Dissecting a wild week one in the Big Ten
September 9, 2015
Week one in college football is normally pretty quiet as far as drama goes — upsets and season-defining moments are rarities. In the Big Ten, however, the season opened with a deafening bang. There was a big upset, heartbreaking defeat and disappointing performance — among others — highlighting the week.
Though some of these observations regarding the conference may be early overreactions, here are just a few interesting observations from a rather eventful week.
Northwestern’s statement: The Wildcats were likely to be seen as afterthoughts in the Big Ten by most prognosticators prior to the season. With the events of Saturday, though, it is time to rethink Northwestern’s position in the conference.
Pat Fitzgerald’s crew played a nearly flawless game against Stanford in its upset win in Evanston; dominating defensively and playing efficient offensively. The big development for the team was the smart play of freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson.
Thorson passing game was average — he went 12-24 with 105 yards — but was especially strong on the ground with his signature highlight coming on a 42-yard touchdown run. Most notably, he did not turn the ball over.
Though Thorson still has room to improve, especially in his passing game, Northwestern have a solid quarterback to lean on throughout the season. With a big upset over a Pac-12 contender already, Big Ten followers should look to the Wildcats as the big surprise in the conference this season.
The Braxton Miller experiment takes off: With one spin move to make a defender miss in the open field on an electrifying touchdown run, quarterback-turned-receiver Braxton Miller emerged as one of Ohio State’s most dangerous playmakers.
Miller’s choice to become a receiver was a big mystery entering the season, but on Monday night, Miller turned heads all across the college football world. With Ohio State reeling down 17-14 at halftime, Miller turned the Buckeyes’ fortunes in a heartbeat. His two clutch touchdowns in the third quarter avoided a repeat of last season against Virginia Tech.
With one game in the books, the rest of the conference knows they must fully account for Miller either out of the backfield or spread out wide. Otherwise, can any team really stop Ohio State in the Big Ten?
A hacked Hackenberg: Many of the adjectives that can be used to describe Christian Hackenberg’s disastrous game against Temple would likely not be appropriate in this piece. Honestly, though, Hackenberg was absolutely wretched to watch on Saturday.
He looked woefully unprepared for a surprisingly stout Owl defense, going 10-24 for under 100 yards and one interception; not the start Penn State envisioned for him. The offense played dismal, uninspired football for the last three quarters.
With the way he played Saturday, it may become increasingly doubtful that he leaves for the NFL following the season and instead stay an extra year in college. Youth and inexperience are fully inadequate excuses for the junior signal caller at this point in his career.
Hackenberg better improve quickly or risk being labeled with the ‘O’ word — overrated.
Nebraska’s Hail Mary heartbreak: Mike Riley looked to have salvaged his first victory as Cornhuskers’ head coach in a hard-fought struggle over BYU. That is until backup quarterback Tanner Magnum threw up a prayer that was snagged by wide receiver Mitch Mathews for the game-winner as time expired.
In one play, Nebraska’s chance for a signature win to open the season fell shockingly short.
On the positive side, Nebraska saw strong production from quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. in Riley’s pro-style system. Armstrong threw for 319 yards and had three passing touchdowns. Though in a losing effort, this is exactly the production Nebraska will be looking for from the quarterback all season long.
Other musings: Let’s take a second to give Minnesota some credit. Taking on the No.2 team in the country could have easily been a blowout in favor of TCU. The Golden Gophers, a surprise team in the Big Ten last season, held tough against likely the nation’s most potent offensive attacks. After Thursday’s performance, Minnesota looks to remain a dark horse contender in the conference.
It was a rocky start to the Jim Harbaugh era at Michigan as the Wolverines looked shaky in a loss at Utah. Jake Rudock, the high-profile Iowa transfer, spoiled Harbaugh’s debut with a turnover filled performance on the road. To be fair, Michigan will be a work in progress most of the season and are still likely a year away from legitimate conference relevance.
Dan is a senior in Media.