After last season’s “M00N” game between Michigan and Northwestern — which may have been the worst game of the season to watch as a fan of either team — and both teams’ 5-7 finishes, most didn’t expect such a hyped-up meeting this season. But that’s where we find ourselves five weeks into 2015 as Northwestern stands 5-0, ranked 13th nationally, and Michigan is 4-1, ranked 18th. It’s one of just two games across the country featuring two ranked teams — Utah versus Cal is the other — and the winner gets to make a case for being a major Big Ten title contender. Let’s take a first look at how the two teams compare.
Northwestern Team Stats & Michigan Comparison
Points Per Game
89 | 74
1 | 2
Rush Avg. Per Game
248.8 | 201.4
14 | 35
117.4 | 71.4
26 | 5
Avg. Per Rush
4.4 | 4.9
3.7 | 2.3
Pass Avg. Per Game
142.2 | 191.2
118 | 96
130.0 | 112.6
7 | 3
1,237 | 920
Total Off Avg. Per Game
391.0 | 392.6
79 | 77
247.4 | 184.0
5 | 2
Kick Return Average
31.6 | 24.8
18.7 | 17.8
32 | 19
Punt Return Average
12.0 | 8.7
38 | 62
-1.6 | 7.5
2 | T63
Avg. Time of Possession
33:43 | 34:20
11 | 6
3rd Down Conversion Pct
49.0% | 42.0%
10 | T46
20.0% | 19.0%
2 | 1
4-24 | 5-43
T13 | T17
9-51 | 11-83
T71 | T45
3 | 5
10-13 | 6-8
5-7 | 1-3
Red Zone Scores
(14-17) 82.3%|(16-17) 94%
74 | 12
(6-10) 60%|(5-6) 83%
T6 | T71
Red Zone Touchdowns
(5-17) 29.4%|(12-17) 71%
(1-10) 10%|(4-6) 66.7%
Michigan and Northwestern are nearly identical statistically so far this season with great defenses and average offenses. Michigan’s offense averages 2.4 more points and 1.6 more total yards per game than the Wildcats, but Northwestern has a seven percent better third down conversion rate. Northwestern gains more of its yards on the ground (47.4 more per game) but Michigan averages 49 more passing yards per game. One area in which Michigan has excelled is putting the ball in the end zone when it’s in the red zone. Michigan has punched it in 12 of 17 times, while Northwestern has done so just five of 17 times. Against good defenses, that might make the difference.
Defensively, Northwester and Michigan are No. 1 and 2 nationally in points allowed per game, with the Wildcats allowing 0.6 points fewer. But Michigan’s defense ranks second nationally in total defense, allowing 63.4 fewer yards per game, and Northwestern’s defense is just 26th nationally against the run, allowing 46 more rushing yards per game than Michigan’s defense does. The two are also the top two defenses in the country in stopping third downs with Michigan allowing just 19 percent conversions and Northwestern 20 percent.
While Jake Rudock hasn’t produced much this season, Clayton Thorson has done even less with his arm, throwing for 245 fewer yards. But he’s also thrown for half as many interceptions as Rudock. Northwestern has a workhorse at running back in Justin Jackson, who has nearly doubled De’Veon Smith’s rushing yards — although Smith missed the last game due to injury — but the Wildcats also have three other ball carriers with at least 137 rushing yards. Only Smith and Ty Isaac have that many for the Wolverines. At receiver, Michigan has the advantage, especially with Jake Butt, and on the offensive line, Michigan has a 98 to 61 advantage in career starts.
Both teams have great defenses, but Michigan’s defensive production seems to be spread out among more contributors, while Northwestern’s is a bit more centralized to its starters. Almost across the board, Northwestern’s starters have more tackles than their Michigan counterparts, but as a team, Michigan has recorded 40 tackles for loss to Northwestern’s 31 and 11 sacks to Northwestern’s nine. Michigan suffered a huge loss on Saturday when defensive end Mario Ojemudia went down with an Achilles injury, leaving Royce Jenkins-Stone big shoes to fill.
Overall, it’s about an even a matchup as one can find, at least on paper. Michigan opened as a 12-point favorite according to Las Vegas, but that number is sure to come down as Saturday approaches. Stay tuned for more coverage throughout the week.
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.
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) – Up1
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.
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.
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.
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) – Up1
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You see the excitement everywhere you go. Fans are sporting their favorite schools on their chests, talking about fantasy drafts and predictions and looking forward to Saturday tailgates and kickoffs. Rece Davis has taken over as host of College Gameday. Recruits are taking to Twitter to support their final schools. Jim Harbaugh is back in Ann Arbor to face off with Urban Meyer and Dark Dantonio. Finally, football is back.
Now maybe somebody should tell the Big Ten.
It was a terrible opening weekend for the conference, which won only eight of 14 games over the extended weekend. There were losses on the national stage with the whole country watching, losses to schools that have no business beating Big Ten teams and even a loss to a backup quarterback on a final-play Hail Mary.
Here’s how the conference shapes up after Week 1:
1. Ohio State (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Virginia Tech 42-24
This Week: Sat vs Hawaii (1-0), 3:30pm, BTN
After being crowned the first unanimous No. 1 team to open a season in college football history, Ohio State kicked the year off with a comfortable drubbing of Virginia Tech on the road. Cardale Jones won the highly-anticipated starting quarterback job and underwhelmed, completing just 50 percent of his passes for 186 yards. But Ezekiel Elliott gained 122 yards on just 11 carries and Braxton Miller gained a total of 140 yards in his first game as H back. The Buckeyes are loaded with playmakers and will likely cruise through the next nine games with ease.
2. Michigan State (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Western Michigan 37-24
This Week: Sat vs #7 Oregon (1-0), 7pm, ABC
Michigan State did not impress during a 37-24 win over Western Michigan on Friday, allowing Zach Terrell to tear apart the Spartan secondary for 365 yards passing. Connor Cook completed just 48 percent of his passes, a disappointing start for the senior. So why did Michigan State land at No. 2? The defense held Western to 0.8 yards per carry and the offense gained 452 total yards. If the Spartans can beat Oregon at home this weekend, they’ll be home free until October.
3. Michigan (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Utah 17-24
This Week: Sat vs Oregon State (1-0), 12pm, ABC
How can Michigan be No. 3 after a loss to open the Harbaugh era? The Wolverines held Devontae Booker, one of the nation’s best running backs, to just 3.1 yards per carry, showed a pulse in the passing game with Amara Darboh and Jake Butt combining for 194 receiving yards and stuck with a top 25 team on the road. Jake Rudock had a disastrous debut for Michigan, tossing three interceptions and overthrowing two wide open receivers in the end zone. But the senior has a long track record of taking care of the ball, so his performance in one game isn’t likely to throw his entire season off the rails. The more pressing concern is Michigan’s running game, which picked up just 2.6 yards per carry with a long of seven yards. If the Wolverines want to compete, even in an average Big Ten, they have to be more effective in the ground game.
