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Posts Tagged ‘Nebraska’

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

2015 Big Ten power rankings: Week 9

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

Power Rankings_header

The first College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday and the Big Ten is well represented with five teams in the top 25.

Ohio State and Michigan State are firmly in the race for the final four with a potential play-in matchup in Columbus coming up later this month. Iowa, which can coast through the rest of its Big Ten West schedule, will need a win in the Big Ten Championship game to have a chance.

Michigan and Northwestern also made the top 25, though they won’t be playing in the four-team playoff.

There were also five conference matchups with only one major upset in West Lafayette. Here’s a look at how the Big Ten stacks up heading into Week 10.

East Division
1. Ohio State (8-0, 4-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Minnesota (4-4, 1-3), 8pm, ABC

f the College Football Playoff started this week, Ohio State would represent the Big Ten as the No. 3 overall seed. The Buckeyes had a bye this weekend, but took a moral victory on Tuesday when the committee deemed them worthy of such a high ranking. Despite the 8-0 start, Ohio State’s two best wins came over Penn State and Northern Illinois, which were both at home. But it wasn’t a perfect week for Urban Meyer’s team, which saw its starting quarterback arrested because he avoided a DUI checkpoint while driving drunk. What do you do when being the starting quarterback of the No. 1 ranked college football team in the country isn’t enough? Apparently you crush a few beers and jump in a car. It was an incredibly stupid move by J.T. Barrett, who won’t play in the team’s next cupcake game against Minnesota. For a kid with a previously unblemished record, Barrett will have to work on regaining a leadership role on the team.

2. Michigan State (8-0, 4-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at Nebraska (3-6, 1-4), 7pm, ESPN

The Spartans also enjoyed a week off in Week 9, sitting pretty with a perfect 8-0 record. The committee ranked MSU No. 7 in the first poll, likely because of close calls against Oregon, Purdue and Rutgers and a somewhat fortunate win over Michigan. But Michigan State still controls its own destiny. A pair of cupcakes separates the Spartans from an essential play-in game in Columbus on Nov. 21. If Mark Dantonio’s group can knock off Ohio State, it’ll be a win over Iowa away from a playoff berth.

3. Penn State (7-2, 4-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Illinois 39-0 This Week: Sat at #21 NW (6-2, 2-2), 12pm, ESPNU

For the first time in three weeks, Penn State demonstrated just how well it can play when everything comes together. Christian Hackenberg completed 21 of 29 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns and the Nittany Lions outgained Illinois 400-167. The only downer for Coach James Franklin was a pair of fumbles that kept the Fighting Illini within 50, but the defense’s first shutout of the season has Penn State at 7-2 with games against three straight ranked opponents on the horizon.

4. Michigan (6-2, 3-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Minnesota 29-26 This Week: Sat vs Rutgers (3-5, 1-4), 3:30pm, BTN

Well, Michigan certainly didn’t come out of the bye week in style. Fourteen days after having their hearts ripped out in a last-second loss to MSU, the Wolverines nearly lost the battle for the Little Brown Jug to a Minnesota team that looked heavily outmatched in Big Ten play. Mitch Leidner was a big play machine, passing for 317 yards and rushing for 37 more – finishing with two total touchdowns. Sophomore tight end Brandon Lingen torched the Michigan defense for 111 yards on the night. But the most concerning development for Michigan is a running game that has yet to show up for the Big Ten season. Pre-conference star De’Veon Smith was a nonfactor, picking up just 15 yards on nine carries. Only Drake Johnson, who gained 55 yards on 10 carries, could move the ball on the ground. Jake Rudock went 13 for 21 – for 140 yards, a touchdown and a pick – before being knocked out of the game on a missed target while sliding to the ground.

Luckily for the Wolverines, backup quarterback Wilton Speight completed four passes on the team’s final drive to score a touchdown and a two-point conversion that eventually won the game. The defense put up its worst performance of the season – allowing 461 yards to a below-average offense – but made a big stop on a quarterback sneak from the half-yard line to escape with a victory. The Wolverines will try to bounce back Saturday, when they need to blow Rutgers right out of Ann Arbor to get back on track.

5. Rutgers (3-5, 1-4) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to Wisconsin 10-48 This Week: Sat at #17 Mich. (6-2, 3-1), 3:30pm, BTN

Rutgers scored as many points against Wisconsin as Iowa did, but the positive trends end there for the Scarlett Knights. Saturday marked their second straight loss by more than 30 points and the offense gained just 165 yards without star receiver Leonte Carroo. Kyle Flood’s squad needs three wins in the final four weeks to qualify for a bowl game.

6. Indiana (4-4, 0-4) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to #7 MSU 26-52 This Week: Sat vs #9 Iowa (8-0, 4-0), 3;30pm, ESPN

Saturday was the first time since the start of the Big Ten season that Indiana didn’t lose in devastating fashion. Even though it was only a bye week, the Hoosiers didn’t get blown out or collapse in the fourth quarter. Things will likely go back to normal Saturday against Iowa.

7. Maryland (2-6, 0-4) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to #10 Iowa 15-31 This Week: Sat at Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1), 3:30pm, BTN

When you drop into the cellar of the Big Ten East, things really aren’t going well. Maryland tried to hang around in Iowa Saturday, but Perry Hills threw three more picks and the Terrapins fell 31-15. Their bowl dreams will end Saturday against visiting Wisconsin.

B1G East Week 9

West Division
1. Iowa (8-0, 4-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Maryland 31-15 This Week: Sat at Indiana (4-4, 0-4), 3:30pm, ESPN

The West-leading Hawkeyes got back on the field this weekend and outlasted Maryland, though it was far from overwhelming. C.J. Beathard threw for 183 yards for an offense that gained a total of 293 and the defense surrendered 241 yards. Luckily, Iowa forced four turnovers and controlled the ball for nearly 33 minutes. At No. 9 in the CFP poll, Iowa just has to keep winning to punch its ticket to the playoff.

2. Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) – Up 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Penn State (7-2, 4-1), 12pm, ESPNU

Finally, somebody else took notice of Northwestern’s impressive body of work. The Wildcats are ranked No. 21 in the first playoff rankings thanks to impressive wins over Stanford and Duke and solid losses to top 20 teams. They can pick up another win over a winning team this weekend when they host 7-2 Penn State.

3. Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 48-10 This Week: Sat vs Maryland (2-6, 0-4), 3:30pm, BTN

Wisconsin is flying under the radar at 7-2 thanks to that loss to Iowa that will likely keep them from winning the West Division. But the Badgers have a great chance to win their final three regular season games and enter the bowl season with a quiet 10 wins.

4. Minnesota (4-4, 1-3) – Up 2
Last Week: Lost to #15 Mich. 26-29 This Week: Sat at #3 OSU (8-0, 4-0), 8pm, ABC

Mitch Leidner and the Minnesota offense sure looked like they were playing for recently retired Coach Jerry Kill, putting up over 400 yards on the top-ranked defense in the country. But in the end, it was Kill’s absence that doomed the Gophers as they mismanaged the clock and failed to score on a 1st and goal from the half-yard line as time expired. Unfortunately, Minnesota will have to beat Ohio State, Iowa or Wisconsin to get to six wins this season.

5. Illinois (4-4, 1-3) – Even
Last Week: Lost to PSU 0-39 This Week: Sat at Purdue (2-6, 1-3), 12pm, BTN

Illinois was one of the most pleasant surprises in the West through seven games, playing some of the division’s top teams wire to wire. But the trip to Penn State got very ugly, as the Fighting Illini failed to score and got bombed by 39 points. Wes Lunt had a day to forget, completing just 16 of 37 passes for 129 yards and a pick.

6. Purdue (2-6, 1-3) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Nebraska 55-45 This Week: Sat vs Illinois (4-4, 1-3), 12pm, BTN

Purdue? Purdue! The Boilermakers came out of nowhere to drop 55 points on Nebraska this weekend and secure their first Big Ten win in more than a year. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to squeeze into the CFP’s top 25.

7. Nebraska (3-6, 1-4) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Purdue 45-55 This Week: Sat vs #7 MSU (8-0, 4-0), 7pm, ESPN

Wow, Nebraska really hit rock bottom this weekend. It doesn’t get much worse for a Big Ten team than watching Purdue run up and down the field to hand you a fourth loss in five games and drop you into the cellar of the West Division. Remember when fans got upset with Bo Pelini for winning nine games? What might they do to Mike Riley for losing nine?

B1G West Week 9

2015 Big Ten power rankings: Week 8

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Power Rankings_header

It was a mostly uneventful week for the Big Ten. Four teams were on byes and the five games that were played ended with the favorite on top.

But there were a few significant developments on Saturday, chiefly the return of a J.T. Barrett-led Ohio State offense that looks like it’s finally clicking on all cylinders. That could be a bad sign for the four teams left on the Buckeye schedule.

On the other hand, a few teams watched their bowl dreams fade a little further away with close loses. Here’s a look at the conference as a whole with another bye-filled week ahead.

East Division
1. Ohio State (8-0, 4-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 49-7 This Week: Bye (11/7 vs Minnesota)

Uh oh, it looks like last-December Ohio State is back. J.T. Barrett reclaimed the starting job last week and turned it into 223 passing yards, 101 rushing yards and five total touchdowns – three passing and two rushing – against a Rutgers team that couldn’t put up much of a fight. Ezekiel Elliott didn’t even break a sweat during his 19 carries for 142 yards and two touchdowns, and the Buckeyes outgained the Scarlett Knights 528-293. Now OSU will take a week off to prepare for a couple of cupcakes – Minnesota and Illinois – before taking on MSU and Michigan down the stretch.

2. Michigan State (8-0, 4-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Indiana 52-26 This Week: Bye (11/7 at Nebraska)

When will everyone stop knocking Michigan State for winning games, can’t they see Mark Dantonio loves it? The Spartans were up by only two points – thanks to a pair of missed PATs by Indiana – heading into the 4th quarter, but exploded for 24 points and won by 26. Indiana is one of the worst teams in the Big Ten, but Michigan State is 8-0 and just one big win away from winning the East Division. That Nov. 21 matchup in Columbus could be Connor Cook’s last chance to play in the College Football Playoff.

3. Michigan (5-2, 2-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at Minnesota (4-3, 1-2), 7pm, ESPN

What’s worse than losing a chance at a championship by dropping a punt with 10 seconds left to your in-state rival? Losing a chance at a championship by dropping a punt with 10 seconds left to your in-state rival and having to wait two weeks to get back on the field. Michigan used this “opportunity week” to double prepare for a trip to Minnesota, where it’ll try to take back the Little Brown Jug the Gophers stole from Ann Arbor last season. Jim Harbaugh – who made a ‘worm carrying a machine gun’ reference this week – would love nothing more than to make the Golden Gophers look like Golden Road Kill after last week’s devastating loss.

4. Penn State (6-2, 3-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Maryland 31-30 This Week: Sat vs Illinois (4-3, 1-2), 12pm, ESPN2

Penn State looked outrageously mediocre this weekend in a 31-30 win over the Maryland Terrapins. Christian Hackenberg had a strange day, completing just 13 of 29 passes, but doing so for 315 yards and three touchdowns. The Penn State defense, which began the season as one of the best in the conference, gave up 466 yards to the offense that gained just 105 yards against Michigan a few weeks ago. If the Terps hadn’t turned it over five times, they’d probably have their first Big Ten win of the season.

5. Maryland (2-5, 0-3) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to Penn State 30-31 This Week: Sat at #10 Iowa (7-0, 3-0), 3:30pm, ABC

Yes, the winless Terrapins rose to number five after their loss to Penn State. Why? Because of the reasons you’ll read in the two paragraphs below. As for Maryland, it was Perry Hills’ best game of the season and he still threw three interceptions. With Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State next on the schedule, the Terps can forget about playing beyond Nov. 28.

6. Rutgers (3-4, 1-3) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to #1 OSU 7-49 This Week: Sat at Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1), 12pm, BTN

Rutgers got caught in the crosshairs of a resurgent Ohio State offense Saturday night, and it happened to land on national television. The Buckeyes picked up 27 first downs and just wore down the Scarlett Knights early in the first half. Kyle Flood should thank the football gods for Indiana.

