We waited longer than usual for the return of Big Ten football in 2020, and the conference didn’t disappoint in Week 1 last Saturday. Top teams showed their mettle, overlooked teams proved themselves with upsets, and we got a much better look at how the conference stacks up.
With a full slate of games under our belts, here’s an updated look at each Big Ten team heading into Week 2.
1. Ohio State
Previous Rank: 1
Result: Win, 52-17 over Nebraska
Recap: The Buckeyes looked the part in their Week 1 matchup with Nebraska. Ohio State shrugged off a bit of rust to open the game and dominated in the final three quarters. Justin Fields was outstanding, as expected, completing 20-of-21 pass attempts for 276 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Buckeyes remain the team to beat in the Big Ten.
Next Opponent: Away at Penn State
Previous Rank: 3
Result: Win, 45-7 over Illinois
Recap: As impressive as Justin Fields was in his season-opener, he didn’t have the most impressive week for a Big Ten quarterback. That honor belongs to Badger redshirt freshman Graham Mertz, who dazzled his way to 248 yards and five touchdowns on 20-of-21 passing. Surprisingly, Wisconsin had an uncharacteristically mediocre night in the run game, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. The biggest story surrounding the Badgers came after the game however, as Mertz tested positive for COVID-19 in the days following the game. We’ve now learned that 12 members of the Badgers football team – six players and six staff members, including head coach Paul Chryst – have tested positive. This Saturday’s game against Nebraska was cancelled, and it is currently unclear when Wisconsin will be able to return to competition. Next Opponent: TBA
Previous Rank: 4
Result: Win, 49-24 over Minnesota
Recap: The Wolverines had something to prove on their road trip to Minneapolis, and they made a statement with a huge victory over Minnesota. Joe Milton was strong in his debut as a starting quarterback, throwing for 225 yards and a touchdown on 15-of-22 passing. Michigan’s rushing attack provided balance as well, as the Wolverines churned out 256 yards at an insane 8.3 yards per carry. The Wolverines have some things to shore up on the defensive side of the ball, but there was a lot to like in their debut.
Next Opponent: Home vs. Michigan State
Previous Rank: 7
Result: Win, 36-35 over Penn State
Recap: What an opening week for the Hoosiers. They led nearly the entire game against Penn State, but after surrendering the lead late, Indiana battled back – with a help of a Nittany Lion blunder – to force overtime. There, Hoosier starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. showed his grit with an incredible effort to reach the pylon on a 2-point conversion to lift Indiana to victory. The Hoosiers may not battle for a conference title in 2020, but as they proved in Week 1, they are ready and able to ruin anybody’s season on any given weekend.
Next Opponent: Away at Rutgers
5. Penn State
Previous Rank: 2
Result: Loss, 36-35 to Indiana
Recap: The Nittany Lions were the preseason favorite to challenge defending champion Ohio State for the Big Ten crown, but find themselves in a precarious spot following their upset loss to Indiana. Penn State dominated the total yards (488-211), time of possession (40:25-19:35) and were far more effective on third down, but were hurt by three turnovers and 10 penalties for 100 yards. Now, the Nittany Lions may be staring at an 0-2 start to the season with the Buckeyes coming to town this Saturday.
Next Opponent: Home vs. Ohio State
Previous Rank: 9
Result: Win, 24-20 over Iowa
Recap: The Boilermakers were without their head coach, Jeff Brohm, and their best player, Rondale Moore, and still were able to grab an impressive win over Iowa in their season-opener. The catalyst of Purdue’s success was sophomore wide receiver David Bell – the returning Big Ten freshman of the year from 2019. Bell had 13 catches for 121 yards and three touchdowns against the Hawkeyes. If Moore is able to return this Saturday, Purdue will have one of the most dangerous 1-2 combinations in the nation at wide receiver. Could the Boilermakers compete for a Big Ten West title?
Next Opponent: Away at Illinois
Previous Rank: 13
Result: Win, 43-3 over Maryland
Recap: Another surprising result came from the Wildcats, who completely obliterated Maryland over the weekend. It wasn’t all that surprising that Northwestern won, but no one expected a 40-point blowout. Grad transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey was the perfect remedy to what was an abysmal offense for the Wildcats last season. Ramsey finished with 212 yards and a touchdown while completing 23 of 30 pass attempts. He added 47 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground as well. Maryland clearly has a lot of issues on offense, but give credit to Northwestern’s defense as well. The Wildcats surrendered just 207 yards of total offense and forced four turnovers.
