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Posts Tagged ‘Ezekiel Elliott’

#8 Ohio State 42 – #10 Michigan 13: Surrender

Monday, November 30th, 2015


Harbaugh vs OSU(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

College football can be a strange and cruel game.

It doesn’t care that Ohio State torpedoed it’s national title hopes with a clunker last week, falling to Michigan State 17-14 to end a 23 game winning streak. All the Buckeyes did was rebound with their best performance of the season, turning a 14-10 halftime lead into a second half rout over rival Michigan.

It doesn’t care that Michigan’s defense was among the nation’s best for 11 weeks, surrendering just 14.9 points and 100.2 rushing yards per game. Ezekiel Elliott channeled his inner Tshimanga Biakabutuka, barreling through the Michigan defense like a snowball rolling down Mount Everest.

UM-OhioState-small-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Ohio State
Score 13 42
Record 9-3 (6-2) 11-1 (7-1)
Total Yards 364 482
Net Rushing Yards 57 369
Net Passing Yards 307 113
First Downs 20 25
Turnovers 1 0
Penalties-Yards 7-72 5-39
Punts-Yards 4-157 2-70
Time of Possession 29:54 30:06
Third Down Conversions 9-of-18 7-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-3 1-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 1-2 2-11
Field Goals 2-for-2 0-for-0
PATs 1-for-1 6-for-6
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-3 5-of-6
Red Zone Scores-TDs 1-of-3 5-of-6
Full Box Score

It doesn’t care that sometimes the underdog rises to the occasion with an unexpected conference title to play for in the final week of the season, because sometimes the team with better athletes across the board exerts its will, leaving no doubt which team is better.

It doesn’t care that Michigan has outperformed all expectations in Year 1 of the Jim Harbaugh era. A stinging loss to their most bitter rival makes the season feel like a failure anyway, even if it isn’t.

Michigan and Ohio State both entered Saturday with Big Ten title hopes on the line. In the end it didn’t matter because Michigan State won the afternoon game to clinch the Big Ten East, but neither could know that at the time.

Ohio State struck first with a 94-yard drive on their second possession of the game. Michigan’s defense had forced a three and out to start the drive, but Tyree Kinnel was flagged for roughing the punter, giving the ball back to the Bucks. Instead of Michigan taking over around the 50, Elliott burst through the line for a 66-yard gain two plays later. Two plays after that, J.T. Barrett found the end zone from seven yards out and Ohio State never looked back.

Michigan got a field goal on a 14-play, 72-yard drive, but Ohio State answered with another touchdown, this time a 5-yard Elliott run. Michigan struck just before the half with a 92-yard touchdown drive to pull within four when Jake Rudock found Jehu Chesson from five yards out.

But any thoughts of victory quickly evaporated in the third quarter when Ohio State ran 24 plays to Michigan’s 10 and turned a 14-10 game into an insurmountable 28-10 lead. The Buckeyes put on a rushing clinic in the third and fourth quarters, taking advantage of Michigan’s depleted front seven with 34 rushes and just nine pass attempts.

Harbaugh will never admit as much, but Michigan sorely missed nose tackle Ryan Glasgow, who suffered a season ending pectoral injury against Rutgers. In the nine games with Glasgow clogging the middle, Michigan allowed just 80.6 rushing yards per game and no opponent tallied more than 144 yards. In the three after Glasgow’s injury, the Wolverines surrendered 248.7 yards per game, and two of the three opponents rushed for more than 300 yards. To put it another way, in the first nine games Michigan allowed a total of 725 rushing yards. Post-Glasgow, the Wolverines gave up 746 in three games.

Would Glasgow’s presence have changed the outcome? It’s hard to believe one player — a former walk-on at that — could make such a difference, but it may have helped keep the game within reach.

But in the end, there was no doubt which team was better. Ohio State’s starting lineup averaged 4.13 stars coming out of high school, while Michigan’s averaged 3.56, according to 247 Sports composite. Ohio State had four five-stars in its starting lineup while Michigan had one — Jabrill Peppers — who was so important to Michigan’s success that he lined up all over the field on Saturday. Stars don’t mean everything, but there’s a reason the teams atop the recruiting rankings have dominated the national championships in the past decade.

Harbaugh has Michigan on the rise, taking an underachieving 5-7 team and going 9-3 in his first season with 15 more practices and a bowl game to look forward to. His performance on the recruiting trail will also help close the gap and it received a boost after the game when the nation’s 43rd best player, defensive tackle Jordan Elliott, pledged his commitment to the Wolverines.

It has been a perilous decade for Michigan, having lost 11 of its last 12 to Ohio State, and they’ll have to wait at least another year to get them back. Michigan fans, too, will have to endure another year of razzing from Buckeye fans that we’ve become all too used to.

College football is a strange, cruel game. But that’s why it keeps us coming back for more.

M&GB staff predictions: Ohio State

Friday, November 27th, 2015


StaffPicks_banner2015

Michigan hosts Ohio State at noon tomorrow in the 112th meeting between the two rivals. For the first time in years a Big Ten championship game appearance is still within reach for the winner. Here are our predictions.

Justin

Ohio State laid an egg against Michigan State last week and it’s hard to imagine them doing so two weeks in a row. That’s the bad news for Michigan. The good news is the Wolverines have played well at home all season and have plenty of motivation with a potential Big Ten Championship Game appearance on the line. The weather calls for a perfect late November Saturday with cloudy skies, 42 degrees, and no precipitation, so the scene will be set for a classic Ohio State-Michigan game. And I think that’s exactly what we will get.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Ohio State
Justin 27 24
Derick 28 24
Sam 21 24
Josh 27 23
Joe 28 27
M&GB Average 26 24

Make no mistake about it; Ohio State is the better team. But the gap that has separated the two teams for the last decade will be as narrow as it has been since the last time the two faced off as top 10 teams in 2006. Michigan will need to break out its bag of tricks, but won’t need to fully rely on them like they have the past several meetings. Michigan has a legitimate chance to win. The biggest key will be giving Jake Rudock time to throw. It’s unlikely that Michigan will be able to move the ball consistently on the ground, since it hasn’t done so against anyone since early in the season. But Rudock has been as good as any quarterback in the Big Ten during conference play, and especially the last three weeks when the passing game has taken off. Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh will have trouble getting open against Conley and Apple, and Jake Butt will meet his match against Bell, so if Rudock is constantly under pressure, it will be a long day for Michigan’s offense.

Fortunately, I believe Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno will pull out all stops with Jabrill Peppers. Harbaugh hinted at using the dynamic sophomore more at running back earlier this week, and with a month off between this game and a bowl — barring a Michigan State loss — there’s no need to hold Peppers back. I could see a running back rotation of Peppers and De’Veon Smith with Peppers getting the majority of the snaps in a variety of looks to not only get the ball to him in space, but use him as a decoy to get others open. That’s really the best shot Michigan has at being able to move the ball with any consistency.

On defense, Michigan will have to stop Elliott. That’s really what it comes down to. The chance of him getting just 12 carries is about as likely as Rudock running the triple option. Elliott may get 12 carries in the first quarter until Michigan proves it can stop him. Remember the Indiana game when Jordan Howard ran and ran and ran again? That’s what Ohio State’s game plan will be. If Michigan’s front seven can rise to the occasion and slow him down, Ohio State’s offense is much more containable. Miller is a threat when he gets the ball in space and has the ability beat the defense deep, but the rest of the offense isn’t as dangerous as anyone else Michigan has faced and Jourdan Lewis can lock down Thomas.

