Most coaches will tell you that their football teams improve most from Week 1 to Week 2. Thus, I try not to read too much into what a team does in its season opener. Still, it’s hard not to wonder if the Big Ten is vastly overrated already.
Yes, Nebraska and Ohio State both looked pretty good this past weekend. But Big Ten favorite Michigan was totally overmatched as the conference’s banner carrier against Alabama. Penn State started the Bill O’Brien era by blowing an 11-point home lead and falling to MAC team Ohio University (I told you not to sleep on the Bobcats!). It was PSU’s first season-opening loss since 2001. Another Big Ten favorite, Wisconsin, almost lost at home to FCS school Northern Iowa.
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Iowa had almost no right beating Northern Illinois. Minnesota needed triple overtime to beat a pretty bad UNLV team. Northwestern gagged away a 22-point lead at Syracuse only to rally in the final seconds. Michigan State struggled to beat a Boise State team that brought back the fewest starters in the nation – Sparty can’t keep giving the ball to Le’Veon Bell 50 times a game.
In my mind the Michigan outcome was the most shocking. I’m not surprised the Wolverines lost to the Tide as I fully expected that, but I also thought it would be a fairly close game. For some reason, U-M coaches tried to turn Denard Robinson into a pocket passer instead of letting arguably the best running QB in NCAA history loose. In the first half, Robinson had one designed running play. And he scored on it. Robinson’s accuracy was a problem last year and he completed only 42.3 percent of his passes against Bama. His 27 rushing yards were the second fewest of his career as a starter. Obviously, you have to give the Tide a bunch of credit, but Robinson only had 10 carries, the fourth-lowest of his career as a starter.
The Wolverines will get starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint back this week as opening 21.5-point home favorites vs. Air Force. But Michigan won’t have starting cornerback and arguably its best defensive player in Blake Countess. He’s done for the year after suffering a torn ACL vs. Alabama. Countess’ loss won’t be felt much this week vs. the run-heavy Falcons or the following week vs. UMass but could be glaring starting Sept. 22 vs. Notre Dame.
Speaking of the Irish, it appears that coach Brian Kelly will stick with Everett Golson as his starter under center. The sophomore was 12-for-18 for 144 yards with a touchdown and a pick in a rout of Navy in Ireland. Former starter Tommy Rees returns from suspension this week as the Irish host Purdue, but Kelly said that Rees would be battling for the No. 2 spot.
Let’s see if jet lag plagues this Irish this week against Purdue, which looked strong in winning 48-6 in its opener vs. Eastern Kentucky. The Boilers played that game without starting QB Caleb TerBush, who was suspended right before kickoff due to violating team rules. Robert Marve started Saturday but expect Marve, Rob Henry and TerBush to all play vs. the Irish. Purdue coach Danny Hope said TerBush “outperformed the other quarterbacks hands down throughout the course of camp” but Marve was 30-of-38 for 295 yards and three scores vs. EKU. He did turn it over twice.
Purdue is a 14.5-point dog, but I think the Boilers have an excellent chance at pulling the upset. Notre Dame was able to manhandle a smaller Navy defense but won’t be able to do the same against Purdue. The Irish will definitely miss starting tailback Cierre Wood this week as he serves the final game of his suspension. Purdue hasn’t beaten Notre Dame since 2007.
Staying in the Big Ten, expect to see Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase for Saturday’s game at Arizona State. The third-year-starter led the Illini to their only two offensive touchdowns in a 24-7 win over Western Michigan before leaving the game in the third quarter with an ankle sprain. He was at practice on Sunday. ASU, which destroyed Northern Arizona on Thursday, is a 1.5-point favorite for the game. The Sun Devils lost 17-14 at Illinois last year.
Florida coach Will Muschamp has finally settled on a starting QB as Jeff Driskel will get the call this week when the Gators visit Texas A&M in the Aggies’ SEC debut. Driskel completed 10 of 16 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown in UF’s ugly 27-14 win over Bowling Green on Saturday. Briskel beat out Jacoby Brissett, who was 3-of-5 passing for 31 yards vs. the Falcons. Saturday will be Driskel’s first career start – at quarterback. He actually started at receiver vs. Bowling Green.
The Gators might be at a severe disadvantage vs. A&M because UF won’t have any 2012 film on the Aggies after their season opener vs. Louisiana Tech was postponed due to Hurricane Isaac. College Station will be rocking this week, and that’s where you will find ESPN’s “GameDay”. The Aggies opened as two-point favorites on college football odds.
Finally, South Carolina starting QB Connor Shaw is in major doubt for the Gamecocks’ home opener Saturday vs. East Carolina. Shaw has a deep bone bruise in his throwing shoulder after he was injured when he took a helmet there in USC’s 17-13 victory at Vanderbilt on Thursday. Shaw can barely lift his arm at the moment and won’t practice before Wednesday at the earliest. Dylan Thompson, who was 0-for-3 and sacked twice vs. Vandy, would start if Shaw sits. Regardless, expect a major dose of Marcus Lattimore, who had 23 carries for 110 yards and two scores vs. the Commodores. There is no opening line on ECU-USC because of Shaw’s status. Last season, East Carolina was up 17-0 on South Carolina midway through the second quarter but lost, 56-37. Lattimore had 112 yards and three scores on 23 carries.
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