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Big Ten Football: Ranking the Teams After Week 1

Nathaniel WaltersCorrespondent IOctober 8, 2016

Big Ten Football: Ranking the Teams After Week 1

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    Taylor Martinez shined. Denard Robinson? Not so much.

    Ohio State pounded a lesser opponent while Wisconsin struggled to overcome an FCS school. More than a few teams played schools from the division formerly known as 1-AA, and not everything was pretty.

    Oh, and who can forget Penn State.

    Onto the list! 

1. Ohio State

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    Braxton Miller didn't look sharp in the first quarter, but he rebounded from the second stanza on and led the Buckeyes to a severe 56-10 beatdown of Miami (OH).

    After a pathetic first quarter in which Ohio State was actually losing 3-0 to the RedHawks, Miller decided to shoulder the load. Ohio State scored on three straight possessions and ended the half at the RedHawk one-yard line.

    On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Miller rushed 65 yards for a touchdown, putting the Buckeyes up 28-7. On the ensuing Miami possession, Bradley Roby scooped up a RedHawk fumble at the one-yard line and scored.

    Miami did score on their next possession, but it was all Ohio State after that.

    Stat of the game: Ohio State outgained Miami 294-(-1) on the ground. Braxton Miller accounted for 161 of those yards.

    Player of the game: Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller. He finished 14-24 with 207 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for 161 yards and a score on 17 touches.

    Up next: Central Florida

2. Michigan State

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    Playing Boise State—even without their entire offense and defense from a year ago—is never easy.

    Michigan State didn't make it look easy, but they found a way to win 17-13 over the Broncos. Their keys to victory: run the ball and play defense.

    Michigan State's defense didn't allow an offensive touchdown, and the Spartans turned to junior running back Le'Veon Bell to lead the team.

    All he did was rush for more yards than the entire state Boise State offense. When it came down to crunch time and the Spartans were down 13-10 in the fourth quarter, Bell was the workhorse.

    He stayed in the game for almost every Michigan State down in the second half and scored the deciding touchdown with just over eight minutes remaining. The dominant Spartan defense took care of the rest.

    Quarterback Andrew Maxwell looked average at best, throwing three interceptions, one of which was returned 43 yards for a touchdown. The Spartans have a great defense, but Maxwell will need to get better if they plan on repeating as Legends Division Champions.

    Stat of the game: Michigan State outgained Boise 213-37 on the ground.

    Player of the Game: Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State. As stated above, he was the go-to guy for the Spartans. If he can stay healthy, he may vie for All-Conference honors at the end of the season.

    Up next: at Central Michigan

3. Nebraska

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    When senior running back Rex Burkhead went down with a knee injury in the first quarter, you could read the minds of every Nebraska fan.

    "What are they going to do? We don't know if Taylor Martinez can actually throw the football or not. Oh man. I hope they don't lose."

    All Martinez did was complete 26-of-34 passes for 354 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions as Nebraska downed Southern Miss 49-20. 

    Um, wow. Who thought that would happen after last season's throwing motion debacle? 

    Add in a rushing attack that chewed up 278 yards on 45 carries and you have yourself a heck of an offensive game by the Cornhuskers. The Eagles clearly didn't expect Martinez to throw the ball and were out of position on more than one occasion.

    Even blitzes couldn't rattle the Husker quarterback. He moved in the pocket with ease and found time for a few highlight receptions.

    Stat of the Game: Nebraska gained 632 yards, marking the first time since 2008 the Huskers had gone over 600.

    Player of the Game: This one's obvious. Martinez only ran for 10 yards, but he didn't have to do anything more than he did. As he left the field, he received a well-deserved ovation from the Husker faithful.

    Up next: at UCLA

4. Wisconsin

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    Well this wasn't the kind of game Wisconsin fans were expecting when they saw Northern Iowa on the schedule.

    Led by transfer quarterback Danny O'Brien, the Badgers led 19-0 early in the third quarter before holding on for a 26-21 victory over the Panthers. The game really wasn't over until Northern Iowa turned the ball over on downs at the Wisconsin 41-yard line with 2:31 left.

    O'Brien played well, completing 19 of 23 passes for 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Jared Abbrederis in his debut.