If Elliott is gashing through Michigan’s defense for six to eight yards a pop, Michigan will lose. If Michigan’s defense is holding him in check like Michigan State’s did, and forces the Buckeyes to rely on Barrett’s arm and legs, I like Michigan’s chances. I think the latter will happen. Michigan will sell out to stop Elliott and may give up a big play or two to Miller or Barrett, but will gladly take that over getting the ball rammed down its throat play after play after play. Peppers puts together a performance for the ages in all three phases of the game, reminiscent of his idol, Charles Woodson’s, performance 18 years ago, and leads Michigan to a thrilling narrow win.

Michigan 27 – Ohio State 24

Derick

After watching them lay an egg in their first competitive game of the season, it’s difficult to know what to expect from the Buckeyes on Saturday. That said, I expect Urban Meyer’s team to come out angry and desperate to bounce back.

Michigan just might be a better all-around football team than Ohio State this season, which is wild when you think about how both teams finished last season. Ohio State was off winning a national title with its third-string quarterback while Michigan lost to Maryland at home to fall short of a bowl game.

But the Wolverines’ defense really bounced back in a tough road game against Penn State last weekend and looks to be trending in the right direction after disappointing efforts against Minnesota and Indiana. Can it bully the Buckeyes in the trenches like the Spartans’ defense did? If so, the Wolverines should win the game.

I think J.T. Barrett will be much more comfortable in the driver’s seat of the offense Saturday as it should be a much clearer day in Ann Arbor. He’ll have to be very careful behind the wheel of that OSU offense and avoid turning the ball over to a hot Michigan offense. Blake O’Neill will be critical in forcing Barrett to drive the length of the field against a solid secondary. If Barrett puts his foot on the gas pedal and rushes for over 100 yards, the Wolverines will be in big trouble.

Michigan’s linebackers — Desmond Morgan, James Ross III and Joe Bolden — will be critical in containing Barrett and defending the middle of the field. If they can put together their best performance of the season, I really like Michigan’s chances.

I think it’ll be a close game, but it’s one that Jim Harbaugh really wants. Michigan will hold off a late Ohio State push and win The Game.

Michigan 28 – Ohio State 24

Sam

Ohio State 24 – Michigan 21

Josh

Last week Michigan held up their end of the bargain, defeating Penn State on the road. Ohio State, however, did not. You can never count on the Buckeyes. This causes two problems for me, 1.) we need Penn State to beat Sparty for us to get a shot at the Big Ten title game and, 2.) after a very flat, uber-conservative game plan OSU is sure to be even more fired up this week.

To do what Harbaugh has done this year is nothing short of incredible, he’s way ahead of schedule (though he won’t ever say he had a schedule to bring Michigan back) but the sad fact is Ohio State is arguably the most stable football program in the country, and hasn’t experienced any talent dips for as long as I can remember. The Buckeyes are loaded with more talent than Michigan at the moment and feature a read-option quarterback/running back combo that can do a lot of damage.

On offense: While the running game has all but vanished the past few weeks Jake Rudock and the passing game has come on strong. They will face a challenge in OSU’s defensive line but it’s not something that cannot be overcome. Joey Bosa will find his way to Rudock on numerous occasions but if the offensive line can just give him enough time to find his receivers more often than not then Michigan should be in good shape. The lack of running game concerns me because a one-dimensional offense will be easy for OSU to stop. However, we have Harbaugh and this guy named Jabrill Peppers, who I expect to see at least 15-20 snaps on offense, namely at running back. He’s the most explosive athlete on the team and our best running back by far. Harbaugh will hold nothing back and unleash Peppers’ fury all over the field. He tops 100 offensive yards and two touchdowns.

On defense: The aforementioned read-option quarterback/running back duo will be a test for this defense but with the new front alignment it should be mitigated. Make no mistake, Barrett and Elliott will get yards and they will score but Michigan should be able to keep them from breaking the game wide open allowing our offense to keep pace. Especially if Michigan can keep the passing game in check, which they should. Barrett is deadly with his legs but not so elite with his arm, yes he can beat you through the air but he hasn’t faced a secondary like Michigan’s all year. Even accounting for Cardale Jones getting in the game at certain points, and I’m sure Urbs throw out all the stops, Michigan shouldn’t get gashed through the air like they did against Minnesota and Indiana.

This will be a close, back and forth game that comes down to the 4th quarter. Ohio State has a better roster top to bottom but Michigan has Jim Harbaugh. OSU has Urban Meyer battling a hangover from a dream season, and doesn’t seem to have control of the entitled/selfish attitude that has overcome his team as of late. Michigan has Jim Harbaugh, a man who probably does race himself as he ties his shoes. OSU is coming off a dreadful performance. Michigan is aching to finally get its seniors a win over their No. 1 rival. Did I also mention Michigan has Jim Harbaugh?

I thought this was a guaranteed loss coming into the season, now I think it’s an even match-up with Harbaugh making up for the current talent disparity. In what should be an incredible game I give the edge to the good guys. Michigan wins a close one at home and keeps alive their hopes for a New Years Six bowl game while sending Ohio State to back to back losses and solidifying shutting them out of the playoff and Rose Bowl. Go Blue!

Michigan 27 – Ohio State 23

Joe

THE GAME is finally here and things are very interesting.  It appears that Michigan is rolling again and the guys from down south are reeling a little. Now is the time for Michigan to assert themselves and reestablish elite status. We’re not there yet, but well on our way. I think this is a low scoring battle to start but will get going once each team gets comfortable and settles down.  Look for the big names to carry the day for both teams with Peppers leading the way. Rudock will have a good day and protect the ball. Michigan wins this one in a close one.

Michigan 28 – Ohio State 27

The Game preview: #10 Michigan vs #8 Ohio State

Friday, November 27th, 2015


Game Preview_OhioState_banner

College football’s best rivalry renews at high noon tomorrow, and for the first time in years a lot is at stake for both teams. Both have a shot at a Big Ten championship game appearance, though it depends on the outcome of the Michigan State-Penn State game later tomorrow afternoon. If Penn State beats the Spartans, the winner of The Game will advance to Indianapolis to face Iowa for the conference title.

UM-OhioState-small
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12p.m. EST – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (4th season)
Coaching Record: 152-27 (48-4, 30-1 at OSU)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Ed Warriner (1st season)
Tim Beck (1st season)
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Luck Fickell (4th season)
Chris Ash (2nd season)
Last Season: 14-1 (8-0)
Last Meeting: OSU 42 – UM 28 (2014)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 58-47-6
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 31-21-4
Record in Michigan Stadium: Michigan 23-19-3
Jim Harbaugh vs Ohio State: 1st meeting
Last Michigan win: 2011 (40-34)
Last Ohio State win: 2014 (42-28)
Current Streak: Ohio State 3

But even if Michigan State seals their fate with a win, there’s still plenty to play for. Ohio State is still alive for a second straight College Football Playoff berth, though they need a lot of help. Michigan, meanwhile, has lost nine of the last 10 to their rivals from Columbus and would love nothing more than to cap the first season of the Jim Harbaugh era in the same fashion as his mentor, Bo Schembechler: by beating Ohio State. A win would essentially clinch a New Years Six bowl for Michigan, likely the Rose Bowl against whichever Pac-12 team doesn’t make the playoff.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, the biggest game of the season is tomorrow. The game lost some of its luster a week ago when Ohio State lost to Michigan State, ending its 23-game winning streak, but that should only give Michigan more confidence that it can make it two in a row for the Buckeyes. After plowing through the Big Ten last season, dominating Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game, cruising past Alabama and Oregon to win the national title, and winning their first 10 to open this season, Ohio State was starting to look invincible. But last Saturday they were exposed by the first team with a pulse they’ve played all season, tallying just 132 total yards of offense in a 17-14 loss to the Spartans.

