Winners and Losers: It was a day to forget for the bottom half of the Big Ten

·14 min read

Saturday was not a day for the Big Ten to champion the depth of the conference.

Sure, Penn State got a convincing road win over Auburn and Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin did what they were supposed to do against overmatched opponents. But the teams below them in the conference pecking order didn’t cover themselves in glory.

We’ll start in Lincoln, where Nebraska gave up 49 points to Oklahoma in its first game after Scott Frost’s firing. Interim coach Mickey Joseph’s tenure started perfectly; Oklahoma went three-and-out to start the game and Nebraska immediately responded with a touchdown. But Oklahoma woke Nebraska up from its dream on the next drive and scored five first-half touchdowns to seal the game before the third quarter even began.

And while Nebraska falls to 1-3 on the season, including a loss to Northwestern in Ireland, it can at least say that it took care of business against an FCS opponent, North Dakota.

Northwestern paid over $500,000 to FCS Southern Illinois on Saturday and lost 31-24 to the Salukis. The Wildcats turned the ball over four times and fumbled on consecutive drives in the fourth quarter after Southern Illinois took a 24-17 lead.

SIU is far from an FCS powerhouse, too. The Salukis opened the season with a 64-29 loss to Incarnate Word and lost 34-31 to Southeast Missouri State in Week 2. Northwestern should have covered the 13.5-point spread. Instead, it’s now turned the ball over seven times over its last two games after beating the Huskers in Week 0.

Purdue added to the Big Ten’s dismal start to the day with an undisciplined collapse in a 32-29 loss to Syracuse. The Boilermakers took the lead with less than a minute left but committed 50 yards of penalties to boost Syracuse’s chances of a game-winning TD. And that’s what happened as Garrett Shrader hit Oronde Gadsden II — yes, he’s the son of the former Miami Dolphins receiver — for the game-winning score.

And while Indiana and Rutgers got wins early Saturday afternoon, they weren’t victories to brag about. The Hoosiers needed a 51-yard field goal in overtime to beat Western Kentucky a week after having to come back to beat Idaho. And Rutgers beat Temple 16-14 just two weeks after the Owls were shut out by 30 in a season-opening loss to Duke.

The lethargic football even extended to teams not in the Big Ten yet. Future Big Ten member UCLA needed a field goal as time expired to beat South Alabama 32-31 at home. The Jaguars had the lead for most of the fourth quarter and a boneheaded decision with six minutes to go (more on that below) helped UCLA’s hopes of a comeback.

The brand and reach of the Big Ten is a big reason why Fox, CBS and NBC are ponying up billions to televise the conference’s football games when UCLA and USC join the conference in 2024. Lots of people watch Big Ten football games, especially when teams like Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State are playing.

And if Saturday is any indication, it’s the Big Ten’s name brands that are going to be providing the quality among the growing quantity of Big Ten football in the coming years. While the football might have been entertaining among the teams at the bottom of the conference, it wasn’t exactly very good.

Northwestern running back Evan Hull (26) is tackled by Southern Illinois linebacker Branson Combs, right, on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in Evanston, Ill. Northwestern lost 31-24. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Northwestern running back Evan Hull (26) is tackled by Southern Illinois linebacker Branson Combs, right, on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in Evanston, Ill. Northwestern lost 31-24. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

WINNERS

Georgia: UGA continues to make everything look easy. The top-ranked Bulldogs had their SEC opener on Saturday at South Carolina and cruised to a 48-7 victory. Brock Bowers was the star of the show. The sophomore tight end accounted for three touchdowns, including a catch-and-run 78-yarder early in the third quarter. Bowers also had a rushing touchdown in the first quarter and went up high for another TD catch in the second quarter. Defensively, it looked like the Bulldogs would make it three straight games without allowing a touchdown, but the Gamecocks managed to find the end zone with 53 seconds remaining.

Oklahoma: Oklahoma looks like the class of the Big 12 so far this season. The Sooners trounced a reeling Nebraska squad on the road, 49-14. Nebraska actually scored first in the game, but the Sooners responded with 35 consecutive points before halftime. In the third quarter, Oklahoma made it 49 unanswered points in a dominant showing. While Dillon Gabriel threw for 230 yards and two TDs in the win, the Sooners also added a whopping 312 rushing yards. OU opens Big 12 play next weekend at home vs. Kansas State.

Oregon: Oregon put that Week 1 loss to Georgia in the past and turned in an impressive performance in a 41-20 win over BYU. BYU was coming off a big win over Baylor, but the Ducks jumped on the Cougars early. Oregon’s lead was 10-0 after the first quarter and 24-7 by halftime with Bo Nix leading the way. Nix has been a polarizing player over the course of his career but he had things rolling in this one. Nix threw for 222 yards and two touchdowns while adding 35 yards and three scores on the ground. Oregon still has the talent to make some noise in the Pac-12.