7. Indiana (4-4, 0-4) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #7 MSU 26-52 This Week: Bye (11/7 vs Iowa)

Remember when the Hoosiers were 4-4 and hanging with No. 1 Ohio State in Week 5? If not, you aren’t alone. Since falling short in that upset bid, the Hoosiers got crushed by 22 at Penn State, blew a 25-point second-half lead to Rutgers and just allowed 24 4th quarter points to get doubled up by Michigan State. Maybe the Hoosiers will win at Maryland and Purdue in the final weeks and make a bowl game? I wouldn’t bet on it.

West Division
1. Iowa (7-0, 3-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Maryland (2-5, 0-3), 3:30pm, ABC

The bye week for Iowa couldn’t have felt more different than it did for Michigan. Iowa sat back and enjoyed its comfortable lead in the West Division while Wisconsin and Northwestern clung to their slim hopes with tough wins. Iowa just has to win four of its last five games – Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska – to guarantee a West Division title. But if the Hawkeyes win all five – and they will be heavy favorites to do so – they’ll be one Big Ten Championship Game away from a 13-0 season and… a spot in the playoff?

2. Wisconsin (6-2, 4-1) – Even
Last Week: Beat Illinois 24-13 This Week: Sat vs Rutgers (3-4, 1-3), 12pm, BTN

When Joel Stave went down early in the game for the Badgers, it looked like it might be a disastrous day in Champaign. But Bart Houston stepped in and did a nice job for Wisconsin, completing 22 of 33 passes for 232 yards, two touchdowns and two picks. The Badgers couldn’t really get a running game going, and the defense gave up 333 yards to the Illini, but the junior backup quarterback was just good enough to keep Illinois comfortably in the rear-view mirror. The next two games – vs. Rutgers and at Maryland – should be easy victories for Wisconsin, but unless Iowa implodes, it’ll be a little too late.

3. Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Nebraska 30-28 This Week: Bye (11/7 vs Penn State)

Nobody in the country needed a win this weekend more than Northwestern. The Wildcats, coming off back-to-back blowout losses, went into Nebraska and won a close offensive slugfest. Clayton Thorson was solid in the passing game – 13 for 28, 177 yards and a touchdown – but his 126 rushing yards really paced the Wildcat offense. The defense allowed 28 or more points for the third straight game, but Nebraska gained only 2.2 yards per rush and couldn’t punch in a two-point conversion to tie the game late in the 4th. If Northwestern can survive games against Penn State and Purdue after the bye week, this could still be a special season for Pat Fitzgerald’s team.

4. Nebraska (3-5, 1-3) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to NU 28-30 This Week: Sat at Purdue (1-6, 0-3), 12pm, ESPNU

Much like in the East, there’s a huge drop off in quality after the top three teams in the West Division. Nebraska has had one of the stranger seasons in all of FBS, losing five games by a combined 13 points and three Big Ten games by a total of five points. The Cornhuskers are just a few plays from being undefeated in the conference, but instead they’re fighting for their postseason lives down the stretch. Can they knock off Michigan State or Iowa at home and pick up a big sixth win?

5. Illinois (4-3, 1-2) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Wisconsin 13-24 This Week: Sat at Penn St. (6-2, 3-1) 12pm, ESPN2

Illinois has been surprisingly competitive in each of its first three Big Ten games, including a 24-13 loss to Wisconsin this weekend. West Lunt passed for 278 yards, but the Illini rushed for only 55 yards and couldn’t shut down Wisconsin’s backup quarterback in the second half. Illinois should find two more wins to qualify for a bowl, but they’ll likely have to come on the road.

6. Minnesota (4-3, 1-2) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Michigan (5-2, 2-1), 7pm, ESPN

Minnesota didn’t play this weekend, instead taking an extra week to think about the 48-25 waxing it took against Nebraska in Week 7. The Gophers won three non-conference games behind a strong defense, but they’re giving up an average of 29.33 points per game in conference, which isn’t good enough for a team with a subpar offense.

7. Purdue (1-6, 0-3) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Nebraska (3-5, 1-3), 12pm, ESPNU

Purdue took a week off to prepare for Nebraska. The Boilermakers will try to break a five-game losing streak at home.

2015 Big Ten power rankings: Week 7

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

Power Rankings_header

It’s amazing how one play can affect the entire outlook of a conference season.

The ending to the Michigan versus Michigan State game on Saturday night took the inside track to Indianapolis right out of Michigan’s hands and planted the Wolverines firmly behind their two hated rivals in the Big Ten East Division.

In the West, Iowa made a definitive statement in routing Northwestern, 40-10, in Evanston to seize firm control of the division.

It was a crazy, and in many ways heartbreaking, week for a few Big Ten teams. Here’s a look at how the divisions line up heading into what should be a calmer Week 8.

East Division
1. Ohio State (7-0, 3-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Penn St. 38-10 This Week: Sat at Rutgers (3-3, 1-2), 8pm, ABC

It looked like Ohio State was in for a tough test Saturday as the streaking Nittany Lions came to town on a five-game winning streak. But Urban Meyer’s offense finally perked up, dropping 38 points on a Penn State defense that hadn’t allowed 30 all season. J.T. Barrett completed all four of his passes for 30 yards and two touchdowns and added 102 yards and two more scores on 11 rushing attempts. His four-touchdown performance earned Barrett the starting job heading into another easy stretch for Ohio State. The Buckeyes should roll through Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois and make it to mid-November with a chance to earn the No. 1 College Football Playoff seed. With Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed 27 times for 153 yards Saturday, and an apparently recharged Barrett, the Buckeyes should be able to overcome what has been a shaky defense so far this season.

2. Michigan State (7-0, 3-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat #12 Michigan 27-23 This Week: Sat vs Indiana (4-3, 0-3), 3:30pm, ABC

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, but on the final play of the game Saturday, the Spartans were lucky and good. Yes, Michigan State was gifted a fumbled snap, but the Spartans returned it down the sideline for the winning touchdown and stayed perfect on the season. Is MSU a team of destiny? The Spartans have trailed or led by just one possession in six of their seven games, despite playing only one quality opponent. But on a day when their best player, Connor Cook, was not impressive – 18 of 39 for 328 yards and a touchdown – Michigan State found a way to win. Aaron Burbridge emerged as one of the best receivers in the country, beating lockdown corner Jourdan Lewis for nine catches and 132 yards on the night. Next up for the Spartans: An easy stretch against Indiana, Nebraska and Maryland.

