Replacing a quarterback, even one as decorated and talented as Braxton Miller, is just one cog in the machine. There were four parts missing on the offensive line from last year’s well-oiled attack, and swapping out each of those pieces is every bit as important in keeping the engine running smoothly.
“We went into it very vanilla last week,” Meyer said. “I think [quarterback J.T.] Barrett is part of it, but the offensive line is the other big part of it.
“What can those guys do and what can they do well? We’re expecting them in the next couple of weeks to be able to do it all well. It’s not just J.T. When we say expand the playbook, it’s for J.T. and it’s for the offensive line.”
The Buckeyes had almost no game experience to draw on with either position group last weekend against Navy, and that uncertainty was obvious during a first half that didn’t include an offensive touchdown and put them on upset alert. The natural reaction was to point to Miller’s absence, but Meyer had never hesitated in the past to shift the attention to the role his four senior starters up front played while the star quarterback was winning consecutive Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year awards.
Heading into the opener against the Midshipmen, Meyer still hadn’t officially settled on replacements at two of those vacant spots on the line, leaving battles at guard and center that had started back in March unsettled nearly all the way up to kickoff. It also didn’t help that Ohio State no longer had Carlos Hyde to handle the workload at running back and top receiver Philly Brown had graduated as well, which in some ways made it likely all along that it would take some time for the spread attack to resume the record-setting onslaught Meyer had led over the last two seasons with the program.
Much of the scrutiny was focused on Barrett and the redshirt freshman’s ability to pick up where Miller left off before injuring his shoulder for the second time this year. But with new evidence thanks to a debut for Barrett that included 12 completions in 15 attempts for 226 yards and two touchdowns now available to help make his case, Meyer’s basic math should be even easier to understand as the Buckeyes try to figure out the best way forward with so many new starters in the lineup -- not just the one at quarterback.
“Yeah, you know, we’re not the same offense as we were last year,” left guard Pat Elflein said. “We had different guys. We’re still trying to figure out who we are and just play as hard as we can, and then we’ll go from there.
“We had a bunch of guys who hadn’t started before out there. So just getting the first game out of the way, they’ll be more comfortable there and I think we’ll play a lot better. I’m not worried about it all.”
The concerns haven’t entirely disappeared for Ohio State after one week, and Meyer stressed the importance of getting “much better fast” up front with a significant test coming Saturday at home against Virginia Tech.
But the Buckeyes don’t necessarily just have to rely on the old coaching formula that calls for exponential improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 at the start of a season. With three touchdown drives after intermission following that rocky first half against Navy, all of those new cogs seemed to at least be on the way to fitting into the Ohio State machine.
“The second half we played pretty good,” Meyer said. “But pretty good is not what we expect. You play pretty good this week, you won't win that game.
“But once those groups come together, we’ll continue to expand [the playbook]. I'm expecting that to happen rather quickly -- it better or we won't win this game.”
There’s nothing too complicated about that message, either.
They outscored 99.7 percent of all Big Ten entries in the ESPN College Football Challenge and outscored all of us by at least 35 points. It wasn’t pretty and, for three of us, there is nowhere to go but up. Your Week 1 results:
The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg): 173 points
Legendary Leaders (Brian Bennett): 136 points
Massive Attack (Austin Ward): 108 points
Coal Crackers (Josh Moyer): 104 points
Sherman Tanks (Mitch Sherman): 96 points
There is some hope for the rest of us. The last-place team picks first on the waiver wire and, after everyone took a turn, the pick went back to the worst team. We also added a bench spot we plan to keep the rest of the season so teams don’t feel obligated to drop their top guys during a bye week. Sherman, Ward and I need all the help we can get.
Here is a look at the waiver-wire action this week:
Sherman adds Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton
Rationale: It looks as if the Nittany Lions will have to pass the ball quite a bit this season, and Hamilton could end up being the No. 1 receiver on the team. A definite upgrade over some of the Sherman Tanks’ other wideouts.
Moyer adds Illinois QB Wes Lunt
Rationale: I’m now dead to Brian Bennett -- but it’s so worth it. Bennett wanted Lunt in our original draft, but he wasn’t listed in ESPN’s database for some reason, so we decided to skip over him. He’s in there now, and Illinois’ system should get him plenty of fantasy points.
Ward adds Rutgers QB Gary Nova
Rationale: With Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld on a bye, there needed to be some kind of replacement here. Nova looked good against Washington State last week, plus the Knights take on Howard this week. The only concern is if Rutgers plugs in its second-team or runs out the clock too soon.
Bennett adds Michigan RB Derrick Green
Rationale: Green is arguably the top running back left on the board, and Indiana's Tevin Coleman is on bye, so this move made a lot of sense. Green rushed for 170 yards last week and, although he faces a tougher test against Notre Dame on Saturday, he should still see his share of carries.
Rittenberg adds Ohio State kickers
Rationale: Once again, with the Indiana kickers on bye, another corps was needed. Although the Buckeyes face a good defense in Virginia Tech, this is a kicking group that should nail plenty of easy PATs this season. This isn’t necessarily a one-week Band-Aid.
Sherman adds Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo and drops Iowa WR Kevonte Martin-Manley
Rationale: An upgrade was definitely needed at receiver, so that was the focus in the first two picks here. First came Hamilton and now Carroo. The Rutgers receiver is a speedy guy who can score touchdowns from anywhere on the field, and he appears to be Nova’s top target. That is an ideal fantasy combination.