4. Maryland (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Richmond 50-21
This Week: Sat vs Bowling Green (0-1), 12pm, BTN
Maryland opened the season against an FCS opponent and took care of business, beating Richmond 50-21. Senior Brandon Ross stole the show, rushing for 150 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. As a team, Maryland gained 341 yards on the ground and just 138 yards through the air. We won’t know much about the Terps until Sept. 26, when they travel to Morgantown to clash with West Virginia. Once Big Ten season rolls around, Maryland will find it much tougher to average 7.6 yards per carry.
5. Rutgers (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Norfolk State 63-13
This Week: Sat vs Washington State (0-1), 3:30pm, ESPNU
The largest victory of the weekend went to Rutgers, which stomped a bad FCS team by 50 points. Quarterbacks Hayden Rettig and Chris Laviano scorched the Norfolk State secondary for 248 passing yards on just 15 total attempts for an average of 16.5 yards per attempt. On the ground, three running backs earned 10 or more carries and combined to gain 269 yards. Leonte Carroo enjoyed the second three-score game of his career, catching three passes (all touchdowns) for 129 yards. On defense, Rutgers held Norfolk State to an astounding minus 3 rushing yards on 23 attempts. The Scarlett Knights outgained the Spartans 539-196.
6. Indiana (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Southern Illinois 48-47
This Week: Sat vs FIU (1-0), 8pm, BTN
It looks like another long season is on tap for Indiana after a 48-47 home win over an FCS team that went just 6-6 in the Missouri Valley Conference last season. Jordan Howard stepped into Tevin Coleman’s shoes and ran for 145 and three touchdowns on 20 carries to lead the Hoosiers. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld contributed 398 total yards of his own to lead Indiana’s 595-yard offensive attack. But the defense, which allowed 32.8 points per game last season, surrendered 659 yards to the Salukis, including 517 to quarterback Mark Iannotti (411 passing, 106 rushing). Indiana came within a two-point conversion attempt of losing the home opener to Southern Illinois, which doesn’t forecast a strong 2015 season.
7. Penn State (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Temple 10-27
This Week: Sat vs Buffalo (1-0), 12pm, ESPN2
Remember Christian Hackenberg’s freshman season, when he completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions? Well, all of those numbers worsened during his sophomore season, and this year he’s off to a terrible start following his performance on Saturday. The former No. 1 recruit completed just 11 of 25 passes for 103 yards and an interception against Temple, good for a quarterback rating of 3.2. Penn State couldn’t get its running game going, either, averaging just 2.9 yards on 28 carries. The defense, which allowed the eighth fewest points per game (17.7 – fewest in Big Ten) in the country last season, let Jahad Thomas run for 135 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Temple also completed 76 percent of its passes and outgained the Nittany Lions 313-183. A 17-point loss to Temple in the season opener makes next week’s matchup with Buffalo look much less like a sure blowout win.
1. Northwestern (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Stanford 16-6
This Week: Sat vs N. Illinois (0-1), 3:30pm, ESPNN
Okay, obviously Northwestern isn’t the best team in the West, nor do I expect them to finish ahead of Nebraska or Wisconsin — both Week 1 losers — this season, but after a week one upset of No. 21 Stanford, the Wildcats earned the top spot. The game certainly wasn’t pretty, but nail-biters in Evanston rarely are (see Michigan vs. Northwestern, 2014). The Wildcats absolutely stifled the Stanford offense, allowing just a pair of field goals. Stanford’s vaunted rushing attack gained just 85 yards and Senior Kevin Hogan was held to 155 through the air. Northwestern was led by redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson, who threw for 105 yards and ran for 68 yards. Though he completed just half his passes, Thorson’s 42-yard touchdown run was the only non-field goal score of the game and ultimately led the Wildcats to their 10th opening week win in 11 seasons (lost to Cal, 31-24, in 2014). Northwestern has another tough matchup in Week 3 at Duke and will enter Big Ten play as one of the more battle-tested teams from its nonconference schedule.
2. Wisconsin (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Alabama 17-35
This Week: Sat vs Miami OH (1-0), 12pm, ESPNU
After Northwestern, the West didn’t have many inspiring efforts in the opening weekend. Wisconsin got pounded on the national stage by an incredibly talented Alabama team, looking nothing like the Wisconsin teams of the past decade. The team that sent running backs to the NFL each of the last three seasons (Montee Ball, James White, Melvin Gordon) was nowhere to be found against the Crimson Tide, running for just 40 yards on 21 carries. They were led by wide receiver Alex Erickson, who picked up 25 yards on just one carry. Joel Stave had a solid game to kick off his senior season, completing 26 of 39 passes for 228 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The story of the game with Derrick Henry, who ran all over the Badger defense for 147 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries. Wisconsin should roll through the rest of its nonconference schedule, but it missed its only regular-season chance for a statement win.
3. Minnesota (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to TCU 17-23
This Week: Sat at Colorado State (1-0), 3:30pm, CBSSN
Northwestern pulled off the biggest upset in the country on Saturday, but Minnesota came within a score of one-upping them on Thursday night. With the No. 2 team in the country visiting, the Golden Gophers fell a touchdown short of a win as TCU escaped by a score of 23-17. Minnesota’s defense wasn’t great, allowing 449 yards and 25 first downs. But it played well in its own territory and forced the Horned Frogs to kick three field goals, which kept the Gophers in the game. Mitch Leidner couldn’t get anything going in the passing game, throwing for just 197 yards 19 of 35 passing. Minnesota’s best weapon was Rodney Smith, who picked up 88 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Jerry Kill’s squad is coming off of back-to-back 8-5 seasons and could surpass that total thanks to a reasonable schedule.
4. Iowa (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Illinois State 31-14
This Week: Sat at Iowa State (1-0), 4:45pm, FOX
For the second straight year, Iowa opened the season against a Missouri Valley opponent in Iowa City. This time things went much smoother for the Hawkeyes. Iowa controlled the entire game, scoring midway through the fourth quarter to take a 31-0 lead and surrendering just a pair of garbage time touchdowns. Illinois State gained just 106 yards before those final two drives as Iowa’s defense held the Redbirds to 1.2 yards per rush. Ruduck’s replacement, C.J. Beathard, threw for 211 yards and a touchdown while LeShun Daniels carried 26 times for 123 yards. Iowa’s defense looked dominant coming off a season of allowing 24 points per game. The Hawkeyes will look to avenge last year’s home loss with a trip to Iowa State in Week 2.