Prior to that, the combined record of their 10 opponents was a paltry 43-58. The only Power 5 team Ohio State had played was Penn State, who they beat 38-10. Their second best win was a 20-13 victory over Northern Illinois in Week 3. In other words, probably close to a dozen teams nationally would have been 10-0 with that schedule.

So was the Michigan State game just an aberration? Or did the schedule from the first 10 weeks simply mask larger problems? Let’s take a look at the matchup.

When Ohio State has the ball

Ohio State fans are increasingly upset with new offensive coordinators Ed Warriner and Tim Beck. The architect of last year’s offense, Tom Herman, moved on to Houston and currently has the Cougars at 10-1 and ranked 21st in the AP and Coaches polls.

This season, Ohio State ranks 48th nationally and 3rd in the Big Ten in total offense (424.1 yards per game), 15th and 1st in rushing (230.4 yards per game), 100th and 10th in passing (193.7 yards per game), 37th and 2nd in pass efficiency (141.61), and 36th and 2nd in scoring (34.4 points per game).

The talk leading into the season centered around the trio of quarterbacks at Urban Meyer’s disposal, and while Braxton Miller made the switch to receiver, Meyer let the quarterback race hang in suspension for too long. Cardale Jones got the nod to start the season, but has since lost it in favor of J.T. Barrett. Neither has found consistency. Jones has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 1,460 yards, eight touchdowns, and five interceptions, while Barrett has completed 64.4 percent for just 668 yards, nine touchdowns, and three interceptions. Barrett’s legs have been more dangerous, scoring eight rushing touchdowns with an average of 6.1 yards per carry. Miller, meanwhile, is the third leading receiver with 324 yards and three touchdowns and the third leading rusher with 227 yards and one score.

The best player on the offense is junior running back Ezekiel Elliott, who up until last week was one of the leading Heisman Trophy candidates. He ranks second in the Big Ten with 132.5 rushing yards per game and had rushed for at least 100 yards in each game until being held to just 33 yards on 12 carries last week. The fact that he got only 12 carries is a sore subject among Buckeye fans as Meyer chose to run Barrett more often than his workhorse. Elliott made his feelings known after the game that he wasn’t happy with the play calling and essentially announcing his intention to enter the NFL Draft after the season.

Junior Michael Thomas is the leading receiver with 47 receptions for 659 yards and eight touchdowns. He has had two 100-yard receiving games with seven catches for 107 yards against Maryland and five catches for 103 yards against Rutgers. The other nine games he has been pretty consistent with four or five catches for 60-80 yards. The one outlier is last week when he caught just two passes for eight yards. Much of that is a result of Ohio State only throwing a few passes due to the weather, but Michigan State’s secondary has been porous all season and he wasn’t able to take advantage of it. Sophomore Jalin Marshall is the second leading receiver with 29 receptions for 417 yards and four touchdowns. He had a six-catch, 110-yard game against Indiana, but the has been pretty pedestrian since then.

The offensive line is experienced, returning four starters from last year’s dominant line, but like the offense as a whole, has been consistent all season. Senior left tackle Taylor Decker is the leader and a likely first-round NFL draft pick next spring. The line was dominated by Michigan State’s defensive front last Saturday, and the question begs whether the team’s rushing success is more of a product of Elliott than the line’s ability to open holes. It has done pretty well in pass protection, having allowed 16 sacks this season — the same number Michigan has allowed.

When Michigan has the ball

Ohio State’s defense ranks 8th nationally and 3rd in the Big Ten in total defense (298 yards allowed per game), 30th and 7th against the run (133.7 yards per game), 5th and 3rd against the pass (164.3 yards per game), 7th and 4th in pass defense efficiency (100.64), and 2nd and 2nd in scoring defense (14.1 points per game).

The defensive line was considered one of the best in the nation last season and is very good again this year. Junior defensive end Joey Bosa is the one everybody talks about after leading the Big Ten in tackles for loss (21) and sacks (13.5) in 2014. He won the Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year award last season. He hasn’t been quite as dominant at getting to the quarterback in 2015 with just four sacks, but he does still lead the team with 15 tackles for loss (third in the Big Ten) and 12 quarterback hurries. The other defensive end, Tyquan Lewis, ranks second on the team with 12.5 tackles for loss and leads the team with 6.5 sacks. Inside, senior tackle Adolphus Washington is a force for offensive linemen to block. He has seven tackles for loss and four sacks. The other starting tackle spot is a rotation between senior Tommy Schutt and sophomore Michael Hill. Schutt has five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, while Hill has gotten more playing time as of late and has a half of a tackle for loss.

Once you get past the front four, it doesn’t get any easier. The linebacking corps is fast and versatile, led by sophomore Raekwon McMillan, who leads the team and ranks third in the Big Ten with 105 total tackles. He also has four tackles for loss and one sack, but more than getting into the backfield, he flies around the field making tackles. Senior weak side linebacker Joshua Perry ranks second on the team with 88 tackles, fourth with seven tackles for loss, and fifth with three sacks, while sophomore strong side linebacker Darron Lee has 52 tackles, eight for loss, and 2.5 sacks.

The secondary is also very talented, led by junior safety Vonn Bell, who leads the team with nine pass breakups and ranks third with 59 tackles. He also has two interceptions. Junior Tyvis Powell is the other safety. Michigan fans will remember him as the guy who intercepted Devin Gardern’s two-point conversion attempt two years ago in the Big House. He has 59 tackles, three pass breakups and two interceptions. The corners are sophomores Gareon Conley and Eli Apple, who have combined for 63 tackles, three for loss, half a sack, 10 pass breakups, and three interceptions. Both are very good in coverage.

The other third

One area of weakness for Ohio State has been field goal kicking. Meyer has seemingly lost confidence in senior kicker Jack Willoughby‘s ability to make anything longer than 40 yards. He’s 7 of 11 on the season, but is 0-3 from 40-49 yards and just 3 of 7 from 30 yards or more. Punting, on the other hand, isn’t a problem for the Buckeyes. Junior Aussie punter Cameron Johnston ranks second in the Big Ten with a 43.9-yard per punt average. Of his 54 punts, 17 have gone longer than 50 yards, 24 have been downed inside the 20, 20 have been fair caught, and just six have gone into the end zone for a touchback.

Junior H-back Dontre Wilson and sophomore running back Curtis Samuel are the kick returners, averaging 23.9 and 22.8 yards per return, respectively. Marshall is the punt returner, and a dangerous one at that, averaging 12.8 yards per return.

Prediction

Ohio State laid an egg against Michigan State last week and it’s hard to imagine them doing so two weeks in a row. That’s the bad news for Michigan. The good news is the Wolverines have played well at home all season and have plenty of motivation with a potential Big Ten Championship Game appearance on the line. The weather calls for a perfect late November Saturday with cloudy skies, 42 degrees, and no precipitation, so the scene will be set for a classic Ohio State-Michigan game. And I think that’s exactly what we will get.

