The Big Ten posted a 12-2 record during the season's opening weekend, including impressive wins by newcomers Maryland and Rutgers, but it was a second-half collapse by a member of the old guard in the conference's biggest matchup of the week--and the unusual aftermath that has ensued--that is stealing the spotlight.
Playing in the south against a perennial SEC powerhouse, Wisconsin was running away with a signature victory for both its program and conference. Up 17-7 early in the third quarter against 13th-ranked LSU, redshirt junior running back Melvin Gordon busted a 63-yard run that would eventually lead to a Badger touchdown. He would finish with 140 yards on 16 carries (8.8 yards per carry) and a score, but inexplicably touched the ball only four times in the second half.
LSU mounted an unthinkable comeback, aided by the lack of Gordon and two critical fourth-quarter interceptions thrown by redshirt junior quarterback Tanner McEvoy. The Tigers outscored UW 21-0 over the final 23 minutes of the game--including 15-0 in the fourth quarter--to capture an unlikely 28-24 win.
McEvoy, who played 10 games at safety for Wisconsin last year, finished just 8-of-24 (33.3 percent) for 50 yards and the two aforementioned interceptions. Redshirt junior quarterback Joel Stave, who started all 13 games a year ago and led the team to 10 wins, watched from the sidelines.
When asked why Gordon, who rushed for more than 1,600 yards in 2013, was extensively limited in the second half, Badger head coach Gary Andersen insisted that Gordon wasn't injured, but that he "didn't know" why he was kept off the field. After the game, Gordon also assertively told reporters that he was not hurt during the contest.
"Coaches' choice, Melvin was perfectly fine," said Wisconsin sophomore running back Corey Clement. "I can't really say anything about that."
On Monday, Andersen told reporters that Gordon was held out because of a strained hip flexor.
"I was upset," Gordon added later on Monday about seeing limited action during the second half of the loss. "[Wisconsin running backs coach Thomas Brown] texted me and he told me [the hip flexor] was the reason. It kind of made sense, but I was ready to go. It was just a misunderstanding."
On Tuesday, the school announced that Stave would be out indefinitely due to a re-injured throwing shoulder, which he initially hurt in the Badgers' Capital One Bowl appearance last January. Later that evening, Andersen and Stave held a press conference revealing that, in fact, Stave was not injured.
"Is he injured?" Andersen began. "No. Is he ready to play right now? No. I used the word injury, so maybe bad choice of words."
"Maybe on some level," Stave said when asked if his hiatus may have something to do with a condition commonly referred to as the 'yips'. "I've heard of that, too. The yips, a golfer who can't hit it straight and stuff like that."
Heading into a week-two matchup against Western Illinois, the Badgers--who many predicted to run away with the Big Ten's West Division--must overcome the disappointment, confusion and uncertainty stemming from the type of second-half meltdown that can change the course of a season.
Gordon is expected to be back on the field despite the reported hip flexor strain, Stave is practicing, but has been shut down for the foreseeable future with the 'yips', and a struggling McEvoy is once again listed atop team's quarterback depth chart.
It certainly has been an interesting few days in Madison.
Game to look forward to: No. 7 Michigan State at No. 3 Oregon
An obvious choice, the menacing Spartans have the opportunity to make a massive statement in Eugene. Surprisingly, it marks the first time two top-10 teams have clashed in a non-conference game in the history of Autzen Stadium. ESPN's College Gameday will be in attendance, but so will more than 55,000 raucous Duck fans--UO is 6-2 all-time with the Gameday crew in attendance.
The last time MSU played on the road against a top-three team, they were demoralized by No. 1 Nebraska 55-14 in 1996. But the Spartans are battle tested under head coach Mark Dantonio. Including bowl games, the Spartans are 14-4 outside of East Lansing over the last three seasons.
MSU will bring a mean-spirited defense that ranked second in the nation in total defense (252.2 yards per game) and scoring defense (13.2 points per game) in 2013. Last, year Oregon's high-octane offensive attack ranked second in the country in total offense (565.0 yards per game) and fourth in scoring offense (45.5 points per game).
Although it is conceivable that either team could recover from dropping this early-season tilt, this is an exceedingly important test for two highly-touted squads with realistic hopes of a College Football Playoff appearance.
1. Michigan State
2. Ohio State
9. Penn State
Illinois (1-0, 0-0)
Illinois welcomes Western Kentucky in the first meeting between the two schools … Redshirt sophomore Wes Lunt's 285 passing yards and four touchdowns in last week's victory over Youngstown State were both school records for a debuting quarterback … The Illini defense is tasked with slowing down a Hilltopper offense that gained 702 yards and 40 first downs in its season opener … WKU head coach Jeff Brohm served as the quarterbacks coach in Champaign in 2010 and 2011.
Iowa (1-0, 0-0)
Iowa clashes with high-powered Ball State at Kinnick Stadium … In its week one win, five different UI players carried the ball and 13 registered receptions … The Hawkeyes have won five of their last six regular-season games dating back to last season; BSU has captured 17 of its last 19 regular-season contests and scored a school-record 501 points in 2013 … Iowa has defeated Ball State both of the prior matchups between the programs, outscoring the Cardinals a combined 101-0.
