There's no NFL today. For most of you, that might be an unwanted withdrawal when a second toke was the expectation resulting from years of habit. Fortunately, I don't watch the NFL. Years of Cleveland fandom will do that to a man. That fact leaves me free to compassionately nurse you all through the comedowns from the saturday highs of college football. Such duties are not to be taken lightly, and I shall not fail you as your humble shepherd. With that, let's get on with the nasty business of parsing the B1G's performance in week one. Remember, the first hit is always free.
What We Learned:
Week one is generally known for bad opponents who offer glorified scrimmages to the power 5 conferences. Usually those scrimmages don't teach us much. In some cases, though, a bad opponent can be a revelatory experience. There was plenty of that to go around this year. Fortunately, we had some good match-ups, too.
Eastern Illinois at Minnesota. Minnesota's offense is rough on the edges. Really rough. Two catches in the first half rough. To quote the great Andrew Kraszewski (formerly Green Akers), "that's Andrew Maxwell levels of bad." Things obviously started clicking a bit in the second half, but that performance had to make even the most faithful Gopher fans wonder if The U ( in Twin Cities parlance) didn't lose a few of Jerry Kills famous bricks in the offseason. Things started mostly firing on all cylinders in the second half, with the occasional miss. The Gophers aren't a sputtering lawnmower, but they're no race car either. Obviously QB Mitch Leidner did essentially nothing to quell concerns about his ability to throw the ball. It's great to have a QB who is a running threat. It's better to have one who is a passing threat. This could quickly become on ongoing problem for the Gophers in 2014.
Rutgers at Wazoo. Huh. Not gonna lie, folks. This one caught me off guard. Specifically, I was surprised by the pick-and-poke effectiveness of Rutgers' backs and the speed of their linebacking corps. Paul James is an impressively nimble and patient runner, as his 176 yard effort attests. The secondary was less impressive, but bear in mind that Wazoo lives by the mantra of passing an opponent into submission. The Cougars tied Rutgers with 22 first downs, but Wazoo threw for 18 of those. It'll be interesting to see how Rutgers fares going forward, but I'm cautiously optimistic. They didn't fold in the face of a Power 5 opponent, so the B1G hasn't rubbed off on them too much yet.
Jacksonville State at Michigan State. Sorry, Sparty Party, but that game showed us very little. The team looked exactly as good as we'd expect against an FCS opponent with a first-year coach and precious little talent. Sure, some try to trump up JSU because they have a roster that features a bevy of SEC rejects, but they were never going to be a test for MSU. I can cover my roof in tiles that fell off the space shuttle, but that won't make my house a rocket ship. The offense looked crisp, though not very fast. If nothing else, this was a cautionary tale about the fragility of man. I'm fairly certain the oxygen levels in East Lansing shot up for moment as the city held its breath over the hit to Connor Cook's knee. I obviously expect to see the team's real colors next week. Let's hope things come up green and white and not....whatever the f*** colors Oregon chooses to be.
PSU at UCF. (Croke Park Classic). First, we learned that the Irish do not care about American tackle football, much less at the collegiate level. Secondly, we learned that PSU can get in its own way for an entire half and still fight their way back to a much-needed win. Thank goodness Ficken is as automatic and predictable as a clay pigeon launcher. Hopefully Franklin's staff learned a lesson about abandoning your QB's arm in the red zone when he's been unstoppable in the preceding 90 yards (hint: don't do it). Hackenberg's 450+ yards passing were a bright spot. The defense was concerning, though. Once UCF coach George O'Leary (could you find a better guy for this game?) sat QB Pete DiNovo in favor of Holman, the UCF offense started lighting up the scoreboard. Secondary issues abound for the Nittany Lions. Oh, and bonus points for whoever teaches PSU how to manage a clock. Maybe Bert can send a chart?
Ohio State at Navy. As an alumnus of West Point, I am legally permitted to despise the Naval Academy with every fiber of my being, and I do so with great vigor and glee. But damn, Keenan Reynolds is good. And damn, J.T. Barrett is not so good. And double damn, the offensive line is downright atrocious. I don't even know where to begin about the Buckeyes. I should note, for the sake of accuracy, that a well-run triple option tends to flummox everyone for about 2 quarters. Even Army had Stanford on the ropes for much of the game last year. No one runs the triple option like Navy and Reynolds, but by the second half the smaller players tend to wear down. That's what saved the Buckeyes. Bosa, Bennett, Washington, and Josh Perry started playing good assignment football and breaking up the option before it developed. A defensive TD sparked things for the offense, which looked passably competent toward the end. If you're an OSU fan, don't jump off a bridge just yet. But definitely have a bridge picked out, should things unravel quickly. Next week will be ugly.