Make no mistake about it; Ohio State is the better team. But the gap that has separated the two teams for the last decade will be as narrow as it has been since the last time the two faced off as top 10 teams in 2006. Michigan will need to break out its bag of tricks, but won’t need to fully rely on them like they have the past several meetings. Michigan has a legitimate chance to win. The biggest key will be giving Jake Rudock time to throw. It’s unlikely that Michigan will be able to move the ball consistently on the ground, since it hasn’t done so against anyone since early in the season. But Rudock has been as good as any quarterback in the Big Ten during conference play, and especially the last three weeks when the passing game has taken off. Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh will have trouble getting open against Conley and Apple, and Jake Butt will meet his match against Bell, so if Rudock is constantly under pressure, it will be a long day for Michigan’s offense.

Fortunately, I believe Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno will pull out all stops with Jabrill Peppers. Harbaugh hinted at using the dynamic sophomore more at running back earlier this week, and with a month off between this game and a bowl — barring a Michigan State loss — there’s no need to hold Peppers back. I could see a running back rotation of Peppers and De’Veon Smith with Peppers getting the majority of the snaps in a variety of looks to not only get the ball to him in space, but use him as a decoy to get others open. That’s really the best shot Michigan has at being able to move the ball with any consistency.

On defense, Michigan will have to stop Elliott. That’s really what it comes down to. The chance of him getting just 12 carries is about as likely as Rudock running the triple option. Elliott may get 12 carries in the first quarter until Michigan proves it can stop him. Remember the Indiana game when Jordan Howard ran and ran and ran again? That’s what Ohio State’s game plan will be. If Michigan’s front seven can rise to the occasion and slow him down, Ohio State’s offense is much more containable. Miller is a threat when he gets the ball in space and has the ability beat the defense deep, but the rest of the offense isn’t as dangerous as anyone else Michigan has faced and Jourdan Lewis can lock down Thomas.

If Elliott is gashing through Michigan’s defense for six to eight yards a pop, Michigan will lose. If Michigan’s defense is holding him in check like Michigan State’s did, and forces the Buckeyes to rely on Barrett’s arm and legs, I like Michigan’s chances. I think the latter will happen. Michigan will sell out to stop Elliott and may give up a big play or two to Miller or Barrett, but will gladly take that over getting the ball rammed down its throat play after play after play. Peppers puts together a performance for the ages in all three phases of the game, reminiscent of his idol, Charles Woodson’s, performance 18 years ago, and leads Michigan to a thrilling narrow win.

Michigan 27 – Ohio State 24

2015 Big Ten power rankings: Week 12

Thursday, November 26th, 2015


Power Rankings_header

Well, the biggest week of the Big Ten season so far has come and gone, leaving two clear contenders with a direct path to Indianapolis. Barring a massive upset, Iowa and Michigan State will play for the Big Ten crown.

But as a whole, the Big Ten has emerged as the top conference in college football. LSU and much of the SEC has been exposed as overhyped and the Big Ten put four teams in the College Football Playoff top 10.

Now the microscope shifts from the top of the league to the middle, where four teams need a victory to get to six wins. Will the Big Ten send only seven teams to the postseason? Or could it be as many as 11? All 14 teams will hit the turf Saturday (or Friday) for six meaningful games (and one Maryland-Rutgers pillow fight).

East Division
1. Michigan State (10-1, 6-1) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat #3 Ohio State 17-14 This Week: Sat Penn State (7-4, 4-3), 3:30pm, ESPN

Mark Dantonio did it again. Nobody gave Michigan State a chance to win in Columbus, especially when star quarterback and future first-round draft pick Connor Cook was ruled out. If the Spartans knock off Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 5, they should be a top two seed in the playoff.

2. Michigan (9-2, 6-1) – Even
Last Week: Beat Penn State 28-16 This Week: Sat vs #8 Ohio State (10-1, 6-1), 12pm, ABC

Saturday was a perfect representation of how far Michigan has come under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines dominated Penn State in Happy Valley, electing to take a knee inside the five instead of winning the game by 19 points. The victory gave Michigan a perfect 4-0 road record in conference play and a fourth straight win since the crushing defeat against MSU. If Michigan played Utah or Michigan State today, it would probably win both games. Instead, the Wolverines have a chance to clinch a New Year’s Six bowl game if they can take care of Ohio State at the Big House.

3. Ohio State (10-1, 6-1) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to #9 Michigan State 14-17 This Week: Sat at #10 Michigan (9-2, 6-1), 12pm, ABC

You don’t really find out about the character of a team until it faces some adversity, and the Buckeyes didn’t handle it well. After their first loss in over a calendar year, Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott unceremoniously declared for the NFL Draft and Elliott blamed the entire loss on play calling. Then, Urban Meyer seized control of his team by…basically cowering at Elliott’s feet during his weekly press conference. Elliott does not deserve to miss game time for his comments, but the way he attacked his coaching staff created a crack in the seemingly impenetrable wall Meyer built in Columbus. Now that the Buckeyes have a loss, the rest of their resume is fair game for criticism. Ohio State’s best win came at home against a mediocre Penn State team and then it lost its only competitive game to a team with two backup quarterbacks. I think Michigan is going to see an angry, ultra-motivated Buckeye team in Ann Arbor this weekend.

4. Indiana (5-6, 1-6) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Maryland 47-28 This Week: Sat at Purdue (2-9, 1-6), 12pm, BTN

Indiana has been the anti-Ohio State this season: Losing close games against very tough competition. The Hoosiers have played five of the top six teams in the conference and nearly knocked off four of those teams. But now it’s time to give Indiana some love. Despite falling behind Maryland 21-3 in the first quarter, Kevin Wilson’s team didn’t fall apart, instead scoring the next 27 points and running away with a 47-28 win. That first conference victory gives the Hoosiers a great chance to clinch a bowl Saturday in West Lafayette.

5. Penn State (7-4, 4-3) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #12 Michigan 16-28 This Week: Sat at #5 Michigan State (10-1, 6-1), 3:30pm, ESPN

Is Penn State any good? I’m really not sure. James Franklin heads into the final game of the season without a single win over a winning power five team. PSU’s best win came against Indiana and it hasn’t won a road game on the year. Christian Hackenberg missed some open receivers by a wide margin Saturday against Michigan and looks beaten down by a terrible offensive line’s ineptitude.

6. Rutgers (4-7, 1-6) – Even
Last Week: Beat Army 31-21 This Week: Sat vs Maryland (2-9, 0-7), 12pm, BTN

Rutgers won at Army by 10 points to snap a four-game losing streak on Saturday. Luckily, the Scarlett Knights get to close out the season against Maryland this weekend.

7. Maryland (2-9, 0-7) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Indiana 28-47 This Week: Sat at Rutgers (4-7, 1-6), 12pm, BTN

It seems like some strong head coaching candidates are strongly considering that Maryland job, which is the first good news the football program has heard all season. Luckily, the Terrapins get to close out the season against Rutgers this weekend.

B1G East Week 12

 

West Division
1. Iowa (11-0, 7-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Purdue 40-20 This Week: Fri at Nebraska (5-6, 3-4), 3:30pm, ABC

With a foot of snow piled on every row of bleachers, Iowa looked like it would give fans an excuse to watch the second half from the warmth of their living rooms Saturday. But a 20-point lead was trimmed to just seven early in the second half after a 13-0 Purdue run. The Hawkeyes woke up just in time to win 40-20 and jump into the top four of the playoff rankings. Iowa already clinched the Big Ten West Division, but it’ll need a win in Nebraska on Friday night to stay alive for the playoff.