Next opponent: Away at Iowa
Previous rank: 6
Result: Loss, 24-20 to Purdue
Recap: The Hawkeyes outgained Purdue, had a more balanced offensive attack and were even in both time of possession and the turnover battle. However, the offense went cold in the second half, and Iowa fell in their season-opener. This was a battle between what appear to be two even teams, but Purdue had the best playmaker on the field in David Bell. Hawkeye quarterback Spencer Petras, who replaced multi-year starter and graduate Nate Stanley, was solid in his first career start, going 22-of-39 with 265 yards.
Next Opponent: Home vs. Northwestern
Previous rank: 8
Result: Loss, 52-17 to Ohio State
Recap: We didn’t learn a whole lot about the Huskers in their season-opening drubbing at the hands of Ohio State. Nebraska hung tough with the Buckeyes for a quarter, but the talent gap between the two programs is a chasm. It appears the Huskers will play two quarterbacks this season, and may have a future playmaker in freshman Luke McCaffery, who lined up at both quarterback and tailback for Nebraska. McCaffery ran for 80 yards on nine carries, and completed 4-of-5 passes for 55 yards. Starting quarterback Adrian Martinez was responsible for 190 yards of offense and scored a touchdown, but he will need to limit turnovers as the season progresses. Due to Wisconsin’s recent COVID-19 outbreak, Nebraska will have to wait an extra week to get back on the field.
Next Opponent: Away at Northwestern (11/7)
Previous Rank: 5
Result: Loss, 49-24 to Michigan
Recap: It was a disappointing Week 1 for the Gophers. A loss to Michigan isn’t a season-ender for Minnesota, but to lose the way they did, at home, in a game in which they opened as a 2.5-point favorite is something of a gut-punch. The Gophers were not a full strength, especially their special teams, and it remains to be seen if that will continue to impact their season. Mohamed Ibrahim was a bright spot for the Gophers however. He finished with 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 26 carries. Minnesota needs a big bounce back this week in order to stay in the running for the West division title.
Next Opponent: Away at Maryland
Previous Rank: 14
Result: Win, 38-27 over Michigan State
Recap: In the cellar no longer are the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers snapped a 21-game conference losing streak with a road victory over Michigan State on Saturday. The Scarlet Knights were outgained by nearly 100 yards, with the help of seven Spartan turnovers, Rutgers took a commanding lead early and held on for the victory. The Scarlet Knights won’t come close to contending in the Big Ten East this season, but this was a nice first step for head coach Greg Schiano.
Next Opponent: Home vs. Indiana
Previous Rank: 12
Result: Loss, 45-7 to Wisconsin
Recap: The Fighting Illini were simply no match for Graham Mertz and Wisconsin in Week 1. It was a disappointing season-opener after Illinois clawed their way to a bowl appearance in 2019. Any thought that the Illini may have begun closing the gap with the best of the Big Ten West were quickly dashed by the Badgers. It’s back to the drawing board for head coach Lovie Smith, who needs to show that last season wasn’t just a fluke.
Next Opponent: Home vs. Purdue
13. Michigan State
Previous Rank: 10
Result: Loss, 38-27 to Rutgers
Recap: To be frank, Mel Tucker’s debut as the new head coach of the Spartans couldn’t have gone much worse. Let’s be fair, Mark Dantonio did this program no favors with the timing of his departure, and the special circumstances surrounding Big Ten football in 2020 also made the transition to a new head coach an especially difficult one. But even with the proper context in place, this was still a disaster of an opener. It doesn’t get much worse than surrendering seven turnovers and losing by double digits to the program – Rutgers – that has been the doormat of the Big Ten for the past three seasons. Mel Tucker has a lot of work to do in East Lansing.
Next Opponent: Away at Michigan
Previous Rank: 11
Result: Loss, 43-3 to Northwestern
Recap: The only thing keeping Michigan State out of the cellar was the complete and utter dysfunction that was the Terrapins on Saturday. Maryland lost by 40 points to a team that went 1-8 in the Big Ten last season. Not much more needs to be said than that. This was a bad look for head coach Mike Locksley, who is entering his second season. Though Locksley is in no danger whatsoever of losing his job so soon, this is the type of result that shortens the leash for a head coach. It was also a tough debut for quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who threw three interceptions. Time will tell if the Terrapins are the worst team in the Big Ten, but there’s little arguing they had the worst Week 1.
Next Opponent: Home vs. Minnesota