3. Michigan (5-2, 2-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #7 MSU 23-27 This Week: Bye (10/31 at Minnesota)

Wow, that was… not good. Michigan led Michigan State for 60 minutes Saturday night but a touchdown with three zeroes on the clock took away the Wolverines’ chance to finally beat their in-state rival. Now Michigan’s hopes of winning the East Division are all but dead. Even a three-way tie with Michigan State and Ohio State would leave the Wolverines on the outside looking in, as they would certainly rank below one-loss MSU and OSU in the College Football Playoff rankings (the next Big Ten division tiebreaker). The most painful part of the loss is that Michigan had plenty of chances to put the Spartans away. The offense settled for three field goals and when it finally gave its reliable defense a two-possession lead, the defense gave up a 74-yard pass and coughed up that cushion in just two plays. Blake O’Neill, who dropped the snap that led to the shocking final touchdown, punted seven times, including an 80-yard bomb in the first half. At the end of the day, the only turnover of the game killed Michigan and created a steep uphill battle for the East.

4. Rutgers (3-3, 1-2) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Indiana 55-52 This Week: Sat vs #1 Ohio State (7-0, 3-0), 8pm, ABC

Rutgers isn’t the fourth best team in the East, but Penn State had to drop after its pitiful performance in Columbus. The Scarlett Knights were all but dead Saturday when they fell behind by 25 points to Indiana late in the third quarter. But Rutgers scored four straight touchdowns and a late field goal as the clock expired gave them their first conference victory. Chris Laviano was great under center, completing 28 of 42 passes for 386 yards, three touchdowns and a pick. Lente Carroo continued his assault of Big Ten defenses, catching seven passes for 157 yards and three touchdowns. Robert Martin had his best game of the season, rushing for 124 yards and three scores. Rutgers needed every one of those points as its defense allowed over 600 yards and 52 points in the first three quarters. But it stepped up in the fourth quarter, returning a fumble for a touchdown, making two interceptions and forcing a late three-and-out to set up the game-winner. The Scarlett Knights will go back to being a punching bag Saturday in Columbus.

5. Penn State (5-2, 2-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #1 OSU 10-38 This Week: Sat vs Maryland (2-4, 0-2), 3;30pm, ESPN

Penn State entered the Horseshoe on a five-game winning streak Saturday, but we quickly found out it wasn’t because the Nittany Lions are any good. Penn State got exposed by the Buckeyes after rolling over a stretch of cupcakes – Buffalo, Rutgers, San Diego State, Army and Indiana – and bouncing back from an opening loss to Temple. Now it looks like Christian Hackenberg simply can’t play with the big boys as he was simply outmatched by a defense that surrendered 28 points to Maryland a week ago. Saquon Barkley was phenomenal, rushing for 194 yards on the night. He’ll lead the bounce-back effort this week against Maryland.

6. Maryland (2-4, 0-2) – Up 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Penn State (5-2, 2-1), 3:30pm, ESPN

Saturday was a bye for Maryland, the best possible option for a team that just fired its coach after three straight losses. Maryland has given up over 40 points three times and lost its last three games by a combined 88 points. The final two games – Indiana and Rutgers – are winnable for the Terrapins, but first they have to get through four straight winning teams.

7. Indiana (4-3, 0-3) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Rutgers 52-55 This Week: Sat a #7 MSU (7-0 3-0), 3:30pm, ABC

That’s right, Indiana slides in below the punch-less, coach-less dumpster fire that is 2015 Maryland football. The reason: Since falling just short of upsetting the No. 1 team in the country two weeks ago, the Hoosiers got sandblasted by Penn State and blew a 25-point lead in the final 18 minutes against Rutgers. Indiana did everything it could to lose the game: Allowing four straight touchdowns, including a 26-yard fumble return that really got the ball rolling for Rutgers. When you turn the ball over three times, hold the ball for fewer than 25 minutes and surrender nearly 600 yards you’ll rarely win in the Big Ten, no matter how many yards you gain.

B1G East Week 7

West Division
1. Iowa (7-0, 3-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat #20 Northwestern 40-10 This Week: Bye (10/31 vs Maryland)

The West Division title talks are definitely heating up in Iowa this month. The Hawkeyes went into Evanston on Saturday and crashed Northwestern by 30 points, and now Iowa is home free barring a huge upset. Victories over Wisconsin and Northwestern on the road have given Iowa a huge leg up on its two toughest contenders in the division. A win over Illinois even looks big for the Hawkeyes as the Fighting Illini have only one conference loss. If Iowa finishes at least 4-1 against Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska, the division is theirs.

2. Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Purdue 24-7 This Week: Sat at Illinois (4-2, 1-1), 3:30pm, BTN

Wisconsin wasn’t overly impressive in its 24-7 win over Purdue, but the Badgers have an easy road to the finish line and will probably finish second to Iowa in the West. That 10-6 home loss to Iowa is looking like the early decider in the West this season.

3. Nebraska (3-4, 1-2) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Minnesota 48-25 This Week: Sat vs NW (5-2, 1-2), 12pm, ESPN2

Mike Riley picked up his first road win as Nebraska head coach Saturday as the Cornhuskers pounded Minnesota, 48-25. It’s an uphill climb for Nebraska, which dug itself into a 2-4 hole, but the four losses came by a combined 11 points. Nebraska is only four plays (three of them flukey plays) from being a perfect 7-0, so don’t sleep on this team if it figures it out down the stretch.

4. Illinois (4-2, 1-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Wisconsin (5-2, 1-2), 3:30pm, BTN

Illinois didn’t play this weekend, but took an extra week to prepare for a home date with Wisconsin. The Fighting Illini have played well since a 34-point loss to North Carolina and have a great shot to make it to a bowl game if they can win a few road games. Knocking off the Badgers would go a long way in making that bowl dream a reality.