2. Northwestern (9-2, 5-2) – Even
Last Week: Beat #25 Wisconsin 13-7 This Week: Sat vs Illinois (5-6, 2-5), 3:30pm, ESPNU

Another week, another reason Northwestern should be ranked much higher than it actually is. The Wildcats went into Madison and held Wisconsin to seven points to add another quality win to a loaded resume. It’s a shame that losses to a pair of top 10 teams took a very deserving Northwestern team out of the New Year’s Six conversation.

3. Nebraska (5-6, 3-4) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 31-14 This Week: Fri vs #4 Iowa (11-0, 7-0), 3:30pm, ABC

It’s been a season full of shock for Nebraska fans: Shocking losses, shocking wins and, most prominently, shocking endings. Mike Riley is two-thirds of the way through the 3-0 finish he needed to make a bowl game. It’s fitting that the Cornhuskers will need a shocking win over undefeated Iowa to polish it off.

4. Wisconsin (8-3, 5-2) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #20 Northwestern 7-13 This Week: Sat at Minnesota (5-6, 2-5), 3:30pm, BTN

Wisconsin played three games against teams without losing record this season and lost all three, scoring an average of 10 points. All eight of Wisconsin’s wins came against teams with five or fewer wins. That makes an SEC non-conference schedule look almost respectable.

5. Minnesota (5-6, 2-5) – Even
Last Week: Beta Illinois 32-23 This Week: Sat vs Wisconsin (8-3, 5-2), 3:30pm, BTN

Coming off three straight losses to current top-10 teams, Minnesota got its first win under Tracy Claeys Saturday against Illinois. It wouldn’t shock me to see the Golden Gophers knock off Wisconsin at home to sneak into the bowl season. Minnesota is one of those pesky teams you don’t want to play in the postseason.

6. Purdue (2-9, 1-6) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to #5 Iowa 20-40 This Week: Sat vs Indiana (5-6, 1-6), 12pm, BTN

This is going to sound strange, but Purdue might be the best 2-9 team in the country. The Boilermakers have come within a possession of knocking off three teams with at least nine wins and gave Iowa a bit of a scare in the 3rd quarter Saturday. A rivalry win against bowl-hopeful Indiana would end the season on a positive note.

7. Illinois (5-6, 2-5) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Minnesota 23-32 This Week: Sat vs #16 Northwestern (9-2, 5-2), 3:30pm, ESPNU

Illinois had a perfect opportunity to clinch a bowl win Saturday in Minnesota, but laid an egg in a 32-23 loss. Now it’ll take an upset over an excellent Northwestern team on Senior Night to extend the season for Bill Cubit’s group.

B1G West Week 12

Five Spot Challenge: Ohio State

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015


FiveSpotChallenge-Banner2015

Congratulations to Hazel Parker for his first win since the Penn State game last season. His deviation of 52.6 was 17 better than ericcarbs. Hazel Parker’s prediction of 121 was the closest to Michigan’s total return yards (122) and his prediction of 26 percent was second closest to Penn State’s third down completion percentage (21.4). He was also fourth closest to Jake Rudock’s passing yards (256) and fifth closest to the total combined sack yards (36).

Jim Mackiewicz and tooty_pops were each just six away from Rudock’s passing yards, while Myrick55 was only one away from the total combined sack yards. Ericcarbs’ prediction of 79 Saquon Barkley rushing yards was the closest, just 11 away from the actual of 68.

The average combined score prediction was Michigan 29 – Penn State 19. Tooty_pops was almost right on with his score prediction of 28-17. Bigboyblue was also close with his prediction of 30-16.

The weekly results and overall standings have been updated.

The game we’ve all been waiting for is here. Michigan still has a slight chance to reach the Big Ten Championship game, but needs help. The one thing they can control is beating the Buckeyes. Here are this week’s picks. Since Michigan is going for its 10th win, we have 10 questions this week.

First Look: Ohio State

Monday, November 23rd, 2015


Sad urban

The Game lost a little bit of luster when Ohio State lost to Michigan State on Saturday evening, putting the Spartans solely in possession of their Big Ten East destiny. The winner of the Michigan-Ohio State game will have to hope Penn State pulls off an upset in East Lansing; otherwise, the winner of college football’s greatest rivalry will have only bragging rights and a better bowl placement to take away from it. But bragging rights are always enough in this rivalry. Let’s take a look at how the teams compare.

Ohio State team stats & Michigan comparison
Ohio State | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 34.4 | 32.2 T36 | 51
14.1 14.9 2 6
Rushing Yards 2,534 1,775 1,471 1,102
Rush Avg. Per Game 230.4 161.4 14 81
133.7 100.2 30 4
Avg. Per Rush 5.5 | 4.2
3.4 3.1
Passing Yards 2,131 2,505 1,807 1,792
Pass Avg. Per Game 193.7 227.7 100 60 164.3 162.9 T5 4
Total Offense 4,665 | 4,280 3,278 2,894
Total Off Avg. Per Game 424.1 389.1 48 72 298.0 263.1 8 2
Kick Return Average 23.4 30.7 32 2 16.2 20.3 5 | 44
Punt Return Average 12.3 11.4 26 32 3.6 11.5 18 98
Avg. Time of Possession 28:52 | 33:19 83 | 10
31:08 | 26:41
3rd Down Conversion Pct 38.0% | 44.0% 81 34
33.0% | 23.0% T23 2
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 16-88 | 16-84
T33 | T33
32-181 | 29-224
T14 | T25
Touchdowns Scored 51 44
19 | 17
Field Goals-Attempts 7-12 14-18
8-15 | 15-18
Red Zone Scores (35-44) 80%|(43-46) 93% 93 | 7
(19-25) 76%|(21-25) 84% 23 64
Red Zone Touchdowns (28-44) 64%|(32-46) 70% (15-25) 60%|(8-25) 32%

Ohio State is averaging 2.2 more points per game than Michigan and 35 more total yards per game. However, in Big Ten play, Michigan leads the conference in points per game (34.7) and Ohio State is second at 34.3, though the Buckeyes still have the edge in total yards.

Through the first 10 games of the season, Ohio State’s rushing game was one to fear with Heisman candidate running back Ezekiel Elliott. But he got just 12 carries against Michigan State on Saturday as Ohio State was held to just 86 yards rushing as a team. Quarterback J.T. Barrett got the majority of the carries with 14 for just 44 yards and that drew the ire of Elliott in his postgame comments.

“How we lost, I just feel like we weren’t put in the right opportunity to win this game, we weren’t put in the right situations to win this game,” Elliott said. “I don’t think Michigan State was better than us. They weren’t. We didn’t execute.”

Whether that earns him a punishment or an extra helping of carries this Saturday remains to be seen, but he’s still one of the best backs in the nation and he still ranks second in the Big Ten with an average of 132.5 yards per game. He also leads the conference with 17 rushing touchdowns.

The passing game, on the other hand, has been wildly inconsistent this season. It ranks 100th nationally and 11th in the Big Ten, right in between two of Michigan’s last three opponents: Rutgers and Penn State. Those two managed just 201 combined passing yards against Michigan’s pass defense that ranks fourth nationally. Barrett doesn’t rank among the top 10 quarterbacks in the Big Ten in passing, and Ohio State’s leading receiver, Michael Thomas, ranks 10th in receiving yards per game (59.9).

