Five overreactions from Week One of Big Ten football
September 7, 2016
At last, let us take a deep breath — college football is in the bloodstream once again.
Actually, this is college football we are talking about, so overreacting is the best reaction now that the Big Ten is back. Here are five major overreactions to Week One in the Big Ten, which had an extremely successful weekend by all accounts — the conference went 12-2 overall.
1. Michigan and Ohio State are dominant and destined to meet undefeated.
As expected, Michigan and Ohio State won in easy fashion. The storylines for both, though, are not the victories but the emphatic, dominant manner in which they came. It seemed as if both teams were in competition to emerge with the greater margin of victory. Ohio State won that quasi-competition by beating Bowling Green by 67 points, while Michigan crushed Hawaii by a measly 60 points.
For the Buckeyes, J.T. Barrett played like an early Heisman favorite, racking up seven touchdowns. Tailbacks Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel also performed well, combining for 397 yards.
Did I mention that the Buckeyes are the most inexperienced team in college football? That’s probably not going to matter for a supremely gifted squad.
For Michigan, coach Jim Harbaugh seemed to make the perfect choice for starting quarterback as Wilton Speight played a nearly perfect game with the 145 yards passing and three scores. Harbaugh also briefly gave backups Shane Morris and John O’Korn some action, both of whom did not throw an incompletion. All told, Michigan quarterbacks only missed three passes all day. Second-string running back Chris Evans also emerged as a key contributor with 112 yards and two touchdowns.
Of course, both beat up on inferior opponents, so we can’t just expect them to keep destroying other teams en route to the end-of-season showdown.
2. Wisconsin is the favorite in the Big Ten West.
In typical Wisconsin football fashion, the Badgers emerged victorious in an ugly, rough-and-tumble slugfest against LSU, winning with a late field goal and a clutch defensive stop. If the Wisconsin defense can continue to squash the dreams of opposing offenses, and if the offense can do just enough to get by, then they might just be the favorites to win their division.
As great as the Badgers defense performed, they have to get much more out of quarterback Bart Houston if they have any chance of sustaining momentum from the upset victory. Yes, Houston made a couple plays down the stretch, but other than that, he did nothing to warrant great trust in his ability in throwing two interceptions.
The defense will not be the problem for Wisconsin this season, though they will need better production at quarterback if they hope to beat Iowa. Speaking of which, Iowa looked pretty impressive in a 45-21 victory over Miami of Ohio. Yes, beating LSU is a great way to start (though, to be fair, LSU is probably not a top-five team), but it is still an overreaction to put the Badgers above Iowa in the Big Ten West.
3. Michigan State is a distant third in the Big Ten East.
The Spartans looked very rough around the edges in a boring 15-point win over Furman. Most of Michigan State’s ugliness was the result of being penalized 10 times for 120 yards. For a team as well-coached and disciplined as Michigan State under Mark Dantonio, expect that to be an aberration mostly due to opening game jitters.
Outside of the penalties, Michigan State had a better game than the scoreboard indicated. The defense played well as usual, though the bigger story was the play of Connor Cook’s replacement Tyler O’Connor. Other than one interception, O’Connor threw for 190 yards and three touchdowns. Expect O’Connor to only get better with time.
The Spartans didn’t pass the eye test in the way Michigan and Ohio State did, though the gaps among the three are likely much smaller than the margin of victory suggests. Michigan State has one week off before taking on Notre Dame, so expect them to iron things out. The Spartans are still very much a threat in the division.
4. Clayton Thorson is not ready to lead Northwestern.
Northwestern had a chance at the end of the game against Western Michigan to erase what had been, up until that point, a rather uninspiring performance. Threatening to take the lead with possession on the goal line, quarterback Clayton Thorson tried to power his way into the end zone. Yet, he coughed up the ball into the end zone as Western Michigan recovered for the touchback, sealing a tough loss for Northwestern.
Thorson’s untimely turnover wasted a strong effort from tailback Justin Jackson, who gained 124 yards and scored three times. As a second-year starter, Thorson just seems not ready as of yet to be the fourth quarter playmaker that Northwestern needs to be a force in the Big Ten West.
Despite the late turnover, Thorson wasn’t all that bad as he went 15 for 22 with 196 yards. It’s still early, so he has more than enough time to evolve as a stronger leader for the Wildcats.
The real issue for Northwestern is that they were outgained by Western Michigan by nearly 100 yards and lost the time of possession battle by almost 20 minutes. Pat Fitzgerald’s defense must improve quickly if the Wildcats hope to make an impact in the division.
5. Lovie Smith for Coach of the Year
Week One of the Lovie Smith era was a rousing success. The Illini won by 49, the defense looked like one of the conference’s best and Wes Lunt appears to be ready to break out. After one week, Illinois might just be a sneaky good Big Ten squad.
Smith’s first major test as a college coach comes this Saturday as North Carolina visits Memorial Stadium. Illinois could very well finish the season under .500, but Saturday’s prime time matchup is the first chance for Lovie to solidify himself as the Big Ten coach of the year.
Dan is a graduate student in Media.