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College Teams Mon Sep 12 2011

Big Ten Football: They Are Who We Thought They Were

big ten divisions vertical.JPGThe inherent dilemmas soon become apparent.

After the haze of uncertainty going into college football's first week of action, Week 2 provides the smaller teams with two major advantages: motivation and scouting reports.

Because while many teams approach Week 2 like a preseason matchup, there are others that reject that notion. Teams like Fresno State and Toledo view Week 2 in much the opposite way: for them, the stakes never get higher. Their conference schedules are riddled with teams whose demise does not register on the national scale. So while the Nebraskas, the Wisconsins and the Ohio States are just stretching their legs out for the long Big Ten title run, their opponents are immersing themselves in their own personal Super Bowls.

Moreover, the underdogs in Week 2 are able to formulate game plans against their superior opponents like those in Week 1 could not. They have video of actual players running actual plays to watch and devise schemes to attack weaknesses and exploit matchups. Where Week 1 is defined by strong teams preying on the weak through sheer force, Week 2 allows the Davids to pick through film studies and find their rock to fling toward Goliath.

Sometimes, they hit. Most of the time, though, the Goliaths walk away with just a scratch, and an enduring blemish for them to self-consciously try to conceal as the season progresses.

THE CONTENDERS

Wisconsin 35, Oregon State 0

The Badgers continued to roll, this time depending on their passing game to trigger the offense. Russell Wilson threw for 189 yards and three touchdowns, while the ground game struggled early. Their defense remained stout throughout, though it's important to note that the Beavers had a punt that netted -4 yards. But it seems unfair to poke fun at awful teams when 208 yards and two touchdowns can be considered a bad day out of your backfield.

Michigan State 44, Florida Atlantic 0

The Spartans held their Sun Belt foe to a single first down and reminded us all that they had as good a Rose Bowl case as any of Big Ten's three co-champions last year. Florida Atlantic is bad, but when Michigan State plays inspired football, they are very good. It'll be fun to watch how Kirk Cousins will fare in a Big Ten that is intent on talking about seemingly every quarterback except him.

Illinois 56, South Dakota State 3

The Illini racked up 364 yards and six touchdowns on the ground, led by a strong showing from dynamic freshman running back Donovonn Young. Ron Zook has always had a knack for recruiting phenomenal talent, but he's yet to prove he can translate superior talent into sustained success. It's cool what they did to a team named the Jackrabbits, but I'm going to withhold rigorous judgement until these young guns are forced into any kind of contentious atmosphere where the talent gap isn't so wide.

Nebraska 42, Fresno State 29

This one was close for a while, as Fresno State held several leads before the Huskers pulled away with three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. I can't help but be concerned that quarterback Taylor Martinez is getting as many carries (15) as the lead tailback Rex Burkhead, especially because the quarterback was able to rack up 111 more yards and just as many scores (two). But that success wasn't mirrored in his aerial attack, throwing two interceptions on just 10-of-21 passing.

This offense has some holes, but they still have another two weeks to fill them before starting the Big Ten schedule. And at the end of the day, they showed the resiliency they needed to in coming out of this one ahead.

Ohio State 27, Toledo 22

This was a real scramble at the end for the Buckeyes. With time still on the clock, Toledo's backup quarterback, Terrance Owens, led the Rockets from their own 28 to the red zone, but linebacker John Simon got through the line and forced Owens to make an errant throw, keeping intact the Buckeyes' 90-year winning streak against in-state opponents.

But be sure to remember two things. First, Ohio State is in the middle of several suspensions that have upset their balance and made them play through pretty adverse conditions even in their own locker room. Second, while the Buckeyes played this game like a warmup for more difficult games in the future, Toledo played it like the Super Bowl. So don't hit the panic button just yet.

Northwestern 42, Eastern Illinois 21

Northwestern continues to impress, racking up 42 points with their star quarterback still on the bench. Backup Kain Colter has looked good. The sophomore signal caller ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns while throwing for another 104 yards. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has got some kind of momentum going with that program right now.

Alabama 27, Penn State 11

Penn State looked good early. The Nittany Lions marched 54 yards for a field goal on the opening possession and then held the Tide to a quick three-and-out. But lost in that description is that Penn State used all three of their timeouts in the first six minutes of action, and they spent the rest of the game looking like they needed a minute to regroup. But to be fair, it's hard to knock Penn State for losing to a team that might start more pro-level players than the Carolina Panthers.

Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31

Michigan and Notre Dame both looked bad, but on Saturday night only one once-historic team could look the worst. Despite manhandling the Wolverines for much of the first half, that team was Notre Dame.

True: Denard Robinson is a freak athlete who accomplishes incredible feats on the field and keeps his team in every game with his penchant for making huge plays. Also true: the rest of his team kind of stinks. But with two seconds left, Robinson found Roy Roundtree for the game-winning touchdown. As my old high school football coach used to say, "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while."

Iowa State 44, Iowa 41, 3 OT

Iowa played their characteristically boring football, biding their time waiting for their opponent to slip up. But the Cyclones were impressive in their ability to match mistake-free possessions. And after three overtimes, we got the first major slip-up of a Big Ten force. Iowa's got some ground to make up if they expect to stay relevant in conference play this year.

And congratulations to Ames, Iowa. One month ago you got to watch Michele Bachmann win your pointless straw poll. Now, you get to look at this trophy. Relish it.

THE PRETENDERS

Virginia 34, Indiana 31

Riding a strong fourth quarter in which they scored three touchdowns, the Hoosiers were able to delay their demise until a last-second field goal put the Cavaliers up for good.

Rice 24, Purdue 22

Purdue had a chance to win it with a 31-yard field goal attempt, but after running the clock down until they had no backup plan, they had the kick blocked by a blitzing Owl. Sometimes you need to plan things differently when you're awful.

New Mexico State 28, Minnesota 21

This was a scary afternoon for the Gophers. With just 20 seconds left and their offense driving, head coach Jerry Kill suffered a seizure and was taken away by ambulance. Kill is said to be stabilized, and the seizure (which apparently has happened to him before, though never in a game) is not considered life-threatening.

After the break, Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray threw an incomplete pass and the Aggies held on to win.

NEXT WEEK

Iowa tries to redeem itself against Pittsburgh, Illinois gets its first real test against No. 22 Arizona State, and Michigan State gets a chance to throw all of South Bend into a rage when they travel to play (and in all likelihood beat the living crap out of) Notre Dame.

But the real game of the week features two teams embroiled in controversy, as Ohio State travels to Miami to relive the historic 2003 Fiesta Bowl. My prediction: Both teams lose after the NCAA rules that neither was ever eligible to compete in the first place.

 
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