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Last Week in College Football: The Badgers and Buckeyes Shine as the Big Ten Returns to Action

Iowa may have disappointed in their Big Ten opener, but other conference contenders took care of business in Week Nine.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa’s football season got off to an infuriating start as the Hawkeyes snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against a short-handed Purdue team after committing several avoidable turnovers and penalties. However, Iowa’s misadventures shouldn’t detract from what was otherwise an exciting week of college football, at least for the Hawkeye fans who didn’t swear off football for the rest of the day after their team’s disappointing debut.

The Big Ten is finally back in action, and the conference’s presumptive favorite didn’t miss a beat. The Ohio State Buckeyes looked like the national title contender they were expected to be in the preseason, running up the score in a 52-17 beatdown of a Nebraska team that always seems to be a year away from being a year away from contention. Meanwhile, Wisconsin looked like the class of the Big Ten West in a convincing 45-7 win over an Illinois team that defeated them in 2019. Freshman quarterback Graham Mertz was sensational for the Badgers (20-21 passing for 5 touchdowns), and while his status for the next few games is up in the air after a positive coronavirus test, Wisconsin should be in good shape to contend for the conference crown if game manager extraordinaire Jack Coan can steer the ship over the next few weeks.

The Badgers and Buckeyes certainly impressed in the Big Ten’s debut, though it remains unclear which teams will present the greatest challenges to them winning their divisions. Michigan looked strong in their 49-24 win over a Minnesota team that seemed to be missing the spark from 2019, but it’s tough to pencil the Wolverines in as a real contender until they prove they can defeat the Buckeyes head-to-head, something which has eluded them in recent years. Penn State was thought to be Ohio State’s chief rival in the East, but that’s very much in doubt after the Nittany Lions’ overtime loss to Indiana in one of the most exciting finishes of the season so far.

In the West, Northwestern looked impressive in their dominant 43-3 win over Maryland and may have found an answer at quarterback in Indiana transfer Payton Ramsey. However, it remains to be seen whether the Wildcat victory was a sign of real improvement or an indicator of just how bad Maryland is in 2020, and next week’s game against Iowa should clarify a lot about where both teams stand in the Big Ten West’s hierarchy. Speaking of teams improving, Rutgers deserves some love for getting their first victory of the second Greg Schiano era, even if that win did come against a thoroughly unimpressive Michigan State team.

While the Big Ten dominated the headlines this week, there were other games of consequence being played across the country. Oklahoma State edged out Iowa State 24-21 in a game that had far greater Big Twelve title implications than most fans would have expected before the season. The Cowboys are something of a unicorn in the Big Twelve because of their willingness to play defense, but with a dangerous running game led by the dynamic Chuba Hubbard and a big play wide receiving threat in Tylan Wallace, Mike Gundy’s team can score enough points to hang with the conference’s high-powered offenses.

Meanwhile, while Clemson and Alabama took care of business against Syracuse and Tennessee, Notre Dame made their case for why they deserve to be considered as legitimate playoff contenders as well. Ian Book finally got the Notre Dame passing game clicking, dropping 45 points, 312 yards, and three passing touchdowns on a strong Pittsburgh defense. The Fighting Irish need to improve further before they can go toe-to-toe against Clemson, but the Irish may pose the best chance of any ACC teams of knocking off the Tigers during the regular season.

Finally, Cincinnati made a strong case to be considered the nation’s top Group of Five team in its convincing 42-13 win over a previously unbeaten SMU squad. The Bearcat defense shined against an SMU offense that had yet to be held under 30 points on the season, and Desmond Ridder put the entire AAC on notice with a 91-yard touchdown run late in the 4th quarter that put his exceptional athleticism on display.

Could Cincinnati be the first Group of Five team to crash the college football playoff? With the Big Ten and Pac-12 playing severely shortened season, 2020 might present the best chance for a non-power five team to get their shot at a national title. However, a few other Group of Five teams could still spoil Cincinnati’s claim to be the primary party crasher; Marshall and Coastal Carolina are both 5-0 and ranked in the AP Top 25, and BYU is 6-0 and boasts one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the sport in Zach Wilson. And who knows, maybe one of the MAC teams that will start their season in Week 9 will emerge as a contender as well?