Week 2 B1G Primer: The Cy-Hawk game comes with CFP implications
Everything you need to know about this weekend’s B1G slate.
All in all, the first full weekend of Big Ten football went well.
The Big Ten emerged as the lone Power 5 conference with an unbeaten record against the other Power 5 leagues, thanks to Maryland taking down West Virginia and Purdue topping Oregon State. The league has 3 legit College Football Playoff contenders in No. 3 Ohio State, No. 10 Iowa and No. 11 Penn State.
But thanks to the league playing 4 conference games on opening weekend, there were several casualties. Two teams with high expectations (Wisconsin and Indiana) disappointed in their early-season showdowns, and both slid in the polls, with Wisconsin falling from No. 12 to 18 and Indiana going from No. 17 to unranked. Plus, Illinois ruined the good vibes by losing to a Group of 5 squad (UTSA).
This week, there are no conference games. Instead, the Big Ten has 5 non-conference games against Power 5 leagues, featuring a top-10 contest and also a Pac 12 favorite against the B1G’s perennial power.
Here’s a breakdown of the Week 2 slate:
Game of the Week: No. 10 Iowa at No. 9 Iowa State (-4.5)
The stakes aren’t too big, unless you consider bragging rights for an entire year across the state and potentially a spot in the CFP. Other than that, this is like any other game.
In all seriousness, the stakes have arguably never been higher in the resumption of this annual rivalry (no game last year due to COVID). This is the first time both teams have been ranked for the Cy-Hawk game, and both have legitimate aspirations of not only winning their conference but of reaching the CFP. A win for either positions it to remain in the top 10 for the long haul and gives it some margin for error in conference play. Iowa leads the all-time series 45-19.
The stat: Iowa has won 7 in a row by an average of 22.7 points
The streak obviously dates to last season, but it illustrates the dominance of the Hawkeyes since starting 0-2 in 2020, with the latest win being a 34-6 dismantling of Indiana last week. In the magical 2015 season in which Iowa climbed all the way to No. 3 in the polls, it won 8 straight B1G games by an average of 12.5. Ohio State has also won 7 straight B1G games in 2020 and 2021, and it has an average margin of victory of 20.4 during that span. That puts into perspective just how good Iowa has been.
The reason, of course, is Iowa’s defense. Since 2018, Iowa has allowed the fewest points in the country. The last time a team scored more than 24 on the Hawkeyes was 2018. This defense reloads every year, and it looked as good as it’s ever been in stymying Indiana QB Michael Penix and the Hoosiers last week, holding them to 233 total yards.
The key matchup: Iowa’s defense vs. Iowa State RB Breece Hall
Hall is widely viewed as one of the best running backs in college football, if not the very best. He has averaged 5.2 yards per carry in his career, with 13 100-yard games out of the 21 in which he has received 15 or more carries. Hall hadn’t yet taken over as the starter when these teams last met in 2019, but ascended to star status shortly thereafter.
Iowa, meanwhile, hasn’t allowed a team to average 4 yards per carry in 11 straight games, dating to November of 2019. The Cyclones probably watched tape of what the Iowa secondary did to Penix last week and will look to lean on Hall. If Iowa contains Hall, it wins.
The big question: Will Iowa State’s early-season struggles continue?
Iowa State has had some odd early-season performances, even under star head coach Matt Campbell. The Cyclones lost their season opener to FCS Northern Iowa in 2016, needed triple OT to beat Northern Iowa in 2019, lost to Louisiana by 17 last year and barely escaped Northern Iowa 16-10 this year. They in no way looked like the No. 7 team in the country (thus dropping 2 spots in the poll), which was easily their highest-ever preseason ranking.
Even after looking awful early last season, they climbed all the way up to No. 8 in the polls and finished at No. 9 (which is the reason for their lofty ranking to begin this season). Iowa State did find its rhythm rather quickly last season, beating Oklahoma in the third game of the season.
On paper, Iowa State looks great. It had 4 players on The Athletic’s preseason All-America team (Hall, TE Charlie Kolar, LB Mike Rose and S Greg Eisworth), which tied Ohio State for the most of any school. It returned 20 starters, including all 11 on offense, from a team that beat Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.
But who’s to say Iowa State will be able to turn it on against one of the hottest teams in the country? Iowa isn’t a team that you work out the kinks against.
Iowa leads the all-time series and has won the last 5. In the preseason, I picked Iowa State to end that streak. After watching these teams play a game, though, I’m switching my pick. Iowa is in midseason form already, and Iowa State is not. Give me the Hawkeyes.
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• Iowa 24, Iowa State 17
Illinois at Virginia (-10)
Illinois (1-1) sure knows how to kill a buzz. That’s the best way to describe going from beating Nebraska to losing to UTSA. QB Art Sitkowski has been a pleasant surprise with 5 TD passes and 0 INTs (after 8 TD passes and 20 INTs at Rutgers over 3 seasons), but Illinois couldn’t get enough stops against UTSA. I think the same issue applies at Virginia (1-0), which has an experienced QB in Brennan Armstrong.
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• Virginia 38, Illinois 27
No. 12 Oregon at No. 3 Ohio State (-10)
It was a tale of two halves, the old sports cliche goes. New Ohio State QB CJ Stroud looked like a freshman in the first half at Minnesota, and then threw 4 TD passes on only 8 attempts in the second half. He’ll have to play a much more even game against a better opponent. But this game is at home, it kicks off at noon and now he has the first game jitters out of the way. When it comes down to it, Stroud’s supporting cast on offense is as good as any in college football. There’s a case to be made that it’s the absolute best, in fact. Get the ball to Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and TreVeyon Henderson, and they’ll take care of the rest.
