The 2022 Big Ten season opener was all about culture.

Irish culture is part of that equation. By all accounts, the experience for Nebraska and Northwestern leading up to the Aer Lingus College Football Classic was what the locals dub good craic. And games like this should be embraced by college football teams. This is not your typical neutral site.

Studying abroad is a big part of a well-rounded college experience. But given their status as (cough) near-employees, college football players really don’t get the chance for a semester or even a summer session overseas. Getting a week to experience a different culture is likely unforgettable for most players and fans alike.

It’s an even better experience when you actually take some time to smell the Irish roses. Which is what Northwestern did. By scheduling an open week after their trip to Ireland, the Wildcats allowed themselves an extra day to stick around.

And in this case, they stuck around to celebrate.

Nebraska, on the other hand, had to hurry out of the country. The Cornhuskers have a home opener against North Dakota to prepare for this week.

And though that may seem a very minute detail, it underscores the difference between these 2 programs.


Northwestern has a winning culture under Pat Fitzgerald. That doesn’t always result in winning seasons, because Northwestern will always be out-recruited by its Big Ten peers. So you get the yo-yo we’ve seen the past 4 years — a pair of 3-9 seasons sandwiched by a pair of Big Ten championship game appearances.

Nebraska has a losing culture under Scott Frost. In the same timeframe that Northwestern has played for a pair of Big Ten titles, the Cornhuskers haven’t even managed a measly Quick Lane Bowl appearance.

And something as simple as their approach to overseas travel gives insight into how winners and losers operate.

Think about it. You don’t plan to stick around Dublin for an extra day to lament a loss in your pint glass. It’s a decision you make if you think there’s a good chance you’ll be celebrating. It’s a very understated Joe Namath move. (And that is surely the only time anyone has compared crew-cutted Pat Fitzgerald to Broadway Joe.)

More importantly, Northwestern’s next game week will be no different than any other game week. The Cats have a week to get back in sync.

Nebraska willingly put itself at a competitive disadvantage in the coming week. The Cornhuskers have to readjust their body clocks by 6 hours after a long trip home, while simultaneously preparing for an opponent they’ve never seen.

That might not end up mattering against an FCS team picked to finish 7th in the Missouri Valley Football Conference preseason poll. But why introduce the risk? It suggests a lack of attention to detail, which would in turn explain the malaise that currently defines Nebraska football.

Nebraska is a sloppy program.

And that’s what makes Frost’s decision to attempt a surprise onside kick against the Wildcats so mind-boggling. Trick plays like this can work. But they work when your team is a well-oiled machine and your opponent lacks attention to detail.

In other words, it would have made sense for Northwestern to try a surprise onside kick against Nebraska, because it might have worked. But it wasn’t going to work for the sloppy team against a program that is only able to compete in the Big Ten through precise execution of the little things.

Sloppy teams can only win if they have a decided edge in talent. And as last season demonstrated, Nebraska’s talent edge isn’t decided enough. The assistant coaching hires Frost made this offseason suggested some self-awareness that the Huskers would be all about the details this year.

Saturday did not show it.

At several points, new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s play-calling was more troubling than the onside kick call.

Sports Betting in Big Ten Country

There is big news coming to the upcoming 2022-23 Big Ten football season (and NFL season). Ohio online sports betting will be officially launching on January 1, 2023. Pre-registration is now open at FanDuel Ohio, and you can get extra $100 bonus by signing up now. Take advantage now.

When quarterback Casey Thompson was on an early roll, Whipple called a third-and-2 run to Anthony Grant that was stopped for a yard. The Huskers punted, and Northwestern scored on the ensuing possession to take a 17-14 lead.

On the first offensive possession following the onside kick, Whipple played it safe when momentum needed seizing. He called back-to-back runs that set up an unfriendly third-and-7 for Thompson. Against a defense playing without either of its starting cornerbacks. And behind an offensive line struggling to create any push. It was not a strong show of situational awareness.

Given how his career is going, you can at least understand how Frost was desperate enough to rashly attempt the onside kick. But Whipple’s failure to go for the jugular might be a more long-standing concern in this make-or-break season.

Nebraska can’t afford to be afraid to lose. It’s how it got into this mess in the first place.

Around the B1G horn

Every week, B1G Monday Morning will serve as a one-stop shop for you to catch up on what happened throughout the league on Saturday. Which is a pretty easy assignment this week.

Illinois 38, Wyoming 6

Chase Brown was the lone Illinois representative in Saturday Tradition’s Top 25 Big Ten players, and showed exactly why he belongs there in the season opener.

Brown picked up where he left off last year with 151 yards and 2 touchdowns on 19 carries. He also added a 14-yard touchdown reception. But that’s to be expected, particularly against an overmatched Wyoming team. It wasn’t quite as clear how well the Illini would pass the ball and play defense.

The early returns are good for the defense, which held Wyoming to 30 passing yards on 20 attempts. I don’t care who the opponent is, that’s impressive.

I’d say the jury’s still out on quarterback Tommy DeVito, who completed 27 of 37 passes for 194 yards.

His distribution was impressive, with 12 targets catching the ball. But his average of 5.2 yards per attempt would have ranked dead last in the Big Ten a year ago. That’s not encouraging.

My guess? New offensive coordinator Barry Lunney provided a very vanilla game plan with a conference game at Indiana looming on Friday night. Surely there’s big-play potential for the passing game, but nothing that Lunney or Bret Bielema want on tape before a game that counts in the B1G standings.

We’ll find out more in a week.

The lone downside to the win was seeing No. 2 running back Josh McCray get carted off. But McCray’s social media post Sunday doesn’t give the impression he’ll be out for an extended period of time. Or any period of time. Hopefully the Illini caught a break.

