Welcome to the New Midwest.
Minnesota (Proj. Scoring Margin: -23.9 | Actual Scoring Margin: -2 | Diff: +21.9)
Kudos to Jerry Kill's Gophers for wildly exceeding their projections in a 19-17 loss to USC. They allowed no points after the first four drives of the game, allowing USC receiver Robert Woods (17 catches, 177 yards, 81% catch rate, 3 TD) to run wild but liming the Trojans in just about every other regard. Not that "We stopped everybody but the guy who destroyed us" is much of a brag, of course, but you've got to start somewhere. On offense, the Gophers did not exactly distribute the ball to a ton of weapons -- 11 of 14 completions went to three players, and Duane Bennett and quarterback Marqueis Gray combined for 31 of 34 team carries. When Gray went down with an injury, backup quarterback Max Shortell almost led them back but didn't quite have enough time.
Northwestern (Proj. Scoring Margin: -11.8 | Actual Scoring Margin: +7 | Diff: +18.8)
Northwestern won a close game?? Well I never...
In a game missing its two biggest stars -- BC running back Montel Harris and Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa -- both offenses went in the other direction. Boston College was productive through the air (Chase Rettig threw for 375 yards at 7.5 yards per attempt), and Northwestern racked up yardage on the ground (backs Mike Trumpy and Adonis Smith combined for 138 yards at 5.3 per carry). Northwestern allowed 479 yards, but it was relatively empty yardage; on the first two drives, BC had a 69-yard run and a 49-yard pass and managed just three combined points. NU dominated the middle-third of the game, built a 24-10 lead, then held on for dear life -- time expired with BC on Northwestern's 24.
Just About Right
Michigan (Proj. Scoring Margin: +24.2 | Actual Scoring Margin: +24 | Diff: -0.2)
Hooray for severe weather! Because the game was called after less than three full quarters, I nailed the 24-point final scoring margin. There is plenty to like about an easy win over a potential MAC contender, but Michigan still showed some predictable cracks. They outgained WMU by only nine yards (288 to 279), partially because WMU dominated the ball. Michigan was almost 50% better in terms of yards per play (7.4 to 5.0), but WMU managed a lot of long drives that didn't really go anywhere. They had drives of 7:11 (15 plays, 74 yards, TD), 4:32 (8 plays, 16 yards, fumble) and 3:59 (8 plays, 43 yards, INT); these drives combined to eat up basically one-third of the finished game ... and produce seven points. Gotta like seeing Jordan Kovacs (8.5 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 1 FF, 1 PBU) having a big day. Brandon Herron will steal the headlines (that's what happens when you score on both an INT return and fumble return), but Kovacs was the instigator for a defense that basically had none last year.
Illinois (Proj. Scoring Margin: +18.8 | Actual Scoring Margin: +18 | Diff: -0.8)
After four years of losing Labor Day Weekend battles to Missouri, Illinois started 1-0 for the first time since 2006 by outgaining a decent Arkansas State team by 123 yards and going plus-2 on turnovers. They were not able to do much against what could be a really fun ASU passing attack, allowing 9.1 yards per pass and 14.5 yards per completion. However ... well, if Nathan Scheelhaase has turned into a quarterback capable of throwing for 267 yards (11.6 per attempt, 70% completion rate), then the defense is allowed some slack. I'm not going to take too much from the productivity of the Illinois passing game until they do it against a real defense (and until they are forced to include more than two targets -- 16 of 17 completions went to either A.J. Jenkins or Darius Millines -- but obviously having a passing day like this, even against air, is better than not having a passing day like this. (That Jason Ford and Scheelhaase combined for just 121 pre-sack rushing yards on 31 carries is a bit alarming.)
Ohio State (Proj. Scoring Margin: +45.9 | Actual Scoring Margin: +42 | Diff: -3.9)
Here's the deal with Ohio State: we all really want to write them off, but they're still a really talented football team. Granted, Akron may be the worst team in FBS (Joe Bauserman probably isn't going to be able to juke out six different defenders on a 15-yard touchdown run against anybody else on the schedule; and when I say "juke," I mean "stand still as the defender runs by you"), so knocking them around by an expected amount is not an incredible achievement, but they did nothing to dissuade the relatively positive projection we gave them in the Football Outsiders Almanac 2011. We projected them 15th and tied for first in the Whichever Division They Are In Division, and so far, so good. Both Bauserman and Braxton Miller had perfectly efficient days -- without any 80-yard bomb to skew the per-play stats, they still combined for 10.5 yards per pass and a 71% completion rate; I expected a bit more out of the running game, however (Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith combined to average just 4.5 yards over 37 carries). Meanwhile, nine different players registered a tackle for loss, and Akron gained just 90 yards overall. This was, again, just Akron, but that's one game down, four more to go before tOSU has a full-strength team.
