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Posts Tagged ‘David Blough’

#8 Michigan 28 – Purdue 10: O’Korn, U-M defense turn halftime deficit into second half rout

Sunday, September 24th, 2017


(Patrick Barron)

Michigan was a trendy pick to be upset by upstart Purdue on Saturday, but the Wolverines turned a sloppy first half into a second half route to stay 4-0 this season.

Wilton Speight was knocked out of the game on Michigan’s third possession of the game and John O’Korn came in and led the Wolverines on a 13-play, 84-yard touchdown drive to get the scoring started. On the drive, he completed an 11-yard pass to tight end Sean McKeon on 3rd-and-9 and also a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Gentry on 3rd-and-4.

Final Stats
Michigan  Purdue
Score 28 10
Record 4-0 2-2
Total Yards 423 189
Net Rushing Yards 139 30
Net Passing Yards 284 159
First Downs 24 9
Turnovers 2 1
Penalties-Yards 7-57 10-82
Punts-Yards 7-284 11-439
Time of Possession 38:59 21:01
Third Down Conversions 6-of-15 0-of-12
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 5-40 4-28
Field Goals 0-for-0 1-for-1
PATs 4-for-4 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-3 1-of-1
Red Zone TDs-Chances 3-of-3 1-of-1
Full Box Score

But the lead wouldn’t last for long as Purdue also switched quarterbacks — albeit by choice — and Elijah Sindelar led the Boilermakers right down the field for a game-tying touchdown. The drive was classic Jeff Brohm, using a series of throwback passes to gain 16 yards, 13 yards, 36 yards, and 10 yards for the touchdown.

O’Korn threw an interception on Michigan’s next possession but the Michigan defense held Purdue to just a field goal and the Boilers took a 10-7 halftime lead.

The second half was all Michigan.

It took a couple drives for the Michigan offense to get going, but once it did it didn’t look back, scoring touchdowns on three straight drives that covered 86 yards on 11 plays, 65 yards on nine plays, and 76 yards on five plays.

The Michigan defense was even more impressive, limiting Purdue to just 10 total yards in the second half. Purdue had just one second-half possession that didn’t result in a three-and-out, and it was just five plays long before the Boilers punted. They went three plays for one yard, three plays for three yards, three plays for negative-three yards, three plays for five yards, five plays for three yards, and one play for six yards.

For the game, Michigan’s defense held a Purdue offense that had been averaging 459.7 yards per game to just 189 total yards and 3.8 yards per play — the lowest total the Wolverines have allowed this season.

Purdue quarterback led the Big Ten in passing last season and entered the game tops with a 76.1 completion percentage, but he went just 5-of-13 for 32 yards. Sindelar fared slightly better, going 7-of-16 for 103 yards and a touchdown, but had just a 26.5 quarterback rating.

On the other hand, O’Korn went 18-of-26 for 270 yards, one touchdown, and one interception for an 84.9 quarterback rating. It was the first 250-plus passing game on the road for a Michigan quarterback since Jake Rudock did so at Penn State in 2015.

Chris Evans led Michigan in rushing with 14 carries for 97 yards (6.9 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Ty Isaac managed just 20 yards and a score on 10 carries. McKeon led the way in receiving with five receptions for 82 yards, while Gentry caught three for 48 and a score. Ten different Wolverines caught a pass.

Chase Winovich earned national defensive player of the week honors with a six tackle (all solo), four tackle for loss, three sack performance. Devin Bush added six tackles, one tackle for loss, and a sack.

Michigan gets a bye week before hosting Michigan State (2-1) on Oct. 7.

Game Ball – Offense

John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)
It took four weeks but the Michigan quarterback is the offensive player of the week for the first time. But instead of starter Wilton Speight, it’s O’Korn, who took over when Speight was injured on Michigan’s third possession. O’Korn came in and immediately led the Wolverines on a touchdown drive. Although he threw an interception on the next possession, he steadied and led Michigan on three straight touchdown drives in the second half. Is it enough to earn O’Korn the starting job two weeks from now? Who knows, assuming Speight is healthy. But it was an inspiring performance by a guy who has waited his turn.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)

Game Ball – Defense

Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks)
Winovich gets the nod for the second straight week after terrorizing Purdue’s backfield with four tackles for loss and three sacks. His performance was good enough to earn Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week honors. Through four weeks, he ranks third nationally with six sacks and Michigan as a team leads the nation with 18.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)

Four Bold Predictions Results

 Michigan’s offense shows some new looks, gets the tight ends more involved, and Wilton Speight tops 300 yards passing 
– It wasn’t Speight who had the big game passing, but the passing game went about how I expected. Tight ends Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry were the top two receivers, combining for 12 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown, and John O’Korn came close to 300 yards, finishing with 270.

 The offense also converts all of its red zone attempts 
– Michigan’s offense entered the game just 1-of-10 on red zone touchdown conversions but converted all three chances on Saturday. It did so with a 12-yard touchdown pass from O’Korn to Gentry on 3rd-and-4 in the first quarter, a 10-yard Chris Evans touchdown run in the third quarter, and a 1-yard Ty Isaac touchdown run at the beginning of the fourth.

 Donovan Peoples-Jones scores two touchdowns — one on offense and, yes, another punt return 
– The true freshman who returned a punt for a touchdown against Air Force had a quiet day against Purdue, catching just one pass for eight yards and returning one punt for minus-one yard. Even though Purdue punted 11 times, Peoples-Jones was forced to fair catch most of them. He seemed to take a conservative approach, often calling for the fair catch even though he had room, so he was likely directed to do so in order to avoid a costly mistake in a close game.

 The defense gives up two long pass plays, but holds Purdue’s offense to less than 250 total yards 
– This also went pretty much as expected. Michigan’s defense struggled early in the game with Purdue’s misdirection plays and throwbacks, which resulted in Purdue’s only touchdown. On that drive, the Boilermakers completed passes of 16, 13, 36, and 10 yards. But Don Brown made adjustments at halftime and held the Boilers to just 10 total yards in the second half and 189 total yards — the fewest in their last 35 games.

Season Bold Prediction Results
= 5
 = 4
 = 3

#8 Michigan at Purdue game preview

Friday, September 22nd, 2017


(Kaitlyn Cole)

Previously this week: First Look: Purdue, Tailgate Tuesday: Fried pork tenderloin sammy with fire roasted green chile jam and savory corn casserole, The Numbers Game: U-M offense lagging behind 2016 big play pace but defense allowing fewer

With three games under their belt, the talk surrounding Michigan’s fourth game of the season is sounding much like it was entering the first. Prior to the offseason, most national so-called experts thought the Wolverines would lose to Florida because they lost too many starters to the NFL and they couldn’t match the SEC speed. All Michigan did was win 33-17 and hold the Gators to just 192 total yards and 11 on the ground.

As the Wolverines head into Big Ten play at Purdue tomorrow, they find themselves on the wrong end of the trendy upset pick in Week 4. It seems nearly every neutral observer is picking Purdue.

