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Conference Corner: Upset Scares highlight nearly undefeated week

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Yes, Michigan lost. However, several Big Ten East contenders showed cracks of their own.

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

What happened to the Big Ten East?

Many, many of college football soothsayers predicted another titanic year for the conference’s presumed toughest division. Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan all ranked at least in the top 14.

How the Midwestern winds shift in such a short time. No. 11 Michigan State survived late against Utah State, which nobody in East Lansing noticed since all of their eyes are on Jim Harbaugh. Appalachian State took No. 10 Penn State to overtime on the 11th anniversary of some game with Michigan.

Michigan lost a shocking upset to a tiny Catholic school that hasn't won a national championship since the first George Bush was president.

It led to a fascinating question by Fox’s Joel Klatt.

I choose option D. Drinking bleach.

RECAPS

OHIO STATE 77, OREGON STATE 31

The Urban Meyer suspension really hit the Buckeyes hard. Under the supervision of interim head coach Ryan Day, they failed to clear 100 points against the Beavers.

Rising sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins is the upgrade many expected. He started 10-for-11 to stake Ohio State to a 21-7 in the first quarter. His five passing touchdowns and 313 yards are Ohio State records for a first-time starter.

Michigan’s defense the last two years — to mostly success — loaded the box against J.T. Barrett to dare him to throw. This option evaporates with Haskins, who looks as polished and dangerous as projected in Tale of the Tape.

The offense overshadowed Greg Schiano’s potentially porous defense, who allowed multiple big plays of 40 yards or more. Beaver running back Artavis Pierce ripped up 80- and 78-yard touchdowns, and Conor Blount connected on a first-quarter 49-yard rope to Trevon Blount to momentarily tie the contest.

Iowa, Oklahoma, Penn State and even Indiana bothered Ohio State at times with the big-play bug in 2017. This is something to watch going forward this year.

Next game at Rutgers (3:30 p.m. on BTN).

MICHIGAN STATE 38, UTAH STATE 31

Michigan State starts slow under Mark Dantonio. They played sloppy in early-season victories over Florida Atlantic in 2010, Western Michigan in 2013 and 2015 (as well as Air Force), and Furman in 2016.

Outside of the 3-9 mark two years ago, all of those early struggles led to double-digit win campaigns.

Friday night versus Utah State was tighter than usual. The Spartans trailed by one until a 13-yard touchdown run by 229-pound sledgehammer Connor Heyward with two minutes to go. Aggie quarterback Connor Love, who torched the “No Fly Zone” for 319 yards, saw a pass get batted at the line and fall into the arms of Joe Bachie to end the game.

Another concern was the lack of push by the offensive line. Michigan State would have averaged less than four yards a carry without a 27-yard scramble by Brian Lewerke. Utah State ranked No. 84 in S&P rush defense last year.

So, a vaunted pass defense got torched and an offensive line failed to get push. Sound familiar, Michigan fans? The only difference was competition and location.

Next Game at HERM EDWARDS (ahem, Arizona State) (10:45 p.m. on ESPN).

PENN STATE 45, APPALACHIAN STATE 38 (IN OT)

Everyone, it’s question time.

Poll

Would a Penn State loss have made up for the 2007 upset?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Yes
    (18 votes)
  • 32%
    No
    (27 votes)
  • 46%
    Shut up, Sam. Let’s never speak of the Horror again.
    (39 votes)
84 votes total Vote Now

Appalachian out-gained Penn State 451 to 434 in a barnburner in Happy Valley. After seemingly endless defensive losses in personnel this offseason — from graduation to medical retirements to camp injuries — the struggles make sense.

Trace McSorley losing the head-to-head with Zac Thomas makes much less sense. A lot of offseason talk lingered about Penn State’s improved offensive line — again, Michigan fans, ring any bells — but they allowed five quarterback pressures, a sack and two tackles for loss.

While holes opened late in the second half, Miles Sanders averaged less than five yards a carry against last year’s No. 74 rush defense per S&P.

Penn State very much resembled their early-season version of the 2016 outfit.

Next game at Pitt (8 p.m. on ABC)

MARYLAND 34, TEXAS 29

It’s easy to wish for sweeping punishment on football programs that do wrong. D.J. Durkin tolerated his training staff’s treatment of several players, including the deceased Jordan McNair, so rational fans say those people need to lose their jobs.

The other side of the coin is the players. The young men on the Maryland roster saw their brother in arms die just weeks ago, and the top-enabler has yet to officially lose his job.

You have to root for those who overcome such adversity.

Injuries derailed a once-promising 2017 season for the Terrapins. They built tough callouses throughout the trials and tribulations of the summer.

Next game at Bowling Green (6 p.m. on ESPN+)

NORTHWESTERN 31, PURDUE 27

In a vicious battle of programs likely to finish behind Wisconsin in the West, Northwestern prevailed in a palpably tense environment last Thursday at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette.