The major concern for the Buckeyes is on the defensive end, where they are trying to find the right combination of guys on the back end. Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown, the projected starting corners, did not play, which meant true freshman Denzel Burke led the way with 63 snaps. Demario McCall, the former wide receiver and running back, played 15 snaps at corner. This is a group that got torn apart last year, finishing with the Big Ten’s worst passing defense (numbers undoubtedly inflated by playing Alabama). This isn’t the explosive Oregon offense we’ve ben accustomed to seeing over the years, but it’s still a great opportunity for a strong performance that can build some confidence and momentum for when Ohio State sees Taulia Tagovailoa, Michael Penix Jr. and Sean Clifford — and eventually, Spencer Rattler or Bryce Young.
An interesting subplot to watch: This game is being played at 9 a.m. PT. I understand FOX wants the best possible game, but it is a little harsh to make Oregon (1-0) play at that hour. The Ducks couldn’t have been happy about that. The big question for Oregon is the status of DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, who left the opener against Fresno State with an ankle injury. Even if he plays, will he be effective against Ohio State’s offensive line? If he can force Stroud in to some uncomfortable decisions, Oregon has a chance.
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• Ohio State 41, Oregon 30
Youngstown State at Michigan State
The Spartans (1-0) have to feel great after the opening win against Northwestern, and this is no time to take the foot off the gas, even if the Penguins (1-0) did go 1-6 in the spring. I’m wondering if offensive coordinator Jay Johnson will dial up a few more opportunities for QB Payton Thorne to get him some experience going into No. 22 Miami the following week. It would be nice to not have to use Kenneth Walker III as much, but I’m guessing Michigan State is enjoying playing with its shiny new toy.
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Michigan State 38, Youngstown State 10
Miami (Ohio) at Minnesota (-19.5)
Mohamed Ibrahim injury aside, Minnesota (0-1) had to come out of the loss to Ohio State feeling pretty good about itself. The Golden Gophers led at half and put a semi-scare into the Buckeyes. This week will be about establishing an identity without its star running back, who is out for the season. Minnesota has leaned heavily on Ibrahim, who led the country in carries last season. Now it must adapt, with Miami (0-1) serving as the perfect opportunity.
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Minnesota 34, • Miami (OH) 20
Indiana State at Northwestern
Considering the Sycamores (1-0) didn’t even have a season in 2020, Northwestern (0-1) shouldn’t have too much trouble against the FCS school. Most important: figuring out a way to stop the run. Michigan State ran all over Northwestern in the opener, spoiling a solid performance from QB Hunter Johnson.
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• Northwestern 41, Indiana State 13
Rutgers (-2.5) at Syracuse
Rutgers’ 3-week tour of the Northeast is in its second leg, and the early returns have been promising. The Scarlet Knights (1-0) smashed Temple on the back of 5 takeaways. They became the first team since 2002 to score more than 60 points while gaining 365 yards or fewer. Rutgers’ offense remains untested in OC Sean Gleeson’s second season, and the onus is on QB Noah Vedral to make enough plays to win on the road.
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• Rutgers 27, Syracuse 21
Purdue (-28) at UConn
It’s an interesting week to play UConn (0-2), which had head coach Randy Edsall resign on Monday. That won’t make too much of a difference, as Purdue was never in any danger of losing this one.
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• Purdue 49, UConn 7
Buffalo at Nebraska (-13.5)
Obviously, this is a must-win for Nebraska. The fan base is on edge. The 50-year sellout streak probably should’ve ended last week, if not for the donors buying up a couple thousand tickets. Oklahoma is looming. This seems like the perfect time for a letdown. At the same time, though, Adrian Martinez played very well last week, and this defense has 6 straight games holding the opponent under 400 total yards. While Buffalo reached the MAC Championship Game last year, it is a program in transition after head coach Lance Leipold left for Kansas and only 10 starters returned.
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Nebraska 31, • Buffalo 24
Eastern Michigan at Wisconsin (-25.5)
Wisconsin has a lot to figure out offensively. Penn State has a terrific defense, but the Badgers were sloppy. There were no downfield shots until the end of the game, and QB Graham Mertz was badly off-target on such throws late in the game. There were also issues handing the ball off. Wisconsin has to clean this up before Notre Dame in Week 4, or it has no shot.
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• Wisconsin 42, Eastern Michigan 6
Howard at Maryland
Taulia Tagovailoa played about as well as one could expect against West Virginia, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t put up huge numbers in this one in 2 1/2 quarters or so.
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Maryland 56, Howard 7
Idaho at Indiana
Indiana can’t possibly play worse than last week at Iowa, and the good news is that refuge comes in the form of a Vandal. There was so much hype and buildup during the offseason that the way Indiana played against Iowa felt like a major letdown. Well, it was. Michael Penix Jr. was out of sorts. USC transfer Stephen Carr couldn’t find room to run. This is a get-right game for Indiana.
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Indiana 41, Idaho 10
Washington at Michigan (-1.5)
Even though Washington took some of the luster of this ABC primetime game by losing to FCS Montana last week, it still serves as a statement game for Michigan and Cade McNamara. The Wolverines haven’t really played a big game since 2019, since they already had multiple losses by the time they faced Wisconsin and Penn State last season. The same goes for McNamara, who didn’t get extended playing time until facing Rutgers in the penultimate game of 2020. Washington, even with an early loss on its ledger that dropped it from the Top 25, poses a legitimate threat; since 2017, it has allowed the fewest points in the country. Combined with Ronnie Bell’s season-ending knee injury, Michigan faces an uphill battle. This is a night for McNamara to show that he’s capable of leading a big-time program like Michigan, and I think he gets it done.
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• Michigan 24, Washington 21
Week 1 record: 8-2 straight-up / 5-4-1 vs. spread
Season record: 8-3 straight-up / 5-5-1 vs. spread