5. Illinois (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Kent State 52-3
This Week: Sat vs W. Illinois (1-0), 12pm, BTN
If a team opens the season against a reigning 2-9 MAC opponent, it’d better end in a blowout victory. Luckily for Illinois, that’s just what happened Saturday against Kent State. The game was postponed Friday due to lightning, but that didn’t help the Flashes’ offense the following day. Illinois held Kent State to 245 yards and forced four turnovers in the 52-3 thrashing. Quarterback Colin Reardon had a miserable day, completing just 15 of 34 passes for 156 yards and three picks. The rushing game was no better, as Miles Hibbler led the team with 15 yards on eight carries. The Fighting Illini weren’t flashy on offense, either. Wes Lunt completed 11 of 19 passes for 162 yards and four touchdowns. The ground game picked up just 3.7 yards per carry, but five receiving scores were more than enough to bury Kent State. Next week’s matchup with Western Illinois should yield similar results.
6. Nebraska (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to BYU 28-33
This Week: Sat vs South Alabama (1-0), 8pm, BTN
The Cornhuskers’ last-second, Hail Mary defeat was both painful and untimely, but they definitely deserved it. Mike Riley’s team was sloppy in his first game under the helm at Nebraska, committing 12 penalties for 90 yards, turning the ball over twice and allowing BYU to gain 511 total yards. It looked like Big Red would come away with a win after knocking electric duel-threat quarterback Taysom Hill out of the game in the 4th quarter. But backup Tanner Magnum came into the game and scored 10 points in three drives to complete the come-from-behind win. His 42-yard Hail Mary to Mitch Mathews was poorly defended by Nebraska as the clock expired, and in the end, it was BYU receivers hugging the refs after a 33-28 win. Like Wisconsin, Nebraska struggled to run the ball after losing a starting running back to the NFL Draft. With Ameer Abdullah suiting up for the Detroit Lions, Riley couldn’t find a consistent rusher against a solid BYU front. Terrell Newby led the team with 10 carries and 43 yards, but the team’s 3.4 yards per carry wasn’t enough to erase a horde of penalties and miscues. Jordan Westerkamp was a rare bright spot in the loss, catching seven passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. He’ll have to be a consistent playmaker for the Cornhuskers if the running game continues to struggle.
7. Purdue (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Marshall 31-41
This Week: Sat vs Indiana State (1-0), 12pm, ESPNN
Coming off a winless second half to end the 2014 season, Purdue stretched its losing streak to seven games Sunday with a 41-31 loss to Marshall. Starting quarterback Austin Appleby showed flashes of brilliance early in the contest, but a pick six on the team’s first offensive play of the season would ultimately prove prophetic. Appleby threw four interceptions in the opener despite completing 31 of 48 passes for 270 yards. D.J. Knox and Markell Jones were a great one-two punch out of the backfield, combining for 174 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries. The Boilermakers outgained Marshall 454-397, but the four turnovers were too much to overcome. Purdue will finish the nonconference season with three straight home games.
With tremendous excitement surrounding the Michigan football program I felt it was fitting to spice up this year’s season preview. So instead of a simple paragraph and score prediction for each game, I’m pairing each game with an Avett Brothers song. In my opinion, they’re the best band out there right now, and certainly one of the most talented.
Growing up in the Midwest, it was hard to find someone that didn’t like country music, but that was me. Even now, I don’t. But while Barnes & Noble sells the Avett Brothers’ albums in the country section, they’re so much more than that. Their Americana blend of bluegrass, country, punk, folk, rock, and ragtime creates a unique sound the keeps getting better, even while every other band on the planet is beating banjos to death.
Sure, the Avett Brothers have nothing to do with Michigan, but they will visit Ann Arbor on Nov. 6 to perform at the Hill Auditorium. Since we’re fans of their music, Sam and I paired an Avett Brothers song with each game on Michigan’s schedule.
Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise
There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right And it comes in black and it comes in white And I’m frightened by those who don’t see it
When nothing is owed, deserved or expected And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected If you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected Decide what to be and go be it
There was a dream And one day I could see it Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it And there was a kid, with a head full of doubt So I’ll scream till I die or the last of those bad thoughts are finally out
Heading into the 2015 season we get a perfect dichotomy of doubt and promise. Michigan fans are battered and bruised after the last seven years, most recently a 5-7 season that had one of the worst offenses in program history. That offensive ineptitude — which spans the past two seasons –leaves us weary of getting our hopes up. We’ve heard it before. Brady Hoke would walk from San Diego to Ann Arbor if he had to to turn things around. Doug Nussmeier would be a huge upgrade from Al Borges.
But on the other hand, Harbaugh does, in fact, bring with him a track record of program turnarounds, and while most don’t expect a championship overnight, we can finally start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Promise abounds with a roster full of talent just waiting to be developed.
On Thursday, senior guard Kyle Kalis shed light on that notion:
“We’re definitely grasping more of how to play the offensive line, technique, footwork, stuff that we never would really practice or have a knowledge of before,” Kalis said. “Coach Harbaugh is awesome, and the way coach (Drevno) coaches us, it’s just working. We’ve had days where we’re rolling guys 10 yards off the ball, and that never happened before. It’s not that we couldn’t do it, it’s just we didn’t know how to do it.”
But how soon will it pay off? It all starts on Thursday in Utah.
Week 1 at Utah –The Strangest Thing
The strangest thing that came to me was last night in my sleep I dreamt you never left I looked up to thank the moon And saw a set of lights A set of red tail lights
I said to myself I thought that I would never change but when I woke that night the strangest thing had come to me, I finally was awake I slept for seven years
What happened back there? Nothing has gone like we planned All of our dreams, they have fell by the way The true love I once had is dead
And forever our song we will sing
What a strange journey the last seven years have been. Nothing has gone like we planned. Rich Rodriguez was brought in to modernize Michigan football, but after three years we realized a complete rehaul was never needed. Perhaps a tuneup could have sufficed. Brady Hoke came in to bring us back, but four years later, we’re still looking up at Columbus.
Jim Harbaugh’s return to Ann Arbor still feels like a dream to many of us. He’s been dubbed the prodigal son, the savior of Michigan football, but as his first game approaches it’s starting to feel like the Michigan football of old never left.
What happened those last seven years? The love we all shared is dead. But we haven’t stopped singing The Victors.
While all signs point to Harbaugh turning things around, he’s only had a month to work with them so far, so there will surely be growing pains. Unfortunately, Utah is a competent team to face in an opener, especially on the road in an elevation Michigan players aren’t accustomed to. Sure, the Utes lost both coordinators this offseason, but they still have head coach Kyle Whittingham and they return quarterback Travis Wilson and a good running back in Devantae Booker. The defense will still be solid even with a 72-year-old coordinator whose last coordinator job was with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2001-02. Too many questions abound for Michigan on the road.
Utah 26 – Michigan 23
Week 2 vs Oregon State –Backwards with Time
Folk always told me that my heart would grow The older the man, yeah, the stronger the stone Am I losing my mind? Am I growing backwards with time?