Defensively, Ohio State is just a hair behind Michigan, ranking 30th nationally against the run and fifth against the pass. The Buckeyes do allow less than a point fewer per game, but that’s negligible. Two main differences between Ohio State and Michigan’s defenses are third down conversion and red zone defense. Ohio State ranks a respectable 23rd nationally, allowing opponents to convert third downs 33 percent of the time compared to Michigan’s 23 percent, which is second nationally. In the red zone, Michigan has done a much better job of forcing opponents to kick field goals. Both teams have allowed 25 opponent trips to the red zone. Ohio State has given up 15 touchdowns, while Michigan has allowed just eight.

Both teams are pretty good on special teams with dynamic return men. Michigan ranks second nationally in kick returns with the trio of Jourdan Lewis, Jabrill Peppers, and Jehu Chesson, all of which is a threat to take it all the way. Ohio State’s Dontre Wilson and Curtis Samuel rank 32nd in that regard. But Jalen Marshall’s 12.8-yard punt return average has the Bucks slightly ahead of Michigan in that category.

So what can we expect on Saturday? It’s too early for a prediction, but it’s a much more even matchup than any of us thought it would be entering the season. The status of Elliott and the psyche of a team that just suffered its first loss in 24 Big Ten games will play a major part in the outcome. Will they bounce back or will they crumble from their first experience of adversity? We’ll find out at high noon on Saturday.

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 10

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015


Power Rankings_header

And then there were two.

The Big Ten watched one-third of its three-headed monster fall Saturday night leaving just one undefeated team in each division. But despite that loss, the conference saw six teams ranked in Tuesday night’s College Football Playoff rankings, more than any other conference.

It’s looking like the Big Ten might be the best conference in the country this season. Here’s a look at how the divisions stack up through Week 10.

East Division
1. Ohio State (9-0, 5-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Minnesota 28-14 This Week: Sat at Illinois (5-4, 2-3), 12pm, ABC

Another week, another Ohio State victory. The defending champs remained undefeated without their starting quarterback Saturday, fending off a pesky Minnesota squad to improve to 9-0. Cardale Jones threw for 187 yards and a touchdown and Ezekiel Elliott rushed 26 times for 114 and a score to pace the offense. Minnesota controlled the pace and racked up more than 300 yards, but a late comeback effort ran out of gas in the 4th quarter. OSU held steady at No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday after being jumped by Alabama, which lost to an unranked team at home but somehow hasn’t been penalized for it. If the Buckeyes knock off a pair of really good teams from the state of Michigan, they should vault right back up to No. 1

2. Michigan (7-2, 4-1) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 49-16 This Week: Sat at Indiana (4-5, 0-5), 3:30pm, ABC

Just one week after falling to a season-worst fourth in these rankings, Michigan is up into the No. 2 spot for just the second time. Michigan took care of business against Rutgers, cruising past the Scarlett Knights 49-16. The offensive outburst was paced by quarterback Jake Rudock, who threw for a season-best 337 yards More importantly, the Wolverines have new life in the Big Ten East race with a pair of tricky road games on the horizon. A shaky secondary faces a huge test Saturday in Indiana, which is bound to finish off one of these upset bids eventually. Michigan moved up three spots to No. 14 in the playoff rankings.

3. Michigan State (8-1, 4-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Nebraska 38-39 This Week: Sat vs Maryland (2-7, 0-5), 12pm, ESPN2

If you play with fire long enough, you’re bound to get burned. Michigan State flirted with defeat almost every week en route to an otherwise impressive 8-0 start, but it couldn’t hold onto a 12-point lead with under four minutes to play Saturday night and fell to Nebraska, 39-38. The Spartans underperformed against Rutgers, Purdue, even the directional schools, to an extent. And no, MSU didn’t lose to Nebraska because of an out-of-bounds call at the end of the game. Mark Dantonio’s team had no business cutting it so close against a team that lost to Purdue by double digits, so that defense has nobody to blame but itself. Luckily for the Spartans, they’re still ranked No. 13 in the playoff rankings with a cupcake at home to get back on track this weekend.

4. Penn State (7-3, 4-2) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #21 NW 21-23 This Week: Bye (11/21 vs Michigan)

The Nittany Lions were already a long shot to win the Big Ten East, but any remaining aspirations were officially put to rest Saturday afternoon.  Penn State had a chance to pick up its first good win of the season in Evanston, but allowed a field goal with under 10 seconds left to surrender a one-point lead. Christian Hackenberg struggled, completing just 21 of 40 pass attempts for 205 yards and an interception. The defense was shaky, allowing nearly 400 yards, but Hackenberg has to be much better for this team to do some damage down the stretch.

5. Indiana (4-5, 0-5) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to #9 Iowa 27-35 This Week: Sat vs #14 Michigan (7-2, 4-1), 3:30pm, ABC

Another week, another near Indiana upset. The Hoosiers hung around just long enough to give the undefeated Hawkeyes a scare in Bloomington, but ultimately fell eight points short of the win. They’ll get back at it Saturday as the hopeful Wolverines come to town.

6. Rutgers (3-6, 1-5) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #17 Michigan 16-49 This Week: Sat vs Nebraska (4-6, 2-4), 3:30pm, BTN

Rutgers players who ticked off Jim Harbaugh despite trailing by 19 points heading into halftime on Saturday have to be feeling pretty stupid now. Harbaugh went for a two-point conversion despite holding a 25-point lead in the 3rd quarter to send the Scarlett Knights back to the sideline with their tails between their legs.

7. Maryland (2-7, 0-5) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Wisconsin 24-31 This Week: Sat at #13 MSU (8-1, 4-1), 12pm, ESPN2

Hey, Maryland actually kept it pretty close Saturday against Wisconsin, falling by just a touchdown to the streaking Badgers. Unfortunately, this weekend brings a trip to East Lansing against an angry Michigan State squad.

B1G East Week 10

 

West Division
1. Iowa (9-0, 5-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Indiana 35-27 This Week: Sat vs Minnesota (4-5, 1-4), 8pm, BTN

Breathe easy, Iowa fans! The soon-to-be West champs got out of upset-happy Indianapolis with a slim victory and jumped up to No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings. That means this team is a lock for the playoff if it finishes the season with four more victories.

2. Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) – Even
Last Week: Beat Penn State 23-21 This Week: Sat vs Purdue (2-7, 1-4), 12pm, BTN

Pat Fitzgerald’s team added another excellent win to its resume Saturday, knocking off Penn State with a late field goal from a kicker who’d missed three times on the day. Now the Wildcats have cracked the top 20 of the College Football Playoff poll and have a chance to keep on rolling this weekend against a punchless Purdue team.

3. Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1) – Even
Last Week: Beat Maryland 31-24 This Week: Bye (11/21 vs Northwestern)

It took five straight wins over inferior Big Ten opponents, but Wisconsin is finally back in the rankings after sliding into the No. 25 spot on Tuesday night. Now the Badgers will take a much-needed bye week to prepare for a Northwestern team that’s playing as well as any team in the conference this month.