5. Northwestern (4-2, 1-1) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to #17 Iowa 10-40 This Week: Sat at Nebraska (3-4, 1-2), 12pm, ESPN2

When it rains, it pours. Things have turned ugly quick in Evanston after a second straight loss by 30 or more points. The Wildcats didn’t respond well to their first loss of the season, wasting a chance to seize control of the West Division in their blowout loss to Iowa. Pat Fitzgerald’s vaunted defense allowed a combined 78 points to Michigan and Iowa and the schedule won’t get much easier going forward.

6. Minnesota (4-3, 1-2) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Nebraska 25-48 This Week: Bye (10/31 vs Michigan)

Bad Minnesota reared its ugly head again this weekend as the Golden Gophers found themselves on the wrong end of another blowout. Minnesota missed its chance at a crucial fifth win when Nebraska came to town this weekend and now, with Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa next on the schedule, it might be tough to clinch a bowl game.

7. Purdue (1-6, 0-3) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Wisconsin 7-24 This Week: Bye (10/31 vs Nebraska)

Purdue suffered a fifth straight loss Saturday, falling to Wisconsin, 24-7. Darrell Hazell’s seat is starting to get a little toasty as the Boilermakers fall farther and farther into the Big Ten cellar. Four of their losses have come by double digits and the best performance of the year came in a three-point loss to Michigan State. B1G West Week 7

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 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.

2015 Big Ten power rankings: Week 3

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Power Rankings_header

After a disastrous Week 1 (8-6) and an outstanding Week 2 (12-2), the Big Ten levelled out a bit in Week 3, finishing with a 9-3 record in out-of-conference games. Penn State and Rutgers kicked off the conference schedule two weeks early as the Nittany Lions picked up the first official Big Ten win of the season.

But the biggest news of the week came on Sunday, when Ohio State and Michigan State were named Nos. 1 and 2 atop the new AP Poll. Though neither team was dominant over the weekend, they treaded water while the rest of the top 10 crashed and burned. So now the Big Ten has a strong hold atop college football.

With most of the nonconference schedule ending this weekend, it’s nearly time to draw some solid conclusions about the state of the 2015 Big Ten. Here’s where the teams stand after Week 3.

East Division
1. Michigan State (3-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Air Force 35-21 This Week: Sat vs Central Michigan (1-2), 12pm, BTN

While Ohio State kept its hold on the No. 1 spot in the national polls, it’ll have no such luck in these power rankings. Michigan State underwhelmed in a 35-21 win over Air Force, but the combination of an emotional Week 2 win over Oregon and a first look at the true Triple Option offense makes the Spartans’ lackluster performance more understandable. Connor Cook enjoyed by far his best game of the season, throwing for 247 yards and four touchdowns on just 23 pass attempts. Eight of his 15 completions went to Aaron Burbridge, who picked up 156 receiving yards and three scores. The defense is definitely a concern for Michigan State as the conference season nears. After Western Michigan and Oregon racked up 383 yards and 432 yards of total offense, respectively, in Weeks 1 and 2, Air Force outgained MSU 428-324. Luckily for the Spartans, it doesn’t have to be pretty. If they win the rest of their games by a point each, they’ll find themselves comfortable in the four-team playoff.

2. Ohio State (3-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat N. Illinois 20-13 This Week: Sat vs W. Michigan (1-2), 3:30pm, ABC

Ohio State, like MSU, struggled against an inferior opponent on Saturday. But Ohio State, unlike MSU, has no good wins to fall back on. The Buckeyes limped to a 20-13 win at home over Northern Illinois, which gained fewer than 200 yards of offense and averaged an awful 2.5 yards per play. The Huskies did not play well, completing just 14 of 31 passes, turning the ball over twice and gaining just 2.6 yards per rush, but had a chance in the final moments to knock off the No. 1 team in the country. Ohio State entered the season with a pair of potential All-Big Ten quarterbacks duking it out for the starting job, but now neither one wants to take it. Cardale Jones looked terrible in the first half, completing four of nine passes and tossing two picks. When J.T. Barrett took over, he was wild as well, completing 11 of 19 for a touchdown and an interception. Ohio State’s defense held NIU to just 190 yards, if the star-studded offense keeps turning the ball over, one of these upset bids is bound to turn into an actual upset.

3. Michigan (2-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat UNLV 28-7 This Week: Sat vs BYU (2-1), 12pm, ABC

Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines flew under the radar this weekend as the winless UNLV Rebels came to town. Michigan’s offense struggled again, scoring just 28 points, but it did rack up 377 yards. Jake Rudock threw his fifth interception of the season and averaged just 5.6 yards per pass as the downfield attack continued to be nonexistent. But Ty Isaac and Jehu Chesson finally made a pair of big plays for the Wolverines, each running down the left sideline for long touchdowns. Chesson’s 36-yard dash put Michigan up 14-0 in the second quarter and Isaac’s 76-yard score came just two drives later. Week 2 hero De’Veon Smith took a step back against the Rebels, gaining just 33 yards on 13 carries. The story for Michigan continued to be the defense, which held UNLV to just seven points and 235 yards. Keith Whitely (13 carries for 29 yards) couldn’t get anything going on the ground against Michigan’s front seven, but the secondary was just as strong, breaking up five passes and intercepting two. Jourdan Lewis returned from a Week 2 concussion to break up four passes in coverage. Since allowing 337 yards to Utah in the opener, Michigan has given up just 373 total to Oregon State and UNLV. The team will face its second ranked opponent of the season Saturday when No. 22 BYU visits the Big House.

4. Penn State (2-1, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 28-3 This Week: Sat vs San Diego State (1-2), 3:30pm, BTN

Is there something about that Indiana air that prevents teams from playing defense? Only Purdue (106) has allowed more points than Indiana (104) in the Big Ten through three nonconference games. But Indiana has done so against two Conference USA opponents and an FCS team. This week’s shootout came against Western Kentucky, which fell to the Hoosiers despite gaining 568 yards of offense. Quarterback Brandon Doughty threw for 484 yards and three touchdowns to mask an ineffective running game (3.2 yards per carry) for the Hilltoppers. Indiana picked up a season high 639 rushing yards, led by Jordan Howard’s 203 rushing yards and Nate Sudfeld’s 355 passing yards. The Hoosiers haven’t played defense for years now, and last year they mustered just four wins all season. They’ll have a chance to reach that mark, and polish off an undefeated non-conference season, at Wake Forest Saturday.

