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Big Ten Digest: After A Great Opener, The Conference Plays Host To The No. 1 Team In The Country

The weekly series continues with a look at week two action in the Big Ten...

Welcome back Big Ten fans! The opening week of college football has concluded, and what a week it was for the Big Ten. The conference dropped a huge bit of news with the division alignment announcement, and then went 9-2 in its opening slate of games. Though some of the games were close affairs, the top of the conference looks to be just as strong as we thought they were going in, and there are certainly some dark horse teams in the mix.

News Update:

The biggest news out of college football as a whole this past week was the announcement of divisions for the Big Ten. When Nebraska joins the conference for the 2011 season, the schools will be organized into two as of yet unnamed divisions. The first division will contain Michigan, Nebraska, Michigan State, Iowa, Northwestern, and Minnesota. The second division has the remaining schools: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue. In addition to playing each team from its own division during the season, all the schools have one "protected rival" game and will rotate in two other non-divisional conference opponents. The conference will not use divisions for basketball, which will remain on an 18 game in conference schedule.

Players of the Week: The Big Ten has named Denard Robinson (QB - Michigan) as player of the week on offense for his record setting game with 383 total yards of offense (197 rushing). Tyler Moeller (S - Ohio State) is the player of the week on the defensive side of the ball. He had seven tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble.


Week One Recap:

The conference opened play with a series of three non-conference games on Thursday evening, while the rest of the teams played on Saturday.

Big 10 Conference Standings

(updated 9.5.2010 at 3:13 AM CDT)

Towson at Indiana (Indiana, 51-17)

Indiana came out of the gate strong, despite converting only two out of ten third downs. The Hoosiers put up 392 total yards of offense and forced three turnovers, including one which returned for a touchdown. As great as the victory was, Towson is an FCS school. Still, it's possible that the Hoosiers quick offense out of the pistol will make them a surprise in the conference this season.

Marshall at No. 2 Ohio State (Ohio State, 45-7)

So much for not beating up on a weaker opponent. The Buckeyes tried to show the world they deserved at least their No. 2 ranking by running up the score on the Thundering Herd. Ohio State had recorded two TDs before Marshall even got on the board - and that score was only due to a complete breakdown on special teams by Ohio State, as Marshall blocked a field goal and then returned it for six. Despite that initial bump, Ohio State looks to be dominant in the conference again this year.

Minnesota at Middle Tennessee (Minnesota, 24-17)

Well, the Gophers survived. That's about the best that can be said from this game. Though they won by a touchdown, the Gophers looked like they were battling uphill all night, and they even went into the 4th quarter trailing by three. Just about the only good news out of this game was the surprising emergence of a running game. Duane Bennett ran for 187 yards, and goal line battering ram Jon Hoese was responsible for the Gophers' three TDs. Whether Bennett will be able to keep this up against the defenses of the Big Ten remains to be seen, but, Gopher fans should be encouraged that they can still score even when Adam Weber appears to be taking the night off.

Western Michigan at Michigan State (MSU, 38-14)

It seems that Sparty also has a running game this season. True freshman Le'Veon Bell had an excellent debut, becoming the first Spartan freshman in Michigan State history to rush for 100 yards or more in his opening game. Though MSU looked sluggish, they picked it up during the second and third quarters, tallying four unanswered touchdowns. Sparty likely won't be in the mix for the title this year, but certainly looks to be on the road to a decent bowl game.

Youngstown State at No. 18 Penn State (PSU, 44-14)

So much for breaking in a new QB. Penn State trampled all over FCS team Youngstown State in their opener, and true freshman quarterback Rob Bolden threw for 239 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT. While the debut of Bolden should be encouraging to Nittany Lions fans, the disappearance of star RB Evan Royster most certainly is not. Royster had only 40 yards on 11 carries. It's not time to panic yet, but PSU fans might want to be a little bit concerned.

Eastern Illinois at No. 9 Iowa (Iowa, 37-7)

As predicted last week, Iowa and Ricky Stanzi had no trouble with the Panthers of Eastern Illinois. Stanzi did give Hawkeyes fans a scare when it appeared for a second that he had injured himself  in the second quarter. The injury wasn't serious, though, and he finished with 229 yards and a TD. Adam Robinson added 109 more rushing yards and three TDs of his own, and looks to have fully claimed the feature back role.