Quick Facts
Ross-Ade Stadium – 4p.m. EST – FOX
Purdue Head Coach: Jeff Brohm (1st season)
Coaching Record: 32-11 (2-1 at Purdue)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Brian Brohm (1st season)
Tony Levine (1st season)
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Nick Holt (1st season)
Anthony Poindexter (1st season)
Last Season: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 44 – Purdue 13 (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan 44-14
Record in West Lafayette: Michigan 16-9
Jim Harbaugh vs Purdue First meeting
Last Michigan win: 2012 (44-13)
Last Purdue win: 2009 (38-36)
Current Streak: Michigan 3
Purdue schedule to date
Opponent Result
#16 Louisville L 28-35
Ohio W 44-21
at Missouri W 35-3

I mean, if you’re looking for an upset to pick it’s not hard to see why many outside observers would take the Boilermakers. Despite winning all three games by double digits, Michigan’s offense has had trouble converting red zone trips into touchdowns (1-of-10). And despite winning just three games last season and only three Big Ten Conference games combined in the last four years, Purdue has looked much better under first-year head coach Jeff Brohm.

Brohm replaced Darrell Hazell after spending the past three seasons at Western Kentucky and leading the Hilltoppers to two bowl games, two Conference USA East Division titles, and a 30-10 record. He’s a former quarterback at Louisville where he passed for 5,451 yards and 38 touchdowns while going 15-10 from 1991-93.

After bouncing around the NFL and playing in just eight career games, he started seven games in 2001 for the Orlando Rage of the XFL before starting his coaching career in the Arena Football League. He worked his way up from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator at Louisville, then quarterbacks coach stints at Florida Atlantic and Illinois, offensive coordinator at UAB and Western Kentucky before taking the reigns at WKU in 2014.

While he has quickly transformed a Purdue program that has been a Big Ten laughingstock the past decade, one of his players made his job a bit tougher this weekend.

Purdue receiver Gregory Phillips issued some bulletin board material on Thursday by saying, “It’s going to be a surprise when people see us beat Michigan. I wish we played Ohio State, too, because nobody can stop us except ourselves. If we don’t beat Purdue and turn over the ball, we win every game.”

The last statement could be true for most teams. If you don’t beat yourself and turn the ball over, you’ll generally have a good chance of winning. But his assertion that the Boilermakers will beat Michigan and would beat Ohio State too won’t sit well with Wolverines players and coaches.

Phillips also must have a short memory as his team already has one loss this season. Purdue opened the season with a 35-28 loss to 16th-ranked Louisville, though they did perform much better than anyone expected, holding a 28-25 lead in the fourth quarter before surrendering 10 points in the final nine minutes. The Boilers won their next two games, 44-21 over Ohio University and 35-3 at Missouri.

So does Purdue have what it takes to pull off the upset in West Lafayette tomorrow? Or will Michigan stay perfect on the season and put the doubters to rest? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Purdue offense

Through the first three games of the season, Purdue’s offense ranks 45th nationally in total offense (459.7 yards per game), 43rd in scoring (35.7 points per game), 63rd in rushing (173.0 yards per game), and 35th in passing (286.7 yards per game). While that doesn’t sound like a world-beater by any means, it’s impressive when you consider that last season Purdue ranked 80th, 101st, 125th, and 21st in those categories, respectively.

Brohm brought in his younger brother, Brian Brohm, to run the offense. He followed in his brother’s footsteps as a quarterback at Louisville, though he did so with greater success, throwing for 10,775 yards and 71 touchdowns while going 25-9. He was named Big East Offensive Player of the Year in 2006 and led the Cardinals to their first BCS victory in 2007.  He spent a couple seasons as an NFL backup, then a couple in the UFL and three more in the CFL before starting his coaching career with his brother at Western Kentucky last season.

Although the Brohms inherited a team that hasn’t seen much success, they did inherit a good situation at quarterback to work with. Junior David Blough led the Big Ten with 279.3 passing yards per game in 2016, although he also led the conference with 21 interceptions and ranked last in pass efficiency. The talent is certainly there and having two former quarterbacks to tutor him can only help clean up the mistakes. In the first three games of 2017, Blough ranks just ninth in the Big Ten with 199.0 passing yards per game, but he leads the conference with a completion percentage of 76.1. He has completed 51-of-67 passes for 592 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions. Blough split time in the season opener with redshirt sophomore Elijah Sindelar, who had a very 2017 Wilton Speight-like performance, completing 15-of-31 passes for 118 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick.

Blough’s favorite receiver is redshirt freshman Jackson Anthrop, who has caught 17 passes for 157 yards and four touchdown. He leads all Big Ten receivers in touchdowns so far. Only Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor have more (five each). Anthrop caught seven passes for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the opener against Louisville. Phillips is a senior who hasn’t played a major role the past three seasons, but ranks second on the team with 13 catches for 113 yards and a touchdown so far this year. Senior Anthony Mahoungou is the other receiver with at least 100 yards. He has nine receptions for 119 yards and a score.

Junior tight end Cole Herdeman has just seven catches, but he’s made the most of them, leading the team with 200 yards and leads Big Ten pass catchers with 28.6 yards per catch (with a minimum of seven receptions). Fellow tight end, redshirt sophomore Brycen Hopkins, has also caught nine passes for 141 yards and ranks second on the team with two touchdowns. Brohm loves to use his tight ends — his tight end at WKU caught 38 passes for 563 yards last season — so these two will be ones to watch.

Redshirt sophomore running back Tario Fuller ranks seventh in the Big Ten in rushing with an average of 87 yards per game. He rushed for 142 yards on 8.9 yards per carry against Ohio’s 64th-ranked rush defense and 90 yards on 4.7 yards per carry against Missouri’s 91st-ranked rush defense. But Louisville’s 43rd-ranked rush defense limited him to just 29 yards on eight carries. Fuller is the only other Boilermaker back with at least 100 yards rushing. Sophomore Brian Lankford-Johnson is second on the team with 76 yards on 4.4 yards per carry.

Purdue defense

While the offense is significantly improved from last season, the defense still has a ways to go. Under co-defensive coordinators Nick Holt and Anthony Poindexter, Purdue’s defense ranks 68th in total defense (374.3 yards per game), 41st in scoring (19.7 points per game), 53rd against the run (129.7 yards per game), and 83rd against the pass (244.7 yards per game).

They allowed Louisville’s offense to rack up 524 total yards, 378 of which came through the air. Reigning Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson completed 65 percent of his passes for 378 yards and also rushed 21 times for 107 yards, accounting for a Denard Robinson-like 93 percent of Louisville’s offense. The Boilermakers also let Ohio accumulate 396 total yards, 223 of which came through the air, and 4.6 yards per carry on the ground, but the stiffened against Missouri, holding the Tigers to just 203 total yards, 70 on the ground, and forcing three turnovers.

Most of Purdue’s front seven is back from last year and they added Western Kentucky graduate transfer will linebacker T.J. McCollum, who ranks third on the team with 19 tackles so far this season. He brought 25 career starts, 197 tackles, and 15.5 tackles for loss with him to West Lafayette. Senior Ja’Whaun Bentley is back as the starting middle linebacker. He brings 25 career starts, 175 tackles, and 18 tackles into the season and leads the team with 24 tackles and two forced fumbles through three games. Redshirt sophomore Markus Bailey is the team’s leading returning tackler with 97 a year ago in addition to four interceptions. He has recorded 15 tackles, an interception, and a fumble recovery so far this season.