5. Indiana (3-0, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat W. Kentucky 38-35 This Week: Sat at Wake Forest (2-1), 12:30pm

Penn State dominated Rutgers in the first conference matchup of the season, scoring 21 points in the second quarter and cruising to a 28-3 win. Saquon Barkley paced Penn State with 195 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Akeel Lynch accounted for the team’s third rushing touchdown with a 75-yard dash in the second quarter. Christian Hackenberg put in another uninspiring performance, completing 10 of 19 passes for 141 yards and an interception against a shaky Rutgers defense. Hackenberg has completed fewer than half of his passes this season and has just one touchdown.

6. Maryland (2-1, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat USF 35-17 This Week: Sat at West Virginia (2-0), 3pm, FS1

Maryland bounced back from an embarrassing home loss to Bowling Green with a comfortable win over South Florida in Week 3. The transition to Caleb Rowe at starting quarterback had its ups and downs. Rowe threw for 297 yards and four touchdowns, but turned it over three times to keep USF in the game. The Terrapins gained over 400 yards on offense and allowed a season-low 17 points. They’ll face a big test Saturday in West Virginia.

7. Rutgers (1-2, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Penn State 3-28 This Week: Sat vs Kansas (0-2), 12pm, BTN

The Scarlet Knights picked up right where they left off Saturday, losing their second straight game and falling to 0-1 in the Big Ten. Rutgers couldn’t get anything going on offense, averaging a terrible 1.3 yards per carry and turning it over three times. Penn State ran for 330 yards against the front seven, leading an anemic offense to 471 total yards. The Scarlet Knights have a great chance to finish the non-conference schedule even as Kansas comes to town this weekend.

West Division
1. Northwestern (3-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Duke 19-10 This Week: Sat vs Ball State (2-1), 8pm, BTN

Though the opening week win over a ranked Stanford team was the coming out party for this Northwestern team, a road win over previously-undefeated Duke made an even louder statement. Northwestern struggled to move the ball, gaining just 271 yards of offense, but its defense is legit. The Wildcats forced three turnovers and held Duke to 3.8 yards per pass en route to a 19-10 win. Solomon Vault made the big play for Coach Pat Fitzgerald, returning a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to give Northwestern the lead for good. It might not be pretty, but the Wildcats’ defense has passed its first three tests and should lead the way to a 4-0 start Saturday against Ball State.

2. Iowa (3-0, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Pitt 27-24 This Week: Sat vs N. Texas (0-2), 3:30pm, ESPNU

While most of the conference hosted teams like Northern Illinois, UNLV and Troy, Iowa returned home to play its second straight power five team. It was a back and forth battle, and Pitt completed off a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive with 52 seconds left in regulation to tie it at 24. But a trio of C.J. Beathard runs put the Hawkeyes in Panther territory and Marshall Koehn nailed a 57-yard field goal to seal the deal. Iowa picked off two passes and shut down Pittsburgh’s rushing attack (2 yards per carry) to put itself in position for the walkoff win.

3. Wisconsin (2-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Troy 28-3 This Week: Sat vs Hawaii (2-1), 8pm, BTN

The Badgers have bounced back nicely from an opening week loss to Alabama, beating Miami (OH) and Troy by a combined score of 86-3. Joel Stave is on cruise control at the helm and completed 13 of 17 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown against Troy. Wisconsin’s offense takes on a whole different look without a 100-yard rusher, but the team did average 5.7 yards per carry behind a stout offensive line. On defense, Wisconsin held Troy to 255 yards, but surrendered 19 first downs and lost the time of possession battle, which is unusual for the Badgers.

4. Minnesota (2-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Kent State 10-7 This Week: Sat vs Ohio (3-0), 3:30pm, BTN

Week 3 was a major disappointment for Minnesota, which opened some eyes with a near upset of No. 2 TCU in Week 1 and a road win over Colorado State in Week 2. Luckily for the Gophers, an outstanding defensive performance kept a disappointing week from becoming a disastrous week. Kent State gained just 142 yards in the game, going 3-17 on 3rd down and averaging fewer than 2.5 yards per play. On offense, Minnesota was terrible, scoring 10 points, committing three turnovers and eight penalties. Rodney Smith ran the ball 30 times but gained just 73 yards to pace the ground attack. Mitch Leidner completed 17 of 27 passes for 184 yards, but threw a pair of picks that helped Kent State stick around. Jerry Kill’s defense looks like one of the best in the country, but if Leidner can’t lead the offense back to respectability, Minnesota won’t compete for the West.

5. Nebraska (1-2, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Miami 33-36 This Week: Sat vs Southern Miss (2-1), 12pm, ESPNN

It’s only Week 3, but Nebraska has already lost a pair of heartbreakers this season. Miami was blowing the Huskers out of the water in the fourth quarter before Tommy Armstrong led three straight touchdown drives (two of which ended in successful two-point conversions) to tie the game at 33 in the final minute. But the 23-0 run ended when Armstrong threw a pick in overtime and the Hurricanes kicked a game-winning 28-yard field goal. Nebraska’s defense really struggled Saturday, allowing 511 totals yards in Miami. If Mike Riley hopes to compete in his first year in the Big Ten, that’ll have to turn around quickly.

6. Illinois (2-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to N. Carolina 14-48 This Week: Sat vs Middle Tenn. (2-1), 4pm, ESPNN

Illinois could only hide behind weak competition for so long, and North Carolina exposed the Fighting Illini in a big way Saturday. Running back Elijah Hood averaged over eight yards per carry for the Heels and quarterback Marquise Williams rushed for 105 yards of his own as Illinois got steam rolled right out of North Carolina. West Lunt completed fewer than half of his passes and posted a quarterback rating of 14.3 as the Fighting Illini scored just twice in the contest. Josh Ferguson was the lone bright spot, rushing for 133 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Illinois will host another cupcake Saturday as Middle Tennessee State comes to Champaign.