Western Michigan at Purdue. Directional Michigan schools are the traditional meat of the B1G non-con buffet. Too bad Purdue needed 17 points on turnovers and special teams to beat one. The losing streak is over. Western Michigan's Jarvion Franklin ran for 163 yards and 3 TDs. Purdue is still awful.
Indiana State at Indiana. I didn't even know there was an Indiana State. Learn something new every day. Here's one team named after a tree that Indiana can beat! ISU is the cakiest of cupcakes (1-11 last year). So again, we learned essentially nothing beyond the fact that the Hoosiers' Tevin Coleman can run for about 250 yards against a high school team. Yawn. BGSU will shine more light on the situation in Bloomington next week.
Northern Iowa at Iowa. Fire Kirk Ferentz. End of lesson.
Appalachian State at Michigan. All your hopes for Schädenfreude redux were dashed, B1G fans. This wasn't the App State that ruined lives in Ann Arbor seven years ago and sent Michigan on a death spiral to the dustbin of national obscurity. I'll never forget the feeling of being overseas and returning from a mission to hear that Michigan had lost to Appalachian State. Christmas in summer. Feelings aside, this game didn't teach us much. Appalachian State is fairly moribund these days. They didn't look competent on either side of the ball, and one has to wonder how they're adjusting to competing in the FBS. Or, you know, why they're competing in the FBS. Shane Morris still looked awful. Those who called his name all last season owe Devin Gardner a snickers. Okay, half a Snickers. He's still pretty suspect.
Youngstown State at Illinois. Illinois still can't have nice things. The fighting Penguins from the House the Tressell Built out-gained the Illini and secured more first downs. How they managed not to upset Tim Beckman's apple cart is beyond me. Wes Lunt is no Scheelhaase, and Beckman couldn't win with Scheelhaase. End the madness, Illini.
Cal at Northwestern. Unbelievable collapse in Evanston. The Bear Raid offense--so often the butt of jokes--is a very sobering thing if you're cloaked in purple and standing dumbfoundedly in the stands. Pat Fitzgerald looks more and more like a position coach with a head coach's clipboard. Trevor Siemian and the Wildcat offense looked like a shiftless gang of union workers, only performing when they feared reprisal. Next year, they'll negotiate a 15-minute smoke break each half and per-yard incentive structure. Welcome to the new football.
FAU at Nebraska and JMU at Maryland. Not even worth discussing. Scrimmages with band involvement and one good circus catch. See me next week, fellas. (Edit for Salt Creek and Stadium: Nebraska literally looked as good as one can look against competition that barely seemed aware of a game going on around them. Almost 800 yards of offense. Think about that. That's sort of unreal, especially since 500 yards of it came on the ground. Abdullah the Butcher will haunt Floridian dreams. FAU probably fears Lincoln so badly now that they won't use $5 bills until next season.)
Wisconsin at LSU. Hilary said it all over here, but allow me to reiterate one point. Maybe it's my professional background speaking, but I am still in shock that as the leader of the team--the man responsible for all his platoons achieve or fail to achieve on the battlefield--Gary Andersen would say he didn't know why Melvin Gordon only got two carries in the second half. Attention, Barry Alvarez: I'll stand on the sidelines and be out of touch with what's happening on the field for a tenth of what you're paying that Utah State guy. Come on, Barry...be a good steward of taxpayer dollars...
In conclusion, the B1G ended the week far more up than down (12-2), but 10 of those wins were against the scut workers of the football world. The B1G had two chances to register signature wins against the Power 5--really only one if you consider the mediocrity of Wazoo. Wisconsin dropped the ball in impressive fashion, and the narrative of B1g ineptitude is off to a strong start in 2014. I never thought I'd say it, but the best win of the week didn't even happen on this continent.
The B1G seems, to coin a rather personal and apropos analogy, to be the Iraqi government. The league limps along, generally beset by malaise, ineptitude, or a some mixture thereof. The leadership is clueless at best, or downright crooked and self-interested. There are bright spots, but overall the league can't hold a candle to its neighbors. This first week eased us back into reality from our summer slumber. Wisconsin's loss feels less like an soul-rending blow and more like the ice bucket challenge. It's a shocking sensation for a moment, but so familiar at the same time.
As much as we all laughed about Maryland and Rutgers in the off-season, they looked more competent than several members of the B1G Old Guard. I'd bet good money on Rutgers over half of the B1G West at this point. Good show, Jersey.
Everyone take a deep breath, catch a whiff of rubber cement to take the edge off, and enjoy your Labor Day. Next week, things get real.