Purdue lost 21.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks from last year’s defensive tackles, but moved senior Gelen Robinson in from end. Robinson, the younger brother of former Michigan basketball star Glenn Robinson III, led Purdue with five sacks last season, but has had a slow start to 2017 with just eight tackles so far. Seniors Austin Larkin and Danny Ezechukwu are the starting ends. Larkin had 2.5 sacks last year and has six tackles so far in 2017. Ezechukwu is a hybrid linebacker/end, has recorded Purdue’s lone sack on the season, leads the team with three tackles for loss, and has recovered two fumbles. The other tackles spot has been a mix of sophomore Lorenzo Neal and redshirt junior Keiwan Jones, neither of which have made much impact yet this season.

Whereas the front seven brings plenty of experience back from last season, the secondary has little to show in terms of proven experience. Seniors Josh Okonye and Da’Wan Hunte are the starting corners. Okonye is a graduate transfer from Wake Forest and brings experience — if not starting experience — to a secondary that lacks it. He leads the team with three passes defended so far this season. Hunte is the lone returning starter in the secondary after starting 10 games a year ago. Junior college transfer T.J. Jallow had 67 tackles and an interception in two years at East Mississippi Community College and is the starter at free safety, while redshirt junior Jacob Thieneman is the strong safety. He ranks second on the team with 20 tackles through the first three games.

Purdue special teams

Like Michigan’s special teams unit, Purdue’s is extremely young and inexperienced. In Michigan’s case, answers were found in Week 1 with kicker Quinn Nordin setting a school record with two 50-plus field goals. In Purdue’s case, it’s still a question as sophomore J.D. Dellinger and junior Spencer Evans have made just 3-of-6 attempts so far this season. Dellinger at least has experience after connecting on 10-of-14 as a freshman in 2016, but his long was just 42 yards. Unlike Michigan, Purdue has a punter with experience in junior Joe Schopper, who averaged 40.6 yards per punt a year ago (eighth in the Big Ten) and 40.2 yards in 2015. He’s showing improvement so far in the young 2017 season with 12 punts for a Big Ten best average of 48.8 yards.

In the return game, Purdue has left a lot to be desired so far this season, ranking 120th nationally in kick return average and 98th in punt return average. Freshman receiver KeyRon Catlett is averaging an abysmal 12.4 yards per kick return, while junior running back Markell Jones isn’t much better at 14.5. Anthrop is the main punt returner, but is averaging just 2.6 yards on five returns with a long of six. Purdue hasn’t done a great job of defending returns either, ranking 94th in kick return defense and 87th in punt return defense. Against Louisville, they allowed a 43-yard kick return and a 33-yard punt return, so Donovan Peoples-Jones could have some room to run.

Analysis
Purdue running game vs Michigan rush defense
Purdue Michigan 

In three games against average to below average rush defenses, Purdue is averaging 173.0 rushing yards per game, which ranks 10th in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers racked up the majority of their rushing yards (263 on 6.0 yards per carry) against Ohio’s 64th-ranked rush defense. The Bobcats haven’t exactly faced solid running games this season, holding Hampton to just 47 yards on 1.5 yards per carry and Kansas to 108 yards on 3.7 yards per carry. Hampton is an FCS school that had a losing record last season and Kansas ranked 116th nationally in rushing last season. The Jayhawks managed just 73 rushing yards against Southeast Missouri State and 147 against Central Michigan in Week 2. Against Louisville, Purdue managed just 51 rushing yards on 2.4 yards per carry.

So Purdue’s Louisville performance is the most relevant to tomorrow’s game and Michigan’s defense doesn’t allow anyone to run on them. The Wolverines held Florida to just 11 rushing yards, Cincinnati to 68, and Air Force’s triple-option to just 168. Michigan has the clear advantage here.

Purdue pass game vs Michigan pass defense
Purdue Michigan

On the other side of the coin, Purdue has found success with their passing game this season, averaging 286.7 yards per game, which ranks third in the Big Ten. Their 10 passing touchdowns are tied with Penn State and Iowa for most in the conference. While they don’t have superior athletes to Michigan’s defense, they’ll succeed in chunks as a result of Brohm’s scheme which relies heavily on misdirection. They passed for 293 yards on Louisville (on 57 attempts) but had more success against Ohio with 295 yards on just 24 attempts. Against Missouri, it was similar with 272 yards on 34 attempts.

Michigan’s pass defense has been surprisingly solid this season, but has shown it is prone to mistakes, which makes sense with such a young and inexperienced secondary. Yes, they’ve scored three defensive touchdowns, but they’ve also given up some big plays, including a 64-yard touchdown pass by Air Force last week. That was simply a case of Tyree Kinnell getting sucked in by the Falcons’ run game, but it’s a sure bet that Brohm will game plan to attack Michigan’s young corners and force them to make mistakes. I’m putting this category as even based mostly on scheme.

Purdue rush defense vs Michigan running game
Purdue Michigan 

Michigan’s running game has been defined by big plays so far this season. It has had trouble gaining positive yards consistently, but then gains a big chunk of yards on one run. This is most evident in Ty Isaac, who ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 112 rushing yards per game, but has had 38.3 percent of his carries go for one yard or less. This is because he already has 10 runs of 10 or more yards and is averaging 24 yards apiece on those 10. He’s averaging an explosive run more than every five carries. Chris Evans’ one yard or less rate is even higher at 42.4 percent, but he only has four explosive runs with an average gain of 15 yards.

Purdue’s rush defense has given up 129.7 yards per game on the ground — 11th in the Big Ten — but it has done well at preventing big runs. They’ve allowed 13 runs of 10 or more yards through three games, but none has gone for more than 24. Louisville had a long of just 15 yards and Missouri’s long was just 13. Can Michigan’s running game move the ball consistently without big, explosive runs? That remains to be seen, but just because Purdue hasn’t allowed big runs doesn’t mean Michigan won’t break one, so I’m giving Michigan a very slight edge here.

Purdue pass defense vs Michigan passing game
Purdue Michigan 

This, to me, is one of the more intriguing battles to watch tomorrow. Wilton Speight has been erratic in the early season, throwing a pair of interceptions and often overthrowing open receivers. But — like in the running game — he has hit a fair amount of explosive plays. Six different Michigan receivers have caught a pass of at least 33 yards (three of them for touchdowns). Purdue’s defense has given up 11 explosive pass plays, which is tied with Ohio State and Rutgers for worst in the Big Ten. They’ve also only gotten to the quarterback once in three games, which is dead last nationally.

Receivers can get open, and Speight will have time to throw, but will he hit them? He’ll be without his top big-play receiver, Tarik Black, who is out indefinitely with a broken foot. Donovan Peoples-Jones has shown explosiveness and will need to step into Black’s role. I’m expecting an expanded role for Michigan’s tight ends this week. Zach Gentry has shown great potential with two explosive receptions for an average of 33 yards, and at 6-foot-7 with good speed, he’s a very tough matchup for a linebacker.

I’m giving Michigan a slight edge here, and if Speight shows the accuracy he had through the first two-thirds of last season, Michigan could have a far bigger edge in the passing game.