Moyer adds Michigan State WR Tony Lippett and drops Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner
Rationale: With Lunt, there is no need for another quarterback -- and Indiana receiver Shane Wynn is on bye. If the Spartans trail Oregon, like Vegas is predicting they are, they are probably going to have to throw quite a bit. And Lippett had 167 receiving yards last week.
Ward adds Nebraska kickers and drops Northwestern kickers
Rationale: The Wildcats struggled last week to score against a bad defense, and the Cornhuskers are playing McNeese State on Saturday. Need I say more?
Bennett adds Rutgers defense and drops Iowa defense
Rationale: It’s all about matchups, and Rutgers looks to score a lot more fantasy points than the Hawkeyes this week. Rutgers plays a Howard team that was dominated by Akron, 41-0, so a shutout is a definite possibility here.
Rittenberg adds Wisconsin RB Corey Clement and drops Indiana kickers
Rationale: Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon is fine ... probably. But the Badgers are going to lean more on running the ball, especially the next few weeks, so Clements’ value only increases. He will be a nice addition to the fantasy bench, for use during byes or in case any injuries pop up.
Bennett adds Nebraska WR Jordan Westerkamp and drops Northwestern WR Tony Jones
Rationale: Fantasy football is all about the numbers. So take a look at these: Jones -- 64 yards, 0 TDs. Westerkamp -- 125 yards, 1 TD. Nebraska has another easy matchup this weekend, so banking on Westerkamp is the smart move.
Now, onto our complete rosters for Week 2, including our bench spot:
The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg)
Michigan State QB Connor Cook
Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Rutgers RB Paul James
Michigan WR Devin Funchess
Penn State WR Jesse James
Ohio State kickers
Bench: Wisconsin RB Corey Clement (vs. W. Illinois)
Legendary Leaders (Bennett)
Michigan QB Devin Gardner
Maryland QB C.J. Brown
Michigan RB Derrick Green
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell
Nebraska WR Jordan Westerkamp
Bench: Indiana RB Tevin Coleman (on bye)
Massive Attack (Ward)
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Rutgers QB Gary Nova
Illinois RB Josh Ferguson
Minnesota RB David Cobb
Ohio State WR Devin Smith
Penn State WR Geno Lewis
Ohio State defense
Bench: Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld (on bye)
Coal Crackers (Moyer)
Illinois QB Wes Lunt
Iowa QB Jake Rudock
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Maryland WR Stefon Diggs
Michigan State WR Tony Lippett
Michigan State kickers
Michigan State defense
Bench: Indiana WR Shane Wynn (on bye)
Sherman Tanks (Sherman)
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg
Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian
Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford
Penn State RB Zach Zwinak
Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton
Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo
Penn State kickers
Bench: Maryland WR Deon Long (vs. South Florida)
But it turns out the Fighting Irish already had a dance partner lined up and actually couldn't wait to rub it in the faces of the Wolverines. The new flame obviously had no misgivings about coming public either, since Ohio State was surely giddy at the chance to show off its sparkling new dates after swooping in for a couple of matchups that used to belong to their most hated rival.
OK, maybe the love triangle isn't quite accurate. And compared to what Michigan has had for years, the Buckeyes are only going to get a brief fling anyway. But Ohio State and Notre Dame teaming up to announce the storied programs would be meeting in 2022 and '23 just two days before the last scheduled edition of the series between the Irish and Wolverines definitely seems like more than mere coincidence.
For Notre Dame, it's another example that it will be just fine on its own, like it always has been. It doesn't need Michigan around to ensure that the schedule is filled with marquee matchups, even though it's still weird to picture a season that doesn't include those two teams hooking up and comparing historical résumés.
And while the Buckeyes have been steadily, aggressively stocking up on powerhouse programs to add to their future slates, including a two-game set with Texas that will impressively coincide with the Notre Dame series, the Irish now becomes the crown jewel of the matchups down the road -- and it probably could have never happened without Michigan being spurned in the process.
That's a win for both sides in the new series, and if Michigan's feelings get a little hurt in the process, that's just a bonus for Brian Kelly and Urban Meyer.
After so long together and all those unforgettable moments, perhaps the Irish could have waited a couple days to pay proper respect to the relationship. But maybe those "chicken" comments wore them down, and they couldn't resist fighting back in some small way before the teams even hit the field this weekend.
Notre Dame now gets to show off how easy it is for them to move on and find somebody new, and Ohio State is never going to miss out on a chance to try to make its rival jealous. That just leaves Michigan alone on the outside -- with nothing to cheer for but mutual destruction in Columbus in 2022 and South Bend in '23.
Join Big Ten reporters Brian Bennett, Josh Moyer, Mitch Sherman and Austin Ward as they look ahead to Week 2 in the Big Ten, including a breakdown of Michigan State's visit to Oregon and the end of the Michigan-Notre Dame series.