Some say with age that a purpose becomes clear I see the opposite happening here Are we losing the fight? Are we growing backwards with time?
The last time Harbaugh graced Michigan Stadium in a real game the Wolverines lost to Minnesota. But a week later he led Michigan to a 26-24 win over seventh-ranked Ohio State to capture a share of the Big Ten title. Now, 29 years later, he makes his return to the Big House an older man, leading the team he once captained. It’s almost unheard of in major college football for a former star return to his Alma mater as head coach. But when the team hits the field on Sept. 12 Harbaugh will receive a heroes welcome.
Oregon State is headed for a rebuilding year after losing the school’s and Pac-12’s all-time career passing leader, Sean Mannion. Storm Woods is a good running back that will benefit from offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin’s run-heavy system, but the OSU defense returns just two starters from last season. Harbaugh will pick up his first win in the Big House since Nov. 1, 1986.
Michigan 35 – Oregon State 17
Week 3 vs UNLV –Will You Return?
I open my door and here’s what occurs A pretty little gal with pretty little curls Leans to the side, leans on my mind
I don’t want to live, but I sure don’t want to die I’m stuttering again and tellin’ her goodbye Oh m-m-my, goodb-b-bye
Will you come again? It’s hard to say I surely hope so Will you come again? It’s hard to say I surely hope so
The only cupcake on Michigan’s schedule this season is UNLV. Sorry, Rebels, I’m not sending you a box of cupcakes. UNLV went 2-10 last season with wins over FCS Northern Colorado (13-12) and Fresno State by a field goal in overtime. That’s how close they were to a goose egg.
Flashy local high school coach Tony Sanchez was brought in to resurrect the program, and although he doesn’t have pretty little curls, he has a lot of work to do to bring the Rebels up to a competitive level. Michigan will breeze through this game as Harbaugh will look to send a message to the rest of the Big Ten that he’s not here to mess around. Michigan will then beg UNLV to come again, as they provide a bit sexier of a cupcake matchup than the traditional September yawners against Eastern, Western, and Central Michigan.
Michigan 56 – UNLV 13
Week 4 vs BYU –Please Pardon Yourself
How do I know when it’s time to stop? Runnin’ from the things I do, being things I’m not Oh I have tried, but I just changed my mind Every night that falls, every morning light
How do I know that you will never stop? Knowin’ me, and trustin’ me, and loving’ me a lot Oh I have tried, but I just changed my mind Every night that falls, every morning light
When Lloyd Carr retired, Michigan tried to be something it’s not. They brought in an offensive coach with a flashy style to completely change the program. But when that didn’t pan out, they brought in Brady Hoke to transition back to who they used to be. And when that transition didn’t work, Harbaugh was hired to bring them fully back to the teams of Bo, Moeller, and Carr.
But while the Michigan of old is what fans long for, the one thing it could never seem to stop was a mobile quarterback, and that’s exactly what BYU will bring to town on Sept. 26. Before Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending leg injury in the fourth game of 2014, he averaged 219 passing yards per game with a 66 percent completion rate and 107 rushing yards per game with 13 total touchdowns. He runs the similar zone read offense as what Rodriguez had success with in 2010 with Denard Robinson. But he’ll have to do it without three-year starting running back Jamal Williams, who will miss the season for personal reasons.
Four games into the season, and coming off of big wins against Oregon State and UNLV, Harbaugh will have the Wolverines gaining confidence each week. The defense isn’t what we’re worried about, and with experience coaching mobile quarterbacks, Harbaugh will find a way to slow down Hill, leading to a close Michigan win.
Michigan 23 – BYU 20
Week 5 at Maryland –The Perfect Space
Okay part two now clear the house The party’s over take the shouting and the people, get out!
I have some business and a promise that I have to hold to I do not care what you assume or what the people told you Will you understand, when I’m too old of a man? Will you forget when we’ve paid our debts, who did we borrow from? Who did we borrow from?
I wanna have pride like my mother has, And not like the kind in the bible that turns you bad And I wanna have friends that I can trust that love me for the man I’ve become and not the man that I was.
Part one of Michigan-Maryland was an embarrassment to the Maize and Blue, making a winning record nearly impossible last season and giving the Big Ten newcomers the first bragging rights. Part two should be less embarrassing as Maryland returns the lowest production from last season in the entire conference. Only 29 percent of last season’s total offense, 36 percent of last season’s touchdowns, and 44 percent of last season’s total defense. That certainly doesn’t guarantee a victory for Michigan, but in the conference opener, Harbaugh’s squad will show the Terps they’re not the same team as last year.
Michigan 33 – Maryland 17
Week 6 vs Northwestern –I Wish I Was
I wish I was a flame dancing in a candle Lighting up your living room high on the mantle I could bring some romance without any scandal And then when you were done you’d just put me out
I wish I was a tune you sang in your kitchen Putting your groceries away and washing your dishes I could roll around your tongue and ease the tension And then when you were done you’d just quiet down
The last three meetings between Michigan and Northwestern have been nothing but torture for Northwestern coaches, players, and fans alike. In 2012, Roy Roundtree made a circus catch on a Devin Gardner hail Mary to set up a game-tying field goal in the closing seconds. Michigan won in overtime. In 2013, Michigan strung together the most improbable of final-second field goals, featuring a Drew Dileo slide-into-place hold. Michigan again won in overtime. Last season, Michigan won an ugly 10-9 affair that no one wants to relive. Michigan holds a 56-15-2 all-time record against the Wildcats, including wins in four of the last five during the last seven years. In other words, Northwestern wishes they were Michigan.
This season, Northwestern figures to be a middle of the pack Big Ten squad, breaking in a new quarterback — redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson — and hoping for a winning record. Michigan will be coming off of a convincing road win to open Big Ten play and continue that momentum with another convincing win, this time not taking it right down to the wire.
Michigan 31 – Northwestern 15
Week 7 vs Michigan State –Murder in the City
I wonder which brother is better Which one our parents loved the most I sure did get in lots of trouble They seemed to let the other go A tear fell from my father’s eye I wondered what my dad would say He said, “I love you and I’m proud of you both, In so many different ways”
If I get murdered in the city Go read the letter in my desk Don’t bother with all my belongings Pay attention to the list Make sure my sister knows I love her Make sure my mother knows the same Always remember there was nothing worth sharing Like the love that let us share our name
Michigan State has benefited more than anyone from Michigan’s downturn the past seven years, and if you ask those in East Lansing, they’ve replaced Michigan as the state’s top program. They’ve mastered the art of using manufactured controversies as motivation, ever since the Little Brother comment during Lloyd Carr’s final season, and have won six of the past seven meetings since then.