Purdue special teams vs Michigan special teams
Purdue Michigan 

One of the big questions coming into the season, special teams has been a major asset for Michigan through the first three games. Nordin leads the nation with 11 made field goals and Peoples-Jones has been dynamic in the punt return game, taking one 79 yards for a touchdown last week. Purdue is ripe for allowing a long return with a punter who is averaging nearly 49 yards per punt and a return defense that is allowing nine yards per return. Purdue has been woeful in its own return game and has made just 3-of-6 field goals, so Michigan has the clear edge in this category.

Coaching
Purdue Michigan 

Jeff Brohm may not have the depth of proven success that Jim Harbaugh has, but he’s one of the most exciting young minds in the college football game right now. He comes from the Bobby Petrino school of coaching, which has been successful over the past couple of decades. Many are salivating over the matchup of Brohm’s offense against Don Brown’s defense and it will be fun to watch. Brohm’s offense will test the aggressiveness of Brown’s defense with play-action, screens, and misdirection, and could cause fits if the blitzes can’t get home in time. Michigan gets a slight edge here due to the track record of the entire coaching staff, but I won’t discount Brohm’s ability to challenge it.

Atmosphere and Intangibles
Purdue  Michigan 

Michigan’s young team handled the AT&T Stadium atmosphere just fine in Week 1, but it was still a very friendly crowd as a neutral site. Tomorrow is their first true road game, and while Ross-Ade Stadium isn’t one of the most feared in the Big Ten, it will be a homecoming crowd that is tasting success for the first time in a decade and thinks it has a real chance to knock off a top-10 team, so the late afternoon kickoff will make for a hyped up crowd and a classic Big Ten environment. How will the young Wolverines respond, especially if they fall behind early? Jumping out to a quick lead is important in this one, but for now, I’ll give Purdue the edge.

Edge Average: Michigan 6.2 – Purdue 3.8
Score Prediction: Michigan 41 – Purdue 20

Prior to the season, it was weird to consider Purdue a big game, but here we are with many picking the Boilermakers to pull off the upset. I think it’s a statement game for Michigan similar to how it was against Florida in Week 1. Many were writing them off and they came out and won convincingly. Maybe that Michigan State-like “chip on the shoulder” mentality is what this young team needs. Purdue will hang around through the first half, but Michigan is simply too athletic on defense to give Brohm’s offense a big day, and many of the offensive struggles the Wolverines have faced in the first three games will be a distant memory come Saturday night.

Four bold predictions:

Michigan’s offense shows some new looks, gets the tight ends more involved, and Wilton Speight tops 300 yards passing
The offense also converts all of its red zone attempts
 Donovan Peoples-Jones scores two touchdowns — one on offense and, yes, another punt return
 The defense gives up two long pass plays, but holds Purdue’s offense to less than 250 total yards

2015 Big Ten power rankings: Week 11

Thursday, November 19th, 2015


Power Rankings_header

The Big Ten featured six games this weekend and none of those ended in an upset, though many were too close for comfort.

Now, with only two weeks remaining, the Big Ten will watch a three-horse race in the East Division unfold as the top four teams duke it out. The highly-anticipated Michigan State-Ohio State game is finally here, with more than a chance at the conference title on the line.

Tuesday’s rankings kept six Big Ten teams in the top 25, but some of them are clearly being devalued by a questionable committee.

Here’s how the conference stacks up with two weeks to play.

East Division
1. Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Illinois 28-3 This Week: Sat vs #9 Michigan State (9-1, 5-1), 3:30pm, ABC

This year’s battle for Illibuck was one to forget, as Ohio State rolled the hapless Illini, 28-3, to take home the trophy. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns to pace a Buckeye offense that welcomed starting quarterback J.T. Barrett back to the field. Now OSU faces the two toughest competitors in the East, starting at home against Michigan State.

2. Michigan (8-2, 5-1) – Even
Last Week: Beat Indiana 48-41 (2OT) This Week: Sat at Penn State (7-3, 4-2), 12pm, ABC

The road date with Indiana smelled like danger from a mile away, and it took heroic efforts from Jake Rudock and Jehu Chesson to keep Michigan’s slim Big Ten title hopes alive. Rudock threw for 440 yards and six touchdowns. Chess on caught 10 passes for 207 yards and four touchdowns. Unfortunately, the defense allowed 41 points to a Jordan Howard-led offense that bullied the Wolverines at the point of attack. If it takes two overtimes to beat the 4-6 Hoosiers, next weekend’s matchup with Penn State looks that much tougher.

3. Michigan State (9-1, 5-1) – Even
Last Week: Bear Maryland 24-7 This Week: Sat at #3 Ohio State (10-0, 6-0), 3:30pm, ABC

The Spartans got back on track Saturday, smacking Maryland by 17 despite playing most of the second half with Connor Cook on the sideline. Cook injured his throwing shoulder and looked like he was battling significant pain on the sideline. Luckily for MSU, Perry Hills was dreadful for the Terps, who mustered only one score, which came on their first drive. If Michigan State knocks off OSU in the Horseshoe, it’ll erase memories of that ugly loss to Nebraska.

4. Penn State (7-3, 4-2) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs #12 Michigan (8-2, 5-1), 12pm, ABC

Penn State took a late bye week to prepare for incoming Michigan on Saturday. The Nittany Lions are coming off a two-point loss to Northwestern and looking to finish strong against two top 12 teams in Michigan and MSU. Christian Hackenberg is likely playing his final game in Happy Valley, and he has the skill set to go out with a huge bang.

5. Indiana (4-6, 0-6) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #14 Michigan 41-48 (2OT) This Week: Sat at Maryland (2-8, 0-6), 12pm, BTN

Indiana might be the best 0-6 conference team in the country, but it’s obvious why this group is struggling to finish an upset. It took Michigan three plays to score two overtime touchdowns, the second of which came without a single defender in the same area code as Amara Darboh. All the offense in the world, even from Howard, couldn’t make up for those defensive lapses.

6. Rutgers (3-7, 1-6) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Nebraska 14-31 This Week: Sat vs Army (2-8), 12pm, CBSSN

Rutgers stuck with Nebraska for awhile, but a late push from the superior Cornhuskers ultimately crushed the Scarlett Knights’ slim bowl hopes.

7. Maryland (2-8, 0-6) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #13 Michigan State 7-24 This Week: Sat vs Indiana (4-6, 0-6), 12pm, BTN

Not only is Maryland awful, the revolving door at quarterback makes the Terps nearly impossible to watch. The defense kept the game close for most of the first half, but Perry Hills just couldn’t make any throws after an up-tempo touchdown drive to kick things off.

 

B1G East Week 11

West Division
1. Iowa (10-0, 6-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Minnesota 40-35 This Week: Sat vs Purdue (2-8, 1-5), 12pm, ESPN2

The undefeated Hawkeyes were the latest group to get a score from a pesky Gophers team. Despite exploding for 40 points against a solid defense, Iowa needed 13 fourth-quarter points to hold off the Fighting Tracy Claeys. Saturday’s battle with Purdue will be a nice tuneup for a season finale that’s looking much more interesting now that Nebraska’s turned its season around.