Illinois vs. Mizzou (Mizzou, 23-13)

Well, they only lost by 10. That's the only good news that Illini can take out of Saturday's tilt against the Tigers. The bad news? Just about everything else, including the fact that Illinois was up by 10 on the Tigers at the end of the first half, before completely folding. Illini fans should get used to this losing thing, because it's going to happen a lot more this season.

Purdue at Notre Dame (ND, 23-12)

That was disappointing. Purdue was supposed to be a dark horse candidate in the Big Ten, and many thought they had a legitimate shot at taking down the Irish in week one. The Boilermakers looked like anything but an upset candidate on Saturday though. New QB Robert Marve threw for 220 yards, but had no touchdowns and tossed two INTs. Purdue will still likely make it to a bowl game this year barring injuries, but don't expect much more than a middle tier game out of them.

UConn at Michigan (Michigan, 30-10)

It seems like Blue is back. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson showed what Rich Rod's spread system can do when used with the right personnel. Robinson had 186 yards passing and even more rushing, with two TDs. The good news for Wolverines fans is that the Michigan offense is going to be putting up a lot of points in not a whole lot of time against most opponents. The bad news? The defense isn't nearly as strong, as they gave up almost 400 yards to Connecticut. Michigan fans just have to hope their offense can score faster than their defense can give it up.

Northwestern at Vanderbilt (NU, 23-21)

Northwestern squeaked a victory out again in class Cardiac Cats fashion. Despite shaky play by the O-Line and the secondary, the Wildcats managed to leave SEC territory with a win. New quarterback Dan Persa looked great, going 19-for-21 with 220 yards and 3 TDs. He also rushed for 80. It looks like Mike Kafka won't be too missed in Evanston this season. Still, the ‘Cats near loss to Vanderbilt does suggest a rocky season ahead for Northwestern fans.

No. 11 Wisconsin at UNLV (Wisconsin, 41-21)

Is it too early to start the Heisman campaign? Though Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien was far from sharp in the season opener (197 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT) the RB duo of John Clay and Montee Ball picked up the slack, accounting for 200+ yards and 4 TDs between them. The Badgers went into the half with only a three point lead, but it wasn't close after that as they put 24 unanswered points on the board in the third quarter before the Rebels managed an answer early in the 4th. The Badgers will definitely be challenging Ohio State for the Big Ten crown this year.

BONUS: Western Kentucky at No. 6 Nebraska (Nebraska, 49-10)

New quarterback? What new quarterback? Though the Huskers tapped a redshirt freshman to start for the first time in Nebraska history, Taylor Martinez looked anything but as he ran for 127 yards, 3 TDs, and passed for another 136. Yes, it was only Western Kentucky, but given Texas' sluggish performance against Rice, the Big 12 looks like it might come down to Nebraska and Okie State this year.


Week Two:

Non-conference play continues in Week Two with two major games as Michigan takes on Notre Dame and Penn State travels south to face last year's champion Alabama.

Illinois State at Northwestern (11:00AM, Big Ten Network)

Northwestern returns home to Evanston to take on the Illinois State Redbirds of the MVC. Illinois State is 1-0 on the season after just edging Central Missouri State 55-54 in their opener. Though that score is a bit frightening, the Wildcats shouldn't have anything to worry about with the FCS team, and ‘Cats fans should expect a big day out of Dan Persa, as the Redbirds gave up 547 passing yards to Central Missouri last week.

South Dakota at Minnesota (11:00AM, Big Ten Network)

Now this is the type of team you're supposed to open your non-con schedule with. South Dakota comes to TCF Bank stadium 0-1 after being blown out by Central Florida 38-7. Though the Gophers looked iffy at times during their game against MTSU last week, a loss to South Dakota would be truly surprising. Gopher fans should savor these early victories, because it gets a lot harder for Goldie from here on out when USC comes to town next week.

San Jose State at No. 11 Wisconsin (11:00AM, ESPN)

Camp Randall opens up for the 2010 season as the Badgers play host to the San Jose State Spartans of the WAC. SJ State is 0-1 after opening their season against Alabama last week. Badger fans should expect an easy victory and big numbers out of John Clay, but it remains to be seen whether quarterback Scott Tolzien can return to his normal form.

Michigan State at Florida Atlantic (11:00AM, ESPNU)

The Spartans travel to Boca Raton to take on the Owls of Florida Atlantic University out of the Sun Belt. The Owls are 1-0 after edging UAB 32-31 to start their season. They shouldn't pose too much trouble for Sparty this week, as they were 5-7 last year and missed out on a bowl game. The Owls gave up 345 rushing yards to UAB last week, so look for another great game out of freshman RB Le'Veon Bell.

