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All hail the Big Ten’s new champ, Illinois!
OK, we done here? Wait, we have 13 more weeks to go?
Sorry, we’re just used to seeing one Big Ten game on the schedule and thinking that’s the end of the season. (Especially when Jim Harbaugh's not in Indianapolis...)
But no, Illinois’ 30-22 Big Ten-opening win at home over Nebraska was merely the start of something … well, big. (Yes, even bigger than Bret Bielema’s first Big Ten game since his Wisconsin squad's 2012 stomping of Nebraska in the conference title game.)
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Every week through Nov. 27 features at least one matchup between Big Ten members, save one: That would be Week 2 (Sept. 11). Then again, give it time — there’s still a couple weeks for the conference to poach some of that week’s foes, such as Syracuse (because why not), Iowa State (because rivalry) or Eastern Michigan (because the Eagles usually spend a third of the season playing on the Big Ten Network).
And that includes Week 0, normally packed with big Power Five neutral-site games and non-conference matchups that couldn’t get a TV deal any other week of the season. (We see you, UConn/Fresno State.) Now, normally we snooze on the Big Ten West until there’s a winner in the Northwestern/Wisconsin game. (Literally, we snooze — that game is registered as a Type III sleep aid and requires a doctor’s prescription in 19 states.)
But this is the Big Ten Misery Index, and there was indeed, some misery in the Big Ten on Saturday.
The summer of 2021 was not exactly great for Nebraska. There was the resignation of AD Bill Moos in late June, basically as he walked out the door on a Friday afternoon: “Hey, Bill, got any plans for the weekend?” “Nah, Scott, thought I might mow the lawn, binge ‘Too Hot to Handle’ on Netflix and, oh yeah, I’m retiring next week.”
Then there was the August news that coach Scott Frost — in Year 4, where does the time go? — and the football program are under NCAA investigation for holding practices during the NCAA’s COVID-induced timeout in 2020.
And, finally, there was Saturday’s game, in which the first points went to Illinois on a first-quarter safety in which Nebraska punt returner Cam Taylor-Britt attempted to throw the ball forward, mid-tackle, from the end zone.
That was followed in the second quarter by a missed PAT on their next drive, and then, in the final minute of the half, a fumble that was returned, scoop-and-score-style, 41 yards by Illinois. Even then, after allowing 28 straight points to the Illini, Nebraska scored late in the fourth quarter to make it a one-TD game … and missed the PAT again.
We’re pretty sure one bad game isn’t a defense against NCAA infractions, but, uh, maybe new AD Trev Alberts should forward a link from this one to the NCAA compliance office?
The good news for the ’Huskers is that they don’t have another Big Ten game for three weeks, with Fordham — yes, they still play football and, yes, we had to look that up, too — coming to Lincoln this weekend.
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While we’re scanning the schedule, and we’ve got some time before the next Big Ten game — all of four days before Ohio State and Minnesota row the boat in Minneapolis on Thursday night — let’s check out some other Big Ten non-conference schedules.
Michigan State: Penguins, Hurricanes and Hilltoppers — Youngstown State on Sept. 11, Miami (Florida) on Sept. 18 and Western Kentucky on Oct. 2, respectively — OK, who made the MSU scheduling department watch a climate change documentary?
Rutgers: Temple (Sept. 2) and Delaware (Sept. 18) visit Piscataway, New Jersey, this season. We’re excited to see how many more games Greg Schiano can schedule around the Amtrak Acela schedule he found in the student union building.
Iowa: For all of the Matt Campbell-to-the-NFL, will-he-or-won't-he? talk surrounding Iowa State, don’t forget he’s still 0-4 in the in-state rivalry (scheduled for Sept. 11) against Kirk Ferentz. We know Coach Kirk hasn’t.
Of course Nebraska’s non-conference schedule gets a bit tougher after the visit from Fordham, with Buffalo and Oklahoma also scheduled. The Sooners … did they do anything big over the summer? While we try and remember, let’s run through the (temporarily abbreviated) misery index, from least- to most-miserable:
14. Illinois: W, 30-22, over Nebraska
They’re the least-miserable team on the list, thanks to actually, y’know … winning. But it wasn’t all grins and giggles for the Illini; they lost old man/starting quarterback Brandon Peters — who was a member of Jim Harbaugh’s first full recruiting class at Michigan, if you need proof of old — to a injury to his non-throwing shoulder just 12 minutes into the game. Luckily, Bielema knows the only constants in life are death, taxes and a mid-game Brandon Peters injury, the Illini were able to turn to … Art Sitkowski, who has been playing in the Big Ten since 2018, is still only a redshirt sophomore and is somehow also your grandpa’s buddy from New Jersey who served with him in the war. Sitkowski was 12-for-15 passing and 2-for-2 in stories that started with “You know, back in my day …”
T2. Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, Wisconsin: DNP
Say what you will about the prospects of Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor and Mel Tucker in East Lansing, at least they won’t be losing to Illinois this season. (It’s more of a win for Big Ten schedulemakers, but still…)
1. Nebraska: L, 30-22, to Illinois
Guess you won’t complain about opening against Ohio State again, eh?
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Big Ten football: Look out, Michigan & MSU — there's a new top team