EUGENE, OR - SEPTEMBER 17: Quarterback Bo Nix #10 of the Oregon DucksDucks dives for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Brigham Young Cougars at Autzen Stadium on September 17, 2022 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)
EUGENE, OR - SEPTEMBER 17: Quarterback Bo Nix #10 of the Oregon DucksDucks dives for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Brigham Young Cougars at Autzen Stadium on September 17, 2022 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

Penn State: For the first time in a while, PSU has a running game. Freshman Nick Singleton is a big reason for that. Singleton needed just 10 carries to explode for 124 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-12 road victory over Auburn. Kaytron Allen also added 52 yards and two scores for the Nittany Lions, who totaled 245 yards on the ground in the win. Meanwhile, the attacking PSU defense forced four Auburn turnovers and were constantly pressuring the quarterback. The Big Ten East is loaded with Michigan and Ohio State, but PSU looks like a team that could have a say in that division race.

LSU: Brian Kelly's Tigers have rebounded nicely from the Week 1 loss to Florida State. After a blowout win over Southern last week, LSU came from behind to beat a good Mississippi State team 31-16 at home on Saturday. LSU trailed 13-0 late in the first half before battling back and pulling away with three fourth-quarter touchdowns. Jayden Daniels threw for 210 yards, rushed for 93 yards and had two total TDs in the win. The defense limited the Bulldogs to just 289 yards of offense.

Kansas: The Jayhawks have eclipsed their preseason win total. Kansas’ total was 2.5 wins ahead of the season and KU is 3-0 after easily beating Houston 48-30 on Saturday. Yes, the Jayhawks are one of the best stories of September and it’s not too early to think that KU could end up going to a bowl game in 2022. More pressing, however, is the location of ESPN’s “College GameDay” for Week 4. And Kansas is already pushing to host the pregame show as 3-0 Duke comes to town.

Syracuse: Improbably, Syracuse is 3-0. The Orange beat Purdue 32-29 when Garrett Shrader hit Oronde Gadsen II for a 25-yard touchdown with just seven seconds remaining, capping off a wild fourth quarter. Purdue had previously gone ahead with a touchdown with just 51 seconds left in regulation, but the Orange — thanks to two Purdue unsportsmanlike conduct penalties — didn’t need to go too far to respond and ultimately win the game. Syracuse had a 10-win season in 2018 but combined for 11 wins in the three seasons that followed. It felt like a pivotal year for Dino Babers, and now he’s got his Orange off to an excellent start.

Florida State: Things did not look good for Florida State when QB Jordan Travis went down with an injury late in the first half vs. Louisville on Friday night. Tate Rodemaker, Travis’ backup, threw an ugly interception and went into halftime down 21-14. Rodemaker, however, regathered himself and came out firing in the second half. Johnny Wilson was his main target. Rodemaker hit Wilson for a 69-yard connection early in the fourth and the two later connected on touchdowns from 10 and two yards. The two-yarder proved to be the game-winner. The Seminoles are off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2015.

Wyoming: There was a big upset in the Mountain West on Friday night as Wyoming knocked off Air Force 17-14 in Laramie. Air Force, considered by many to be the MWC favorite, was a 16.5-point favorite in this one. But Wyoming gave the Falcons a taste of their own medicine with a heavy dose of ball control early on. The Cowboys jumped out to a 10-0 halftime lead, fell behind 14-10 in the fourth quarter and then went on an impressive 75-yard touchdown drive late to win the game. Titus Swen rushed for 102 yards and the game-winning TD for Wyoming. Wyoming was hit hard by transfers, but is now 3-1 to start the season.

Appalachian State: App State only plays in dramatic games in 2022. The Mountaineers lost 63-61 to North Carolina in Week 1 despite scoring 40 points in the fourth quarter. In Week 2, App State went on the road and upset Texas A&M, which was then ranked No. 6 in the country. On Saturday, College GameDay was in town for the Mountaineers’ home game vs. Troy. This one came down to the final play, and what a play it was. Chase Brice found Christan Horn for a Hail Mary as time expired to pull out a 32-28 win. It was a wild one.

Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt has surpassed its preseason win total and it’s not even October yet. The over/under for the Commodores was a measly 2.5 wins, but with a 38-28 road win over Northern Illinois they are now 3-1 so far in 2022. Vandy already had wins over Hawaii and Elon before losing to Wake Forest last week. On the road in DeKalb, Vandy fell behind NIU 28-14 early in the second half before closing out the game with 24 unanswered points. Freshman QB AJ Swann threw four touchdown passes in the win.