2. Northwestern (8-2, 4-2) – Even
Last Week: Beat Purdue 21-14 This Week: Sat at #25 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1), 3:30pm, BTN

Survive and advance, or something like that! Northwestern looked sluggish Saturday against Purdue and needed a score with under five minutes in the game to grab a third straight victory. It shouldn’t still be in doubt, but the Wildcats can finally prove themselves Saturday if they win at No. 25 Wisconsin.

3. Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs #20 Northwestern (8-2, 4-2), 3:30pm, BTN

The only thing easier than Wisconsin’s schedule this season was their week off to prepare for No. 20 Northwestern this season. The Badgers have knocked off five straight cupcakes since losing the conference opener to Iowa and could pick up their first quality win of the season Saturday.

4. Nebraska (5-6, 3-4) – Even
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 31-14 This Week: Bye (11/27 vs Iowa)

Is Nebraska finally making its run? Mike Riley’s chances to make a bowl game looked so slim after a loss to Purdue dropped his team to 3-6, but wins over MSU and Rutgers have put the Cornhuskers in position to save the season, if they can knock off undefeated rival Iowa.

5. Minnesota (4-6, 1-5) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to #5 Iowa 35-40 This Week: Sat vs Illinois (5-5, 2-4), 12pm, ESPNN

In three weeks since Jerry Kill retired, Minnesota has played tough against Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa. Unfortunately, the Gophers fell short all three times. Illinois presents a much easier task on Saturday.

6. Illinois (5-5, 2-4) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #3 Ohio State 3-28 This Week: Sat at Minnesota (4-6, 1-5), 12pm, ESPNN

Wes Lunt and company just didn’t have it Saturday against Ohio State, managing just three points in the blowout loss. It’ll take a win over Minnesota or Northwestern for the Illini to play in December.

7. Purdue (2-8, 1-5) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #18 Northwestern 14-21 This Week: Sat at #5 Iowa (10-0, 6-0), 12pm, ESPN2

David Blough has been a nice surprise for Purdue this season, putting together another solid performance against Northwestern — 287 yards passing and a touchdown. Next up: An Iowa team fighting for a national championship and a Minnesota team fighting for a bowl game.

B1G West Week 11

2015 Big Ten power rankings: Week 6

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015


Power Rankings_header

For the first time this season, all 14 Big Ten teams hit the field against conference opponents as the first half of the college football regular season came to an end. And though there were no surprises in the outcomes of these games, some of the winning margins definitely stood out.

In the only intra-division battle, the third-highest East Division team beat the highest-ranked West Division team into a pulp, branding the former as the more dominant half of the conference. Four East teams are 2-0 in conference while only Iowa is unbeaten in the West.

As a whole, the Big Ten has a legitimate chance to send 10 teams to bowl games at the end of the season. Three 6-0 squads are already bowl eligible and another three are just one win away. Assuming Minnesota and Wisconsin can win two more games each, it’s up to Indiana to find two more victories to give the conference 10 bowl-eligible teams.

Here’s how both division stack up after six weeks of football.

East Division
1. Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Maryland 49-28 This Week: Sat vs Penn State (2-3, 0-1), 8pm, ABC

Ohio State holds onto the top spot this week because of the reemergence of the dangerous quarterback tandem that landed them the preseason No. 1 spot in the first place. No, being tied with Maryland in the 3rd quarter isn’t pretty, but the Buckeyes did pull away and win the game by 21 points. Cardale Jones completed 21 of 28 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns while J.T. Barrett got a few red zone chances and scored three rushing touchdowns. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for a cool 106 yards and two touchdowns to cap off one heck of an afternoon for the trio. Ohio State did allow nearly 400 yards to a team that struggled to reach 100 against Michigan last week, but a 499-yard effort from a Buckeye offense that limped into the game eased any concerns. OSU didn’t turn the ball over, controlled the pace with 31 first downs and even got Braxton Miller going – finding the receiver five times for 79 yards and a touchdown.

2. Michigan (5-1, 2-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat #13 NW 38-0 This Week: Sat vs #7 Michigan St. (6-0, 2-0), 3:30pm, ESPN

That’s right, even though the Wolverines have a loss on their resume, they’ve finally jumped into the No. 2 spot in the rankings. Michigan put up one of the top performances of the year Saturday, dominating No. 13 Northwestern in all three phases for a 38-0 victory. Jehu Chesson drew first blood on the opening kickoff, returning it 96 yards for a quick touchdown. Michigan followed its first kick return touchdown since 2009 with drives of 59 yards and 75 yards against the No. 1 scoring defense in the country to stretch the lead to 21-0 in the 1st quarter. A Jourdan Lewis pick-six put the nail in the coffin before the Wildcats could even get to halftime. In addition to notching its third straight shutout, Michigan’s defense surrendered just 168 yards (after allowing 105 to both BYU and Maryland) and held Northwestern to 2-13 on 3rd downs. Jim Harbaugh has his team playing at a higher level than anybody could have expected this early in his regime. If the Wolverines can pull off an unthinkable sixth straight win on Saturday, it’ll enter into the Big Ten title discussion.

3. Michigan State (6-0, 2-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 31-24 This Week: Sat at #12 Michigan (5-1, 2-0), 3:30pm, ESPN

Mark Dantonio will probably use these power rankings as motivation for his team as it heads into Ann Arbor on Saturday. The Spartans drop out of the top two after needing a heroic Connor Cook-led drive in the final minute to beat a hapless Rutgers team. Cook made three legitimate NFL throws during the drive – highlighted by a 29-yard strike to R.J. Shelton on 3rd and 9 with MSU in danger of punting it back to the Scarlett Knights with three minutes remaining. Cook was great on the night, throwing for 357 yards and two touchdowns, but the Michigan State defense allowed recently-reinstated Leonte Carroo catch seven passes for 134 yards and three touchdowns to stay in the game. Carroo is an NFL talent, but the Spartan secondary is starting to look more and more porous as the season stretches on. Michigan doesn’t have the greatest passing attack, so if Jake Rudock can pick apart the Spartans on Saturday, it’ll be panic time for Dantonio.

4. Penn State (5-1, 2-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Indiana 29-7 This Week: Sat at #1 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0), 8pm, ABC

Much like Utah’s resurgence has improved Michigan’s resume, Temple’s six-game winning streak to start the season is starting to make Penn State’s 5-1 start look much more respectable. The Nittany Lions smacked Indiana, 29-7, for their fifth straight win and have a chance to shake up the entire East Division in Columbus Saturday night. Christian Hackenberg was just average passing against a terrible Indiana defense – 21 of 39 for 262 yards and two scores – but rushed nine times for two more touchdowns. Indiana was without star running back Jordan Howard and quarterback Nate Sudfeld, so the PSU defense cruised in the victory.

5. Rutgers (3-2, 0-2) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to #4 MSU 24-31 This Week: Sat at Indiana (4-2, 0-2), 3:30pm, BTN

Maybe Rutgers has a little fight left after the return of Carroo to the offense. The senior wideout has caught six touchdown passes in just three games and gives the Scarlett Knights their only dangerous weapon on offense. Defensively, Rutgers can’t stop a nosebleed. Michigan State converted 11 of 17 chances on 3rd down en route to 489 total yards and 31 points. Only Norfolk State, an FCS team, and Kansas, the worst power five team in the country, couldn’t score at least 28 points against Rutgers this season. It’ll be up to the offense if Kyle Flood’s team wants to play in a bowl game.

