 7.5 minute drive.

Northwestern hosts Duke early on Saturday morning, while Purdue will take on Eastern Michigan at the same time.

Badgers

Wisconsin is a boring team that does all the boring things well and wins games by boring its opponents to death, which is exactly what Wisconsin did to beat Western Kentucky 34-3.

Even Badger fans are bored.

Next up, Wisconsin will host New Mexico and promptly lull the Lobos to sleep on their way to a 55-7 victory or something.