    Senior running back Montee Ball had 32 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown, his 21st straight game with a score. 

    The Badgers didn't play badly, only allowing the Panthers to cross the 50-yard line late in the third quarter. They nearly gave up the game, though, and had to rely on a tipped ball on fourth-and-1 to secure the victory.

    State of the Game: Wisconsin converted 56 percent of their third downs, going 9-16.

    Player of the Game: Danny O'Brien. O'Brien had to take over for Russell Wilson, and that's no easy task. He wasn't flashy and didn't have much highlight material, but the senior quarterback managed the team well and avoided mistakes. 

    Up next: At Oregon State

5. Michigan

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    Well, this wasn't what the Wolverines or their fans wanted, but it's pretty much what most of the nation expected. 

    Denard Robinson was never able to find a rhythm, and the Alabama offense ran roughshod over the Michigan defense en route to a 31-0 lead and a 41-14 victory in Dallas.

    Robinson was not pressured into bad throws. He just couldn't make them. Even when he had targets open downfield and time to assess the situation, his throws were wobbly and inaccurate.

    He finished with 200 yards through the air, but, if you take away one 71-yard bomb to Jeremy Gallon, "Shoelace" had the kind of day many of us expected. His 42 percent completion percentage was just awful.

    Robinson threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and spent much of the game trying to figure out if he should throw the ball downfield or just run. Alas, rushing didn't work out, either, as the Tide held him to 27 yards on 10 carries.

    Stat of the Game: Alabama outgained Michigan 431-269.

    Player of the Game: Alabama freshman running back T.J. Yeldon. Everybody expected big things from Eddie Lacy, but it was the freshman who stole the show. He ran for 111 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries, effectively pounding Michigan's defense into submission.

    Up next: Air Force

6. Iowa

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    Not much separates the next few teams on the list. Each could probably, at this point, be interchanged.

    With that being said, Iowa will probably cause the most problems for teams.

    With all the questions about Iowa over the summer, nothing was more pressing than their supposed issue at running back. Well, consider that question answered.

    Sophomore Damon Bullock ran for 150 yards and had Iowa's only touchdown as the Hawkeyes scored nine points in the fourth quarter to outlast upset-minded Northern Illinois, 18-17.

    The problem with Iowa was they just couldn't get anything going. Senior quarterback James Vandenberg completed 21-of-33 passes, but he had only 139 yards. That's got to be very troubling for the Greg Davis' offense in Iowa City.

    Stat of the Game: 38:42. Iowa held the ball for over 38 minutes and scored one touchdown, which came with just over two minutes left in the game. That's unacceptable.

    Player of the Game: Damon Bullock. Expect him to get the ball more after his performance against Northern Illinois.

    Up next: Iowa State

7. Northwestern

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    It's odd to have the Wildcats this high in the rankings, but their gutsy come-from-behind win after giving up a big lead at Syracuse puts them squarely in the middle of the Big Ten pack.

    Northwestern was up 35-13 late in the third quarter before Syracuse scored four unanswered touchdowns to take a 41-35 lead.

    With starting quarterback Kain Colter on the bench because of an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, the Wildcats scored with 44 seconds left to defeat the Orange 42-41 and win their season opener for the 10th straight time.

    The biggest concern for Northwestern is their defense. They showed the ability to move the ball, but their lack of focus in the second half—especially when Syracuse had the ball—was astounding. The Orange ran 53 plays in the second half to Northwestern's 31.

    Stat of the Game: 470. That's the number of passing yards Syracuse had. While most teams in the Big Ten are ground dominant, you can bet your socks Urban Meyer, Bo Pelini, Bret Bielema and Mark Dantonio have taken note.

    Player of the Game: Northwestern junior running back Venric Mark. He had 14 rushes for 82 yards and had a receiving touchdown, but his real success came on special teams. He had an 82-yard punt return touchdown in the first quarter to give the Wildcats a 7-6 lead, and his 52-yard return in the second quarter helped put the Wildcats in position to go up 21-13.

    Up next: Vanderbilt

8. Purdue

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    It should be noted that Purdue played and beat FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky 48-6, but I guess nothing is ever certain, what with Pittsburgh losing to Youngstown State.