Wisconsin (Proj. Scoring Margin: +45.1 | Actual Scoring Margin: +34 | Diff: -11.1)
I'm not happy with you, Bucky. I gave Wisconsin, a 35-point favorite, the "Lock of the Week" status at Football Outsiders, and it looked like it was in the bag when the Badgers racked up a 37-3 halftime lead. But then, instead of continuing last year's pedal-to-the-metal style (which made me comfortable giving them the Lock despite such a large point spread), they coasted, allowing two second-half touchdowns and scoring their final points at 8:45 of the third quarter. They won by 34, and the Lock of the Week is 0-1.
These are all personal complaints, however. Clearly UW could have won by 50 if they wanted to. Russell Wilson's debut was near-perfect -- he threw for 255 yards (19.6 per pass, 77% completion rate) and carried twice for 62 yards. He is an outstanding quarterback, and Wisconsin is lucky to have him. I can't make them the shoo-in favorites for the conference title, however, at least not yet. Because in the end, they did just what they were projected to do, and our projections have them in a dogfight with Ohio State.
Indiana (Proj. Scoring Margin: +4.1 | Actual Scoring Margin: -7 | Diff: -11.1)
It's okay, Kevin Wilson. When my own Mizzou Tigers hired Gary Pinkel, he lost the first game of his long rebuilding project to a MAC team with a new coach, too. No word on whether Pete Lembo is the new Urban Meyer (it was Meyer's Bowling Green Falcons that took down Mizzou) -- I'm guessing not -- but still, a false start in your first game means very little down the line. Still ... Indiana just lost to Ball State, and under no circumstances is that a good or forgivable thing. The Hoosiers scored 17 points on their first four drives, then went punt-punt-downs-punt over the next two quarters. Meanwhile, they couldn't get Ball State off the field. The Cardinals had drives of 6:00 (84 yards, TD), 5:40 (73 yards, TD), 5:28 (48 yards, FG), 3:54 (70 yards, TD) and 7:18 (80 yards, FG), thanks mostly to a grind-it-out run game. Run defense was a relative strength for Indiana last year (they were 72nd in Rushing S&P+, 115th in Passing S&P+), but ... not on Saturday. IU quarterback Edwin Wright-Baker looked solid (272 yards, 8.5 per pass, 63% completion rate), but the Hoosiers' offense stalled just as the BSU offense got rolling, and the game got away from them.
Purdue (Proj. Scoring Margin: +15.0 | Actual Scoring Margin: +3 | Diff: -12.0)
Credit where it's due: Purdue trailed Middle Tennessee for almost the entire game and could have folded, but kept grinding away and finally took the lead on a gorgeous, patient, 35-yard touchdown pass from Caleb TerBush to Antavian Edison with 0:49 left. They then blocked a last-second field goal to clinch the win. Near-disasters are always better than disasters. Still ... the Boilermakers allowed 460 yards (5.8 per play) to a pass-heavy MTSU attack. MTSU quarterback Logan Kilgore looked awesome, but ... still.
Played an FCS Opponent
It's hard to glean much from a game against an FCS opponent ... and even harder when it's a bad opponent, and the game is played amid weather delays and awesome rain storms. Marcus Coker averaged just 3.7 yards per carry in Iowa's 34-7 win over Tennessee Tech, and if you take out a single, 88-yard pass to Marvin McNutt, James Vandenberg averaged 6.6 yards per pass. I won't sound the alarms by any means, for all the reasons mentioned above, but ... yawn. Iowa built their lead and coasted, just like...
More sleep-walking, at least for a bit. Michigan State led Youngstown State just 7-6 with six minutes left in the first half, then scored just enough to win with comfort (28-6). On a per-play average, they nearly doubled up YSU (6.8 to 3.7), though, so I won't be too harsh. In the end, Kirk Cousins completed 18 of 22 passes, Edwin Baker averaged 6.1 yards per carry, B.J. Cunningham caught nine passes for 130 yards, and William Gholston had a pair of tackles for loss. No real complaints.
The ticker stat looked solid (Taylor Martinez rushed for 135 yards and three touchdowns!) but in the end Nebraska averaged just 5.4 yards per play against the mostly hapless Chattanooga Mocs. It's fine, of course, but drops were evidently a problem in the receiving corps, and it's at least a small warning sign that my biggest concern -- the passing game -- has a long way to go. Quincy Enunwa (four catches on six targets, 58 yards) might have promise. And the Nebraska defense is ... the Nebraska defense. Eight players had tackles for loss, three had a pass defensed, etc.
Penn State led 7-0 before quarterback Rob Bolden even took the field for Penn State's easy 41-7 win over Indiana State (Chaz Powell returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, which is a pretty fun way to open the season), and they led 14-0 after Bolden's first drive. His next five drives: punt-punt-MFG-punt-punt. Hmm. Including sacks, Bolden averaged 1.5 yards per pass attempt, which is obviously egregious. Matt McGloin averaged a hair under 8.0, which perhaps makes him the better option. Then again, anybody can play quarterback for Penn State this year as long as the primary job is handing the ball to Silas Redd (12 carries, 104 yards, 2 TD). The PSU defense held ISU to 3.2 yards per play, and eight players made tackles for loss. Mike Yancich (3.5 tackles, 1.5 TFL/sacks) and Drew Astorino (1 INT, 2 PBU) had lovely days.