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Around the Big Ten: Welcome to The Upside Down

The Big Ten’s return to action delivered on the chaos that’s been the theme of 2020.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten Conference returned to football action this weekend several weeks after the rest of the nation started. Thankfully for us, teams across our ridiculous football-playing landscape delivered on promised chaos and moments that will not soon be forgotten.

Here’s a quick recap of some of the happenings in the Big Ten this past weekend along with the standings after the first week of games. It’s a small sample size, but things are topsy-turvy early on in the conference.

No. 14 Wisconsin 45, Illinois 7

For at least a night, Wisconsin looked far and away like the team to beat in the Big Ten West, led by the efforts of redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz (20-21, 241 yards, 5 TD) and a young defense that stepped right up and made plays. The team’s 3.4 yards per carry are surprising for the Badgers program historically strong in the run game, but it looks like they can have an explosive pass offense. However, Mertz tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday and Jack Coan is out with a foot injury, so there might be a QB dilemma there, among, uh, other things.

Illinois is full of upperclassmen and might mess around and win a few games this year, but there was nothing to be seen Friday night that suggests they will take a step forward from what they were last year.

Rutgers 38, Michigan State 27

The game result is as hilarious as it looks and many of us have already had fun at the expense of the Spartans, which will no doubt only continue heading into Saturday’s game at Michigan Stadium between these two teams. The Spartans came into this game as 11-point favorites, but turned over the ball seven times and gave the Scarlet Knights their first conference win since 2017. It was always going to be a rough year for them, but this was a bottoming out that few expected to see. Mel Tucker really has his work cut out for him there and this might have been the easiest chance for a victory all year. This is going to get ugly for them.

For Rutgers, you have to be impressed with their willingness to take a game over that was gift-wrapped to them. That has not always been the case there, but they are at least somewhat competently coached now. They might not win another game this year, but it would not be surprising to get another one somewhere.

No. 5 Ohio State 52, Nebraska 17

Nebraska was competitive in this game early on, but then the Ohio State talent took over and this wound up finishing up the way several thought it would. If there was any perceived bromance between the two schools heading into the game for “bringing back Big Ten football,” it ended when the Buckeyes trucked the Huskers and then ran up the score a bit late in the game with backups. Justin Fields is good. Ohio State remains terrifying.

Also, this did not age well.

Purdue 24, Iowa 20

This was an entertaining game that was overlooked from over the weekend because it happened at the same time as the next game that we will talk about. Without Rondale Moore (undisclosed) and Jeff Brohm (COVID-19), Purdue was still able to put forth a winning effort against one of the more consistent forces in the Big Ten West in Iowa. This could wind up being the game that decides who the biggest challenger to Wisconsin in the West is and if Purdue is at full strength, they might have as good a shot as anyone of coming out of that division.

Indiana 36, No. 8 Penn State 35 (OT)

They did it. My goodness. They actually did it.

Indiana has been the poster child for “close, but no cigar” in games against the blue bloods in the conference. It was a trend that probably should have continued, as the box score has this one weighted heavily in the favor of Penn State. But the box score does not account for putrid game management by James Franklin. Instead of running out the clock with 1:42 left in the game, they elected to score to go ahead 28-20 quickly and gave Indiana a ton of time to march down the field and tie the game. The Hoosiers would get the ball second in overtime down 35-28 but instead of playing for the tie, Tom Allen put faith in his quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and went for the win. What followed was a play that will be debated for years a la “JT Was Short.”

The buzz coming into the year was that this could very well finally be the time Indiana gets over the hump against one of the Big Ten’s elite and a top ten opponent. Michigan heads there in two weeks with a 27-game winning streak in the series. The Hoosiers will be a tough out, but put me in the camp relieved they got the monkey off their back against Penn State and not against Michigan, which the country will no doubt be rooting for once again.

Northwestern 43, Maryland 3

Northwestern was projected to take a step forward after bottoming out last year and not only did they show that on Saturday, but they made a statement as well. Led by Peyton Ramsey at quarterback and a new playcaller in Mike Bajakian, the Wildcats dialed up 537 yards of total offense (325 yards rushing). They look like another team that is due for a bounce back in the West two years after playing for a Big Ten Championship.

For Maryland, this was a rough, rough first look at Taulia Tagavailoa and what was thought to be an ascending offense. Efforts like this will have them in a slapfight with MSU and Rutgers for last place in the Big Ten East.

No. 18 Michigan 49, No. 21 Minnesota 24

You’ve been here on the site the last few days. You watched the game, and heck, maybe even caught a replay or two of it. We know what happened here, so here’s some fun with PJ Fleck from the postgame presser on Saturday night.

To put a bow on it from a Michigan standpoint, they looked balanced offensively and were led by someone who appears to be a bonafide star at quarterback. The defense has some warts, but if they can score and perform like they did, they have something here.

Minnesota might have been a tad overrated coming into the game, especially with the players that wound up being out. But who the heck cares? They are a well-coached and formidable opponent that won 11 games last year and you broke them. Another tip of the cap to the Wolverines.

2020 Big Ten Standings so far

West East
West East
No. 19 Northwestern (4-0) No. 9 Indiana (4-0)
No. 10 Wisconsin (2-0) No. 3 Ohio State (3-0)
Purdue (2-1) Maryland (2-1)
Iowa (2-2) Rutgers (1-3)
Nebraska (1-2) Michigan State (1-3)
Minnesota (1-3) Michigan (1-3)
Illinois (1-3) Penn State (0-4)