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Conference Corner: Nearly perfect in Week 1

Big Ten teams came out swinging in the season’s first week

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
Jim can’t believe Purdue lost to Nevada either, probably.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Big Ten turned in a near-perfect performance in Week 1, prevailing in 12 of the 14 games featuring conference teams this past weekend, but not all was smooth sailing. Several teams struggled against inferior opponents, suggesting that the B1G East and West will once again be dominated by the usual suspects. Throughout the season, we will recap the past weekend’s results and how they impact the divisional races every Monday.

Minnesota vs South Dakota State. This one was nearly a disaster for P.J. Fleck and the Minnesota Golden Gophers. An uneven start saw them leading 13-7 at halftime, but trailing 21-20 at the close of the third quarter to FCS South Dakota State. The Gophers recovered a fumble at the South Dakota State 34-yard line with 8:12 remaining and were able to punch it in and add a two-point conversion six plays later to take the lead. South Dakota State got to the Minnesota 32-yard line on the ensuing drive, but weren’t able to convert a 4th and 10. The Gophers ran the remaining 1:20 off the clock to seal the 28-21 win.

USF vs Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Badgers came to Florida, they saw, and they conquered the Bulls on Friday evening, cruising to a comfortable 49-0 victory. Wisconsin QB Jack Coan turned in a solid 199 yards and 2 TD performance, while Jonathan Taylor ran for 135 yards and 2 TDs and Nakia Watson ran for 80 yards and 1 TD. The Badgers look to be the team to beat in the B1G West, and should be a formidable first test for the Wolverines in Week 4.

Michigan State vs Tulsa. Defense was the story for Michigan State against Tulsa, despite much ballyhoo over the Spartans new offense. Brian Lewerke turned in a solid, if pedestrian, performance, completing 21 of 37 attempts for 192 yards and 1 TD. The Spartan rushing attack was lacking, with six players combining for 40 attempts and gaining just 108 yards (2.7 ypc). Michigan State walked away with a 28-7 win, and held Tulsa to -33 yards rushing, but #SpartansWill need a whole lot more on offense if they’re going to make any noise in the Big Ten this year.

Rutgers vs UMass. This one looked bad early, with the Minutemen holding a 21-7 lead after the first quarter. Thankfully, the Scarlet Knights recovered, scoring 31 unanswered points in the second quarter and cruising to a 48-21 win. There’s not really must else to say about this one, Rutgers appears to still be Rutgers.

Nevada vs Purdue. This was one of the matchups I highlighted in our Weekend Game Guide this past Thursday, and it lived up to the hype. Purdue jumped out to a 10 point lead after the first quarter before the Boilermakers and the Wolf Pack traded punches in quarters two and three. In the fourth, it was all Nevada as the Wolf Pack scored 17 unanswered points—including the 56-yard game-winning field goal as time expired featured above. Jeff Brohm’s team has offense (423 yards passing, 96 yards rushing), but they’re going to need defense or it’s going to be a heartbreaking year.

Howard vs Maryland. The Maryland Terrapins did what you’re supposed to do when you’re a Big Ten team playing an FCS opponent, and it got ugly in a hurry. The Terrapins were merciless, racking up 624 yards of total offense en route to a 79-0 beatdown of the Howard Bison. We’ll get a better idea of what kind of team Maryland is next week when they play Syracuse.

South Alabama vs Nebraska. The Huskers never trailed in this one, but some parts were uncomfortable for Scott Frost’s side. Nebraska could never really pull away, going so far as to have their lead cut to just seven points with 2:24 left in the third quarter. The offense looked anemic and the defense allowed South Alabama to total 314 yards of offense, but the Huskers came away with 35-21 victory.

Akron vs Illinois. Former Wolverine Brandon Peters came out firing for his new team, completing 14 of 23 attempts for 163 yards and 3 TDs. Peters added a fourth TD on the ground, where he rushed for 36 yards. Illinois took control early and never let it go, besting the Zips by the score of 42-3. Peters looked good in this game, showing flashes of the talent that had many Michigan fans calling for him to start in years past. But it was just Akron, so let’s not get too excited about Peters and Lovie Smith’s Fighting Illini just yet.

FAU vs Ohio State. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Ohio State has an athlete at QB. Lane Kiffin and the Florida Atlantic Owls came to Columbus to face off with Ohio State, and it did not go well for FAU. Ohio State scored early and often en route to a 45-21 victory over the Owls. Not many surprises here, other than Ohio State’s offense may well be better than many prognosticators thought it would be during the off season.

Ball State vs Indiana. The Hoosiers and the Cardinals found themselves locked in a battle on Saturday afternoon, trading scores until Indiana hit two field goals to go into halftime with a 16-10 lead. In the second half, the Hoosiers weren’t spectacular but were able to rebuff Ball State’s advances until the clock finally ran out, and the Hoosiers had a 34-24 win. Indiana QB Michael Penix threw for 326 yards, but saw his TD offset by two INTs. He’ll need to be better with the ball by the time Big Ten play starts.

Idaho vs Penn. State. The Idaho Vandals came into Happy Valley, and they didn’t get out alive. James Franklin’s Nittany Lions thoroughly dominated visiting Idaho, scoring 65 points before letting the Vandals onto the scoreboard with 12:44 left in the game. Yes, it’s just Idaho—but things seem to be on track at Penn. State. PSU QB Sean Clifford was efficient, throwing for 280 yards and 2 TDs, and the Nittany Lions used several running backs effectively.

Stanford vs Northwestern. The Cardinal and the Wildcats faced off in a hard-fought game, but mostly because neither side was that effective. Both teams lost QBs to injuries; Stanford’s KJ Costello to an apparent head injury that made all of us watching wonder how a forearm to the face of a sliding QB wasn’t targeting, and Northwestern’s TJ Green to a dog pile that saw his leg bent awkwardly beneath him. Stanford took a 10-0 lead into halftime before Northwestern threatened with a TD in the fourth. In a gift or travesty, as the case may be for bettors, Stanford achieved a backdoor cover of the spread with a sack fumble for a TD with 30 seconds left—securing a 17-7 win.

Iowa vs Miami (OH). In a battle for avian supremacy, the Iowa Hawkeyes faced off with the Miami Redhawks that saw the home team cruise to a comfortable victory. Miami stayed in the game early, scoring in the second quarter to make the halftime deficit a respectable three points, but the Hawkeyes proved too much in the second half. Iowa outscored Miami 28-7 down the stretch to win 38-14. Iowa QB Nate Stanley threw for 252 yards and 3 TDs on the day.