Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Wild Opening Week for the Big Ten

So apparently we're being a little negative about the Gophers. Well, whether you think everything is going to be all sunshine and roses or maybe, just maybe, the Gophers opening game non-loss of the 2008 season is cause for a tad bit of concern (what's that? Saturday's overtime win over Syracuse opened the 2009 season? Are you sure? Because that looked like the 2008 Gophers to me) the Gophers were at least not alone in having to endure a nail-biting opening game, as there were plenty of those to go around in the Big Ten.

Missouri 37 Illinois 9
So maybe Florida fans were right about The Zooker...
On the podcast last week (and if you didn't listen, well, then shame on you!) we discussed (among other things) expectations of a program, and in the case of Florida, Michigan, and Nebraska they had almost ridiculous expectations for their coaches. We had mentioned Ron Zook being a victim of this down in The Swamp when he took over for Steve Spurrier, bringing in a few monster recruiting classes yet ONLY averaging eight wins a year. Zook was shown the door after only three seasons, and the very next season Golden Boy Urban Meyer took a roster of almost entirely Zook's kids and won a National Title. Was the Zooker not given enough time, or was he a great recruiter but not a great game day coach?

Obviously Florida doesn't care either way, since they're doing just fine with The Golden Boy, but after Zook's Illini were wiped off the field Saturday by Missouri, it looks like the Gators' assessment of his coaching abilities might have been correct. Like at Florida, Zook has put together a couple of big recruiting classes, and with a ton of that talent as juniors and seniors, this should have been the year they came through on it. Instead, they were dominated in St Louis by Missouri, who by the way, I definitely overlooked (No Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin or Chase Coffman? Apparently, no problem!). Maybe Gary Pinkel has another juggernaut down in Columbia, but it looks like the beginning of another disappointing year in Champaign. Not that Illinois should fire him for this, but maybe this really is what Zook is. And yes I'm still bitter I picked Illinois to go 11-1.

Indiana 19 Eastern Kentucky 13
Well at least they'll win one game!
If you're looking for a bright spot for the Hoosiers, other than that they won't go Oh-fer this year, is that Ben Chappel looked pretty comfortable running the new pistol offense as he was 27-36 for 326 yards. But that's about it. The vaunted ground game that Indiana was sure they had mustered 73 whole yards, and despite Chappel's showing, the offense went scoreless for the final 37 minutes- against the 1-AA Colonels who haven't beaten a 1-A opponent since 1985. Hope you enjoyed the festivities over the weekend there Hoosier fans, because that's probably all you're getting in 2009.

Iowa 17 Northern Iowa 16
So what's worse than deserving to lose to Syracuse on the road? How about Iowa having to block not one, but TWO 40 yard field goals in the last seven seconds to cling to a one point win over 1-AA Northern Iowa AT HOME!!! Hey good thing you've got Kirk Ferentz locked up to that long-term contract, because it's not any coach who can miraculously beat a 1-AA school by one point on your home turf. Iowa should be better than that (although honestly, I'm not sure how they get any worse) and maybe that's just the wakeup call they needed before heading to Ames this weekend to play Iowa State, where they've lost four of five times, but so far not so good for a team that had Big Ten title aspirations.

Michigan 31 Western Michigan 7
RichRod's hot seat a little cooler...at least for this week
So much for all of the drama and player discension torpedoing the Michigan program: the Wolverines looked almost as good as coach Rich Rodriguez's old West Virginia teams as they dismantled Western Michigan. Sure, it was only Western Michigan, but it was still an impressive win that will badly take the spotlight off of the Wolverines off-field issues and put it where it belongs on the field. However, with a trip to Noh-tra Dame (as Beano Cook calls it) on the docket this week, they're going to need to be just as impressive.

Michigan State 44 Montana State 3
Taking care of business
Really, what else is there to say? About all we learned about Sparty yesterday is they're much better than the Bobcats, and both of their QB's looked pretty good. But we're not going to know much else, and if they're deserving of being ranked the third best team in the Big Ten, until they start playing some decent teams. But hey, unlike Iowa, at least their fans can rest assured they're far better than a 1-AA team.

Northwestern 47 Towson 13
Again, what can you really learn from this, other than the Purple Smart Kids looked far superior to a 1-AA team? Mike Kafka was efficient throwing the ball, and the team scored TD's on their first four possessions, but that's what you're supposed to do against somebody like Towson. We really could go the entire month without really knowing much of anything concrete about the Wildcats because of their pathetic non-conference schedule. Wake me in October.