LOSERS

Kansas State: The Wildcats seemed primed to be 3-0 heading into a big game against Oklahoma in Week 4. Oops. A week after a dominating win over Missouri, the Wildcats lost 17-10 at home to Tulane. The Green Wave won despite going 1-of-12 on third downs and turning it over twice because Kansas State was 2-of-15 on third downs itself. The Wildcats haven’t gotten much from Nebraska transfer QB Adrian Martinez in 2022 and Martinez was 21-of-31 passing for just 150 yards. Take away a 19-yard completion to Malik Knowles and a 21-yarder to Kade Warner and Martinez’s 19 other completions went for just 110 yards. That’s putrid. KSU needs to figure out something on offense quickly to complement a very good defense to keep up with Oklahoma.

Louisville: The Cardinals defense gave up 455 yards to Florida State on Friday night in a 35-31 loss. Florida State stars Jared Verse and Jordan Travis both were injured in the game and FSU’s second-half comeback was led by backup QB Tate Rodemaker. He threw two fourth quarter TDs to Johnny Wilson and completed six of his 10 passing attempts for 109 yards. We’re still not sure what to make of the Cardinals after they beat UCF in Week 2 following a blowout loss to Syracuse to open the season. Maybe that game said more about UCF’s passing attack than it did about Louisville.

South Alabama: South Alabama got tricky and it proved costly. The Jaguars were on the verge of a big upset over UCLA but faced a fourth-and-2 from the UCLA 22-yard line. Leading 31-29 with about three minutes to play, South Alabama first lined up for a field goal but then quickly changed course. The kicker lined up as a receiver and the ball was snapped to the holder. He looked for anybody to throw to, but was sacked for a big loss. That gave the ball back to UCLA, which promptly marched down the field and won 32-31 with a field goal as time expired.

Northwestern: Maybe Northwestern needs to relocate to Europe? The Wildcats opened the season with a win over Nebraska in Ireland but have now dropped back-to-back home games. First was a loss to Duke. That's barely defensible. A loss to an 0-2 FCS team? Yeah, that can't happen. Northwestern lost 31-24 to Southern Illinois on Saturday, turning it over four times in the process. SIU's final two touchdowns came directly after Northwestern fumbles. Before Saturday, SIU lost to Incarnate Word and Southeast Missouri State so of course SIU's first win of the year came on the road over a Big Ten team. Of course.

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets put up little fight in a 42-0 loss at home to No. 20 Ole Miss on Saturday. Georgia Tech had just 53 yards rushing on 34 carries and allowed Ole Miss to rush for 316 yards as Zach Evans, Quinshon Judkins and Ulysses Bentley IV each had two rushing touchdowns. No one expected Georgia Tech to beat either Clemson or Ole Miss over the first three weeks of the season, but not being overmatched should have been an accomplishable goal. Instead, it’s hard to see what the path is to a bowl for the Yellow Jackets with a game at UCF coming up in Week 4 before ACC play begins in earnest.

Colorado: The Buffaloes have taken over the dreaded label of being the worst Power Five team in college football. Colorado lost 49-7 at Minnesota on Saturday in a game that was 35-0 at halftime before Minnesota eased up in the second half. Colorado played three quarterbacks and none were effective. After Brendon Lewis and J.T. Shrout got starts this season, Owen McCown came in and threw for 52 yards against the Gophers. And Colorado can’t stop anyone on defense, either. Minnesota rushed 52 times for 334 yards after Air Force ran 70 times for 435 yards a week ago. The Buffs have lost to TCU, Air Force and the Gophers by a combined margin of 128-30. And here's what coach Karl Dorrell had to say after the game.

Marshall: The Thundering Herd’s high after beating Notre Dame on the road lasted just a week. Marshall was upset 34-31 in overtime by Bowling Green on Saturday night. There might not have been a game that encapsulated college football more than this one either. Marshall entered with a win over one of the biggest brands in college football history while Bowling Green came into the game 0-2 and lost to FCS team Eastern Kentucky a week ago.

South Florida: USF had a chance to beat Florida in Gainesville but was doomed by a bad snap and a botched hold in the final minute. Down 31-28, USF moved to the Florida 19 with 34 seconds remaining. On the next play, a low snap went past QB Gerry Bohanon. USF recovered the loose ball, but it was a 14-yard loss. The Bulls then had a 48-yard field goal try to tie the game, but the holder struggled to gather the snap and the kick sailed right, allowing Florida to escape with a three-point win.