Why Michigan State will win: Why not? Don't you believe by now in the Spartans, who beat Oregon's top nemesis -- Stanford -- just eight months ago? The Ducks are tough to beat at home, but I think Michigan State's defense is good enough to frustrate that spread attack, and I love the way Connor Cook is playing at quarterback. The Big Ten has to win one of these big regular-season showdowns eventually. Right? Michigan State 27, Oregon 24. -- Brian Bennett
Why Oregon will win: If there is a blueprint to beating the Ducks, the Spartans are surely capable of duplicating it with solid defense and an efficient, ball-control offense. And if the experienced, proven Michigan State defense from last season was still around, it might be tempting to pick the upset. But the Ducks have a quarterback in Marcus Mariota who won't be intimidated, they're playing with a vocal crowd behind them and they don't have to travel across the country. Oregon wins 34-20. -- Austin Ward
Why it will be closer than you think: Michigan State isn't easily intimidated, and the Spartans rarely get blown out. Of MSU's past eight losses, only one came by more than four points. An underrated Spartans offense keeps pace with the Ducks for much of this one. Oregon wins 31-27. -- Adam Rittenberg
Why Michigan will win: Devin Gardner eviscerated a Notre Dame defense in 2013 that I consider better than the current unit. Both teams will score a lot with dynamic quarterbacks and more streamlined offenses, but Michigan has the better defense, which will be the difference. Michigan 38, Notre Dame 35 -- Adam Rittenberg
Why Notre Dame will win: Both teams fired on all cylinders offensively last week against overmatched opponents. The Irish, at home, are more likely to extend their solid play. Quarterback Everett Golson provides a steadying influence. Look for him to find holes in the Michigan secondary. And the Wolverines, who are just one game removed from so much trouble up front on offense last year, will find the trenches much more difficult to navigate this week than last. Notre Dame 24, Michigan 20 -- Mitch Sherman
Why Ohio State will win: A tricky matchup to open the season put the Buckeyes on upset alert last week in the debut for J.T. Barrett, but this is the kind of opponent that should bring out their best. The defensive line will once again get to rush the passer, a rebuilt secondary figures to have some chances to make something big happen and Barrett can build on his big second half against Navy with a young offense gaining confidence. Plus, the Horseshoe isn't a very welcoming building for visitors under the lights. Buckeyes win 31-13. -- Austin Ward
Why it might be closer than you think: It's clear the Buckeyes still have a few kinks to iron out on offense, and Virginia Tech's bread-and-butter is its defense. The Hokies boast an elite pair of corners and have a disruptive defensive line, and that's not going to make it any easier for Barrett. If Virginia Tech can gain any kind of momentum on offense, the Buckeyes could be in for a scare. Buckeyes 27, Hokies 20. -- Josh Moyer
Northern Illinois over Northwestern 31-28
(Rittenberg, Sherman and Ward took NIU, while Bennett and Moyer chose Northwestern):
Even without Jordan Lynch, NIU looks to have the same quick-scoring formula as last season, while the Wildcats are still searching for their identity.
Purdue over Central Michigan 35-31
(Moyer, Rittenberg, Sherman and Ward selected Purdue, while Bennett chose Central Michigan)
The Boilermakers' win over Western Michigan wasn't pretty and this won't be either, but this offense will only get better.
Western Kentucky over Illinois 42-38
(Bennett, Moyer, Rittenberg and Sherman took Western Kentucky, while Ward chose Illinois)
It's difficult to pick Tim Beckman's squad after an unconvincing win against Youngstown State.
Maryland over South Florida 34-14. C.J. Brown + Stefon Diggs + Deon Long = Touchdowns. Enough said.
Penn State over Akron 34-21. This one could be closer than expected as PSU adjusts from its Ireland trip, but Christian Hackenberg is an elite talent.
Rutgers over Howard 52-7. Howard lost to Akron by a score of 41-0 last week, so the only question is whether the Knights' second team allows a late TD or clinches the shutout.
Iowa over Ball State 38-20. The Hawkeyes got off to a slow start against Northern Iowa, but this is their chance to make up for it.
Minnesota over MTSU 35-17. Mitch Leidner needs to improve, but the Gophers' defense and ground game should be enough to pull out the win here.
Nebraska over McNeese State 38-17. McNeese State is a quality FCS program, but the Cornhuskers simply have too much firepower with Ameer Abdullah leading the way.
Wisconsin over Western Illinois 42-0. The Badgers don't need a passing game to dominate this opponent; it shouldn't even be close.
The opening weekend, though, did provide a handful of statistical outliers that are still worth noting, mostly because they’re so ridiculous that they will never be seen again. But maybe, just maybe, there are a few that could conceivably be duplicated and may reveal more about the teams or individuals than anybody might have projected coming into the year.
So, I’m taking five of the most eye-catching numbers from the opening set of games and giving them a closer examination to see if there’s anything to be learned -- or if they’re just aberrations for the record book.
Nate Sudfeld attempts just 18 passes -- and the Hoosiers win
- With Tevin Coleman racking up yardage at a frightening clip, there was no pressing need for Indiana to throw it all that often. But with Sudfeld working alone as the top choice at quarterback for an offense that never attempted less than 26 passes in a game last fall, his light workload in a reasonably tight contest was certainly unexpected. The Hoosiers would obviously like to take some pressure off the passing attack and Coleman is more than capable of doing that, but they aired it out more than 40 times in half of their games last season. Maybe the per-game average will come down, but surely this will be the last time Sudfeld hits this mark this season.
- Navy is the ultimate statistical skewer, and its powerful ground game gives the Buckeyes a very different look than they’re accustomed to after one game. As bad as the rushing defense looks now, the bright side is the much-maligned secondary is among the best in the country currently after giving up just 20 yards to the Midshipmen. With perhaps the top defensive line in the country, a collective unit that typically lives for shutting down the rush and and a defense that allowed just 109 yards per game on the ground last season, the average will progressively drop with each game. The real question for the Buckeyes is how high the number through the air will inflate.
