The Big 10 had a chance to make a significant statement in unfamiliar territory during week one of the college football season, with Northwestern travelling to Palo Alto to take on No. 25 Stanford, Purdue on the road at an intriguing G5 school in Nevada, and No. 19 Wisconsin in Tampa to take on the AAC’s South Florida Bulls.
Instead, many conference teams spluttered — with Northwestern’s offense sunk by a six of 17 passing performance from highly touted Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson, vanishing in a 17-7 defeat. Purdue saw a 17 point advantage disappear against Nevada in the fourth quarter, and an untimely interception from Purdue QB Elijah Sindelar, one of five Boilermaker turnovers, saw the Wolfpack walk-off the game with a stunning 56 yard field goal from true freshman kicker Brandon Talton.
Perhaps even more embarrassing for the conference was Minnesota’s effort on the road against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, who compete in the FCS subdivision. The Jackrabbits led for large swaths of the game, and maintained a 21-20 advantage until as late as 5:39 left in the fourth quarter. The Gophers punched in a score from the goal line in what ended up being the decisive score, but were ultimately outdone in terms of total yards by SDSU, a stat that will surely spark some concern among the Minnesota fanbase.
While much of the week one intrigue involved members of the Big 10 West, the spotlight will be firmly on the East in week two, with the conference’s two biggest programs facing interesting tests.
No. 7 Michigan (1-0) defeated Middle Tennessee State 40-21 in week one, but face a significantly tougher test at home against the Army Golden Knights (1-0) in week two. Wolverines fans have highlighted this as a potential trap game for some time, but Army nearly fell victim to their own trap game in week one, squeaking by Rice with a 14-7 victory.
Despite Army’s slow start, Michigan has reason to be wary. Army returns much of their core that won 11 games last season, including a 70-14 beatdown of Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Golden Knights are famous for their triple option offense, one that relies on the talents of QB Kelvin Hopkins Jr. and RB Sandon McCoy to function.
This will also be the first real test for Michigan’s new look spread offense, designed by highly-touted new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. Gattis was a co-offensive coordinator for Alabama last season, and is tasked with opening up the field for Wolverines quarterback Shea Patterson.
Elsewhere, No. 5 Ohio State (1-0) faces an intriguing challenge as they square off against in-state competition in the Cincinnati Bearcats (1-0) for their second home game of the year. The Buckeyes knocked off Lane Kiffin-led Florida Atlantic 45-21 in their opener, but the score fails to tell the complete story.
Ohio State came out of the gates flying, scoring four touchdowns in the opening eight minutes of the game. After that point, however, the Buckeyes were outscored by the Owls, and both running back J.K. Dobbins and quarterback Justin Fields lost fumbles, highlighting underlying concerns regarding ball security.
Fields, one of 247’s highest-ever rated quarterbacks coming out of high school, was impressive in his heavily-anticipated debut with the Buckeyes. Fields transferred from Georgia after losing the starting gig to Jake Fromm, but looked plenty comfortable in Ohio State coach Ryan Day’s spread offense. Fields finished 18 for 25 for 234 yards and 4 touchdowns, but will surely be asked to do more against Cincinnati, one of the early favorites to win the American Athletic Conference.
The Bearcats defeated Chip Kelly’s UCLA Bruins in their opener, and an electric crowd only aided the Cincinnati defense in stifling Bruins signal-caller Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s passing efforts all night. Whether that defense will find success against a plethora of offensive talent in Columbus is an entirely different story.
The final highlighted matchup for this week involves Nebraska (1-0), who opened the season ranked 24th despite finishing 4-8 last season. The Cornhuskers are expected to take a big step forward in the second year of coach Scott Frost’s tenure, and fans have pinned their hopes behind sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez, a dark horse Heisman contender following an impressive freshman campaign.
Despite lofty expectations, the Cornhuskers struggled at times against South Alabama in their 35-21 opening win, with the offense responsible for just 14 points. Martinez finished just 13-21 with no touchdowns and an interception, and the Cornhuskers were out-gained in yardage and lost the time of possession battle to the Jaguars – concerning metrics to keep an eye on.
Nebraska looks to regain some of their offseason momentum when they take on former Big 12 rival Colorado (1-0) on the road. The Buffaloes knocked off in-state foe Colorado State in their opener, thanks in part to the efforts of star receiver Laviska Shenault, a projected first-rounder in the 2020 NFL draft. Shenault had 83 all-purpose yards and a touchdown against Colorado State, and will surely be a lot to handle for a Nebraska defense that ranked among the worst in the FBS against the pass last season.