Whichever way they want to spin it, they have a long way to go before they catch up to Michigan in the family pecking order, but the upper hand may continue for another season. Connor Cook figures to be one of the top two quarterbacks in the conference, and possibly the first one taken in next year’s NLF draft, and while the Spartans have to replace running back Jeremy Langford and their top two receivers, they do return the third-most defensive production in the Big Ten. That spells trouble for Michigan’s still improving offense. Expect a defensive battle in this one with Michigan State pulling out a close one.
Michigan State 20 – Michigan 16
Week 8 at Minnesota –The Greatest Sum
This and who I used to be don’t matter much at all to me The pit you dug to plant your feet’s a far cry from my destiny Not even the clouds Not even the past Not even the hands of God could hold me back from you
Dark and lonely is the ride the devil always by my side Though no match for what lies between a thought of you, your trust for me Not even the sun a bullet from a gun No nothing that this world could bring Or anything someone could do Could hold me back from you
What was lost in the Shane Morris concussion aftermath of the game that sealed Brady Hoke’s fate last seasonwas the loss of Michigan’s most beloved rivalry trophy to the Gophers. The Little Brown Jug has resided in Ann Arbor 76 of the 101 years it has been in use, including 30 of the last 33 years. Michigan even managed to hold onto it during Rich Rodriguez’s 3-9 season in 2008 and the first three years of the Hoke regime. But a 30-14 loss last season allowed allowed Minnesota to regain control.
Minnesota was one of the Big Ten’s surprise teams last season, going 8-5 overall and 5-3 in the conference, and aims to prove this year that it wasn’t just a fluke. With 54 percent of its total offense and offensive touchdowns back and 62 percent of its defensive production, the Gophers still figure to be a formidable foe. And Michigan has to travel to Minneapolis to get its beloved jug back. Coming off a loss to Michigan State, Michigan won’t let anything stop it from taking it back.
Michigan 30 – Minnesota 21
Week 9 vs Rutgers –Talk on Indolence
Well I’ve been locking’ myself up in my house for sometime now Readin’ and writin’ and readin’ and thinkin’ and searching for reasons and missing the seasons The Autumn, the summer, the spring, the snow the record will stop and the record will go Latches latched, the windows down, the dog coming in and the dog going out Up with caffeine and down with a shot Constantly worried about what I’ve got Distracting my work but I can’t make it stop and my confidence on and my confidence off And I sink to the bottom and I rise to the top and I think to myself that I do this a lot World outside just goes it goes it goes it goes it goes it goes… and witnesses it all from the blinds of my window THREE, FOUR
I’m a little nervous ’bout what you’ll think When you see me in my swimming trunks And last night in New York I got raging drunk Remember one time I got raging drunk with you
Last season was full of disappointment, but the loss at Rutgers may have been the one that drove us to drinking. A week after the Minnesota loss and ensuing concussion debacle, Michigan visited Rutgers for the first time in school history looking for a win to at least somewhat ease the pain. Instead, Michigan’s defense made quarterback Gary Nova look like Tom Brady and the Wolverines suffered a third straight defeat, dropping to 0-2 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1967.
When Rutgers comes to Ann Arbor on Nov. 7 for the first time ever, Michigan will need a win to keep its claim of not having a losing record against any Big Ten foe. Nova is gone, but Rutgers returns its entire running game and the Big Ten’s leading returning receiver. The defense has some experience up front but has to replace three starters in the secondary. Rutgers is looking at a potential step back from last year’s surprising 8-5 finish. If Michigan loses to Rutgers again, we’ll be getting raging drunk with you. But it won’t happen.
Michigan 38 – Rutgers 17
Week 10 at Indiana –Love Like the Movies
Now in the movies they make it look so perfect and in the background they’re always playing the right song And at the ending there’s always a resolution But real life is more than two hours long
So you want to be in love like the movies But in the movies they’re not in love at all And with a twinkle in their eyes They’re just saying their lines So we can’t be in love like the movies
Indiana wants football like the movies where Hoosiers can win state titles or walk-on Rudys get carried off the field to a crowd chanting their name. If football were like the movies, perhaps Indiana have more than one winning season in the last 20 years or more than one win over Michigan since 1968. But alas, it’s not and Indiana is destined for another Big Ten cellar-dwelling season.
Quarterback Nate Sudfeld is the one bright spot, returning from an injury. But running back Tevin Coleman is gone along with his 2,062 yards and 15 touchdowns. The leading returning rusher is backup quarterback Zander Diamont, who filled in for Sudfeld when he went down. Most of the receiving corps is also gone, leaving Sudfeld with a bevy of unproven receivers to throw to. The Indiana defense returns the second lowest production in the Big Ten (53 percent) from a unit that couldn’t stop anybody last year.
Sorry Indiana, this isn’t a movie. Behind UVLV, this is the closest thing to a sure bet for Michigan.
Michigan 52 – Indiana 13
Week 11 at Penn State –I Never Knew You
Well I guess it’s kind of funny how I loved you so way back when You say I wouldn’t know you now Well I didn’t even know you then
We change a lot And no one here can stop That train before It gets to where it’s going At all
Well I guess it’s kind of funny how I loved you so way back when You say I wouldn’t know you now Well I didn’t even know you then
I heard about the company you’re keeping And for someone who didn’t have much interest In keeping us apart
For four decades Michigan and Penn State were known commodities. Stable, historic, winning programs. But now they’re hard to recognize. Michigan is on its third coach since 2008 and Penn State is on its second since 2012. Until 2008, Michigan dominated the series, winning nine in a row from 1997 to 2007. But Penn State captured four in a row before Michigan won 18-13 last fall.
This year’s meeting is in State College where Michigan has lost the last three trips. Penn State brings back the second-most offensive production (81 percent) and touchdowns (64 percent) in the Big Ten, most notably quarterback Christian Hackenberg who has been plagued by poor offensive line play the past two seasons. If that improves, Penn State will have a much improved offense. The defense should be among the Big Ten’s best, despite losing the Big Ten’s leading tackler, Mike Hull.
By this time in the season, Michigan should be much tougher than it was when the season started, but a road game in November the week before Ohio State spells loss for the Wolverines.
Penn State 26 – Michigan 23
Week 12 vs Ohio State –Vanity
I’ve got something to say
But it’s all vanity, it’s all vanity
I found a tune I could play
But it’s all vanity, it’s all vanity
Call off the guards Call off the search Their heads are chopped off They’re running in circles They’re running in circles
While Michigan State has been the biggest beneficiary of Michigan’s downturn the past seven years, Ohio State is a close second. A national championship last season and wins in nine of the last 10 meetings have left the Buckeyes full of conceit. Seriously, is there a more vain fan base out there? They still worship the coach that put them on probation and the saddest part of all is that, despite a one-year falloff, it worked to their benefit. They got an even better coach.
Unfortunately, not much is going to change this season as they enter as the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation and favorite to win the Big Ten. They return the most offensive production (88 percent) and touchdowns (83 percent) and defensive production (74 percent) in the conference. The only good news is that they have to come to Ann Arbor, but they’ve won four of the last five in the Big House.
