SALT LAKE CITY — The Big Ten returned to action Saturday and it felt like a whirlwind of change took place in the college football landscape.
Wisconsin kicked things off Friday night in a 45-7 thumping of Illinois. Redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz stole the show in an incredible outing where he threw for 248 yards and five touchdowns on 20-of-21 passing. The Badgers came into the season with some questions lingering, but all that went away with the team's dominant performance with Mertz under center — at least for now.
Ohio State, though, remains the team to beat in the conference as the Buckeyes overwhelmed a Nebraska team that will be a decent threat in the Big Ten this season. The Buckeyes showed why they'll be near the top of my ballot for the remainder of the season, barring some unforeseen loss.
Justin Fields remains one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He's got a ton of weapons around him, including freshman receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba who landed an incredible toe touch in the back of the end zone for a score. It was just one of many scores for the Buckeyes as Fields finished with a near-perfect outing, throwing for 276 yards and two touchdowns on 20-of-21 passing.
As Ohio State established its dominance, Rutgers — yes, that Rutgers, a team that's won three games in the last two years — pulled out the upset win over Michigan State. The Scarlet Knights opened up the game with two quick scores and never looked back in a 38-27 win. It won't get them ranked this week but is still worth mentioning.
And then there was Penn State. The Nittany Lions entered the season ranked No. 8 but didn't look anything like a Top 10 team in college football. Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford threw two interceptions in the first half as Indiana took a 17-7 lead into the halftime break. Neither team played exceptionally well, but they found the game tied 28-28 with 8 seconds left in regulation and Penn State needing a 57-yard field goal to win.
But the ball landed a yard short of the uprights — overtime.
And that's where it got crazy. Penn State scored a touchdown quickly and looked to be in command of the bonus period. Indiana fought back and managed to equalize with a touchdown of its own — except instead of the PAT, Indiana decided it wanted to win the game on a 2-point try. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. scrambled before making a quick dash for the pylon — and he scored, or at least that was the ruling on the field.
The game went into a several-minute review of a game-defying play that was ultimately confirmed, giving Indiana a win. But the play was anything but certain. On review, it appears the ball hit out of bounds before it struck the pylon. Without clearer evidence, however, the ruling on the field trumped all.
Indiana has been on the rise over the last few years, so maybe this is what they need to continue that trajectory. In the meantime, Indiana gets some love in my ballot, even if it wasn't always pretty.
Around the rest of college football, I'm still a little uncertain on teams I ranked below the No. 15 mark. I expect there to be a ton of turnover here as the Big Ten continues play, and as the Pac-12 opens up on Nov. 7. While some teams have had great seasons, can they contend with some of the Power Five programs playing? Looking for the top 25 teams in the country is sometimes more than record — but it's a fine line.
Dropping Out: Auburn (3-2), Iowa State (3-2), Minnesota (0-1), NC State (4-2), SMU (5-1), Virginia Tech (3-2)
Checking In: Army (6-1), Boise State (1-0), Coastal Carolina (5-0), Indiana (1-0), Marshall (5-0)
In Consideration: Auburn (3-2), Houston (2-1), Liberty (6-0), Louisiana (4-1), LSU (2-2), Memphis (3-1), Texas (3-2)