This is easily my favorite picture of Pat Fitzgerald doing strange things. No, it isn't related to the story. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
It turns out that the teams Northwestern plays sometimes play other football teams. Even more surprisingly, the part of the Big Ten that Northwestern doesn't play this year is still having a football season. Time for a midweek rundown of they did last week and what to expect this week.
The Next Opponent: Boston College: Beat Maine 34-3
BC hosted Maine and gave the Black Bears the kind of beating FBS teams are supposed to inflict on their playoff-loving brethren, winning 34-3. That final score hides a hideous first quarter, in which Maine got their only points of the day off a drive that started at the BC ten yard line, and Boston College failed to score thanks to fumbles and general offensive incompetence. Maine's offense was hopelessly overmatched, but Boston College's early struggles on offense, combined with a defense that yielded 41 points to Miami in week one, have left me unimpressed with the Eagles so far.
The Conference: Winners
In spite of some rough losses, almost half of the rest of the Big Ten managed to win their games last weekend.
Ohio State: Beat Central Florida 31-15
I watched most of the first half of this one, and Ohio State looked in control against a good Conference USA team. They probably should have won by a bit more, but this still might be the best conference win of the weekend. This week, Cal travels to Columbus. Ohio State should get revenge for their conference brethren who fell making trips to Pac-12 country last weekend.
Michigan State: Beat Central Michigan 41-7
Central Michigan's only points came on an interception return with 1:39 remaining in the game. I am seriously disappointed that the offense couldn't hold onto the shutout in this one. This week, Notre Dame travels to East Lansing. Michigan State should win, and some style points would help solidify their place as the early frontrunner in the Big Ten.
Minnesota: Beat New Hampshire 44-7
Minnesota followed last week's road squeaker against a bad FBS team with their first win over an FCS team since 2009. This wasn't a nailbiter like Goldy's 16-13 win over South Dakota State, either: in the process of putting up that lopsided score Minnesota nearly doubled New Hampshire's total yardage. This week, Minnesota faces their stiffest test yet as they host Western Michigan. Apparently Minnesota is favored.
Indiana: Beat UMass 45-6
Indiana joined Minnesota in blowing out awful opponents. Both of last season's doormats are 2-0, and both have showed the ability to demolish lesser competition like a Big Ten team should. There has been some buzz about 7-0 being possible for Northwestern, but with Indiana and Minnesota looking downright competent that road has some unexpected bumps. Indiana hosts Ball State; like Minnesota, this is their toughest opponent to date, and Indiana lost their quarterback and best player Tre Roberson to injury last week. Without Roberson and playing a real FBS opponent, Indiana will most likely resume their position as the clear bottom dweller in the Big Ten.
Michigan: Beat Air Force 31-25
Michigan beat Air Force, which is better than losing to Air Force, but a 31-25 home victory against a service academy is hardly something a ranked team should have on their resume. Denard Robinson finished with more yards than his team, and the Michigan defense might be vulnerable to Northwestern's option looks come November. Michigan hosts UMass this week, so look for me to troll Michigan fans at Off Tackle Empire all next week if they fall short of Indiana's mark.
The Conference: Losers
Now we get to the ugly part of last week's action. But who should lead the parade?
Illinois: Lost to Arizona State 45-14
Illinois was kind enough to their fans back home to get blown out from the start rather than drawing out a game that kicked off at 9:30 CT. Nathan Scheelhaase has never looked better as a quarterback than after his backups collaborated for 3 interceptions and a whopping 4.2 yards per attempt in a game he missed with an injury. This week, the Illini get to play Charleston Southern. Illinois should win easily, or at the very least they should keep it close.
Wisconsin: Lost to Oregon State 10-7
Aquatic rodents proved mightier than burrowing rodents as Oregon State's defense held the Wisconsin offense to only 1.5 yards per rush. Brett Bielema promptly fired his offensive line coach and popped his collar like a douchebag brah. There was some controversy about a Wisconsin onside kick at the end of this one, but when playing a Pac-12 bottom dweller 207 yards (3.4 per play) and 2 turnovers do not indicate a good effort. This week, Utah State comes to Camp Randall fresh from beating Utah. If the first two weeks are indicative, Utah State has a good shot at starting the year 3-0.
Nebraska: Lost to UCLA 36-30
Nebraska also made a trip to Pac-12 country, and they came home with an embarrassing loss to UCLA. The problem here wasn't offense but defense: Nebraska gave up 653 yards, 309 through the air and 344 on the ground. Those numbers are eerily similar to the 303 passing and 343 rushing that UCLA put up against Rice in week 1. This week, Nebraska gets an Arkansas State team that is almost certainly worse than the 10-3 team of a year ago at home. I anticipate a shootout, but Nebraska should come out on top.
Io_a: Lost to Iowa State 9-6
Iowa hosted their in-state rivals Iowa State last week and LOLed all over: James Vandenberg completed only 20 of 42 passes with two interceptions as Iowa couldn't find the endzone in a 9-6 loss. Still, the passing game was better than a rushing attack that only managed 2.4 yards per carry. Now Iowa gets to host Northern Iowa, who gave Wisconsin everything they could handle in week one and put a 59-0 beating on the Central State Marauders last weekend. Northern Iowa probably has the best chance for a FCS team to beat a Big Ten team in this matchup, though at this point I could be convinced that Iowa is better than Wisconsin and Northern Iowa is headed for a 24-0 loss via 8 Iowa field goals.
Penn State: Lost to Virginia 17-16
I have to cut Penn State a little slack, as they weren't supposed to win on the road at Virginia. Penn State's kicking troubles have been the headline from their 17-16 loss, but I am more interested in the three drives Penn State started inside the red zone: two went backwards and the other covered only eight yards, ending in three field goal attempts (only one made). If the Penn State offense had done anything at all with those opportunities, Sam Ficken would have been a footnote to a road win. Instead, Penn State will try for their first win against Navy this weekend. I want to be positive about Penn State in this one, but I can't help thinking that Navy has the edge in what should be a low-scoring affair.
Purdue: Lost to Notre Dame 20-17
Purdue wasn't supposed to win at Notre Dame, and they made a decent showing even in defeat. With Wisconsin apparently in shambles, Purdue might well be the favorite to represent their division in Indianapolis. This week, they host an Eastern Michigan team that just lost by 17 to Illinois State. That shouldn't be a problem.
The Non-Con Opponents
Syracuse: Lost to USC 42-29
Syracuse put up a fight against USC, holding the Trojans scoreless through the first quarter and entering the third quarter down 21-16 on the way to a 42-29 defeat. Ryan Nassib threw for 322 on 46 attempts with 2 interceptions; not exactly comparable to what he did to Northwestern, but a pretty good day against an elite opponent. Stony Brook comes to the infernal wasteland of the Carrier Dome this week, and Syracuse should pick up their first win.
We all know what happened to Vandy last week. This week they host the Presbyterian Blue Hose, who I saw play in person last year. A not very good Cal team looked as dominant as any team I have ever seen in that game, and there is no reason to think the Hose have gotten much better. Like Syracuse, Vandy should pick up their first win with ease.