Maryland (1-0, 0-0)
Maryland hits the road for the first time as a member of the Big Ten conference when it visits South Florida … Fifth-year senior quarterback C.J. Brown accounted for six touchdowns in UM's opener, has rushed for at least three touchdowns in two of his last three games, and ranks ninth in Terrapin history with 20-career scores on the ground ... Junior wide receiver Stefon Diggs leads all active FBS players with a career average of 153.6 all-purpose yards per game.
Michigan State (1-0, 0-0)
No. 7 Michigan State invades Oregon in a battle of two of the winningest programs of this decade … Since 2010, the Ducks lead all FBS schools with 48 wins, and the
Spartans pace the Big Ten and rank eighth overall with 43 … The Spartans current 11-game winning streak is the second-longest active streak in the nation (Florida State, 17) … Oregon is the highest ranked non-conference opponent MSU has challenged since it played at top-ranked Nebraska in 1996.
Minnesota (1-0, 0-0)
Minnesota hopes to avoid a letdown before traveling to TCU when Middle Tennessee State travels to Minneapolis … Junior defensive tackle Scott Epke has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL … All five Gopher touchdowns in their week one triumph over Eastern Illinois were scored by underclassmen-both redshirt sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner and redshirt freshman running back Berkley Edwards scored twice on the ground, and sophomore wide receiver Donovahn Jones caught his first-career touchdown pass.
Nebraska (1-0, 0-0)
No. 18 Nebraska aims to keep its offensive momentum rolling when it entertains McNeese State… Senior I-Back Ameer Abdullah was crowned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week following a career-high 232-yard rushing effort in NU's opening game destruction of Florida Atlantic … Junior defensive end Randy Gregory, who led the Huskers with 10.5 sacks a year ago, is expected to be sidelined with a minor knee injury … Nebraska gained a modern-day Big Ten-record 784 yards of total offense last week.
Northwestern (0-1, 0-0)
Northwestern is in desperate search for a home win against perennial MAC power Northern Illinois … NU has dropped eight of its last nine regular season games, with seven of those losses decided by eight points or less … The Wildcats are 6-0-1 all-time against the Huskies, and have won 10-straight against Mid American Conference foes … NIU's 47 wins since 2010 ranks second among all FBS schools, and the Huskies were 2-0 against Big Ten teams in 2013.
Ohio State (1-0, 0-0)
No. 8 Ohio State hosts Virginia Tech in prime time in the inaugural matchup between the two national programs … Redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett garnered Co-Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for his stellar debut, in which he accounted for 276 yards of total offense and two touchdowns to help OSU outlast Navy … OSU has tallied an FBS-best 25-consecutive regular season wins ...The Buckeyes have won 35-straight home openers, with the last loss coming to Penn State in 1978.
Penn State (1-0, 0-0)
Penn State head coach James Franklin makes his Beaver Stadium debut when the Nittany Lions take on Akron … Senior kicker Sam Ficken was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week after converting a career-high four field goals, including a game-winning 36-yarder as time expired in PSU's 26-24 win over Central Florida … Redshirt freshman wide receiver DeSean Hamilton caught 11 passes for 165 yards (11.0 yards per reception)--both school records for a rookie, and earned Co-Big Ten Freshman of the Week accolades.
Purdue (1-0, 0-0)
Purdue collides with a second-consecutive Mid American Conference adversary when Central Michigan makes the Trek to Ross-Ade Stadium …Senior running back Akeem Hunt sits 12th among active FBS players with 3,428 career all-purpose yards … The Boilermakers are looking for a second-straight win over an FBS team after faltering in its previous 12 tries … PU is 40-10-1 against MAC foes … Purdue leads the all-time series 5-0, and snuck by CMU 32-25 the last time the squads met in 2008.
Rutgers (1-0, 0-0)
Rutgers hopes to handle a struggling Howard squad at home … Senior safety Johnathan Aiken captured Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors after registering seven tackles, one pass break-up and a forced fumble in RU's week one road conquest of Washington State … The Scarlet Knights are 3-0 all-time against Howard, outscoring the Buffalos a combined 127-14 … Rutgers hasn't yielded a point in the last five contests and 336:20 of overall game time against MEAC foes dating back to 2009.
Wisconsin (0-1, 0-0)
No. 19 Wisconsin returns to the friendly confines of Camp Randall Stadium, and is looking to bounce back from its first season-opening loss since 1997 when it hosts Western Illinois … Redshirt junior Melvin Gordon was limited to just three second half carries in last week's loss to LSU, but is expected to return to action … Redshirt junior quarterback Joel Stave, who started all 13 games in 2013, has been ruled out indefinitely for undetermined reasons; redshirt junior Tanner McEvoy managed just a 34.2 quarterback rating against the Tigers, the worst debut for a UW quarterback since 1977.
Schedule for Sept. 6
Western Kentucky at Illinois, Noon, Big Ten Network
McNeese State at Nebraska, Noon, ESPNU/WatchESPN
Akron at Penn State, Noon, ABC/ESPN2/WatchESPN
Central Michigan at Purdue, Noon, ESPNews/WatchESPN
Howard at Rutgers, Noon, Big Ten Network
Western Illinois at Wisconsin, Noon, Big Ten Network
Northern Illinois at Northwestern, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Middle Tennessee at Minnesota, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Ball State at Iowa, 3:30 p.m., ESPN2/WatchESPN
Maryland at South Florida, 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Michigan State at Oregon, 6:30 p.m., FOX
Michigan at Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m., NBC
Virginia Tech at Ohio State, 8:00 p.m., ESPN/WatchESPN