4. Nebraska (4-6, 2-4) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat #7 MSU 39-38 This Week: Sat at Rutgers (3-6, 1-5), 3:30pm, BTN

Saturday night’s game between Nebraska and Michigan State demonstrated why college football is such a strange sport. Nebraska did nothing but find ways to lose close games in its first nine games, while Michigan State always found a way to barely survive. But the tables turned this weekend when Tommy Armstrong led a four-play, 91-yard drive with under a minute left in the game to keep the distant bowl dreams alive for first-year Cornhusker Mike Riley.

5. Illinois (5-4, 2-3) – Even
Last Week: Beat Purdue 48-14 This Week: Sat vs #3 Ohio State (9-0, 5-0), 12pm, ABC

Illinois continued to stay just above the lower-tier of Big Ten teams Saturday, hitting the road and smashing Purdue, 48-14. As specifics about former head coach Tim Beckman create a negative vibe around this Fighting Illini team, its got a chance to really shake things up this weekend in the battle for Illibuck with Ohio State.

6. Minnesota (4-5, 1-4) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to #3 OSU 14-28 This Week: Sat at #5 Iowa (9-0, 5-0), 8pm, BTN

For the second straight week, Minnesota stayed within striking distance of a top 20 team deep into the 4th quarter but couldn’t quite pull off the upset. The Golden Gophers need two more wins to gain bowl eligibility, but unfortunately two of their last three games come against Iowa and Wisconsin.

7. Purdue (2-7, 1-4) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Illinois 14-48 This Week: Sat at #18 NW (7-2, 3-2), 12pm, BTN

The high point of Purdue’s season came last weekend when it crushed Nebraska by 10 points. After a 34-point home drubbing to Illinois, this is close to the lowest low.

B1G West Week 10

Big Ten power rankings: Week 5

Thursday, October 8th, 2015


Power Rankings_header

A full week of Big Ten games is in the books as the conference season officially kicked off Saturday with six intra-league battles and one nonconference matchup.

In the only cross-divisional game of the week, Michigan State topped Purdue in a nail-biter at Spartan Stadium. The East also picked up a win from Penn State, which snuck by Army. Meanwhile, a major power shift rattled the West Division as two of the division’s best teams went down to the wire in Madison.

Here’s a look at where the teams stand after one Big Ten game.

East Division
1. Ohio State (5-0, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Indiana 34-27 This Week: Sat vs Maryland (2-3, 0-1), 12pm, BTN

It wasn’t an impressive performance for the No. 1 team in the country, but Ohio State held off a pesky Indiana team Saturday to pick up a win in the conference opener. Cardale Jones completed 18 of 27 pass attempts for 245 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. The defense surrendered over 400 yards, but was saved by Ezekiel Elliott’s 274 yards and three touchdowns. Elliott ripped off runs of 55, 65, and 75 yards in the game, keeping the Buckeyes afloat in the second half.

The Hoosiers came into the game undefeated, but OSU couldn’t pull away despite injuries to Indiana starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld and star running back Jordan Howard. Much like in the opener against Virginia Tech, Ohio State needed an injury to Indiana’s best offensive player to swing the momentum and take the lead for good. Though they’re clearly one of the most talented teams in the country, the Buckeyes have underwhelmed in four of their five games and can’t find a consistent rhythm on offense. They shouldn’t have a problem getting to 6-0 this weekend as a lost Maryland offense comes to the Horseshoe.

2. Michigan State (5-0, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Purdue 24-21 This Week: Sat at Rutgers (2-2, 0-1), 8pm, BTN

If not for Michigan’s opening loss to Utah, the Wolverines would be well above the Spartans in the power rankings based on the past few weeks. Saturday was Michigan State’s worst performance yet as it nearly blew a 21-point halftime lead to a Purdue team with only one win. Michigan State led 21-0 at the break and needed a stop on the Boilermakers’ final drive to secure a 24-21 win.

MSU’s secondary was a great concern early in the season, but it was Markell Jones, Purdue’s starting running back, who smacked the Spartans on homecoming. Jones gained 157 yards on 22 carries and found the end zone twice. David Blough completed fewer than half his pass attempts and threw for just 136 yards, but Michigan State couldn’t pull away, despite forcing three turnovers. Michigan State did outgain Purdue by 105 yards, but the worst team in the league shouldn’t be within a field goal of the No. 2 ranked team in the country. Connor Cook needs to escape from his funk (just 139 yards passing Saturday) and lift the Spartans to where they were last year on offense.

3. Michigan (4-1, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Maryland 28-0 This Week: Sat vs #13 NU (5-0, 1-0), 3:30pm, BTN

In a Week 4 win over BYU, Michigan scored all 31 of its points in the first half before playing to a scoreless tie in the second half. In Maryland, the Wolverines mustered only a pair of field goals before the break and exploded for 22 points in the second half. The common denominator? Neither the Cougars nor the Terrapins could put up a single point against a stout Michigan defense.

For the second straight week, the Wolverines surrendered just 105 yards, this time holding Maryland to seven first downs and fewer than two yards per play. Quarterback Caleb Rowe has struggled all season, but Michigan forced him into his worst performance yet: eight completions in 27 attempts for 47 yards and three interceptions. One of the picks came from emerging star Jourdan Lewis, who’s been near impossible to beat downfield all season. Lewis burst onto the scene as Michigan’s top lockdown corner last year and he’s already made enormous strides under Jim Harbaugh.

But it wasn’t all good news for Michigan at Byrd Stadium. The offense struggled to run the ball with De’Veon Smith out due to injury. Derrick Green and Ty Isaac rushed 13 times for just 43 yards and a pair of fumbles. Drake Johnson struggled in the first half, but made an adjustment after the break and finished with 68 yards on 13 carries. He also took a screen pass 31 yards and dove to the pylon early in the 3rd quarter to break the seal for the Wolverine offense.

Even more serious for Michigan going forward is the loss of Mario Ojemudia for the rest of the season. Ojemudia had developed into Michigan’s top pass rusher out of the buck linebacker position, but now those duties will fall on the shoulders of Royce Jenkins-Stone, a talented but largely unproven senior who made eight tackles last season. Northwestern will visit Michigan in the Big House this weekend in what promises to be a defensive slugfest. The two teams enter Saturday’s matchup ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the country in terms of scoring defense.

4. Penn State (4-1, 1-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Army 20-14 This Week: Sat vs Indiana (4-1, 0-1), 12pm, ESPN2

Penn State was the only Big Ten team to play out of conference in Week 5, holding off a second-half charge from Army to improve to 4-1. The Nittany Lions were bailed out by three Army fumbles that wiped out a 293-yard effort. Army outgained Penn State 293-264, picked up more first downs, and averaged more yards per play. Christian Hackenberg threw only 19 times, picking up 156 yards and a touchdown — a disappointing sequel to his 296-yard, three-touchdown effort against San Diego State. James Franklin’s team just doesn’t have anything going on offense this season, so it’ll rely on a top-tier defense to carry it through conference play.

5. Indiana (4-1, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #1 OSU 27-34 This Week: Sat at Penn State (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, ESPN2

Injuries to Jordan Howard and Nate Sudfeld couldn’t have come at a worse time for Indiana, which had a legitimate chance to dethrone the top-ranked Buckeyes in Bloomington before their top offensive threats went down. Indiana played its best defensive game of the season, but still allowed over 500 yards to the offensively-challenged Buckeyes. Two recovered fumbles and an interception kept the Hoosiers in the game, but three huge runs from Ezekiel Elliott handed Indiana its first loss of the season. The Hoosiers won’t do much damage in the Big Ten behind their high-powered offense and risk-taking defense, but the road ahead won’t get any easier as they visit Penn State and Michigan State and host Iowa and Michigan in the next five games.