- On the flip side, the Scarlet Knights played an offense on the complete opposite end of the spectrum in their opening win against Washington State, a team that seems allergic to rushing the football. While that low total is certainly extreme, it’s actually not out of the realm of possibility that Rutgers could get close to that again with a defensive unit that was among the best in the nation last season while barely allowing more than 100 yards per game on the ground. In fact, the Scarlet Knights might have been even more impressive last December in holding South Florida to 10 yards on 20 carries.
- Historically doubling down with rushers over the century mark might not be that big of a deal for the Wolverines, but it hadn’t happened since 2007 and they were coming off a disastrous rushing season that included four different games when the entire team couldn’t get to 100 yards on the ground. Michigan still looks more potent when spreading the field and operating out of the shotgun, but Derrick Green (170 yards) and De’Veon Smith (115) did some damage out of those formations and could be capable of putting some sting back in the ground game this fall.
- The Indiana defensive lineman came into the season opener with just 5.5 career sacks, so his prolific outing certainly seems pretty unlikely to be duplicated. But maybe the scheme is the perfect fit for the senior, who didn’t even register one quarterback takedown last fall. If nothing else, his individual breakout performance might hint at a unit-wide improvement for Indiana’s reconfigured defense, and maybe more career days are in the cards for the rest of the Hoosiers on that side of the ball as they try to get the program back into the postseason.
- It must be a rivalry week for Michigan, because Brady Hoke isn't letting any information slip out about injuries. Backup lineman Kyle Bosch is taking a leave of absence.
- Michigan State is once again calling on Damion Terry to do a serviceable impression of an opponent's multipurpose quarterback for the scout team.
- After his record-setting outing last weekend, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg weighs in on a number of topics as he prepares for an encore against Akron.
- Rutgers coach Kyle Flood had a longtime season-ticket holder address his team after practice. Then he challenged his freshmen running backs to step up and be ready to contribute.
- Maryland linebacker Cole Farrand expects to be back in the starting lineup this weekend against South Florida.
- Off with its early bye week, Indiana's next opponent suffered a huge blow with Bowling Green losing starting quarterback Matt Johnson to a hip injury.
- The King has returned to Ohio, and LeBron James is once again supposed to be on the sideline with Ohio State for a primetime game.
- Once evaluated as not big, fast or strong enough, former Nebraska walk-on defensive lineman Jack Gangwish might soon be a starter.
- With the days of scheduling FCS opponents coming to an end, Wisconsin couldn't have a more fitting opponent to help bring that era to a close. The Badgers are preparing three inexperienced quarterbacks for the matchup.
- There was plenty of blame to spread around after the opening loss to Cal, but Northwestern could certainly use more production out of its receivers.
- Purdue defensive back Frankie Williams isn't focusing on what he did well last week. Instead, he's "haunted" by the plays he didn't make in the win for the Boilermakers.
- Greg Mabin is on track to be another feel-good story for Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.
- A sizable donation from Land O'Lakes should jumpstart the effort to help Minnesota coach Jerry Kill get the facilities he wants so badly for his program.
- The status of Illinois right tackle Pat Flavin is up in the air, but it didn't look good for him at practice on Wednesday.
Then, with two minutes left in the game, the Ohio State quarterback began taking practice snaps. He didn't joke, didn't smile, even when the game was virtually won -- Ohio State 34, Navy 17 -- and it looked as if his day might be over.
“J.T. is a very serious guy,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “He goes about his business, and he’s a pro. That’s how he acts.”
Nearly 1,500 miles away in Barrett’s hometown of Wichita Falls, Texas – a town whose claim to fame is a 54-foot cascade of man-made falls – his past high school coach and teammates weren’t surprised. That’s always been J.T., they said.
“That’s J.T. right there, man,” said Jim Garfield, who coached Barrett on the Rider Raiders. “He’s all business. He’s going to operate and he’s going to do all the things the staff ask him to do. It doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Business-like and calm and collected were the adjectives attached to nearly every conversation about Barrett, from Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer and TV analysts on down to Buckeyes teammates and high school friends. It’s just about the first thing to notice in the redshirt freshman.
Barrett kept an even tone around a scrum of reporters following Saturday’s Navy game. He surveyed the room, maintained eye contact and spoke about an interception the same way he talked about a touchdown.
Was there a time you said to yourself you’d be fine after the pick?
“Not really,” Barrett said.
He didn’t need to; he knew he’d be fine. In the past, he’d prepare for situations and plays by envisioning them all in his backyard. He was ready for anything; a change in scenery wasn’t going to alter that.
“He is a phenom; there’s no other way to describe it,” said Brandon Williams, his friend and high school receiver. “His mind just works in so many different ways that you couldn’t even imagine. You could play the kid in Connect Four, and he will not let you win. He will win no matter what it takes – if it’s him that has to get the ball or the next guy down the line. His leadership, you wouldn’t believe. When he talks, you get chills down your spine.”
The Buckeyes are hoping for every bit of that from Barrett this weekend. Virginia Tech’s defense was ranked No. 4 nationally in total defense last season – and it’s sure to be a tougher matchup for Barrett than Navy. But Barrett’s former high school teammates just laughed when asked if Barrett would be at all intimidated or panicked.
He's a professional, they said, and he approaches every game -- and every drive -- the same way.
