Big Ten Notebook

It was great to see the pigskin flying on Saturday, as it seems like it's been forever since football season ended. There were some interesting happenings from the Big Ten conference this weekend, and some future Iowa opponents showed some new twists, and some old habits as well. Jon Miller takes a look at the day that was with a look towards the future in this write up...

Illinois: They lost to Missouri, but I have to begrudgingly give credit to Juice Williams. I have felt all winter and summer that teams were going to stuff the box and force Illinois and Juice to beat them through the air. At least on this night, against what I expected to be a stout Missouri defense, Juice answered the challenge. Mizzou took away the Illini ground game, as I expected them to do. But I did not expect Williams to pass for more than 400 yards in any game in his career. But he did that on Saturday night, including several big plays, some that required a marksman's accuracy. I still lean towards Juice not being able to do things like that consistently this year, but you had better hope you get him on an 'old school day, and not this 'new school' Juice we saw in the season opener. So here's to you, Juice…you made me look foolish for a day. Just don't let it happen again.

Now, as for Illinois' defense, I want to give them a bit of a pass as they were facing one of the best offenses in the nation not named Texas Tech. Heck, they might be the best there is. But in their last two games, against USC and Missouri, the Illini defense has given up more than a half a mile's worth of offense…I am not joking…633 against USC in the Rose Bowl and more than 600 against Missouri. The good news for the Illini is that they play in the Big Ten conference, and they will only face one team the caliber of USC and Mizzou and that is Ohio State.

Speaking of Ohio State, the Buckeyes beat Youngstown State 43-0 and held YSU to just 74 yards of total offense. But RB Chris Wells went out with a foot injury, and though the x-rays were negative, you wonder if he will be 100% for Ohio State's road game at USC here in a few weeks. Without Wells at top speed, I favor the Trojans. With Wells at full go, I give the nod to Ohio State.

It was a rough day for the Big Ten in intersectional contests. We talked about the 50+ points the Illini surrendered against Missouri, and a pair of Michigan teams also lost. Michigan fell to Utah in Ann Arbor. I wouldn't really call it an upset, because Utah came in with some firepower and a Top 25 pedigree from some magazines. But the Wolverines looked awful on offense, managing just 203 total yards. We knew they would not be a well oiled machine, due to so many losses to graduation in addition to a change to about as different a system as they could install from what they have traditionally run. The good news for them, as I mentioned for Illinois, is that they play in the Big Ten this year. Outside of games against Ohio State, there won't be one surprise with regards to any winner or loser in conference games this year. Northwestern beating Wisconsin? Nope, wouldn't surprise me. Indiana beating Penn State? Nope, not even without James Hardy. Iowa beating Wisconsin? Nope, I expect that. Michigan has now lost back to back home openers, the first time that has happened since 1989-1990. Those losses to Notre Dame teams when the Irish were actually good, not to Appalachian State and Utah.

Michigan State losing at Cal surprised me a bit, but it shouldn't have; they are still Michigan State, after all. And I didn't realize until a conversations on Saturday night that the Spartans lost all but one of their offensive line starters from a year ago. Had I known that, I wouldn't have come into this season expecting a lot from them. Expecting a lot from a Michigan State team is usually a slippery slope to begin with. They lost at Cal 38-31, and while that's not a horrible loss, they allowed two Cal rushers to top the century mark in this game. That does not bode well for Big Ten play, where at least a few teams still like to run the football…such as….

Wisconsin, who must have had some question marks with their running game they wanted to work out in this opener. You know, Wisconsin probably doesn't have much of a grasp on whether or not they can run the football, right? Umm, no. Then why, tell me, did they run the ball 63 times against Akron? Hey, they went over 400 yards on the ground, so I am not knocking the production, but at some point this year, Allen Evridge is going to have to help them win with his arm, and he's not exactly a three year returning starter at quarterback. He won the job, he is a transfer from Kansas State, and he wasn't good enough to stay the starter down there. Evridge was the only Badger to attempt a pass on the day, and he only threw 10 of them. 10 passes to 63 rushes, against Akron. One of those passes was to an Akron defender. Tight end Travis Beckum didn't catch a pass in this game, either. Just an odd, odd game in my opinion. Just win, baby?

Indiana showed off some balance in the post-James Hardy era, as Kellen Lewis threw for 144 and ran for 185 (on nine carries) as the Hoosiers beat Western Kentucky 31-13. We know he is dangerous, but I would have expected them to win this game by more than they did.

Penn State pasted Coastal Carolina and Joe Pa ties Bobby Bowden for the most wins in FBS history. The Nittany Lions hammered out 594 yards of offens, 334 of it on the ground in a workmanlike win that could have been worse, similar to Iowa's win over Maine.

Northwestern fell behind 3-2 in the bottom of the second inning (Gary Dolphin's line) but rallied back to beat Syracuse 30-10. Tyrell Sutton had over 140 yards of offense and C.J. Bacher went for three TD passes. They held the pistol packing Orange to 225 yards of offense on the day.

And in one of the more thrilling games of the day, Minnesota came from ahead, from behind, and scored the go ahead score with under 30 seconds left to beat Northern Illinois 31-27. NIU led by three with under a minute left, Minnesota had a 4th and 1 from their own 4 yard line and instead of kicking a field goal to play for overtime, they went for it. They got the first, and then the TD. It still wasn't over, as they kicked the ball out of bounds and NIU had two realistic shots at the endzone from about 35 yards out, but the Gophers won. Last year, Minnesota lost their opener to Bowling Green in three overtimes…

Speaking of Bowling Green, they scored one of the upsets from Saturday, beating Pittsburgh 27-17. They fell into a 14-0 hole and came back against Wanny's ‘stache and a Pitt defense that has been touted as very good. I think they are, and I think Bowling Green didn't get enough respect heading into this game, as they return 17 starters from an eight-win team from a year ago. But still, Pitt, who was ranked 25th in the nation, has to win this game at home. Heinz Field is not an intimidating home field advantage. This may give some Hawk fans more hope for the Iowa-Pitt game in three weeks. They should have had hope already, because Pitt is coached by Wanny.

Last, and possibly least, Florida International fell to Kansas 40-10. FIU, one of the worst offensive teams in D1 last year, if not THE worst, managed just 139 yards against Kansas. However, KU only put up 384 yards themselves, and this from a team that lit up a lot of people last year. KU averaged just 3.6 yards per rush; not horrible, but not great, either. FIU gained just 66 yards on the ground at Kansas.

FIU will be a stiffer test than Maine, as they will have more speed and more scholarship players. But Iowa should win next week's game by three touchdowns as they get ready for Iowa State.

The Cyclones will host Kent State, at team that beat them in Ames last year and a team that returns 15 starters this year, including the quarterback and running back that tormented the Cyclones one year ago.

All in all, it was great to have college football back on the tube and next week can't get here soon enough!

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