Everybody’s been bagging on the Big Ten this offseason, what with the conference’s dismal 1-6 record in bowl games last season. And if the first games of the first weekend this year are any indication, expect the criticism to continue.
First, Iowa - the only Big Ten school to win its bowl game last year - opened up with in-state I-AA opponent Northern Iowa. And the 22nd-ranked Hawkeyes needed not one, but two blocked field goals to survive an embarrassing near-plucking by the Panthers.
Trailing UNI 13-3 at the half, Iowa didn’t take the lead until the 4th quarter when a TD pass put them up 17-13. But the Panthers drove down the field & notched a field goal to make it 17-16. Then with under 2 minutes left to go, UNI drove down again to attempt a game-winner - but it was blocked. Game over, right?
Not so fast. An Iowa defender touched the ball after it crossed the line of scrimmage, and a UNI player eventually pounced on it. (Shades of Leon Lett, anyone?) After much deliberation, the Panthers were given one more try. And much to the relief of thousands in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes blocked it again - and this time, the Iowa defender pounced on & smothered the ball, not wanting the 3rd time to be the charm for UNI. Iowa survives, 17-16. Our own Adam J. is sure to add some of his own analysis later today.
Another close call for the Big Ten came in Columbus, where Ohio State had its hands full with a scrappy Navy squad. The Buckeyes led 29-14 late in the 4th quarter, when Midshipmen QB Ricky Dobbs fired an 85-yard TD missle to Marcus Curry to cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 29-21.
Then when under 3 minutes left to go, Terrelle Pryor tossed a costly interception. On the very next play, Navy QB Dobbs scampered straight up the middle for a 24-yard TD, cutting OSU’s lead to 29-27 & leaving the Middies within a two-point conversion of tying it up.
Then for some reason, Navy decides to abandon the running game that’s been so successful for them & attempts a short pass. Brian Rolle picks it off & runs 100 yards the other way, giving the two points to the Buckeyes instead. Ohio State survives, 31-27.
Minnesota became the 3rd Big Ten team to eek out a close victory this afternoon with a 23-20 OT win over Greg Paulus-led Syracuse. But the rest of the conference’s early-day competitors had no such problems: Northwestern takes it to Towson 47-14, Michigan State mauls Montana State 44-3, Penn State pops Akron 31-7, Purdue pummels Toledo 52-31.
In the SEC, Lane Kiffin makes a very successful debut as Tennessee wipes out Western Kentucky 63-7, while Kentucky claws out a 42-0 murdering of Miami (Ohio).
And some other early finals from this first weekend of the season:
Georgia Tech 37,Jacksonville State 17
East Carolina 29, Appalachian State 24
West Virginia 33, Liberty 20
Pittsburgh 38, Youngstown State 3