J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones are as good as any quarterbacks in the conference and Braxton Miller transitions his talent to receiver. Running back Ezekiel Elliott is a Heisman Trophy favorite and the defense is full of talent and playmakers. Unless Michigan’s offense is light years better than it’s expected to be, Michigan doesn’t have much of a shot in this one. But that’s why they play the games.
Less than eight weeks remain before Michigan football returns. Not only will the Wolverines kick off a new era of Michigan football, but they will open up the entire college football season on Thursday, Sept. 3 at Utah. Minnesota faces TCU that same night, while Michigan State and Illinois follow on Friday night. The majority of the Big Ten plays on Saturday as usual, but visits Marshall on Sunday and Ohio State caps the weekend with a trip to Virginia Tech on Monday night.
As we look forward to a new season, it’s time to take a look at one indicator of how the Big Ten might play out. A couple of weeks ago we reviewed how returning production factored into each team’s success in 2014. Maryland had the most but finished in the middle of the pack. Ohio State had the least but won the Big Ten and national title. So what does it look like as we enter the 2015 season? Let’s take a look.
2014 Total Offense Rating
Returning scoring offense
2014 Scoring Offense Rating
While Michigan has made the headlines all offseason thanks to the antics of Harbaugh, its chief rival, Ohio State, is the reigning national champions and looks to be even stronger this season. The Buckeyes return the most total offense and scoring offense of any team in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes lost just 112 total rushing yards and four of 41 rushing touchdowns. Receiver Devin Smith’s 931 yards and 12 touchdowns will need to be replaced, but that’s the only significant loss among offensive skill position players, and OSU returns four starting offensive linemen. With 88 percent of the nation’s ninth-best offense and 83 percent of the nation’s fifth-best scoring offense returning, it’s no wonder Ohio State is the hands-on favorite to win the Big Ten and play for the national title once again. And those numbers don’t even include two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year Braxton Miller, who missed all of 2014 with a shoulder injury. In other words, the Buckeyes are stacked.
Penn State returns the second most offensive production with 81 percent of its offense and 64 percent of its scoring. However, while Ohio State’s offense ranked among the nation’s best last season, Penn State’s was among the nation’s worst, ranking 111th in total offense and 109th in scoring offense. Eight starters return, most notably quarterback Christian Hackenberg who enters his third season as a starter. Leading rusher Akeel Lynch and the top two leading receivers, DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis, are also back. The offensive line, which was the source of most of Penn State’s troubles last season, returns four starters and brings in a couple of transfers to vie for the fifth spot.
Nebraska, Illinois, and Michigan each return about the same amount of offense. The Cornhuskers have 69 percent of their 31st-ranked offense and 61 percent of their 12th-ranked scoring offense coming back. However, they’ll have to replace running back Ameer Abdullah’s 1,611 yards and 19 touchdowns, as well as Kenny Bell’s 788 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Illinois brings back 63 percent of its offense and 58 percent of its scoring returning. The top four receivers and leading rusher are back along with quarterback Wes Lunt. However, leading receiver Mike Dudek, who topped 1,000 yards a year ago, will miss some time after tearing his ACL in the spring.
Michigan returns 62 percent of its total offense and 64 percent of its scoring offense. Like Penn State, Michigan’s offense was miserable a year ago. Devin Funchess is the big loss, accounting for 36 percent of Michigan’s receiving yards. Jehu Chesson will have to step into a larger role in the pass catching department. Quarterback Devin Gardner is gone, but Iowa transfer Jake Rudock brings 2,436 yards (540 more than Gardner) and 16 touchdowns (six more) to the table. While Michigan has the second most returning touchdowns percentage-wise, the 34 touchdowns are well short of Ohio State’s 102.
Of the group in the middle of the pack of returning production, Wisconsin had the best offense last season. The Badgers return 60 percent of the nation’s 20th-best total offense and 51 percent of the 27th-best scoring offense. Melvin Gordon’s 2,740 total yards and 32 touchdowns make up nearly all of the team’s lost production.
Michigan State, which was the only Big Ten team with an offense similar to Ohio State’s in 2014, returns 54 percent of the 11th-ranked offense, but just 44 percent of the seventh-best scoring offense. Thirty-seven of the Spartans’ 43 rushing touchdowns and 16 of 26 receiving touchdowns are gone. But with quarterback Connor Cook returning Michigan State’s offense should still be strong if it can find skill position players to step up.
Maryland, which entered last season with nearly its entire offense returning (97.5 of its total offense and 94.4 percent of its scoring offense), is on the other side of the coin entering this fall. The Terrapins return just 29 percent of their total offense and 36 percent of their scoring. Quarterback CJ Brown, who also led the team in rushing, as well as the top four receivers, will need to be replaced.
2014 Total Defense Rating
Entering last season, the top three defenses in the Big Ten from 2013 had the least production returning. Still, those three teams – Michigan State, Iowa, and Wisconsin – finished among the top six in total defense the Big Ten in 2014. Entering this fall, the top three defenses from last season — Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan — stand in the middle third of the conference in terms of returning production (tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, and takeaways).
Penn State had the Big Ten’s best defense a year ago, allowing just 278.7 yards and 18.6 points per game. The Nittany Lions return 59 percent of last season’s production, which ranks ninth in the conference. Linebacker Mike Hull, who led the team with 140 tackles and ranked third with 10.5 tackles for loss, will have to be replaced, but the next five leading tacklers are all back. Head coach James Franklin will also have to replace both defensive ends, who combined for nine sacks, but he does have tackle Anthony Zettel, who led the team with eight, back.
Wisconsin featured the Big Ten’s second best defense and scoring defense last season and the nation’s fourth-best total defense. Despite losing two of their top three tacklers, linebackers Marcus Trotter and Derrick Landisch, the Badgers return 61 percent of last season’s proaction.
Michigan, meanwhile, ranked third in total defense and fifth in scoring defense last season and returns the fifth-most production at 63 percent. Leading tackler Jake Ryan is gone, but will be backfilled by fifth-year senior Desmond Morgan who recorded 229 tackles from 2011-2013 before missing last season with an injury. The defensive line lost a combined 21 tackles for loss and 10 sacks from ends Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer, but the core of the defense — especially the back seven — is back.
Michigan State had the conference’s fourth-best total defense and third-best scoring defense a year ago, and returns 67 percent this year. The top two returning tacklers, Kurtis Drummond and Taiwan Jones, as well as the best corner, Trae Waynes, are gone. The three accounted for 36 percent of MSU’s takeaways.
