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Athlon recaps the Week 1 action in the Big Ten.
The Big Ten had a few marquee showdowns in Week 1 and a whole schedule of mid-major opponents and FCS snoozers. However, this weekend was anything but boring for the Big Ten.
Penn State's first time back on the field since Joe Paterno's passing was emotional but ended in a crushing defeat at the hands of Ohio. Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota all survived brutal tests against inferior competition. Indiana and Illinois struggled at times but won their openers. Northwestern turned to its back-up quarterback to stave off a furious fourth-quarter rally from Syracuse that was nearly one of the worst collapses in Wildcats' history.
And the quarterbacks from the state of Michigan struggled in the two biggest games of the weekend.
Post-Week 1 Offensive Player of the Year Standings
Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State - Bell literally carried the Spartans to the biggest victory of the weekend for the Big Ten. On a night that saw Andrew Maxwell throw three interceptions in his first start for Kirk Cousins, Bell set personal bests in basically every important offensive statistic. Bell had never carried the ball more than 20 times and entered the opener against Boise Sttae with four career 100-yard rushing efforts. Friday night, he carried 44 times for a career-high 210 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His six receptions and 56 yards in the passing game were also career bests.
Braxton Miller, Ohio State - Urban Mayer hasn't hid his affections for the sophomore signal caller and in Week 1 Miller showed the country why the new Buckeyes coach has been so excited. Miller topped the 200-yard mark for only the second time in his career by completing 14 of his 24 attempts for 207 yards, two scores and no interceptions. Where he really shined, however, was on the ground, rushing for a career-high 161 yards on 17 carries and a third trip to daydirt.
Taylor Martinez, Nebraska - The Huskers' ability to be balanced on offense could be the difference between another four-loss season or a potential run at a Big Ten title. Yes, it was against a rebuilt Southern Miss team, but Martinez was T-Magic. He completed 76.5 percent of his passes for a personal best 354 yards and five touchdowns. More importantly, he didn't have to rely on his legs, carrying only six times for 10 yards.
Post-Week 1 Defensive Player of the Year Standings
Will Compton, Nebraska - The Huskers held Southern Miss to 260 yards of offense and only three second-half points behind the play of the talented linebacker. He tallied 12 total tackles, a tackle for loss and one sack in the victory.
Ashante Williams, Illinois - Without their starting quarterback, the Illini needed a big defensive spark and the senior linebacker gave it to them in the form of a fourth-quarter 60-yard interception return touchdown. The score put the game out of reach. Williams finished with nine tackles on the night.
Larry Black, Jr., Indiana - The Hooisers needed their defense in the second half to get the win over Indiana State and Black was a huge part of it. He posted four tackles, two sacks and two tackles for a loss in the tightly-played 24-17 win over the Sycamores.
Post-Week 1 Coach of the Year Standings
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State - The Spartans headman might be the best coach in the league and his team posted the best win of the weekend in the 17-13 victory over Boise State. Without Cousins to stablize the offense, he turned to his power tailback and veteran offensive line. They delivered 461 yards of offense while the defense did their job, holding the Broncos to a paltry 206 total yards.
Bo Pelini, Nebraska - Four straight seasons with four losses has Nebraska nation on edge heading into 2012. Against the reigning C-USA champion Southern Miss Golden Eagles, the Huskers could have struggled. Instead, Martinez was brilliant and the defense played well enough. BIg Red outgained USM 632 yards to 260.
Urban Meyer, Ohio State - The prodigal son returned to the state of Ohio in style. He has the best team in the league and they looked like it on Saturday. His offense started slowly, but the Buckeyes offensive line and receivers eventually began to gel.
Post-Week 1 Power Rankings
1. Ohio State (1-0)
Preseason rank: 1
Week 1 result: Beat Miami (Ohio) 56-10
The Urban Meyer era at Ohio State got off to a slow start as the Redhawks took a 3-0 lead into the second quarter. But Miller and the offense began to click, scoring 35 unanswered points in the eventual rout. Miller set an Ohio State rushing record for a quarterback with 161 yards and Meyer ran his record to 4-0 in coaching debuts. The 56 points was the second-highest total for an Ohio State coaching debut as well. The offensive line paved the way to 294 yards rushing on 53 carries and Corey "Philly" Brown caught seven passes for 87 yards and a touchdown — giving the Bucks some optimism surrounding two areas of concern. If this offense can gel quickly and begin to compete on the same level as the defense, the rest of the Big Ten could be in big trouble.
