The 4 Big Ten football teams with the most to prove in Week 2
After an offseason of poring over the same information, we finally have some new information to work with and some fresh impressions of the Big Ten.
There were some teams like Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State that had relatively smooth — albeit not perfect — opening games.
But there were others that failed to deliver on the promise they showed late last year or that was projected of them this season.
Here are four teams with the most to prove in Week 2:
1. Michigan State
Mark Dantonio did not mince words this week when discussing his offense that produced just one touchdown against powerhouse Tulsa. The urgency is there for a bounce-back performance against Western Michigan.
“I can say this, that football is a game of effort and toughness and knowing what to do,” the head coach said. “Half of our team figured that out, half of it didn’t. We will make sure that other half gets figured out this week. That’s my message to our football team.”
It’s sort of been a theme this week in the Big Ten, with head coaches telling it like it is. And that’s great, because everyone knows the Spartans’ offense was awful in that season-opener and it was awful last season. That’s not a controversial opinion. I like him sending the message that this will get fixed this week.
The biggest issue has been the offensive line, and that has led to inconsistent play from Brian Lewerke and subpar production from the backs. Michigan State needs to work out some sort of transfer program where it sends its offensive linemen to Iowa or Wisconsin for a year of seasoning and then can get them back. Silly idea, I know, but the point is that those two programs develop their offensive line every year, and Michigan State just hasn’t.
The Spartans are in a good spot with that defense, which by the way held Tulsa to -73 rushing yards. Who knew that was even possible? If they can figure out this side of the ball, they can win the Big Ten. But that’s a major question mark at this point.
The Boilermakers were a major disappointment, blowing a 31-14 lead at Nevada and losing on a 56-yard field goal. Elijah Sindelar is a great fantasy quarterback, but those two second-half interceptions were killers.
For all the great things Jeff Brohm has done at Purdue, it is just 13-14 in his two-plus seasons. That could be so much better, but the Boilermakers have lost five of their last 13 games by four points or less. Sooner or later, they have to win these games if they are going to turn the corner. Context is important, of course, as Purdue hasn’t been a good program for a long time. But give a coach $6 million, and you expect to win those games.
What better time to break through than Saturday against Vanderbilt, which is a program in transition with graduate transfer Riley Neal at quarterback. This is such a great opportunity for the Boilermakers. They face an SEC squad (the best one from Tennessee, apparently), which would mean more than beating Nevada anyway.
Perhaps most importantly, Purdue is dedicating the Tyler Trent Student Gate on what would’ve been Trent’s 21st birthday. Trent’s parents, along with Brohm and university president Mitch Daniels, will speak.
If that doesn’t get your blood pumping, what will?
This one has upset written all over it. Minnesota’s game at Fresno State will start late Saturday night in another time zone, with a Bulldog team that nearly beat the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis last season. Fresno State did wind up beating UCLA and Arizona State last year, which is why it is only a 3-point underdog.
The Golden Gophers were a cute pick to win the West, with all of their returning talent. But then South Dakota State came to town and out-gained them 367-308. Minnesota trailed in the fourth quarter.
Let’s see if P.J. Fleck opens it up a little more and tries to get star receiver Tyler Johnson going. The All-America candidate had just three catches for 28 yards. In fact, Minnesota ran the ball 39 times to just 18 pass attempts from Tanner Morgan. That’s not a lot of confidence in a returning starter at quarterback.
I wrote about some of Nebraska’s issues earlier this week, but this Saturday at Colorado is a major prove-it game for the Huskers. It’s an old rivalry that even today’s generation can appreciate.
“Besides the rivalry is there anything you need to get your piss hot?” Nebraska freshman Garrett Nelson said. “I don’t think so.”
Well, OK then. I dig it.
Hopefully Nebraska shows a little more this week as it accumulated just 276 yards against mighty South Alabama. Adrian Martinez needs to play much, much better. And he’ll have all the motivation to do so thanks to Colorado, not that he needed it.
Here’s what Colorado’s Davion Taylor said about Adrian Martinez: “We have to keep him in the pocket and make him pass. If we make him pass, I feel like that’s probably one of his weaknesses.”
Scott Frost’s comments about Martinez not having a good practice week before South Alabama were puzzling. But if Martinez is who so many believe he is, I can bet he’s having a good week of practice this week, especially after a comment like that. Now it’s time to show it.