6. Indiana (4-2, 0-2) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Penn St. 7-29 This Week: Sat vs Rutgers (3-2, 0-2), 3:30pm, BTN

Poor Indiana. Just when it looked like the Hoosiers could make some noise in the Big Ten – 4-0 and beating top-ranked Ohio State in the 3rd quarter – they lost their two best offensive players and spiraled into a familiar abyss of irrelevance. A huge home game against Rutgers could get Indiana a step closer to bowl eligibility. If the Hoosiers drop that contest, they’ll need two road wins over Maryland and Purdue at the end of the season.

7. Maryland (2-4, 0-2) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #1 OSU 28-49 This Week: Bye (10/24 vs Penn State)

Despite hanging with Ohio State for the better part of three quarters, Maryland is the lucky recipient of this week’s Dumpster Fire Award. Firing head coach Randy Edsall won’t teach Perry Hills, or Caleb Rowe, or Daxx Garman how to throw the football. The three quarterbacks own a combined completion percentage of just 44.1 percent and have thrown 17 picks to just 10 touchdowns. Hills – 47.4 percent, five touchdowns and four interceptions – might be the best option, but he still won’t get the Terrapins anywhere near bowl eligibility. On defense, look no further than the three teams (Bowling Green, West Virginia and Ohio State) who put up well over 40 points apiece against Maryland. The next four weeks will be a train wreck for the Terrapins. Athletic Director Kevin Anderson might have actually done Edsall a huge favor.

B1G East Week 6

 

West Division
1. Iowa (6-0, 2-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Illinois 29-20 This Week: Sat at #20 NW (5-1, 1-1), 12pm, ABC

For the first time this season, a new team sits upon the West Division throne. Iowa wasn’t overly dominant in a 29-20 win over Illinois, but Jordan Canzeri proved he’s the real deal, carrying the ball 43 times for 256 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback C.J. Beathard did just enough in the passing game to open the field for Canzeri, completing 15 of 31 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns. His favorite target on Saturday was freshman Jerminic Smith, who made his first career catches (4) for 118 yards. As the only remaining undefeated team in the Big Ten West, Iowa sits in the driver’s seat heading into a crucial top-20 matchup in Evanston. If the Hawkeyes can escape with a win over Northwestern, the final five weeks will be a cakewalk to Indianapolis.

2. Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #18 Mich. 0-38 This Week: Sat vs #17 Iowa (6-0, 2-0), 12pm, ABC

After winning five games to open the season and knocking off Stanford and Duke – neither of which has lost since falling to the Wildcats – Northwestern finally put itself on a national stage with the chance to make a statement. Simply put, it didn’t go well. The Wildcats fell behind by three touchdowns in the 1st quarter and never even made a peep as the Wolverines shattered their perfect record. Clayton Thorson’s best drive ended in a missed field goal and Justin Jackson rushed 12 times for only 25 yards. Luckily, Pat Fitzgerald only has to wait a week for a chance at redemption. A home win against Iowa Saturday would put Northwestern back on top of the West.

3. Minnesota (4-2, 1-1) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Purdue 41-13 This Week: Sat vs Nebraska (4-2, 1-1), 3:30pm, ESPN2

Minnesota finally broke out of its offensive slump in Week 6, rushing for 326 yards and dropping 41 points on Purdue. Mitch Leidner only threw for 59 yards, but there was little reason to pass as the Gophers had seven different ball carriers combine to average 6.8 yards per carry. The defense bounced back from the 27-0 drubbing it suffered against Northwestern, allowing just 275 yards and forcing four turnovers. Minnesota needs a win over Nebraska this weekend before dates against Michigan and Ohio State after the bye.

4. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Beat Nebraska 23-21 This Week: Sat at Minnesota (4-2, 1-1), 3:30pm, ESPN2

Wisconsin nearly dropped to 0-2 in the Big Ten Saturday, but a 46-yard field goal from Rafael Gaglianone with four seconds left in the game lifted the Badgers over the Cornhuskers, 23-21. Joel Stave threw the ball an uncharacteristic 50 times, completing 24 passes for 322 yards and one touchdown. Dare Ogunbowale added 117 yards rushing to give Wisconsin just enough for its first conference win. Nebraska gained just 13 first downs against the Badger defense and scored only one in the second half. Wisconsin faces an easy four-game stretch – Purdue, Illinois, Rutgers and Maryland – while it waits for Iowa to let it back into the race.

5. Illinois (4-2, 1-1) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to #22 Iowa 20-29 This Week: Bye (10/24 vs Wisconsin)

For a few glorious moments in the 4th quarter, it looked like Illinois might actually pull a road upset at Kinnick. But the offense managed just two touchdowns as the Fighting Illini fell back to even in conference play. The Illini defense embraced the ‘bend but don’t break’ mentality Saturday, allowing 478 total yards but surrendering just three touchdowns. Marshall Koehn made three field goals after stalled Hawkeye drives to eventually outlast Illinois.

6. Nebraska (2-4, 0-2) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to Wisconsin 21-23 This Week: Sat at Minn. (4-2, 1-1), 3:30pm, ESPN2

Nebraska has really got this heartbreak thing down to a science. After losing on a last-second field goal on Saturday, the Cornhuskers have lost four games by a combined 11 points. Two of those losses came on Hail Mary passes and a third came in overtime. If Mike Riley can’t teach his team to finish, they’ll watch the rest of the conference from home during the bowl season.

7. Purdue (1-5, 0-2) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Minnesota 13-41 This Week: Sat at Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1), 12pm, BTN

To nobody’s surprise, Purdue’s near upset of Michigan State turned out to be a one-week wonder. The Boilermakers turned the ball over four times – including three picks by David Blough – in a 41-13 home loss against Minnesota. Purdue held the ball for under 24 minutes and converted just three of 17 attempts on 3rd down. Rutgers and Maryland have a better chance to play each other in a bowl game than Purdue has to qualify.

B1G West Week 6

Big Ten power rankings: Week 4

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015


Power Rankings_header

The non-conference season is finally (mostly) over. Besides a game each for Penn State and Rutgers, which both have matchups left against Army, the rest of the season will pit Big Ten against Big Ten as the road to Indianapolis officially begins.

So where does the Big Ten rank, now that the judgement period has come and gone? As a conference, the Big Ten finished just 7-8 against other power five teams, losing two of three to the Big 12, splitting 3-3 with the ACC, beating the Pac-12 3-2 and falling in the only Big Ten-SEC battle.

But the difference in the conference this season is the strength of a middle class that’s lagged behind the rest of the country in recent seasons. Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin still bear the flag for the Big Ten, but now they have company on the national stage. Five Big Ten teams went a perfect 4-0 through the non-conference schedule and two of the one-loss teams are ranked in the top 25. It looks like as many as six teams have a chance to win nine games this season.