This week: UCF (1-0)
2. Nebraska (1-0)
Preseason rank: 3
Week 1 result: Beat Southern Miss 49-20
Few teams improved their national perception in Week 1 like the Huskers did. Beating the defending Conference USA champs 49-20 isn't all that alarming, but it was how the Big Red did it — combined with the struggles of fellow Big Ten contenders — that has fans excited about football in Lincoln. That is, if the Huskers can stay healthy. Taylor Martinez was excellent as the highest rated passer in the Big Ten after one week of action and the defense was strong enough to stymie a team known for its offensive prowess. But if Nebraska wants to go on the road and beat a talented UCLA team this weekend it will need its full complement of offensive weapons. Rex Burkhead had an MRI on Sunday and Bo Pelini confirmed their initial concerns that the star tailback had suffered a sprained MCL. He is questionable for the trip to Pasadena and it looks like sophomore Ameer Abdullah would get first crack at the starting job after carrying 15 times for 81 yards on Saturday. Additionally, senior wideout Tim Marlowe is out for at least six weeks after breaking his clavicle and tight end Ben Cotton is dealing with his own rib issues.
This week: at UCLA (1-0)
3. Michigan (0-1)
Preseason rank: 2
Week 1 result: Lost to Alabama 41-14
Settle down Michigan fans. The sky isn't falling and the season isn't over. Yes, Alabama was the far superior team and now the Wolverines will play the rest of the season without starting cornerback Blake Countess. But the Big Ten championship is still very much in front of them and star tackle Taylor Lewan appears set to play this weekend after leaving the game Saturday night with a right leg issue. Michigan will be very good this season, but this weekend's outcome should not have come as a surprise. The defending national champs are simply operating on a level the Maize and Blue has yet to reach. The good news is Michigan won't face a better team all season long, no matter where it ends up at the end of year. The front line for Michigan's defense will get another test this weekend after allowing 232 yards on the ground to 'Bama but Brady Hoke should be able to exact some revenge. And he gets Fitzgerald Toussaint back this week.
This week: Air Force (1-0)
4. Michigan State (1-0)
Preseason rank: 5
Week 1 result: Beat Boise State 17-13
Bell was the star of the show Friday night when the Spartans outlasted the upstart Broncos. He carried an offense that clearly missed Kirk Cousins and his deep receiving corps of last fall as Michigan State overcame four turnovers to hold on for the win. Bell touched the ball 50 times and scored the game-winner with just more than eight minutes left in the game. The Spartans nasty defense did the rest as Boise got only one possession for the rest of the game. Mark Dantonio will have to get better play from quarterback Andrew Maxwell, but he knows he can lean on a defense that didn't allow an offensive touchdown and held a normally powerful offense to 206 total yards — easily the lowest total of the Chris Petersen era at Boise State.
This week: at Central Michigan (1-0)
5. Wisconsin (1-0)
Preseason rank: 4
Week 1 result: Beat Northern Iowa 26-12
Danny O'Brien is not Russell Wilson. Matt Canada is not Paul Chryst (although, he had a rough start too), and three first-team All-Big Ten blockers are gone from the offense. And it all showed against Northern Iowa, albeit one of the winningest FCS programs in the nation. The ground game had a tricky time getting rolling and the defense allowed big plays at critical moments and it nearly cost UW a big fourth-quarter lead. The normally powerful offense was held to just 387 yards and Montee Ball averaged only 3.8 yards per carry on 32 attempts. That said, Wisconsin held the ball for nearly 40 minutes of time and O'Brien was efficient (19-of-23, 0 INT). Choke it up for first game jitters against a team accustomed to winning. But fans need to realize this isn't an elite UW team, just a really good one.
This week: at Oregon State (0-0)
6. Illinois (1-0)
Preseason rank: 9
Week 1 result: Beat Western Michigan 24-7
Tim Beckman's debut was off to a roaring start as the Illini had a 17-0 lead in the third quarter. But quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase left the game with an injured ankle and the game came to a screeching halt. The Broncos cut the lead to 10 before a long interception return ended the upset bid and gave Beckman a win in his first game on the Illinois sideline. Scheelhaase, who finished with 126 yards passing, 21 yards rushing and two total touchdowns practiced on Sunday but isn't going to be fully healthy for the Arizona State game. The defense won't be underrated for much longer if it can completely stop opposing rushing attacks like it did against WMU — try minus-6 yards on 19 attempts.