The team with the most returning production this season is the same team that also returns the most offensive production, the defending Big Ten and national champion Ohio State Buckeyes. Seventy-four percent of the defense that ranked fifth in the Big Ten and 19th nationally is back in action this fall, including the top four tacklers and top two in sacks, Joey Bosa and Darron Lee. In fact, even though they lose 11 sacks, Ohio State returns 33.5 sacks, which would have ranked fourth in the Big Ten last season. The Bucks also bring back 72 percent of their takeaways from a unit that ranked second in that category in 2014.
Rutgers, Nebraska, Iowa, and Indiana all return between 57 percent and 53 percent of their defenses, though they ranked between sixth (Iowa) and 13th (Rutgers) in the Big Ten in total defense a year ago. The Hawkeyes have to replace their top two tacklers and more than 50 percent of their tackles for loss and sacks. Nebraska has to replace four of their top five tacklers, including defensive end Randy Gregory who led the team with seven sacks. Rutgers has 71 percent of their sacks coming back from unit that ranked fourth in the Big Ten in that category, but behind the front four the Scarlet Knights have a lot of holes to fill. Indiana brings back just five starters from a defense that allowed the second most points in the conference last season.
Finally, the team that returned the most defense last season returns the least this year. Maryland is the only Big Ten squad with less than 50 percent of last season’s defensive production returning. The Terrapins return just 44 percent of last year’s 95th-ranked defense. Only four starters return, most notably corners Sean Davis and Will Likely, but nearly the entire front seven has to be replaced.
Ohio State is in the same spot Maryland was entering last season. The Buckeyes have the most returning production across the board. However, the Buckeyes are in a much better spot to allow that production to pay off. Whereas Maryland ranked 77th, 83rd, and 44th in total offense, scoring offense, and total defense in 2013, Ohio State ranked ninth, fifth, and 19th, respectively, last season. Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa just plugged in talent on defense and didn’t miss a beat last season, and all four return more this fall.
According to the chart above, Rutgers is in the exact spot Ohio State was entering last season. Does that mean the Scarlet Knights will roll through the Big Ten and into the College Football Playoff? Probably not since the Buckeyes stand alone atop the chart. Last year, there was only one offense returning less than 50 percent of its production. This year there are four, so we could see a decline in offense across the league. Nine of the league’s 14 primary quarterbacks return, in addition to Rudock, who will likely start for Michigan, and Ohio State’s three-headed monster.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out this fall, but of course this is just one metric to use when predicting performance. Stay tuned for our individual team previews over the course of the next seven weeks as well as our Michigan position previews and other season preview content.
Last summer we kicked off our season preview series with a look at the returning production from each team in the Big Ten from the year before. We’re going to do the same this summer, but we’ll begin with a review of how the returning production entering last season translated over the course of the season. That will lead into this year’s returning production, our opponent previews, and our Michigan position previews.
Entering last season, Maryland was far and away the most experienced team based on the previous season’s production. The Terrapins returned 97.5 percent of their offense, 94.4 percent of their scoring offense, and 82.6 percent of their defense. They led the conference in all three categories. But did it translate?
Maryland went just 7-6 overall and 4-4 in conference play in 2014, its first year in the Big Ten. All that returning offensive production resulted in the 12th-best (third-worst) offense in the Big Ten, though it ranked fifth in scoring. The offensive line that returned 51 starts from 2013 produced the third-worst rushing offense and allowed the second most sacks. All that returning defensive production resulted in a the conference’s 12th-ranked defense and 10th-ranked scoring defense.
Returning 2013 Production vs 2014 Results
Returning Total Off.
Returning Scoring Off.
Big Ten Finish
1st – West
2nd – East
2nd – West
2nd – West
4th – West
3rd – East
4th – East
5th – West
4th – East
5th – West
6th – East
7th – East
7th – West
Iowa and Michigan State ranked second and third in returning offensive production, both at about 90 percent. It translated for the Spartans, who went 11-2 and possessed the Big Ten’s second-best scoring offense and total offense. Interestingly, the running game, which returned 100 percent of its 2013 production ranked just fifth in the conference, while the passing game, which lost 21 percent of its yards and 35 percent of its receiving touchdowns, led the conference in passing. Iowa, meanwhile, was middle of the pack, ranking sixth in total offense and seventh in scoring while matching Maryland’s record of 7-6 and 4-4.
Defensively, both ranked among the bottom three in returning production entering last season, but performed much better. Michigan State ranked fourth in total defense and third in scoring defense, while Iowa ranked sixth and eighth, respectively.
Michigan was in the middle of the pack in returning production with 68.6 percent of its offense and 63.8 percent of its defense returning. The Wolverines went 5-7 overall and 3-5 in Big Ten play, ranking dead last in total offense, second to last in scoring offense. The defense fared much better, finishing third in total defense and fifth in scoring defense.
How about the Big Ten and national champions? Ohio State had the third-lowest total offense, second-lowest scoring offense, and fourth-lowest total defense returning. And that included Braxton Miller, who missed the entire season. All the Buckeyes did was bounce back from an early-season loss to Virginia Tech by running the table the rest of the way, taking down Michigan State, Wisconsin, top-ranked Alabama, and second-ranked Oregon in the process.
Wisconsin followed a similar pattern, starting the season with the second-lowest total offense, fourth-lowest scoring offense, and second-lowest total defense returning. It translated into an 11-3 record, a trip to the Big Ten title game — which the Badgers lost to Ohio State 59-0 — and an overtime win over Southeastern Conference power Auburn in the Outback Bowl.
Minnesota, the surprise team in the conference last season, brought the fourth-lowest total offense, third-lowest scoring offense, and eight-most total defense back from 2013. The Gophers went 8-5, nearly ended Ohio State’s chances of a national title, and were a regular-season-ending loss away from a spot in the Big Ten championship game.
For the most part last season — with the exception of Michigan State’s offense — the teams that brought the least production back did the best, while those that had the most returning production suffered the opposite fate. Stay tuned for a look at this year’s returning production across the conference.
Want an excuse to descend upon Ann Arbor for Jim Harbaugh’s first home Big Ten game? Or to return to your alma mater for Homecoming? Or simply upgrade your digs for a Michigan football weekend? Well have we got an opportunity for you. Rent Like a Champion — formerly known as Ann Arbor Football Rentals — is giving away a free house rental for homecoming weekend to one lucky winner. And that winner could be YOU!
The contest runs through the end of May and the winner will receive a rental from Friday, October 9 to Sunday, October 11. The house can accommodate up to seven guests and is just blocks from Michigan Stadium.
Imagine enjoying Ann Arbor on Friday night, then waking up Saturday morning just a short walk from the Big House, refreshed from a good night’s sleep in a comfortable house rather than a dingy hotel room. No need to pay for game day parking. No need to try to find a meeting place for the rest of your group. You’ll all be under one roof. You can hold your own tailgate in the back yard. Those are the benefits that Rent Like a Champion provides. And you could get it for free.
