The Land Grant Rant: Wisconsin Badgers Impressive in Season Opener

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The more things change in the B1G, the more they stay the same.

The past few years, the B1G has provided a lot of change for die-hard fans of America’s oldest conference to swallow. The addition of Nebraska seemed like a no-brainer. Adding teams like Rutgers and Maryland seemed like head scratchers on the surface but could easily be explained away by money, greed and television sets.  What’s the price of ruining tradition? Who cares, we’re rich. Oh, the times they are a-changin’, but who are we kidding? The bottom line is always the bottom line and the B1G is always the B1G.

But….

What we saw week one on the field from the B1G seemed all too familiar. The 12 universities gave us a sneak peak at what to expect this coming season and excuse me if you’ve heard these recaps before, but frankly so have I.

The Iowa Hawkeyes: different season, same results — Some teams were unable to shed last season’s identity, namely the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes started 2013 just how they ended 2012 – with a loss. After one of the more uncomfortable off seasons of Kirk Ferentz’s era, fans still held out hope that last season’s 4-8 record was more of an aberration than a sign of things to come. But what did we see? The same offense, without an identity, that seemingly could run at will over a pesky Northern Illinois team when it wanted, but would decide to throw high risk throws on 3rd and short. At times in the 2nd half, Iowa’s play calling got too cute and it ultimately cost them.  The defense played well enough but was still vulnerable to having its top ripped off on a big passing play. The fake punt that Northern Illinois ran in the 2nd half was just rubbing Hawkeye fans’ noses in it. Iowa has now lost 7 in a row and will continue to do so until they just flat out improve in all facets.

Nebraska struggles on defense… again — The Hawkeyes were hardly the only team unable to shake off last season’s stink. Thankfully for Nebraska, their issues didn’t result in an “L” but the game was nerve wracking none the less. The Nebraska Cornhuskers found themselves in a tight ball game the final moments of Saturday’s narrow 37-34 escape of Wyoming. The Black Shirt defense gave up 602 yards to a team that lost 8 games last season and at times looked lost on the field. Head coach Bo Pelini called the defensive issues “fixable” and continued to carry his normal confidence even with the week 3 meeting with UCLA looming. Husker fans have heard the words “fixable” a lot over the Pelini years at Nebraska and, with all the talent they are rolling out on the field, the Husker faithful just want to see it finally fixed.

The Ohio State Buckeyes looked explosive in the first quarter on Saturday — Leading 23-0 after 1 period and on cruise control, the Buckeyes seemingly fell asleep at the wheel and allowed back to back touchdowns to a bad Buffalo team.  Relax Buckeye faithful, I think this was more of a case of over-confidence after overwhelming Buffalo out of gate. The defense looked unchallenged and bored after the flat out dominating opening quarter. Ohio State was able to distance itself and turn the cruise control back on to the tune of a 20 point win.

The Indiana offense may be even more potent than last season — The league leading offense in the B1G in 2012 looked in mid-season form from the word “go” opening night. Sure, they were playing a team from the Missouri Valley conference, but ask Iowa State or Kansas State how opening up against an FCS school went for them. Teams at that level can play and 73 points is impressive no matter who it was against.

Are the Gophers for real? — I think it’s too early to say but you have to be impressed with how easily they dispatched UNLV. 51 points for the Gophers is an offensive explosion that I didn’t think they would be capable of this year. The Gopher program carried over its momentum from 2012 and looks to take the next step as a program.  A 5-0 start is not out of the question.

Michigan State still looks lost on offense — There was a lot of talk about Michigan State’s offense making a lot of strides this fall; unfortunately it looked like more of the same against Western Michigan. While there was never a real fear of the Spartans losing that game, the inability to score is weighing heavily on the Michigan State faithful.

Wisconsin looked like…well, Wisconsin — Or at least the Wisconsin we’ve seen the last half a decade. They looked dominant over a clearly over matched UMass squad. There were no signs of a step back that we heard was inevitable after a coaching change. They didn’t look lost or confused on either side of the ball and look to be an under-valued commodity in the Leaders race.

Illinois won a game and looked better offensively than most thought while doing it — Look, I’m not saying this is Illinois’ only win this season, just that it wouldn’t surprise me. I was impressed by the offensive output of Scheelhaase who, after a promising start to his career, has been marred in injury and horrible play. If he can get his mojo back, the Illini may be able to pull off a few more wins than I initially thought. I’m just not gonna hold my breath.

Darrell Hazell’s trying to change the losing culture at Purdue but don’t count on it this season — I really thought Purdue would look better on both sides of the ball against Cincinnati. I don’t know that I honestly thought the Boilers would win this game but I expected it to be more of a competition. Senior QB Rob Henry will have a short leash this week after a shaky start. Hazell needs to begin thinking about creating some depth at all positions going forward and giving a younger QB the start may prove to be more fruitful.

Michigan looks like the early favorite for the Legends division — While it’s hard to get much of a gauge off of one game against an over matched Central Michigan, the Wolverines dominated a decent program 59-9. The true test is this week when Notre Dame comes to town. If Michigan wants to stake claim of being “back” to national relevance, the game this week is as big as it gets for the Big Blue.

The Christian Hackenberg era is officially under way at Penn State — Only the 2nd true freshman to start at quarterback for a PSU opener since 1910, the freshman phenom did just enough to help the Nittany Lions escape with a win over Syracuse 23-17.  It was a mixed review for his first start (278 passing yards, 2 TD’s, 2 INT’s) but it’s hard to argue with the results.

Northwestern passed a major test right out of the gate — To be 100% honest, I had the Wildcats losing this one. B1G teams playing late night games on the west coast has spelled disaster in the past but, in true Pat Fitzgerald fashion, he had his team ready to play. Quarterback Kain Colter was injured on Northwestern’s opening drive with a concussion. Keep an eye on that injury as all bets are off if the Wildcats lose a player the caliber of Colter for any extended period of time.

BY RYAN OSBAHR ON SEPTEMBER 5, 2013

Follow Ryan @RyanOsbahr1 on Twitter.

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About J.P. Scott

Owner and editor of Know It All Football, contributor to AthlonSports.com and GridirionExperts.com. Member of the Football Writers Association of America.

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