Former Rider running back Domanic Thrasher recalled the time Barrett calmed the team in the huddle and led a game-winning touchdown drive with 56 seconds left. Williams remembered the time the Rider staff signaled a play to the offense by holding their arms up as if there were a touchdown – literal name of the play: “Greatest Football Play Ever” -- right before Barrett heaved a long score to end the first half. And Garfield, the coach, can remember the way Barrett always managed to stay upbeat, even in the face of deficits -- or a season-ending injury as a senior.
“In pressure situations, you would never see a downside on him,” Garfield said. “He was always a positive and matter-of-fact person. And, after that injury, he was like a coach on the sideline.”
Ohio State fans haven’t seen the entire Barrett yet. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman wants to bring the first-year starter along gradually, after all, so shorter passes and an established run game were the Buckeyes’ backbone Saturday.
But, as season progresses and Barrett becomes more accustomed to the offense, those who know him best say the Big Ten is in for a surprise. The 19-year-old is all business, and he still has a long career ahead.
“You really haven’t seen a whole lot just yet,” Garfield added. "J.T. is a kid that got himself ready for this path. He can handle anything."
It’s offense vs. defense, Marcus Mariota vs. Shilique Calhoun, unstoppable force vs. immovable object. There’s a lot to be excited about, even on a national scale. Since 2005, only nine games have featured two top-10 teams duking it out this early. There’s a reason "College GameDay" has decided to descend upon Eugene, Oregon, after all.
Can the underdog Spartans pull it off? Will Oregon’s offense run rampant? Those answers won’t come for another few days, so we decided to take a closer look at those other nine games. Historically, how have games of this magnitude gone down, how often does the underdog win -- and how often do these teams move on to success?
Take a look:
No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson -- Aug. 31, 2013
The favorite: Georgia by 2.5 points
The outcome: Clemson 38-35. This lived up to its hype of being a closely fought shootout. Clemson QB Tajh Boyd proved to be the difference-maker. He threw for three TDs, rushed for two more and totaled 312 yards.
End of season ranking (Clemson): No. 8 (11-2, 7-1 ACC). Beat Ohio State in Orange Bowl, 40-35.
End of season ranking (Georgia): unranked (8-5, 5-3 SEC). Lost to Nebraska in Gator Bowl, 24-19.
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 8 Michigan (Arlington, Texas) -- Sept. 1, 2012
The favorite: Alabama by 11
The outcome: Alabama 41-14. The Crimson Tide opened the game on a 31-0 run, and Michigan never really stood a chance. The Wolverines’ first six possessions ended with four punts and two interceptions. They moved the ball 24 yards on those drives.
End of season ranking (Alabama): No. 1 (13-1, 7-1 SEC). Won the SEC championship and beat Notre Dame for the national championship, 42-14.
End of season ranking (Michigan): No. 24 (8-5, 6-2 Big Ten). Lost to South Carolina in Outback Bowl, 33-28.
No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 4 LSU (Arlington, Texas) -- Sept. 3, 2011
The favorite: Oregon by 3.5
The outcome: LSU 40-27. This was billed as a top defense (LSU was No. 12 in total D the year before) vs. a top offense. But the game came apart for the Ducks when De'Anthony Thomas fumbled on consecutive drives deep in his own territory. LSU scored touchdowns on both possessions.
End of season ranking (LSU): No. 2 (13-1, 8-0 SEC). Won the SEC championship but lost to Alabama in the national championship, 21-0.
End of season ranking (Oregon): No. 4 (12-2, 8-1 Pac-12). Won the Pac-12 championship and beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, 45-38.
No. 3 Boise State vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech (Landover, Maryland) -- Sept. 3, 2010
The favorite: Boise State by 1.5
The outcome: Boise State 33-30. This one could’ve gone either way. With 1:47 left, Boise State QB Kellen Moore engineered a five-play, 56-yard touchdown drive to give the Broncos the advantage. Virginia Tech turned the ball over on downs on its next possession.
End of season ranking (Boise State): No. 9 (12-1, 7-1 WAC). Lone blemish was a 34-31 overtime loss to Nevada. Beat Utah in Maaco Bowl, 26-3.
End of season ranking (Virginia Tech): No. 16 (11-3, 8-0 ACC). Won ACC championship but lost to Stanford in Orange Bowl, 40-12.
No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 7 Virginia Tech (Atlanta) -- Sept. 5, 2009
The favorite: Alabama by 6.5
The outcome: Alabama 34-24. The Hokies led 17-16 after three quarters, but the fourth quarter was all Alabama. The Tide outscored Virginia Tech 18-7 in the final 15 minutes. A fumble on a kick return didn’t help matters for Tech.
End of season ranking (Alabama): No. 1 (14-0, 8-0 SEC). Won the SEC championship and beat Texas in the national championship, 37-21.
End of season ranking (Virginia Tech): No. 10 (10-3, 6-2 ACC). Beat Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, 37-14.
No. 3 USC at No. 8 Ohio State -- Sept. 12, 2009
The favorite: USC by 6.5
The outcome: USC 18-15. With 7:29 left in the game, Matt Barkley drove the Trojans downfield for a touchdown and two-point conversion. They ate up 6:10 on the drive, and Ohio State responded with a turnover on downs.
End of season ranking (USC): No. 22 (9-4, 5-4 Pac-10). Beat Boston College in the Emerald Bowl, 24-13.
