Moller: Dissecting the Big Ten’s opening weekend
Nate Moller | Tuesday, October 27, 2020
My full allegiance is with Notre Dame football, but as a Midwesterner, Big Ten football also holds a special place in my heart. With the Big Ten finally starting their season this past weekend after canceling their season this past August, there were lots of surprises and of takeaways to be had. Obviously, it’s only one week of football, but with the eight-game regular season, every game is extra important. Here are my takeaways from this weekend’s Big Ten action.
1. What is wrong with Penn State?
Not many people would have guessed that Penn State would lose their opener to Indiana, yet here we are. Although the Hoosiers only had 211 yards of total offense against Penn State, they were able to take advantage of the Nittany Lions’ mishaps and convert them into points.
All of a sudden now, Penn State is looking at starting the season 0-2, unless they can pull off an upset against Ohio State on Halloween night. Honestly, I think Penn State is a solid team and if it weren’t for the three turnovers and 100 yards of penalties, they would have won by two touchdowns against a solid Hoosier team. Look for them to battle Ohio State tough this weekend.
2. The West is Wisconsin’s to lose … wait, never mind
Wisconsin absolutely obliterated Illinois this past Friday 45-7 behind an outstanding performance from redshirt first year quarterback Graham Mertz. The defense looked good, too, and it seemed nothing was standing in the Badgers’ way after their typical West foes in Iowa and Minnesota struggled mightily on Saturday.
That all changed, however, this Sunday when it was announced that Graham Mertz tested positive for COVID-19. Per Big Ten protocol, Mertz will need to miss three weeks. This means Mertz will likely miss Wisconsin’s showdown with Michigan Nov. 14, and it leaves a lot of question marks for the Badgers going forward, considering they will now have to turn to their third-string quarterback.
3. Ohio State is really, really good
Although the Buckeyes did start sluggishly against Nebraska, once the wheels started rolling at the end of the first half, there was no looking back for the Buckeyes. Justin Fields was near perfect for the Buckeyes, completing 20 of 21 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 54 yards and a touchdown as well. After Saturday, it was evident that the Buckeyes are the clear best team in the Big Ten, and the title will be theirs to lose this season.
4. Michigan is good, but not that good
The Wolverines surprised me Saturday. I honestly thought Minnesota would at the very least keep the game close, if not win the game outright. The Wolverines used their prolific run offense, however, to rush for 253 yards and sink the Gophers in the process. Michigan’s offense also took care of the ball and quarterback Joe Milton seemed to be a decent fit.
While I am impressed by the Wolverines, I am not by any means sold. They should take care of Sparty next week, but after that, they will face Indiana and Wisconsin. Until then, I will consider Michigan as a top tier Big Ten team, but they are not contenders until they prove themselves in another big-time game.
5. Rutgers wins!
Normally one win isn’t that big of a deal, but it sure was for the Scarlet Knights this weekend in their upset over Michigan State. Before Saturday, the Scarlet Knights had lost 21 straight Big Ten conference games dating back to 2017. Rutgers gets Indiana and Ohio State the next two weeks, so they might still be in for a rude awakening.
With the Big Ten season in full swing, it finally feels like college football is almost normal. As far as playoff aspirations go for the Big Ten conference, they better hope they have an undefeated team. With only eight regular-season games and a conference championship, there is simply no room for mistakes. An Ohio State loss to Penn State this weekend, for example, could prove catastrophic for the conference.