The weekend actually got started on Thursday when Northwestern and new coach Pat Fitzgerald visited Miami of Ohio, the alma mater of recently deceased coach Randy Walker. The game was preceded by an emotional ceremony that had Walker's widow handling the opening coin toss and Miami inducting Walker into their Cradle of Coaches hall of fame. The game was very favorable for the Wildcats, as freshman quarterback Mike Kafka completed 13-of-17 passes for 106 yards and one touchdown and also added 89 yards rushing on 17 carries in the 21-3 Northwestern victory. The Wildcats come home this Saturday for a game against New Hampshire.
On Saturday, top ranked Ohio State was at home to take on MAC Conference favorite Northern Illinois and their all-american hopeful running back Garrett Wolfe. While Wolfe had a big game, the outcome was all Buckeyes, as Ohio State scored on their first four possessions in routing NIU 35-12. Quarterback Troy Smith started his Heisman Trophy campaign by completing 18-of-25 passes for 297 yards and three touchdowns. Two of Smith's three scores went to wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. who finished with four receptions for 123 yards (a gaudy 30.8 yards per reception average). However, as the Buckeyes get ready for a trip to Austin to take on defending national champ Texas, they must still answer questions about the effectiveness of their young defense, which yielded 285 total yards (171 rushing and 114 receiving) to Wolfe in the game.
Michigan struggled through much of their 27-7 home win against Vanderbilt. Quarterback Chad Henne completed only 10-of-22 passes for 122 yards but did throw for two touchdowns. Running back Michael Hart was the Wolverines big weapon, rushing for 146 yards on 31 carries. Michigan has another chance to fine tune things this weekend against Central Michigan before paying their visit to South Bend for the war against Notre Dame on September 16.
Iowa dumped Montana at home on Saturday, 41-7. Quarterback Drew Tate completed 15-of-28 for 223 yards and three scores, and running back Albert Young rushed for 93 yards. But Iowa held only a 10 point lead on the Grizzlies in the third quarter, so it can hardly be called a convincing win. A visit this weekend to lowly Syracuse isn't likely to help shed any more light on whether this Iowa team is truly ready to make serious runs at Big 10 and national championships.
Penn State warmed up for this weekend's monster game against Notre Dame by beating Akron 34-16. New starting quarterback Anthony Morelli was solid in his debut, going 16-of-32 for 206 yards and three touchdowns. But the questions that dogged the Penn State offensive line remained after the game as the Nittany Lions rushed for only 76 yards on 27 carries (a paltry 2.8 average). Joe Paterno summed it up after the game, saying that the offensive line "got their ears kicked in." Add a couple of turnovers and some mishandled field goal placements on the wet, sloppy field and it wasn't quite the win the score may have indicated.
Illinois thumped Eastern Illinois 42-17. But like Iowa and Penn State, the final score didn't indicate how close the game was in the second half. Quarterback Tim Brasic played well, passing for 149 yards and completing 76.5 percent of his passes. Running Pierre Thomas rushed for 126 yards on 15 carries (8.4 average). But the Illini still look very weak on defense as they yielded a division 1-AA team 293 total yards and an average of over five yards per play for the game.
On Thursday, Minnesota pounded Kent State 44-0 behind 322 yards rushing, including 155 from Alex Daniels and 114 from Amir Pinnix. Quarterback Bryan Cupito threw for 146 yards on only eight completions as the Golden Gophers steamrolled Kent from the start. Things figure to get much tougher this weekend as Minnesota visits highly-ranked Cal. The Golden Bears should be rather angry after getting beaten soundly on Saturday by Tennessee.
Indiana beat Western Michigan, 39-20, on Saturday behind 192 yards passing from Blake Powers and an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown from Tracy Porter. Cornerback Chris Phillips returned an interception 66 yards for another Hoosier score. Indiana visits intra-state rival Ball State this Saturday, hoping they can continue their mastery of MAC also-rans.
Wisconsin got 130 yards rushing from P.J. Hill to beat Bowling Green 35-14. It wasn't quite the dominating performance new coach Brett Bielema hoped for, but he'll gladly take his first win ever as a head coach. Quarterback John Stocco struggled a bit, but it could be rust from a lingering knee injury he carried through training camp. But the Badgers will get another patsy this weekend with Western Illinois coming to visit Camp Randall Stadium.
Purdue beat Indiana State, 60-35, on Saturday. The game goes along with the theme of unimpressive wins for Big 10 schools against clearly inferior opponents. Curtis Painter threw for 261 yards and a pair of scores, and running back Kory Sheets picked up 128 yards and three touchdowns. But the Boilers gave up 35 points and nearly 400 total yards to a division 1-AA team. Luckily Joe Tiller has one of those MAC also-rans (Miami of Ohio) coming to town this Saturday.
Finally there's John L. Smith and Michigan State. The Spartans struggled their way through a 27-17 win over Idaho on Saturday. Drew Stanton threw for 225 yards and a touchdown, and Javon Ringer ran for 70 and a score. However Michigan seemed to be sleepwalking through most of the game. This weekend the Spartans have yet another MAC also-ran on tap, Eastern Michigan.
While the Big 10 can crow about an 11-0 record from this past weekend, they should also note that the record comes with the help of some vastly inferior competition. All that can be said for the conference after one week of play is that most, if not all the Big 10 teams would contend for titles in the MAC or in division 1-AA.
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