End of season ranking (Ohio State): No. 5 (11-2, 7-1 Big Ten). Won the Big Ten and defeated Oregon in the Rose Bowl, 26-17.
No. 9 Virginia Tech at No. 2 LSU -- Sept. 8, 2007
The favorite: LSU by 11
The outcome: LSU 48-7. LSU racked up 598 yards of offense, and this was a snoozer from the beginning. LSU found itself up 14-0 just 10 minutes into the game, and the Hokies converted just two third downs the entire game.
End of season ranking (LSU): No. 1 (12-2, 6-2 SEC). Won SEC championship and beat Ohio State in national championship, 38-24.
End of season ranking (Virginia Tech): No. 9 (11-3, 7-1 ACC). Won ACC championship but lost to Kansas in Orange Bowl, 24-21.
No. 1 Ohio State at No. 2 Texas -- Sept. 9, 2006
The favorite: Texas by 3
The outcome: Ohio State 24-7. It was the first regular-season No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in a decade, and the Buckeyes never trailed in this game. Troy Smith threw for 269 yards and two TDs, while the defense held Texas to less than 20 points for the first time in 21 games.
End of season ranking (Ohio State): No. 2 (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten). Won the Big Ten championship but lost to Florida in the national championship, 41-14.
End of season ranking (Texas): No. 13 (10-3, 6-2 Big 12). Beat Iowa in Alamo Bowl, 26-24.
No. 2 Texas at No. 4 Ohio State -- Sept. 10, 2005
The favorite: Texas by 1.5
The outcome: Texas 25-22. With 2:37 left in the game, Longhorns QB Vince Young found Limas Sweed for the go-ahead 24-yard TD. It was a back-and-forth affair; Texas jumped out to a 10-0 lead but the Buckeyes led at halftime 16-13.
End of season ranking (Texas): No. 1 (13-0, 8-0 Big 12). Won the Big 12 championship and beat USC in the national championship, 41-38.
End of season ranking (Ohio State): No. 4 (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten). Won part of the Big Ten championship and beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, 34-20.
A couple of things to note this time around: this year, all five of our Big Ten reporters are voting weekly on the races, with players receiving five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place nod, etc. Also, we try hard to base these standings on 2014 season results only, not any preconceived notions or a player's previous track records. That's why you'll see some names here you likely did not expect after just one week of action.
In a couple of weeks, we'll start adding other categories, like freshman of the year, coach of the year, etc. But with such a small sample size to start, we'll begin with offensive and defensive players of the year (first-place votes in parentheses):
Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year
1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (3): The senior ran for 232 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries in the opener against Florida Atlantic. He could keep piling up the numbers this week vs. McNeese State.
2. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Though it came against an FCS opponent in Indiana State, Coleman put up the top rushing total in the Big Ten in Week 1 and second-best in the nation with 247 yards and two scores on 21 attempts. He and the Hoosiers are off this week.
3. Michigan State QB Connor Cook (2): He was very nearly perfect in the opener vs. Jacksonville State, going 12-of-13 for 285 yards and three touchdowns. Up next: Oregon.
4. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: The super soph broke a Penn State school record with 454 yards and lead the game-winning drive against UCF in Ireland. He gets Akron this Saturday.
5. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: He ran for 140 yards against LSU but only had 16 total carries -- including just two after his 63-yard run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. The Badgers said Monday he's dealing with a hip flexor strain.
Also receiving votes: Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess.
Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year
1. Iowa DT Louis Trinca-Pasat (1): A surprising name at the top, but remember, we're basing this heavily off 2014 results. Trinca-Pasat had 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and a pass break-up in a win over Northern Iowa. Let's see if he can keep it up.
2. Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun (2): Here's a more familiar name. Calhoun wasn't overly dominant against Jacksonville State but did have a sack he worked extra hard to get. And with Randy Gregory likely missing most of the first two games of the season, he's probably the favorite for this award right now.
3. Wisconsin S Michael Caputo (1): The Badgers safety was terrific in run support against LSU, finishing with 15 tackles. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said they credited Caputo with 20 stops after watching the film.
4. Indiana DE Bobby Richardson: Another unexpected name, Richardson leads the Big Ten in sacks after one week, thanks to his three-sack showing against Indiana State. He and the entire Hoosiers defense still have a lot to prove when the competition level increases soon.
5. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa: His blow-up of a Navy option attempt led to teammate Darron Lee's fumble return for the Buckeyes' first touchdown. Expect him to be in this mix all season.
Also receiving votes: Penn State DT Anthony Zettel (1); Michigan State S Kurtis Drummond; Rutgers S Johnathan Aiken; Ohio State LB Darron Lee; Purdue CB Frankie Williams; Penn State LB Mike Hull.
The Big Ten’s roster of games on Saturday includes of healthy dose of attractive matchups, featuring Michigan State at Oregon, Michigan at Notre Dame and Virginia Tech at Ohio State.
But wouldn’t you like to see Iowa-Northwestern? Bad example. How about Iowa-Minnesota?
You get the idea.
As the ACC, SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12 incorporate conference games into the early-season schedule -- just a tease for fans of the fun to come in October and November -- the Big Ten stands pat. In 2017, when the nine-game conference schedule takes hold, you’ll get Ohio State and Indiana on Labor Day weekend.
Others will follow, including Rutgers-Ohio State in Week 2 of 2018.