“We’re excited to help some Wolverines make it to Ann Arbor for homecoming without having to shell out for a hotel,” said CEO and Co-founder Mike Doyle. “We know how diehard Michigan fans are, and how widespread their fan base is, so our company is just happy to facilitate an awesome weekend for the group that wins.”
In addition to the contest, make sure to check out the rest of their listings for this fall. There are homes available for every home football weekend, including a current 14 homes available for Harbaugh’s first home game, ranging from $800 to $2,500 for the weekend.
“We provide an affordable and comfortable way for fans to travel to schools for game weekends,” Doyle said. “Rather than overpaying to be cooped up in separate rooms of a hotel, fans and groups can enjoy the comforts of a home with common areas, grills, kitchens and other amenities that make for a complete game weekend experience.”
The Big Ten regular season came to an end on Sunday with Wisconsin retaining the top spot and conference newcomer Maryland grabbing a distant second. There wasn’t a lot of movement in the final power rankings as Indiana took the biggest drop of three places and Iowa had the biggest climb of three. The Big Ten Tournament began tonight, though those results are not reflected in these rankings.
Last Week:Beat Minn 76-63, Beat #23 Ohio State 72-48
This Week: Fri. (B1G Tournament) vs Mich/Illinois
The undisputed flagship team in the Big Ten finished the regular season with a flourish Sunday, pounding Ohio State by 24 points in Columbus. Wisconsin enters the conference tournament with a No. 1 seed on its mind.
2. Maryland (26-5, 14-4) – Up 2
Last Week:Beat Rutgers 60-50, Beat Nebraska 64-61
This Week: Fri. (B1G Tournament) vs NU/Indiana
Mark Turgeon couldn’t have hoped for a better inaugural season in the Big Ten, as his team cruised to a second-place finish and enters the postseason on a seven-game winning streak. Maryland already took down Wisconsin once, and doing so again would earn the Terps a Big Ten championship.
3. Iowa (21-10, 12-6) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Indiana 77-63, Beat Northwestern 69-52
This Week: Thu. (B1G Tournament) vs Penn State
On Feb. 15 the Hawkeyes had lost five of their last seven games and stared down the barrel of another late-season collapse. Instead, Iowa blazed through its final six games and picked up the No. 5 seed in Chicago.
4. Michigan State (21-10, 12-6) – Down 1
Last Week:Beat Purdue 72-66, Beat Indiana 74-72
This Week: Fri. (B1G Tournament) vs Minn/Ohio State
Tom Izzo and the Spartans were shaky through 31 games this season, but closed with wins over two lesser opponents to snatch the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
5. Purdue (20-11, 12-6) – Down 3
Last Week:Lost at MSU 66-72, Beat Illinois 63-58
This Week: Fri. (B1G Tournament) vs Iowa/Penn State
Purdue is kicking itself heading into the conference tournament after it dropped two road games in the first week of March that would have solidified its NCAA resume. Instead, the first-round bye may actually hurt the Boilermakers, who will likely miss out with a one-and-done showing in Chicago.
6. Illinois (19-12, 9-9) – Up 2
Last Week:Beat Nebraska 69-57, Lost at Purdue 58-63
This Week: Thu. (B1G Tournament) vs Michigan
Illinois came within five points of finishing the season on a three-game streak that may have been enough to put them on the right side of the bubble. Instead, an 8-6 record down the stretch with five of those losses by eight points or less may not be enough for John Groce’s team.
7. Ohio State (22-9, 11-7) – Even
Last Week:Beat Penn State 77-67,Lost vs #6 Wisc 48-72
This Week: Thu (B1G Tournament) vs Minnesota
A 24-point loss to Wisconsin on Senior Day put an exclamation point on Ohio State’s tremendously disappointing season. The Buckeyes finished with only one win over a team ranked in the final AP poll: a home victory against Maryland. Ohio State was uncompetitive against each of Louisville, North Carolina and Wisconsin and will struggle to make a tournament run, barring a complete D’Angelo Russell takeover.
8. Indiana (19-12, 9-9) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Iowa 63-77, Lost to MSU 72-74
This Week: Thu. (B1G Tournament) vs Northwestern
The last six weeks of the season were awfully unkind to Tom Crean and the Hoosiers. After finally cracking the Top 25 with a 15-4 record, Indiana dropped eight of its last 12 games, putting its tournament status and coaching future in question. Indiana probably needed to win three of its last five games, but instead beat only Rutgers, the Big Ten’s junior varsity team, and lost three home games and a trip to Northwestern.
9. Northwestern (15-16, 6-12) – Up 1
Last Week:Beat Michigan 82-70 2OT, Lost to Iowa 52-69
This Week: Thu. (B1G Tournament) vs Indiana
Despite finishing the season with a losing record, Northwestern is trending sharply upwards, having won five of its final seven conference games. The Wildcats looked destined for a last-place finish after a 10-game losing streak, but flipped the switch in mid-February. Tom Crean’s collar is feeling a little tight heading into this Big Ten Tournament matchup.
10. Michigan (15-15, 8-10) – Down 1
Last Week:Lost at NU 78-82 2OT, Beat Rutgers 79-69
This Week: Thu. (B1G Tournament) vs Illinois
As strange as it may sound, Michigan is one of the better teams in the Big Ten… in the first 40 minutes of games. The Wolverines lost four overtime games, and had they finished those wins, they’d be sitting in the No. 4 seed with a double bye in the tournament.
11. Minnesota (17-14, 6-12) – Even
Last Week:Lost to #6 Wisc 63-76, Lost to Penn State 76-79
This Week: Wed. (B1G Tournament) vs Rutgers
Minnesota just couldn’t get rolling during conference play this season, mustering just one winning streak (three games) but following it with losses in five of its last six games.
12. Penn State (16-15, 4-14) – Up 1
Last Week:Lost to #23 OSU 67-77, Beat Minnesota 79-76
This Week: Wed. (B1G Tournament) vs Nebraska
A road win to finish the season snapped a six-game winning streak for Penn State, but it’ll still be one of four teams playing in the first round of the conference tournament Wednesday.
13. Nebraska (13-17, 5-13) – Down 1
Last Week:Lost at Illinois 57-69, Lost to #10 Maryland 61-64
This Week: Wed. (B1G Tournament) vs Penn State
Die-hard believers in what Nebraska accomplished last season considered Tim Miles’ team a legitimate contender heading into the 2014-15 campaign. Instead, Nebraska was the league’s greatest disappointment, finishing in 12th place and losing eight straight down the stretch.
14. Rutgers (10-21, 2-16) – Even
Last Week:Lost to #10 Maryland 50-60, Lost at Michigan 69-79
This Week: Wed. (B1G Tournament) vs Minnesota
Rutgers’ first year in the Big Ten was an absolute bloodbath. The Scarlett Knights will play Wednesday, on the two-month anniversary of their last win, carrying a 14-game losing streak on their shoulders.