Unfortunately, the Big Ten’s bottom-feeders are still very, very bad. Purdue managed just one win in the non-conference season after losing to Marshall and Bowling Green and getting bombed at home by Virginia Tech. Maryland has been an embarrassment, falling to Bowling Green and West Virginia by a combined 60 points. Illinois and Rutgers are a combined 5-2 in the non-conference, but neither team played anyone better than Washington State.

The East Division certainly emerged as the stronger half of the Big Ten, despite the presence of Maryland and Rutgers in the cellar. Ohio State and Michigan State hold the top spots in the national rankings and Michigan has morphed into a potential threat under Jim Harbaugh. East teams finished 5-3 against power five teams and 22-6 overall during the non-conference schedule, while the West went just 2-5 against power five teams and 20-8 overall.

In the national landscape, the Big Ten is right there with the Pac-12 and the SEC for top conference in the FBS. The preseason rankings gave the SEC an unearned head start, but that couldn’t save pretenders like Auburn and Arkansas from quickly falling out of contention. Teams like South Carolina, Missouri and Tennessee aren’t where they were expected to be. Without that depth below juggernauts like Alabama and LSU, the SEC’s rein atop college football is vulnerable.

The PAC-12 is headed in the other direction. UCLA and Utah are legitimate top 10 teams, which helps lessen the blow of Oregon’s fall from grace. If Stanford, USC and Arizona can bounce back from early losses, the conference might be the deepest in the nation.

But over the next eight weeks, each conference will turn its attention inward as the battle for conference championships begins. Here’s how the Big Ten stacks up heading into conference play.

East Division
1. Ohio State (4-0, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat W. Michigan 38-12 This Week: Sat at Indiana (4-0), 3:30pm, ABC

Surprise! Ohio State regained the top spot this week with an easy victory over Western Michigan. The 38-12 win was less important to the Buckeyes than Cardale Jones’ bounce back from a two-interception effort against Northern Illinois. Jones threw for 288 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on Saturday to solidify his grip on the starting job. The Broncos couldn’t handle Ezekiel Elliott either, watching him run for 124 yards on just 16 carries. Ohio State gained over 500 yards of offense, but interceptions are still a problem. OSU has thrown the 10th-most picks in college football through Week 4, a surprising number from a team expected to field two All-Big Ten quality quarterbacks. The Buckeyes have an insanely easy path to Indy, with no tough games on the schedule until Nov. 21. But teams like Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois hung around against the Buckeyes, so the top team in the country is certainly beatable.

2. Michigan State (4-0, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat C. Michigan 30-10 This Week: Sat vs Purdue (1-3), 12pm, ESPN2

The Spartans didn’t fall from the top of the East because of Oregon’s performance; they fell because they struggled to close out another MAC foe. Central Michigan trailed by only a touchdown midway through the 4th quarter before a pair of late Spartan touchdowns sealed the deal. Michigan State struggled to put Western Michigan, Oregon and Central Michigan away during the non-conference season, despite the combined 4-8 record of those opponents. Unfortunately, Oregon’s rapid demise erased the only quality win on MSU’s resume, sapping the luster from its non-conference resume. Connor Cook was solid again in the 30-10 victory Saturday, completing 11 of 19 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. Madre London continued to impress, averaging 4.9 yards on 15 carries. Defensively, Michigan state allowed CMU to complete 26 of 39 passes and gain 340 total yards. The Spartans have allowed 396 yards per game and rank just 77th in the country in total defense.

3. Michigan (3-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat BYU 31-0 This Week: Sat at Maryland (2-2), 8pm, BTN

Don’t look now, but there’s a buzz coming from Ann Arbor. Michigan was the Big Ten’s biggest winner on Saturday, crushing then –No. 22 BYU, 31-0, in the Big House. Jake Rudock led the show on offense, throwing for 194 yards, rushing for 33 more and scoring three total touchdowns. What caused his sudden turnaround? The offensive line. Rudock had more time than he knew what to do with on Saturday and even had time to scramble for positive yards after going through his progressions. Tim Drevno has turned the line into a strength and everybody on the offense – especially De’Veon Smith – is benefiting. Smith turned in his second 100-yard game Saturday, rumbling his way to 125 yards on 16 carries. Smith’s best run came in the second quarter, when he disappeared into the pile only to reappear, spin out of a tackle and dash into the end zone 60 yards later. Amara Darboh was the other offensive hero, making an Odell Beckham-like grab to set up Michigan’s first touchdown and finishing with four catches, 57 yards and a touchdown.

The Wolverines’ defense was even better, holding BYU to 105 yards and picking up that elusive first shutout. Players were frustrated last week when UNLV scored in the 4th quarter to end a shutout bid, but this week they finished the job against a much better offense. Tanner Mangum passed for only 55 yards, while the team’s leading rusher, Adam Hine, got only eight carries for 33 yards. Harbaugh insists the team is still a work in progress, but the improvement since Week 1 has been incredible. If this defense keeps it up, and Rudock takes care of the football, Michigan will have something to say in the East race.

4. Indiana (4-0, 1-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Wake Forest 31-24 This Week: Sat vs #1 OSU (4-0), 3:30pm, ABC

In the first three weeks of the season, Indiana knocked off an FCS school and a pair of Conference USA schools by an average of six points to jump out to a fluky 3-0 start. The Hoosiers finally picked up a solid victory Saturday when they went to Wake Forest and earned a road win over a power five team. Jordan Howard put the Indiana offense on his back, running for 168 yards and a score on 33 carries. Nate Sudfeld was steady in the passing game, passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns. In the upset of the week, Indiana’s defense held a team under 400 yards, allowing Wake Forest to rush for only 99 on the ground. The Hoosiers are undefeated to begin conference play, but don’t expect that to last long. The defense allows 499 yards per game, which ranks 117th in the nation. That’ll never hold up against a schedule with offenses like Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa on the horizon.

5. Penn State (3-1, 1-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat SDSU 37-21 This Week: Sat vs Army (1-3), 12pm, ESPNU

Christian Hackenberg played his best game since freshman year Saturday when he completed 60 percent of his passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns. Penn State’s offense, which scored just 21.67 points per game over the first three weeks, exploded for 37 points as the Nittany Lions rolled over San Diego State. Penn State dominated on both sides of the ball, outgaining SDSU 400-242 and recovering three fumbles. Is Penn State a contender or a pretender in the East this season? After an embarrassing loss at Temple to start the year, James Franklin’s team bounced back with three fairly easy wins. The defense, which allowed the second fewest yards per game in the FBS last season, will pace the Nittany Lions as Hackenberg and the offense battle to keep up. If freshman running back Saquon Barkley, who’s already rushed for 373 yards on 42 carries (8.9 yards per carry), can take the reins of the offense away from the passing game, Penn State will be a tough team to play.

6. Rutgers (2-2, 0-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Kansas 27-14 This Week: Bye (10/10 vs #2 MSU)

Do I have to rank the last two teams? Yes? Fine, I’ll go with Rutgers at No. 6. The Scarlett Knights are an embarrassment off the field, but they did manage to beat one of the worst power five teams in the country Saturday. Josh Hicks ran all over the Kansas defense, picking up 113 yards and two touchdowns. Rutgers gained over 500 yards of total offense despite turning the ball over three times to the Jayhawks. Kyle Flood’s team already got blown out in their Big Ten opener in Week 3 and probably won’t be favored to win a game until it hosts Maryland in the final game of the season.