For Northwestern, they appeared athletically upgraded from years past, particularly with running back Jeremy Larkin. While the departed Justin Jackson set Big Ten records, he never flashed true breakaway speed.

Larkin — a cousin of Michigan baseball alumnus Barry — amassed 143 yards on 26 carries, including two short touchdowns.

If the Wildcats stick with senior Clayton Thorson, who looked sharp after recovering from an ACL tear in last year’s Music City Bowl, the offense looks more than competent enough. Pat Fitzgerald kept him on a “pitch count,” rotating T.J. Green — son of former pro quarterback Trent — to keep the senior fresh.

A salty defense appeared human after allowing 472 yards to Jeff Brohm’s Boilermakers. This man did most of the damage.

Moore made the Wildcat secondary look silly all night en route to 313 total yards — a single-game school record.

Next game for Northwestern: Duke (noon on ESPNU)

Next game for Purdue: Eastern Michigan (noon on BTN)

WISCONSIN 34, WESTERN KENTUCKY 3

The Badgers easily dispatched Jeff Brohm’s former team, pulling many starters for the second half after building a 24-0 lead.

Sophomore Heisman contender Jonathan Taylor racked up 145 yards on 18 carries in just two quarters of action. Alex Hornibrook avoided the interception bug, instead throwing for two scores and 257 yards.

While the Badgers still don’t play a Power Five team during the non-conference, their slate stiffened a bit with Brigham Young dispatching a promising Arizona team 28-23 in the desert. The stormin’ Mormons brutalized the Wildcats, potentially setting up a slugfest with the Badgers two weeks from now in Camp Randall.

Next game is New Mexico (noon on BTN)

IOWA 33, NORTHERN ILLINOIS 7

Kirk Ferentz now has 144 wins. His latest one happened in the most Iowa way possible.

The Hawkeyes led the Huskies by a 3-0 margin at halftime. Without their starting left and right tackles, the offense bogged down against Northern Illinois’ Sutton Smith, last year’s tackle for loss leader.

They punted four times, threw a pick and turned it over on downs before shifting into a higher gear midway through the third quarter. They leaned on the defensive line’s five sacks — as studs like former 5-star A.J. Epenesa and Anthony Nelson constantly harassed in the backfield.

If Ferentz can figure out his offensive line, which is his bread and butter, Iowa has a chance to challenge the front-five dominance of Wisconsin.

Next game is Iowa State (5 p.m. on FOX)

THE BOWL QUEST SERIES

RUTGERS 35, TEXAS STATE 7

Interesting factoid alert!

The Scarlet Knights are officially on bowl watch. Yes, we are talking about Rutgers.

While they will assuredly get impaled by their own jousting spears next week against Ohio State, they face Kansas, fresh off a 26-23 loss to FCS Nicholls State, Buffalo, Indiana and Illinois before a two-game stretch against Maryland and Northwestern.

Rutgers topped the Terrapins 31-24 last year, while they get the Wildcats in Piscataway. With a bowl game on the line, it honestly might be the biggest home game for them since the Schiano era.

Bowl quest is in earnest!

Next game at Ohio State (3:30 p.m. on BTN)

MINNESOTA 48, NEW MEXICO STATE 10

Wow, Seth Green looks way bigger than he does out of shoulder pads.

The Lili Claire Foundations’ 2004 Las Vegas Benefit Gala Photo by Chris Farina/Getty Images

Minnesota destroyed a horrendous WAC team. The Gophers, as Fleck said to everyone at Media Days, is way too young this year. A game against a strong Fresno State team will provide an actual litmus test.

Next game is Fresno State (7:30 p.m. on FS1)

INDIANA 38, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL 28

I wrote in Indiana’s season preview that its chances at success this year depended on the defense maintaining their solid 2017 ways.

They allowed 28 points and 4.4 yards a carry against Florida International. With Mike Debord running the show on offense, those numbers will simply not cut it against Power Five competition.

Peyton Ramsey looked efficient in throwing three touchdowns, but he only managed 156 yards on 27 attempts (5.8 YPA). Indiana looks like a team with average parts that don't compensate each other’s weaknesses.

Next game is Virginia (7:30 p.m. on BTN)

LoViE sMiTh BeArD wAtCh

ILLINOIS 31, KENT STATE 24

Lovie Smith’s Illini needed a fourth-quarter drive to top Kent State, who went 2-10 in 2017. They are now the biggest example of why the Big Ten needs to relegate bad teams to the MAC.

In the meantime, Illinois has their own section devoted to Lovie Smith beard pictures.

NCAA Football: Kent State at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Also, the fans.

NCAA Football: Kent State at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Next game is Western Illinois (7:30 p.m. on BTN.