    Quarterback Robert Marve, who transferred from Miami two years ago, had the best game of his career, completing 30-of-38 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns for the Boilermakers. 

    While piling up 547 yards of total offense, Purdue held the Colonels to 190 total yards and just 10 first downs.

    Stat of the Game: 2. Two blocked kicks by Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short. His blocked extra point and field goal were the fifth and sixth blocks of his career.

    Player of the Game: Robert Marve. Marve started in place of suspended quarterback Caleb TerBush and performed quite well.

    Up next: At Notre Dame

9. Illinois

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    It's never a good sign when you force four turnovers, hold an opponent to negative yards rushing, and still only win by 17 points.

    That's where the Illini found themselves Saturday, though, as they skidded past Western Michigan 24-7.

    Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase left the game late in the third quarter with an ankle injury, and Illinois could do nothing without their starter. They gained a total of 15 yards on five possessions without Scheelhaase and did not gain a single first down. 

    Relying on your defense to win is a great mold for teams like Michigan State, but Illinois simply doesn't have the defense. The Broncos outgained Illinois 259-248 and had just as many first downs (13).

    Stat of the Game: 2.8. Illinois rushed the ball 41 times for just 115 yards, an average of 2.8 yards per carry.

    Player of the Game: Illinois linebacker Ashante Williams. With the Broncos driving in the fourth quarter, Williams intercepted a pass and took it 60 yards for a score. It gave the Illini their 24-7 cushion, and Western Kentucky never threatened again.

    Up next: at Arizona State

10. Minnesota

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    It was tough to put Minnesota in this spot. After all, they scored a total of 13 points in regulation to a team that gave up more than 40 points a game last season.

    To their credit, though, the Gophers did come to life and upend UNLV 30-27 in three overtimes Thursday night. Those of us that stayed up and watched the end were amazed at how two teams that showed so little in four quarters were able to score so much in the extra periods.

    But hey, Minnesota won three games last year. They're already a third of the way to that total. The good news for Minnesota is they got their first win of 2011 in overtime against Miami (OH).

    The bad news is they lost their next game to FCS foe North Dakota State, and up next for the Gophers is FCS team New Hampshire.

    Stat of the Game: 11. Minnesota had 11 penalties for 86 yards, worst in the Big Ten. That's nearly double the amount of penalties they had per game last year (5.8).

    Player of the Game: Minnesota kicker Jordan Wettstein. He was 3-for-4 on kicks, including the winner in overtime. Without the senior's leg, Minnesota starts the season 0-1 for the second year in a row.

    Up next: New Hampshire

11. Penn State

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    Well this one was no fun for Penn State. After an emotionally charged pep rally, the first game of the Bill O'Brien era ended with a 24-14 loss to upstart Ohio. 

    Penn State had a 14-3 lead at the half, but gave up three touchdowns in the second half, including a pass that put the game away with 2:55 left.

    Many wondered how the team would respond to the attrition of key players and the emotion that was surely flowing through their veins. It wasn't a good start.

    Stat of the Game: 499-352. Ohio outgained the Nittany Lions by nearly 150 yards, aided by 352 yards through the air.

    Player of the Game: Penn State fans. We all saw what Penn State's fans were capable of through this entire debacle. Whether we agreed with their words and actions, they were always there.

    They were also there Saturday. The chants of "We Are...Penn State" echoed through Beaver Stadium even as the final seconds of a season-opening loss, their first since 2001, ticked away.

    Up next: at Virginia

12. Indiana

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    If there was ever a team that needed a win, it was Indiana. The Hoosiers, coming off an abysmal 1-11 season, started off 1-0 by defeating in-state foe Indiana State 24-17.

    It wasn't a great performance, but the Hoosiers found a way to get it done. They gave up 387 yards—including 176 on the ground—but they only allowed the Sycamores to convert 3-12 third down opportunities. That's a huge step up for a team that allowed teams to convert 50 percent of their chances a season ago.

    Still, though, it's Indiana State, a team that has not won a season-opening road game since 1980.

    Stat of the Game: 26. Indiana finished with 26 first downs.

    Player of the Game: Indiana quarterback Tre Roberson. The sophomore looked completely different than a year ago, completing 26 of his 36 pass attempts for 280 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a score.

    Up next: at Massachusetts.

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