Until then, enjoy McNeese State-Nebraska. Really, that’s an unfair criticism. Every league’s composite schedules features dud games.
And as colleague Adam Rittenberg writes, plenty of excellent nonconference action is set to soon spice up the College Football Playoff era. The Big Ten is actively involved in this fantastic trend.
I can’t help but think, though, that the league is missing an opportunity right now.
A year after Florida State introduced the nation to Jameis Winston on Labor Day with an ACC visit to Pittsburgh, Texas A&M showcased freshman QB Kenny Hill last Thursday at South Carolina. And suddenly, Hill’s a Heisman candidate.
Auburn beat Arkansas last week. Louisville announced its presence in the ACC year in the league’s traditional first-Monday-of-September spot with a win over Miami. Stanford-USC, one of the Pac-12 marquee’s games, gets early-season placement on Saturday.
Kansas State visits Iowa State this week and Ole Miss plays at Vanderbilt.
Next week, the Big Ten’s got Penn State at Rutgers, an anomaly because it was scheduled before the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten. Still it counts for something alongside Louisville-Virginia, Arizona State-Colorado, Georgia-South Carolina and Florida-Kentucky.
What does Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz think about early league games?
“I really don’t have much reaction to that,” he said. “For us, it’s about playing whoever’s on our schedule, going out and playing to the best of our ability and improving each week. Typically, the good teams that we’ve had have been better in November than they were in September.”
Such logic, it seems, would also discourage the scheduling of elite nonconference foes. College football is headed in a different direction. Good teams are playing good teams in early September, even within their own leagues.
And in just three years, they’ll do it in the Big Ten, too.
Let’s go around the league . . .
- Rutgers defensive end Julian Pinnix-Odrick moves past a mistake in his long-awaited collegiate debut.
- Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner is rejuvenated, writes John Niyo.
- There’s more to Maryland’s receivers than Stefon Diggs and Deon Long.
- Important points to remember on Ohio State receiver Devin Smith.
- David Jones ponders this question: Is Christian Hackenberg already the best quarterback in Penn State history?
- Statistically speaking, Indiana is a complete team after its season-opening victory over Indiana State.
- Four key offensive players hurt in Michigan State’s opener are expected to be ready on Saturday for Oregon.
- Gary Andersen made a mess of the situation at Wisconsin with quarterback Joel Stave.
- It’s time to take notice of Minnesota defensive lineman Cameron Botticelli, writes Tom Powers.
- Freshman kicker Drew Brown reminds a lot of people in Nebraska of his brother, former Husker kicker Kris Brown.
- Purdue linebacker Sean Robinson fights through a knee infection.
- Defining Iowa’s offense is no easy thing.
- Someone is not a fan of Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.
- Illinois finds itself on the wrong end of these lists.
And finally, James Franklin can’t make a wrong move these days. Remember the volcano in Iceland that threatened the Nittany Lions’ transatlantic travel to face Central Florida in Ireland? Within hours after Penn State returned home with a win in Franklin’s debut, it erupted.
And we have some immediate changes from our preseason projections. Nebraska and Michigan move up, while Iowa moves down. (The Wolverines not only looked pretty good in Week 1, but they're a very popular team for bowls). Northwestern, fresh off a home loss to Cal, is out. Rutgers, which won at Washington State, is in.
Michigan State remains a College Football Playoff pick for us, but this weekend's game at Oregon is obviously crucial to that.
It's ridiculously early, so don't overreact. But here are our latest Big Ten bowl picks:
College Football Playoff semifinal: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton: Ohio State
Capital One: Nebraska
National University Holiday Bowl: Wisconsin
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Iowa
San Francisco: Minnesota
New Era Pinstripe: Maryland
Quick Lane: Indiana
Heart of Dallas: Rutgers
Now Ohio State just has to go back to basics and remember what it’s like to play against a balanced offensive attack again.
The Buckeyes had spent plenty of extra time in training camp gearing up for Navy and its triple-option ahead of the opener last weekend, and even if they didn’t execute their defensive plan for success perfectly, they were certainly stout enough to escape a difficult matchup with a win. But after spending so much energy last month preparing for that run-heavy style, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has to slightly change the way his team practices this week to help it acclimate back to a more traditional approach with Virginia Tech visiting the Horseshoe on Saturday night.
“We actually started in earnest yesterday on the field. Usually we don’t do much on Sunday, but we did and we’ll see if we have improved our pass defense.”
The Midshipmen hardly provided any chances to gauge that reconfigured unit in the secondary last weekend, relentlessly hammering away with its ground game as it piled up 370 yards on 63 carries while only attempting four passes.
Statistically, the Buckeyes have obviously had far better performances defending the rush. But Navy’s execution, the speed at which it operates a complicated system to defend and the talent it has in the backfield, all made for a tricky matchup for the Buckeyes, largely because their personnel is much better suited for opponents who will actually let them rush the passer more than every once in a while.
Defensive end Joey Bosa rarely had a chance to pin his ears back and flash his athleticism around the edge. Evaluating tackle Michael Bennett’s play in the opener was a challenge because he was constantly battling double-teams and trying to avoid blockers coming low to cut him down. Even while chipping in six tackles and a sack, Adolphus Washington’s impressive season debut didn’t necessarily provide a great glimpse of his role in Ohio State’s new-look defense this season -- though Virginia Tech should certainly help reveal some answers about the entire unit.
