B1G aces non-conference test after strong showing
Lovie Smith stepped up to the podium after Illinois’ 34-10 loss to Western Michigan on Saturday and calmly summed up the first three games of the season.
“You have to keep it in perspective, there are four quarters to a season,” he said, “of course, this first quarter didn’t end the way we wanted it to.”
There’s no questioning that. After a 52-3 win over Murray State to open the season, the Illini dropped their next two games to fall to 1-2 entering the B1G schedule. Outscored 82-33 by North Carolina and Western Michigan, it certainly wasn’t the start that Smith and his crew had hoped for.
But the downfalls in Champaign isn’t representative of the results across the B1G through the first quarter of the year. If this were a grading period, you’d have to give the conference a pretty high mark.
After three weeks of the season, the B1G is 8-3 against opponents from the Power Five conferences and Notre. It’s 3-1 against the Pac-12, 2-0 against the Big XII and 1-0 against the SEC. The conference is 4-1 when facing AP Top 25 opponents.
Right now, the conference has eight teams that are undefeated, the most of any conference in the FBS.
Most impressive in this unpredictable run, though, was the culmination of success the B1G encountered on Saturday night. On the day of its biggest non-conference test, it passed the exam with flying colors.
B1G teams went 9-2 in the third week of the season. Five teams picked up wins against fellow Power Five competition. Saturday’s headliners – Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State – all picked up marquee wins over ranked opponents.
Related: Week 4 AP Top 25 Polls: B1G East Starting to Dominate Top 10
Nebraska may have been notched the most surprising win on Saturday, taking down Oregon 35-32. After struggling with Wyoming a week ago, competing with the Ducks seemed like a pretty tall order. But Mike Riley’s commitment to the ground attack is going to allow the Huskers to compete with anyone.
They rushed for 228 yards, led by Tommy Armstrong, Jr. and Devine Ozigbo, totaling 95 yards and a touchdown a piece. Armstrong also completed the game with 200 yards through the air and three touchdown passes. The often turnover-prone quarterback didn’t throw a single interception.
Meanwhile, Michigan State and Ohio State clobbered Notre Dame and Oklahoma, respectively, on both sides of the football.
The Spartans showed momentary lapses in the early portion of the game and late in the contest. It was somewhat of a relaxed mentality that allowed the Irish to climb to within an eight-point margin after trailing 36-7 in the third quarter. Despite the competitive 36-28 final score, Mark Dantonio’s bunch dominated the game for two-and-a-half quarters.
In Norman, Ohio State jumped over Oklahoma early and never relented. On their first true test of the season and a game Urban Meyer said would show the maturity of his team, the Buckeyes handed out a 45-24 thumping to the Sooners.
J.T. Barrett performed like a Heisman candidate on the road and receiver Noah Brown, who hauled in four touchdown receptions including a remarkable catch behind the back of a defender, emerged as the top receiver in the country.
Noah Brown may now be the favorite in the 'Catch of the Year' category #HandsTeam pic.twitter.com/5G6gKholNT
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 18, 2016
Michigan recovered from an ugly first quarter and overcame a 21-7 deficit to beat Colorado 45-28. Wisconsin survived a scare from Georgia State, winning 23-17 without Corey Clement. Both teams improved to 3-0. Northwestern recorded the other win over a Power Five opponent, beating Duke 24-13 at Ryan Field to clinch its first win of the year.
It was a great afternoon to be a B1G football fan.
Sure, there were some rough things to watch. No. 13 Iowa was downed by North Dakota State on a last-second field goal. Illinois, did suffer an old-fashioned whipping at the hands of Western Michigan.
Week 3 wasn’t perfect. But it came pretty darn close.
To refer back to Smith, that was just the first quarter of the season. There are still three more to go. And in those nine-to-10 games remaining on the schedule, plenty can change.
The B1G is off to a great start, though, better than it has been in the past.
Poll voters have noticed. Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State are all ranked in the top eight. The Buckeyes and Wolverines are currently in the College Football Playoff picture, ranked No. 2 and No. 4 respectively. The Spartans sit at No. 8.
Wisconsin and Nebraska also earned rankings. Iowa and Maryland each received votes.
Folks who said the B1G would be the worst conference in the nation are currently choking on their words. The conference that would be lucky to get one team into the playoff has four teams in legitimate contention right now.
In just three weeks, the B1G has changed the national perception. Now, it needs to carry that momentum into the second quarter of the season.