Ohio State 31 Navy 27
Here we go again
To the credit of the Buckeyes, Navy is a legit 1-A opponent and the wishbone offense is a difficult one to prepare for (the Gophs will find that out Saturday against wishbonin' Air Force), but Buckeye fans can't help but feel uneasy after hanging on for dear life. Ohio State was handed the victory when Midshipmen QB Ricky Dobbs threw a two-point conversion pass that would have tied the game right into the arms of Buckeye defender Brian Rolle, who sprinted the other way for an easy two points to clinch the game. And if Rolle wouldn't have caught it, there were two other Buckeye players waiting right behind him who would. It was unfortunate for Dobbs, who was incredible otherwise, but watch the replay and I have absolutely no idea what Dobbs saw or who he was trying to throw to other than the other team.

Despite the gift INT, and Terrelle Pryor maybe NOT being the second coming of Jesus just yet (14-21 for 174 yards, 1 TD 1 pick and only 30 yards rushing), Ohio State survived. Yet you can't even use the silver lining argument of "well this will take the pressure off of them for next week because now no one will expect them to beat USC and they can be the underdogs". Why? Because this is the same situation the Buckeyes and Trojans faced before last year's week two showdown (Ohio State escaping an inferior opponent while USC romped), and all USC did was roll 35-3. Granted, playing in The Horseshoe instead of at the Coliseum is a big advantage for Ohio State (that place is going to be absolute madhouse Saturday. They'll make USC's posh crowd from a year ago sound like a church congregation), and USC's not going to win by 4+ TD's again, but if the Buckeyes are going to have any chance against the Trojans they're going to need a lot better effort from their offense, who only managed 363 total yards against Navy. That means Pryor's going to need some help.

Penn State 31 Akron 7
Beware the Joe Pa's!
To me it's not THAT Penn State pummeled Akron but HOW they pummeled Akron. There were major questions heading in about Penn State's new o-line and receiving core, and boy did they answer the bell on Saturday. Of course, it helps when you have Daryll Clark running the show, but the Nittany Lion's "Spread HD" rang up 379 passing yards, which was more than they had in any game all of last season when they had their plethora of talented, veteran receivers. Yes, it's only Akron, but then again the Zips are 1-A and a decent MAC squad to boot, so while it's not like Penn State did this against Ohio State, it's not like they did this against Montana State either. Color me impressed and intrigued with the Joe Pa's for 2009.

Purdue 52 Toledo 31
Boilermakers the best of the worst?
Everybody, me included, had Purdue pegged as one of the two worst teams in the Big Ten this year along with instate rivals Indiana. I had them slightly ahead of the Hoosiers, but not by much. While I still don't think they're going to win the Big Ten or be any better than 10th, Purdue looked lightyears ahead of Indiana in their showdown of "Not being the worst team in the conference" for 2009. While IU struggled to beat 1-AA Eastern Kentucky, Purdue throttled MAC opponents Toledo, and Boilermaker fans have to be all smiles after coach Danny Hope's first game. Like Penn State, I was impressed not just that they won, but how they won. Transitioning from the spread passing of Joe Tiller to Hope's more balanced approach, the Boilermakers ran all over the Rockets for 315 yards with Ralph Bolden (21 carries 234 yards 2 TD's). The Boilermakers aren't going to be dominant this year, but I'd be surprised if they're pushovers in the Big Ten this year, and I think they get more than the one Big Ten victory over Indiana. Let's just hope it doesn't come against Minnesota.

Wisconsin 28 Northern Illinois 20
The more things change...
New year, new problems, and some of the same results for Wisconsin, who dominated NIU for three quarters (leading 28-7), before the Huskies stormed back for 2 late TD's to make things much closer than they should have been. Last year Sconnie could run all day but had all sorts of problems throwing the ball. In the win over NIU, the Badgers threw for 281 while only rushing for 152 as the tailback tandem of Zach Brown and John Clay combined for 29 carries for just 94 yards (and average of barely 3 yards a carry). Starting QB Scott Tolzien was decent completing 75% of his throws for 257 yards and a TD, but also threw two costly picks. To complicate things further, wunderkid backup Curt Phillips was solid throwing (3-5 24 yards and no INT's) and running (4 carries for 34 yards), so the QB debate will rage on in Madison. Still, despite the shaky start, the Badgers have two more cupcakes to figure things out before their first real test against Michigan State at the end of the month.

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