“It feels good to get that behind us,” defensive line coach Larry Johnson said. “Play Navy, get it behind us and now go fast forward with a team that runs some things we can adjust to and play a little faster.
“As we got closer in the last week or two we spent more time getting ready for Navy, but we had done some things early on to get ready moving forward. Plus, our offense gave us a good challenge running some zone stuff, so we were not totally away from it. But now it’s going back and relearning everything we taught early in the season.”
That process got underway a bit earlier than normal for the Buckeyes this week. But odds are, there weren’t any complaints as Ohio State turned the page from Navy and started planning for a different sort of defensive success against the Hokies.
“I think we’re ranked pretty high in pass defense,” Meyer joked. “ ... But I just think of our defensive line. Joey Bosa didn’t come to Ohio State to squeeze down blocks and keep people off his ankles, that’s what he had to do last week. He came to rush the quarterback and penetrate.
“There’s some big smiles across our defense now to let them go play.”
"Win or lose, you know, we still have a lot of football games ahead of us, and we have to understand that that's every bit as important as this one single game," Dantonio said.
He's right. As tempting as it can be to draw conclusions about teams and leagues after Week 1, it's also irresponsible. Seasons have plot twists. What we think is true on Sept. 1 rarely proves true on Jan. 1.
But there's an undeniable angst around the Big Ten entering Week 2. It might have been there even if Wisconsin had held onto a 17-point lead against LSU. But after the Badgers' collapse, which knocks them out of the playoff picture for now, the stakes are even higher.
I still think a narrow Michigan State loss to Oregon keeps the Spartans alive for a playoff spot. But a convincing defeat -- and, in the minds of some, any defeat -- will hurt the Big Ten's chances of having a representative.
League commissioner Jim Delany, in an interview with SI.com, called the MSU-Oregon game "disproportionally important" in terms of playoff perception. That phrase -- disproportionally important -- underscores the unfairness and the reality of Week 2 games like Spartans-Ducks.
It's not really fair to punish Michigan State for a loss -- Oregon is 34-2 at Autzen Stadium since the start of the 2009 season. But the bashing will come, perhaps more for the Big Ten than MSU, if the Spartans fall short.
There's also pressure for both Ohio State and Michigan in Week 2. The Buckeyes should win against a Virginia Tech team that isn't what it used to be, but Bud Foster's defense can be tricky, and Ohio State needs its revamped offensive line to improve after struggling for the first three quarters against Navy.
"Our offensive line did not play like an Ohio State offensive line," coach Urban Meyer said Monday. "The second half we played pretty good. But pretty good is not what we expect. You play pretty good this week you won't win that game."
Speaking of offensive lines, we'll have a better idea about Michigan's after Week 2. The embattled group looked better in the opener (350 rush yards), but Notre Dame, despite some personnel issues on defense, provides a better test.
Although beating Notre Dame hasn't been much of a springboard for Michigan in recent years, a road win would be huge for Brady Hoke's crew. A loss suggests there's still much to fix.
"The talent level [at Notre Dame] is very similar," Hoke said "That, as much as anything else, gives you a little bit of an idea about where we stand."
MSU, OSU and Michigan aren't the only Big Ten teams entering pressure-packed games. Northwestern can't afford to drop to 0-2 -- and lose its sixth straight home game -- against Northern Illinois. Purdue and Iowa face potentially tricky MAC foes in Central Michigan and Ball State. Wisconsin needs to get quarterback Tanner McEvoy going.
Patience is a nice idea, but it runs in short supply in college football. Don't kid yourselves: This is a huge week in the Big Ten.
Post-Labor Day linkage:
- Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon says he had a misunderstanding with the coaches about his injured hip. The Badgers will regain two starting defensive linemen at some point this season.
- Nebraska DE Randy Gregory (knee) likely will remain out this week, giving Jack Gangwish another opportunity.
- Purdue will be without linebacker Jimmy Herman (thumb) for two weeks.
- Northwestern must already be in must-win territory against Northern Illinois.
- Plenty of good Iowa nuggets after the opener from Marc Morehouse.
- Illinois coach Tim Beckman looks for a faster start on offense in Week 2.
- Minnesota TE Drew Goodger brings toughness to the offense.
- Doug Lesmerises weighs whether Virginia Tech will provide a true gauge for Ohio State. Meyer challenges the Buckeyes' offensive line to improve.
- Devin Gardner thinks another Devin [Funchess] could be the best wide receiver to ever play at Michigan.
- The injury bug keeps biting Maryland, which loses WR Taivon Jacobs (knee) for the season.
- Dantonio wants more production from Michigan State's run attack.
- After a somewhat surprising opening win, Rutgers could end up starting 5-0, Steve Politi writes.
- Akron coach Terry Bowden has plenty of praise for Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg.
Michigan State hopes to go all NES on its opponent Saturday ...
Drive Through: Virginia Tech Fallout
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET Iowa Pittsburgh 12:00 PM ET Eastern Michigan 11 Michigan State 12:00 PM ET Western Illinois Northwestern 12:00 PM ET Southern Illinois Purdue 12:00 PM ET Bowling Green 19 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET Maryland Syracuse 3:30 PM ET Utah Michigan 3:30 PM ET Rutgers Navy 4:00 PM ET Massachusetts Penn State 4:00 PM ET San Jose State Minnesota 4:00 PM ET Texas State Illinois 4:00 PM ET Indiana 18 Missouri 8:00 PM ET Miami (FL) 24 Nebraska