Western Illinois at Purdue (11:00AM, Big Ten Network)

The Boilermakers return home and try to bounce back against the Leathernecks of Western Illinois, who are 1-0 after rolling over Valpo last week 45-0. Still, the Boilermakers should be able to claim their first victory on the season, as WIU is no Notre Dame. Robert Marve will also find the end zone, probably more than once this Saturday.

Michigan at Notre Dame (2:30PM, NBC)

Speaking of the Irish, the Wolverines travel to South Bend this week for their annual game against Notre Dame. Though this looked like a painful game for the Big Ten at the start of the season, after last week's performance by Denard Robinson, we might actually have some exciting football. Will Blue find themselves 2-0 after the weekend? Hard to say, as Dayne Christ and Brian Kelly look to be a decent combo for the Irish. But, one thing is certain, Michigan will give Notre Dame a much closer game than Purdue did last week.

Iowa State at No. 9 Iowa (3:30PM, ABC)

The Hawkeyes host their annual "rival" Iowa State out of the Big 12 at 2:30 on Saturday. Though the Cyclones are 1-0 after a victory over the NIU Huskies in week one, the Hawkeyes will waltz to an easy victory as long as Ricky Stanzi remains healthy. The score will be closer than last week's game against EIU, but Iowa fans will be looking at a nice 2-0 record after this week.

No. 12 Miami at No. 2 Ohio State (2:40PM, ESPN)

OSU's first real challenge of the season comes to town in the form of the No. 13 Miami Hurricanes who are 1-0 after a 45-0 victory over Florida A&M in week one. While I say that the Hurricanes are a "challenge" (certainly more so than Marshall), I don't actually expect the Buckeyes to come anywhere close to losing this game. Wisconsin showed last year what a "slow" Big Ten team can do to Miami, and Terrelle Pryor looks to finally be coming into his own in Columbus. I don't think OSU will be able to keep Jacory Harris from finding the end zone at least twice, but I would be shocked if Miami manages to take down the Buckeyes this weekend.

No. 18 Penn State at No. 1 Alabama (6:00PM, ESPN)

This is the game that could determine whether the Nittany Lions will make a serious run at the Big Ten crown this year, or be relegated to second tier status. Is that unfair, since Alabama is a non-conference opponent? Maybe. But all of Ohio State, Iowa, and Wisconsin have a real shot to be 4-0 after their non-conference play. The victorious team in the Big Ten this year will likely be undefeated, so even these non-conference games matter. If Penn State drops this one to Alabama, as seems likely? Well, then the Lions will have to run the table, and make sure that they turn Ohio State, Iowa, and Wisconsin into one loss teams too to have a shot at the Rose Bowl. Then again, Alabama is likely still without star RB Mark Ingram this weekend as he continues his recovery from knee surgery. Stranger things have happened, and if PSU does manage to take down the Crimson Tide, it will turn the college football world upside down.

Southern Illinois at Illinois (6:30PM)

Another week, another forgettable game for the Illini. Since the Illini's conference schedule is rather terrifying, Illinois fans should hope that they can claim a victory this weekend against the Salukis, because if they don't, they might be looking at a winless 2010 campaign.

BONUS: Idaho at No. 6 Nebraska (11:30AM)

The Huskers play host to the Idaho Vandals of the WAC in week two. The Vandals were the victors over Bowling Green last year in one of the most exciting bowl games of the season. While they'll give the Huskers a bit more trouble than Western Kentucky did, I have faith that Taylor Martinez and Nebraska will continue their march to a title in their final year in the Big 12.


Hilary's Picks:

Most likely rout: San Jose State at Wisconsin. The Spartans seem to be the designated non-con whipping boy for some of the FBS' top teams. Last week they gave up 48 points to the Crimson Tide. This week? Who knows, but it won't be pretty.

Most likely upset: Michigan over Notre Dame. Is it really an upset if neither team was expected to be good this season? I don't know, but what I do know is that no one should be surprised if Blue walks out of South Bend with a W.

Best game to watch: Week two offers a great back-to-back set. Start your afternoon with Michigan at Notre Dame, and then move on to Penn State at Alabama in the evening. Realistically, the conference will end up 1-1 after these two, but a 2-0 record and toppling of the No. 1 team in the country is within reach.

Big Ten player of the week: Terrelle Pryor (QB, Ohio State). Pryor should respond well to the challenge of the Buckeyes first real opponent, and will make the Jacory Harris-led Canes look silly.