7. Purdue (1-2, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Virginia Tech 24-51 This Week: Sat vs Bowling Green (1-2), 12pm, BTN

Purdue couldn’t have looked much worse than it did Saturday against Virginia Tech in West Lafayette. The Boilermakers were outgained by over 200 yards, committed three turnovers and went just 2-15 on third down. Virginia Tech held the ball for over 38 minutes and held Austin Appleby to nine completions on 28 pass attempts. Appleby was a nonfactor on the ground too, rushing 13 times for 11 yards. Purdue is a candidate for an ugly loss in Week 4 as it hosts Bowling Green, a team that already stomped Maryland.

2015 Big Ten power rankings: Week 2

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

Power Rankings_header

The Big Ten looked like the laughingstock of college football in Week 1, but now the tables have turned. After the disastrous opening weekend for the conference as a whole, Week 2 was exactly what it needed to right the ship.

A 12-2 Saturday put two Big Ten teams in the top five, two more into the national rankings and only the two newest members, Maryland and Rutgers, dropped games to weak opponents. Michigan State, Iowa and Michigan picked up wins against Power 5 conference teams and Minnesota beat a solid Colorado State team on the road.

The 12-win week couldn’t have come at a better time, as the SEC watched FCS’s Jacksonville State take Auburn into overtime, Toledo dominate Arkansas and three ranked teams fall from the rankings.

It’s amazing how much can change in just one week. Here’s how the revitalized Big Ten stacks up midway through the nonconference schedule.

East Division
1. Michigan State (2-0, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat #7 Oregon 31-28 This Week: Sat vs Air Force (2-0), 12pm, ABC

When a team doesn’t play its best game against a top 10 opponent but still wins, that team’s doing something right. Michigan State hosted No. 7 Oregon in the game of the week Saturday night and held on for a 31-28 win in East Lansing. Senior quarterback Connor Cook came up empty on a few throws and finished the game just 20 for 32 for 192 yards, two scores and a pick. The Spartans are 2-0 and ranked 4th in the country, and Cook still hasn’t played a strong game. The best performance in the victory was L.J. Scott’s 76 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries as backup to Madre London.

2. Ohio State (2-0, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Hawaii 38-0 This Week: Sat vs Northern Illinois (2-0), 3:30pm, ABC

Ohio State’s dominance was on full display Saturday as the Buckeyes sleepwalked to a 38-0 victory over Hawaii. OSU didn’t show up to the Horseshoe, completing just 20 of 34 total passes and rushing for 3.7 yards per carry. But the Buckeyes still crushed an awful Hawaii team behind three touchdowns from Ezekiel Elliott. The only reason to watch Ohio State over the next eight weeks is to see who plays quarterback – J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones?

3. Michigan (1-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Oregon State 35-7 This Week: Sat vs UNLV (0-2), 12pm, BTN

There was a different feel in the Big House this weekend, though Oregon State posed little threat to Michigan in Ann Arbor. Most of the concerns that arose during the Week 1 loss to Utah were dulled by a dominant 35-7 win in which Michigan ran for 225 yards and De’Veon Smith averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Jake Rudock was shaky for a second straight start, turning the ball over twice and finishing with a 34.2 QBR. But the offensive line was phenomenal, allowing just one sack and opening truck-sized holes for Smith, who scored thrice. Defensively, the Wolverines allowed a 79-yard drive to open the game and then held OSU to just 59 yards in the final 58 minutes. Michigan’s running game helped the offense possess the ball for over 38 minutes. Penalties and turnovers are still major concerns for the Wolverines heading into a tune-up game against UNLV. Michigan committed 10 penalties for 105 yards and lost the turnover battle 2-1 against a poor Oregon State team. Both of those areas need to be cleaned up before BYU lands in Ann Arbor.

4. Penn State (1-1, 0-0) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Buffalo 27-14 This Week: Sat vs Rutgers (1-1), 8pm, BTN

Can the final four teams all tie for 7th? No? Okay, we’ll give the middle spot to Penn State, which bounced back from an embarrassing Week 1 loss with a less-than convincing victory over Buffalo. After looking lost against Temple in the opener, Christian Hackenberg was only slightly better against a middling MAC team on Saturday. He completed 14 of 27 passes for just 128 yards and one touchdown. Freshman running back Saquon Barkley was the lone bright spot for the Nittany Lion offense, gaining 115 yards on 12 carries after touching the ball just once at Temple. The defense was solid, but the Bulls were a 5-6 team last season, so a 27-14 Penn State win is greatly overshadowed by the 27-10 loss to Temple. Penn State hosts Rutgers to kick off the conference season Saturday. A loss in that game would make James Franklin’s seat a great deal hotter.

5. Indiana (2-0, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat FIU 36-22 This Week: Sat vs Western Kentucky (2-0), 4pm, ESPNU

Indiana is undefeated, so how can it land behind both Michigan and Penn State? Indiana has looked awful in two games against terrible opponents. After a 48-47 win against Southern Illinois in Week 1, the Hoosiers needed to trounce FIU at home to ease the tension in Bloomington. Instead, Indiana trailed at halftime and well into the 3rd quarter before Jordan Howard wore the Panthers down. Howard ran the ball 27 times for 159 yards, but quarterback Nate Sudfeld was responsible for all three touchdowns – two rushing and one passing. Indiana might survive the non-conference schedule unbeaten, but the Week 5 matchup against Ohio State will be a blood bath.

6. Rutgers (1-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Washington St. 34-37 This Week: Sat at Penn State (1-1), 8pm, BTN

No matter how hard Washington State tried to hand Rutgers an unlikely win Saturday, the Scarlett Knights refused to take it, falling 37-34 to one of the worst Power 5 teams in the country. WSU quarterback Luke Falk completed 47 of 66 passes for 478 yards and four touchdowns against a nonexistent Rutgers secondary. Though they gained over 400 yards on offense, the Scarlett Knights committed 11 penalties for 100 yards, turned the ball over three times and forced just two punts. To cap off a disastrous week, wide receiver Leonte Carroo was arrested and charged with assault in an alleged domestic violent incident on campus. Carroo had been the team’s best playmaker through two games, catching seven passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns, but now his future with the team is up in the air.