6. Rutgers (2-2, 0-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs #4 MSU (5-0, 1-0), 8pm, BTN

Rutgers took an early week off after beating a winless Kansas team, 27-14, in Week 4. The extra preparation likely won’t do much good this weekend as the Scarlett Knights host an angry Michigan State team. They might not be competitive in another game until a Week 11 home date with Nebraska.

7. Maryland (2-3, 0-1) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #22 Mich. 0-28 This Week: Sat at #1 OSU (5-0, 1-0), 12pm, BTN

Believe it or not, there’s a team in the Big Ten that would love to have Jake Rudock as its starting quarterback. Maryland’s situation under center is as grim as it gets, and those struggles were on full display against Michigan. Starter Caleb Rowe was pulled from the game after completing just eight of 27 passes for 47 yards and three interceptions. Rowe was replaced in the 3rd quarter by Daxx Garman, who went just 2 of 9 for 29 yards. Brandon Ross was smothered by the Michigan run defense, racking up just 44 yards in the team’s 105-yard effort. The defense was solid, allowing just 378 yards and 28 points despite spending over 34 minutes on the field, but with this offense, Maryland won’t be competitive for the rest of the season.

B1G East Week 5

West Division
1. Northwestern (5-0, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Min. 27-0 This Week: Sat at #18 Michigan (4-1, 1-0), 3:30pm, BTN

Wow. It looks like the Wildcats are even better than we thought they were, and we already thought they were pretty good. Northwestern steamrolled Minnesota on Saturday, holding the Gophers to 173 yards and scoring a season-high 27 points against Jerry Kill’s defense. Justin Jackson continues to quietly get the job done on the ground, picking up 120 yards on 20 carries to pace the offense. Clayton Thorson didn’t have a huge impact, but he completed 14 of 19 passes and didn’t turn it over. He also rushed for the team’s only two offensive touchdowns. Pat Fitzgerald’s team has climbed to No. 13 in the AP Poll with a chance to jump into the top 10 if it can knock off a streaking Michigan team in the Big House this weekend. Northwestern will need an outstanding effort from the defense allowing the fewest points per game in the country.

2. Iowa (5-0, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat #19 Wisconsin 10-6 This Week: Sat vs Illinois (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, ESPNU

Northwestern might be the hottest team in the Big Ten, but Iowa picked up the biggest win in Week 5. The Hawkeyes knocked off perennial West Division champ Wisconsin in Madison by essentially out-Badgering the Badgers. Iowa scored just 10 points in the game, but controlled the clock with its own running game while holding Wisconsin to 2.5 yards per carry. C.J. Beathard was underwhelming, completing just nine of 21 passes for 77 yards as Iowa was outgained 320-221 overall. But the defense forced four turnovers and held Wisconsin to just 4 of 13 on 3rd down to sneak out of Madison with a power-shifting victory. Iowa is now in position to seize control of the West Division if it can win in Evanston on Oct. 17.

3. Illinois (4-1, 1-0) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Nebraska 14-13 This Week: Sat at #22 Iowa (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, ESPNU

Don’t look now, but Illinois is 4-1! Despite a pair of shaky performances leading up to the Big Ten opener, Illinois shut down the Nebraska offense on Saturday and came away with a thrilling, shocking victory in Champaign. The Cornhuskers opened the door for the Illini by throwing twice on the final drive instead of running the clock down inside 20 seconds. When Illinois took over with 55 seconds left, Wes Lunt led a 72-yard drive that lasted just 41 seconds and ended with a one-yard, game-winning touchdown to Geronimo Allison. Illinois’ record is a bit deceiving, as it was blown out by its only solid non-conference opponent (a 48-14 loss at North Carolina). If the Fighting Illini somehow win one of their next two games – at Iowa or at home against Wisconsin – that’ll be reason to buy in.

4. Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Iowa 6-10 This Week: Sat at Nebraska (2-3, 0-1), 3:30pm, ABC

The Badgers are treading in unfamiliar territory midway through Paul Chryst’s first season as head coach. A rare home loss Saturday against Iowa landed Wisconsin behind the eight ball in the West Division and dropped the Badgers to 3-2 on the year. Joel Stave isn’t playing like a typical Wisconsin senior, turning the ball over twice on Saturday and failing to lead his team into the end zone in the 10-6 loss. Even stranger: Wisconsin’s running game has yet to awaken. Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale took 26 of the team’s 34 carries against the Hawkeyes but gained just 87 combined yards and an average below 3.5 yards per carry. Wisconsin’s defense was excellent, holding the C.J. Beathard-led attack to just 221 total yards and one touchdown. But the offense is struggling on all cylinders right now and there’s no NFL-caliber running back to pull it out of the rut.

5. Minnesota (3-2, 0-1) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #19 NU 0-27 This Week: Sat at Purdue (1-4, 0-1), 3:30pm, ESPN

Since nearly upsetting No. 2 TCU to open the season in early September, Minnesota has performed steadily worse each week. A pair of three-point wins over MAC schools preceded a 27-0 beat down at the hands of a Northwestern team that was struggling to score points before rolling over the hapless Gophers. Minnesota rushed for just 2.2 yards per carry and Mitch Leidner was awful through the air, completing 10 of 21 passes for 72 yards and a pick. A defense that had been leading the charge through four weeks surrendered 20 points and 312 yards on the night, though it was put in bad position by two offensive turnovers. The style points Minnesota gained by sticking with TCU have expired, and now it’ll need a desperation win in Purdue to get the train back on the tracks.

6. Purdue (1-4, 0-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to #2 MSU 24-27 This Week: Sat vs Minn. (3-2, 0-1), 3:30pm, ESPN

For the first time since a Week 2 thumping over Indiana State, Purdue showed a little fight in a 24-21 loss in East Lansing Saturday. The Spartans carried a commanding 21-0 lead into the half, but Purdue scored 14 unanswered points over the next 16 minutes to pull within a score. A 10-play, 28-yard drive stalled at their own 48-yard line as the Boilermakers’ comeback effort finally ran out of gas. Freshman quarterback David Blough was awful in the first half, but he finished the game with 136 yards passing, a touchdown and an interception after a solid 2nd half effort. If not for MSU running back L.J. Scott’s 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns, Purdue might have pulled the most shocking upset of this college football season.

7. Nebraska (2-3, 0-1) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Illinois 13-14 This Week: Sat vs Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1), 3:30pm, ABC

How could Nebraska possibly fall below a lousy, punchless Purdue team? It’s simple: Mike Riley’s team is playing a sloppy, ugly brand of football through five games and it starts with their junior quarterback. Tommy Armstrong Jr. completed less than one-third of his passes Saturday for 105 yards and an interception. He had zero passing yards in the team’s 76-yard touchdown drive in the 1st quarter and the offense mustered only 13 points against an Illinois team that allowed a combined 73 points to North Carolina and Middle Tennessee State the last two weeks. Nebraska could actually be undefeated at this point in the season – the three losses are by a combined nine points – but mammoth mistakes in the 4th quarter an overtime have dropped them to a disastrous start. If Nebraska can’t pull off a win over Wisconsin this weekend, it’ll have to knock off Northwestern, Michigan State or Iowa down the stretch to qualify for a bowl.

B1G West Week 5

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.