Week 0 MVPs

1. Peter Skoronski and the Purple People Pushers (Northwestern)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Prince and the Revolution. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

All legendary front men backed by less visible but still potent units. Which reminds me of Northwestern’s offensive line, which I’ve now nicknamed in according fashion.

Peter Skoronski and the Purple People Pushers. It’s a hat tip to the 1970s Minnesota Vikings defense, which was known as the Purple People Eaters. But offensive linemen don’t eat people. That’s likely to draw a flag for unnecessary roughness. They push people around.

Skoronski was the No. 7 overall player in our B1G Top 25, and now the only question is whether I ranked him too low.

The Northwestern left tackle made Nebraska outside linebacker Garrett Nelson — also a Top 10 player on the list — an invisible man. Nelson never got close to Wildcats quarterback Ryan Hilinski. Hardly anyone did. The Huskers were credited with just a single quarterback hurry. And the pass rush is supposed to be the strength of Nebraska’s defense.

Thing is, that might still be the case. It’s possible that Skoronski and his linemates are just that good. They certainly were Saturday, not only protecting the passer but paving the path for 214 rushing yards.

2. QB Ryan Hilinski (Northwestern)

If you saw this one coming, you’re either a liar or Pat Fitzgerald.

Hilinski was 1 of 3 quarterbacks the Wildcats started last season, and the results showed why they started 3 quarterbacks. He completed 54% of his passes for 3 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, averaging 5.6 yards per attempt and 108.7 per game.

It was no sure thing Hilinski would beat out sophomore Brendan Sullivan in training camp. On Saturday, Hilinski showed why he did win the job.

Given all the time in the world, a poised Hilinski completed 27 of 38 throws for 314 yards and 2 touchdowns. Provided he gets that type of protection on a weekly basis, Hilinski could be a surprisingly good quarterback for a surprisingly good team in 2022.

3. RB Chase Brown (Illinois)

Hopefully you committed the bit about Brown’s performance against Wyoming to memory, because I’m not repeating it. But I can provide footage.

4. WR Trey Palmer (Nebraska)

There is one thing I really liked about Whipple’s game plan — he prioritized getting the ball to Trey Palmer, much as he prioritized getting it to Jordan Addison at Pitt last season.

The LSU transfer is going to be Nebraska’s go-to guy. Palmer had 8 receptions for 68 yards and 2 carries for 8 yards. When tight end Travis Vokolek gets back from the injury that ended his game against Northwestern, Casey Thompson will have a pair of trustworthy security blankets.

5. P Luke Akers (Northwestern)

This is the B1G, baby, where a punter is liable to end up as 1 of our 5 MVPs in any given week. Nebraska started 4 possessions inside of its own 12-yard line courtesy of Akers punts, including the final possession of the game. That clutch 37-yard Akers punt was downed at the 4.

Akers’ average of 40.8 yards per punt doesn’t look great, but it’s because he was usually tasked with hitting a wedge to back the Cornhuskers into a corner. He excelled.

Play of the week

It really, truly felt like this was the moment where good fortune was finally smiling upon Scott Frost and Nebraska. Like a spiritual successor to the “Flea Kicker” that was the most famous play of Frost’s playing career.

Didn’t turn out that way. But Casey Thompson’s scrambling 58-yard completion to Isaiah Garcia-Castenada may go down as the best play of the whole dang year.

3 things I’m looking forward to this week

1. Penn State at Purdue

It’s not as sexy a matchup as Notre Dame at Ohio State, but only because it’s hard to be sexy when Purdue Pete is looming in the background.

This Thursday night season-opener will feel like an old-school Big Ten matchup. And by old school I mean an early-2000s matchup between Purdue and Northwestern, who revolutionized the way offense was played in the conference. The Nittany Lions and Boilermakers will be trading downfield haymakers.

Purdue is a dark horse contender in the West. Penn State is trying to get back to an elite level after back-to-back mediocre seasons. It’s at night. This will be fun.

2. Notre Dame at Ohio State

Impossible to have more curbside appeal than this top-5 matchup of traditional Midwestern powers. The backstory is impossibly good, too.

New Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman is making his regular-season debut in the stadium where he once played as a Buckeye.

But I’m not sold on how good this game will actually be. Notre Dame is without its quarterback, top running back and top receiver from a year ago. Their replacements need to mesh quickly for this game to be competitive.

I do sense the Irish will have one of the few defenses capable of keeping Ohio State’s offense under 500 yards. But we’ll see if that’s enough to turn an intriguing matchup into a classic.

3. Upset alerts

There are a couple B1G-FCS matchups that have a chance to still be interesting going into the fourth quarter.

Nebraska’s aforementioned game against North Dakota is suddenly a great deal more compelling than it deserves to be. The Huskers’ response to the Dublin disappointment will set the tone for the rest of their season.

Given the travel and the hangover from the loss, I wouldn’t be surprised by a slow start that makes the locals nervous. Whether it snowballs into anything beyond that is up to the Cornhuskers. I think they’ll be fine. But I don’t know for a fact that they’ll be fine.

A more likely possibility is nervous laughter from Iowa fans who got their kicks watching Nebraska wilt in yet another 1-score loss. The Hawkeyes open with South Dakota State, which is No. 2 in the FCS preseason poll.

The Jackrabbits aren’t just dangerous because they are good. South Dakota State’s roster is almost entirely from the Big Ten’s natural footprint, including 13 Iowa kids. They were told they weren’t Big Ten material in high school. Now’s their chance to prove otherwise.

Iowa’s defense might be too elite for that to happen. But the Hawks’ offense certainly isn’t. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the margin here is closer than the CyHawk game in 2 weeks.