7. Maryland (1-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Bowling Green 27-48 This Week: Sat vs USF (1-1), 12pm, ESPNU

The Big Ten bust of the week award goes to Maryland, who watched the MAC’s Bowling Green Falcons march into Byrd Stadium and steamroll their way to a 48-27 win. Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson threw for 491 yards and six touchdowns against the Maryland secondary, connecting with Roger Lewis 15 times for 200 yards and two scores. Maryland’s rush defense wasn’t much better, allowing Fred Coppet and Travis Greene to combine for 174 yards on 33 carries. All four of Bowling Green’s 4th quarter drives ended in touchdowns, including a 17-play, 99-yard drive that started at BG’s 1-yard line. On offense, Perry Hills completed just half his passes and lost his job to redshirt junior Caleb Rowe. Rowe completed 48.9 percent of his passes last season and threw five touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s already thrown three picks in 44 attempts this season. Even if Rowe is an upgrade over the struggling Hills, changing quarterbacks midseason is rarely a sign of a stable program. Maryland fans should buckle up for a long season.

West Division
1. Northwestern (2-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat E. Illinois 41-0 This Week: Sat at Duke (2-0), 12:30pm

The Wildcats jumped to the top spot in Week 1 with an upset win over Stanford and did nothing to lose their hold on atop the West in Week 2. Northwestern hosted a terrible Eastern Illinois team on Saturday and did what Rutgers and Penn State couldn’t: Stomped the Panthers into the ground. Clayton Thorson threw just 16 passes but completed 11 of them for an efficient 152 yards. Eight ball carriers combined to average five yards per rush and the defense allowed just 138 yards and eight first downs. Eastern Illinois converted none of their 11 3rd down attempts and held the ball for under 23 minutes. Northwestern simply dominated for three quarters and cruised through the 4th, en route to a 2-0 record. The Wildcats face a tricky matchup at Duke this week. The Blue Devils won nine games last season and have outscored a pair of weak opponents 92-7 in 2015.

2. Wisconsin (1-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Miami Ohio 58-0 This Week: Sat vs Troy (1-1), 3:30pm, BTN

If you thought Wisconsin was done after an unimpressive loss to Alabama to open the season, Week 2 came as an abrupt wakeup call. Wisconsin nearly matched the beating it took at the hands of Ohio State (59-0) in the Big Ten Championship last season with a 58-point shutout against Miami (OH). Joel Stave paced the Badgers with 236 passing yards and three touchdowns while junior running back Dare Ogunbowale turned 16 carries into 112 yards and his second career touchdown. Unlike in the opener, when they ran the ball just 21 times, the Badgers got back to their bread and butter Saturday, running 45 times for 188 yards. While it lacks an explosive playmaker like Montee Ball, James White, or Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin is the early favorite to come out of the Big Ten West.

3. Iowa (2-0, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Iowa State 31-17 This Week: Sat vs Pitt (2-0), 8pm, BTN

Iowa picked up the Big Ten’s most impressive road win on Saturday when it went into Ames and took down in-state rival Iowa State, 31-17. C.J. Beathard led a typical Iowa-type attack, completing 60 percent of his passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns. Matt VandeBerg looks like one of the conferences breakout candidates on offense after he hauled in nine passes for 114 yards and a touchdown on Saturday. The junior wideout has already passed his reception total from last season and has emerged as Beathard’s favorite target early in the season. Jordan Canzeri led the Hawkeye rushing attack with 124 yards on 24 carries. Unfortunately for Iowa, games against Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska all come on the road this season, so the Hawkeyes are on the outside track in the West.

4. Minnesota (1-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Colorado State 23-20 This Week: Sat vs Kent State (1-1), 12pm, BTN

Through two weeks, Minnesota has emerged as an under-the-radar contender in the Big Ten West. After taking No. 2 TCU to the final whistle last Thursday, Minnesota hit the road to face a tough Colorado State team that won 10 games last season and went a perfect 6-0 at home. The Golden Gophers weren’t overwhelming, but they rode a strong defensive effort to a 23-20 overtime victory. The secondary played an excellent game, allowing just 142 passing yards and picking off two passes. As a whole, Minnesota forced four turnovers and surrendered just 14 first downs. Mitch Leidner wasn’t great, throwing for 233 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but he took care of the ball and added 47 yards rushing to his total. The hero was placekicker Ryan Santoso, who nailed a 50-yarder just before halftime and an 18-yarder in overtime to seal the victory. He’s made four of five kicks after going just 12 of 18 as a freshman last season. The Gophers should coast through a pair of MAC battles to polish off the nonconference season.

5. Nebraska (1-1 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat S. Alabama 48-9 This Week: Sat vs Miami (2-0), 3:30pm, ABC

Nebraska bounced back from a devastating defeat in Week 1 to pound South Alabama by 39 points this weekend. Tommy Armstrong Jr. was excellent in the passing game, completing 21 of 30 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns. But running back Terrell Newby stole the show, gaining 198 yards and scoring twice on 28 carries. Nebraska’s formula looks the same as it was during the Bo Pelini era: Score quickly and force turnovers on defense. The Cornhuskers gained 561 yards against USA and forced three turnovers.

6. Illinois (2-0, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat W. Illinois 44-0 This Week: Sat at North Carolina (1-1), 12pm, ESPN2

It’s impossible to label the Fighting Illini after games against Kent State and Western Illinois, but they’ve certainly taken care of business. Illinois waxed the Leathernecks this weekend, allowing just five first downs and winning the yardage battle 500-141. Despite the 44-point victory, Coach Bill Cubit can’t be happy with his running game. Three Illinois running backs combined for just 126 yards on 36 carries (3.5 yards per carry) and the offense turned the ball over four times. Quarterback Wes Lunt has completed 44 of 65 passes (67.7 percent) so far this season, but he’ll struggle in the Big Ten without a legitimate rushing attack.

7. Purdue (1-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Indiana State 38-14 This Week: Sat vs Virginia Tech (), 3:30pm, ESPNU

Purdue picked up its first win of the season Saturday against FCS opponent Indiana State. Quarterback Qustin Appleby bounced back from his four-interception performance in Week 1 to throw for four touchdowns and 289 yards. The junior completed passes to 10 different receivers and exploded for three passes of 50 yards or longer. Purdue won’t have another cakewalk this nonconference season as Virginia Tech and Bowling Green visit West Lafayette.