7. Maryland (2-2, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to W. Virginia 6-45 This Week: Sat vs Michigan (3-1), 8pm, BTN

If you thought Michigan’s shutout win over BYU was a massacre, just wait until you hear about Maryland’s trip to West Virginia. Week 4 was a total disaster for the Terrapins. A painful, turnover-riddled disaster that, of course, ended with Maryland failing to convert a two-point conversion that would have pulled it within 37. Yes, it was as ugly as it sounds. West Virginia scored touchdowns on its first three drives, none of which lasted more than three minutes. The Mountaineers scored 45 unanswered points to start the game, picking up 601 yards and 37 first downs. The Terrapins only held the ball for about 23 minutes, but that was enough time to throw five interceptions and turn the ball over six times. Caleb Rowe, who took over as starting quarterback after the team’s disastrous Week 2 loss to Bowling Green, threw four picks and completed just 10 of 27 passes. Only Brandon Ross, who gained 130 rushing yards on 15 carries, came to play for the Terps. Maryland needs to get the turnovers under control soon as two strong defensive teams (Michigan and Ohio State) come next on the schedule.

West Division
1. Northwestern (4-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Ball State 24-19 This Week: Sat vs Minnesota (3-1), 12pm, BTN

Things got a little hairy for the Wildcats Saturday when Ball State hung around until the final drive of a 24-19 Northwestern win. For the first time this season, Pat Fitzgerald’s defense showed a chink in the armor, allowing 359 yards to the Cardinals offense. Riley Neal completed only 14 of 35 passes against Northwestern, but a handful of big plays allowed him to rack up 178 yards and two touchdowns. Ball State also averaged more than five yards per carry against a front seven that was rock solid against Stanford and Duke earlier in the month. But Justin Jackson wouldn’t let the Wildcats’ perfect record go up in flames, leading the team with 184 rushing yards. Clayton Thorson bounced back from a terrible performance at Duke to throw for 256 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. The Big Ten opener will be a big one for Northwestern as Minnesota visits Evanston to set up a heavy defensive battle.

2. Iowa (4-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat N. Texas 62-14 This Week: Sat @ #19 Wisconsin (3-1), 12pm, ESPN

Iowa coasted through a much-needed break Saturday after two straight wins over power five opponents. The offense erupted against North Texas, scoring 48 points on 488 yards. Iowa also returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the second half, polishing off a 62-16 masterpiece. C.J. Beathard continued to dominate under center, completing an incredible 18 of 21 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns. Jordan Canzeri bullied a weak North Texas front seven for 115 yards and four touchdowns, giving him eight scores on the year. There’s no way Beathard will complete over 68 percent of his passes in Big Ten play, but he looks like a definite upgrade at quarterback and an excellent complement to Canzeri. With a strong defense and an offense that’s averaging 37.75 points per game, Iowa is a real threat in the West. But all three games against Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska are on the road, so the Hawkeyes will have to be just as good away from Kinnick to compete. Perhaps the greatest hurdle comes Saturday in Madison.

3. Wisconsin (3-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Hawaii 28-0 This Week: Sat vs Iowa (3-1), 12pm, ESPN

Wisconsin rolled over its third straight cupcake opponent Saturday, shutting out Hawaii 28-0. Freshman running back Taiwan Deal built on his 84-yard performance in Week 3 with 147 rushing yards on 25 carries. He’s scored four touchdowns for the Badgers this season and looks like the best option in the backfield heading into Big Ten season. Joel Stave enjoyed a typical, steady non-conference season, completing over 66 percent of his passes for 830 yards, seven touchdowns and two picks.  Thanks to an efficient offense and a defense that allowed just three points in the last three games, the road to the West Division title still runs through Wisconsin.

4. Nebraska (2-2, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Southern Miss 36-28 This Week: Sat at Illinois (3-1), 3:30pm, BTN

Nebraska’s rise to No. 4 in the West is more of an indictment on the rest of the division than an endorsement of the Cornhuskers’ body of work. Tommy Armstrong moved past his devastating overtime interception that doomed Nebraska in Week 3 to throw for 368 yards. He also rushed seven times for 63 yards and scored three total touchdowns in the game. Jordan Westerkamp is one of the conference’s toughest matchups at wide receiver, heading into conference play with 26 catches for 351 yards and four touchdowns in four games. Nebraska is looking to score its way through the Big Ten this season after allowing 12 touchdowns over the four games. Turnovers and penalties have also been a major issue during the rocky start. Poor defense, poor ball security and poor discipline is a dangerous recipe against a defensive-minded division.

5. Minnesota (3-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Ohio 27-24 This Week: Sat at #16 Northwestern (4-0), 12pm, BTN

Since coming within a play of knocking off No. 2 TCU in the opener, Minnesota has beaten three weak opponents by a field goal each. This week, the Ohio Bobcats fell victim to the Gophers’ late heroics as a Shannon Brooks touchdown run gave Minnesota the lead with 30 seconds left on the clock. For the first time all season the Gophers got into a rhythm on offense, gaining 268 yards, picking up 24 first downs and scoring three touchdowns. Mitch Leidner threw for 264 yards, but all three Minnesota scores can on the ground – One by Leidner and two by Brooks. Ohio set a new high against Minnesota’s vaunted defense, scoring 24 points but falling short on a Hail Mary pass from the 41-yard line. A delay of game penalty after a time out pushed a potential 53-yard field goal attempt out of range and erased the Bobcats’ chance to tie the game. If the Golden Gophers can only beat Colorado State, Kent State and Ohio by three points, it’s hard to see them competing in the Big Ten.

6. Illinois (3-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Middle Tenn. 27-25 This Week: Sat vs Nebraska (2-2), 12pm, BTN

In the wake of Illinois’ beat down at the hands of North Carolina, Middle Tennessee State nearly went into Champaign and poured salt in the still-festering wound. Illinois needed a 51-yard field goal from Taylor Zalewski with 2:09 left on the clock to escape the Blue Raiders, thanks to a missed 43-yarder that would have flipped the script with eight seconds to go. The Fighting Illini won their first two games by a combined 93 points, but a 34-point loss to UNC exposed them as frauds. Conference wins will be tough to come by for Illinois this season.

7. Purdue (1-3, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Bowling Green 28-35 This Week: Sat vs at #2 MSU (4-0), 12pm, ESPN2

Ah, yes. The only Big Ten team with a losing record. Purdue capped off a terrible non-conference season with a home loss to Bowling Green, giving up over 30 points for the third time. The Big Ten slaying Falcons passed for over 400 yards and converted 11 of 16 first downs to outlast Purdue in the final seconds of the game. Travis Greene’s 11th carry of the game went for a 12-yard touchdown that capped an 80-yard drive and sealed Purdue’s fate. New starting quarterback David Blough played a solid game, completing 29 of 39 passes for 340 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. The freshman got no help from his running backs, who averaged just 2.4 yards per carry. When it boils down to it, the Boilermakers don’t have much firepower heading into a difficult month of October. The beat down begins Saturday in East Lansing.