This week: at Arizona State (1-0)
7. Northwestern (1-0)
Preseason rank: 7
Week 1 result: Beat Syracuse 42-41
The day certainly belonged to the quarterbacks in the Carrier Dome this weekend. Syracuse's Ryan Nassib completed 44 of his 65 total attempts for 470 yards and four touchdowns while the Wildcats' duo of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian combined to score four touchdowns. After Colter sustained a slight shoulder injury, Pat Fitzgerald turned to the back-up Siemian and the sophomore delivered a nine-yard scoring strike to Demetrius Fields with 44 seconds left to win the game. Colter is listed as the starter for the Vanderbilt game this weekend but keep an eye on this position moving forward. This defense was a major question mark heading into the season and the Cuse's four unanswered touchdowns to erase a 22-point Northwestern second-half lead only further highlights the issues.
This week: Vanderbilt (0-1)
8. Iowa (1-0)
Preseason rank: 8
Week 1 result: Beat Northern Illinois 18-17
Iowa was 12th in the Big Ten in rushing last season and has dealt with major attrition at the running back position since the end of the 2011 season. The Hawkeyes rushed for 2.8 yards per carry on 49 attempts and nearly lost to Northern Illinois. However, Damon Bullock provided a huge boost to the ground game and made the definitive play of the game. The sophomore, who totaled 10 carries and 20 yards for the entire '11 campaign, carried 30 times for 150 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown with just over two minutes to go in the game. The scored capped a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback for Kirk Ferentz on a day in which James Vandenberg struggled mightily. This was a huge win for a coach who cannot afford losses to MAC teams. Be it the defending champs or not.
This week: Iowa State (1-0)
9. Purdue (1-0)
Preseason rank: 10
Week 1 result: Beat Eastern Kentucky 48-6
Danny Hope's got himself a quarterback battle folks. Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve are listed as co-starters for Saturday's huge test against Notre Dame. TerBush was suspended for the opener and Marve took full advantage by completing 30-of-38 passes for a career-high 295 yards and three touchdowns in the win. Hope returned Purdue to the postseason last fall and will need to settle on a quarterback if he expects to do so again in 2012. Of course, a sneaky good defense would go a long way in getting the Boilers into the Leaders Division race — and they allowed only 190 yards of total offense against Hope's former employer.
This week: at Notre Dame (1-0)
10. Penn State (0-1)
Preseason rank: 6
Week 1 result: Lost to Ohio 24-14
It was an emotional day for Penn State fans. At first, the emotion aided Penn State in building a 14-3 lead. Matt McGloin was crisp, the offense looked well-designed and Bill Belton was very effective out of the backfield. Then Belton was lost for the game with an ankle injury and the offense came to a grinding halt. Tyler Tettleton took advantage and produced 371 total yards (324 passing, 47 rushing) and three total touchdowns en route to arguably the biggest win in Ohio history. A day that should have been about of progress and unity quickly turned into a very real reminder of the state of the Nittany Lion perspective.
This week: at Virginia (1-0)
11. Minnesota (1-0)
Preseason rank: 11
Week 1 result: Beat UNLV 30-27 (3 OT)
It took a full four quarters, but MarQueis Gray finally played well when it counted. The senior quarterback threw two overtime touchdown passes on the road to keep his team out of the upset column. A sloppy regulation ended uneventfully at 13-13 before the fireworks started popping off in Las Vegas. The two teams combined for 18 penalties and five turnovers while Minnesota out-gained the inferior competition 478 to 275.
This week: New Hampshire
12. Indiana (1-0)
Preseason rank: 12
Week 1 result: Beat Indiana State 24-17
Tre Roberson was effective and poised in only the second win of the Kevin Wilson era at Indiana. The sophomore dual-threat finished with a career-high 280 yards passing, 26 completions and 38 attempts to go with a pair of touchdowns. His first win as the starter snapped the nine-game losing streak and gives Hoosiers fans a reason to believe once again. With UMass and Ball State coming up, IU has a chance to triple its win total from a year ago if it continues to get sound quarterback play.
This week: at UMass (0-1)
by Braden Gall
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