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Posts Tagged ‘Shannon Brooks’

#15 Michigan vs Minnesota game preview

Friday, October 30th, 2015


Game Preview_Minnesota_banner

After a week off Michigan returns to the field tomorrow night looking to get the bad taste of the Michigan State loss out of its collective mouth. The Wolverines travel north to Minneapolis to face a Golden Gophers squad that just lost its coach.

UM-Min-small
Quick Facts
TCF Bank Stadium – 7p.m. EST – ESPN
Minn Head Coach: Tracy Claeys (Interim)
Coaching Record: (0-0)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Limegrover (5th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Tracy Claeys (5th season)
Last Season: 8-5 (5-3)
Last Meeting: Minn 30 – UM 14 (2014)
All-Time Series: UM leads 73-25-3
For the Little Brown Jug: UM leads 69-23-2
Record in Minneapolis: UM leads 32-12-2
Jim Harbaugh vs Minn: 1st meeting
Last Michigan win: 2013 (42-13)
Last Minnesota win: 2014 (30-14)
Current Streak: Minnesota 1

Jerry Kill abruptly announced his retirement due to health reasons on Wednesday. In the four-plus seasons on the job Kill turned around a struggling Minnesota program into a Big Ten title contender, achieving 8-5 records in 2013 and 2014. The Gophers finished second in the Big Ten West last fall and began this season with a close, six point loss to TCU. But after wins over Colorado State (23-20 in overtime), Kent State (10-7), and Ohio University (27-24), Minnesota has dropped two of its last three. Northwestern shut out the Gophers 27-0 the week before Michigan shut out the Wildcats 38-0. Then, after beating Purdue 41-13, Minnesota dropped a 48-25 contest to Nebraska.

Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys stepped in as the interim head coach for the balance of the season. Interestingly, the last time Michigan visited Minneapolis Kill missed the game due to a seizure and Claeys coached it. Michigan won that one 42-13, but the Wolverines were embarrassed a year ago in the Big House. Shane Morris started the game, but suffered a “probable, mild concussion,” which may have been the last straw for Brady Hoke and Dave Brandon.

Minnesota wants a win for Coach Kill and to avoid falling to .500. Michigan wants this win to regain the Little Brown Jug, to get past the Michigan State loss, and to remain in the Big Ten title hunt.

Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Minnesota has the ball

Minnesota’s offense ranks 101st nationally and 11th in the Big Ten in total offense (351 yards per game), 84th and ninth in rushing (156.7 yards per game), 95th and 11th in passing (194.3 yards per game), 106th and 11th in pass efficiency (113.31), and 110th and 14th in scoring (20.4 points per game).

Quarterback Mitch Leidner ranks ninth in the Big Ten in passing, averaging 187.1 yards per game, one yard more than Jake Rudock. Leidner has completed 59.2 percent of his passes (Rudock 61.7 percent) for 1,310 yards, seven touchdowns, and six interceptions. He’s also the team’s third leading rusher with 121 yards (2.1 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.

Redshirt freshman Rodney Smith leads the way on the ground with 467 yards (4.1 yards per carry) and one score, averaging 66.7 yards per game. He had a 100-yard game in Week 2 against Colorado State, but managed just 20 yards on eight carries against Nebraska last time out. True freshman Shannon Brooks leads the team in yards per carry (7.0). He didn’t play in the first three games of the season but has shared the load with Smith the last four. He broke out for 176 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries against Purdue but like Smith was held to just 25 yards on eight carries against Nebraska.

Four Gopher receivers have over 100 receiving yards on the season, led by senior K.J. Maye‘s 350 yards and three touchdowns. Maye had his best game of the season against Nebraska when he caught 11 passes for 94 yards, but after scoring touchdowns in each of the first three games, he has been held out of the end zone in the last four. Junior Drew Wolitarsky is just behind Maye with 297 yards and one score, while redshirt sophomore Eric Carter has 21 receptions for 245 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore tight end Brandon Lingen is the fourth with more than 100 yards (109) and he’s the only pass catcher other than Maye with multiple touchdowns (two).

The offensive line has seen some injuries this season and left tackle Josh Campion, who had started 39 straight games entering the season, and center Brian Bobek, an Ohio State transfer who began the season as the starting center, are still out this week.

Redshirt junior left tackle Ben Lauer has 12 career starts under his belt. He was the starting left tackle entering the season, but an injury caused him to miss three of the next four games. He returned against Purdue and Nebraska. Fifth year senior left guard Joe Bjorklund has 10 career starts including seven last season. True freshman Tyler Moore is forced into action, while sophomore right guard Conner Mayes and redshirt junior right tackle Jonah Pirsig have both started every game this season.

When Michigan has the ball

Minnesota’s defense ranks 28th nationally and seventh in the Big Ten in total defense (328.7 yards per game), 52nd and 9th in rush defense (151.4 yards per game), 18th and 5th in pass defense (177.3 yards per game), 21st and 6th in pass defense efficiency (107.91), and 45th and 9th in scoring defense (23.1 points per game).

The defensive line is anchored by sophomore tackle Steven Richardson, who leads the team with 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss. The other tackle, Scott Ekpe has yet to record a sack, but has two tackles for loss. Fifth year senior defensive end Thieren Cockran has seemingly been around forever and is the Gopher that gave Shane Morris his concussion last season. He has two sacks and five tackles for loss, while the other end, Hendrick Ekpe, has a half of a sack.

Redshirt junior linebacker Jack Lynn is the team’s third leading tackler with 36 and has the second most tackles for loss with six. Fifth year senior De’Vondre Campbell is a multi-year stater and has 34 tackles, one sack, an interception and four passes defended. Sophomore Jonathan Celestin is the third starter at linebacker with 28 tackles and three for loss. Redshirt sophomore Cody Poock is the top reserve as the team’s second leading tackler.

Senior safety Antonio Johnson leads the team with 48 tackles to go along with two for loss, two passes defended, and a fumble recovery. The other safety is redshirt sophomore Adekunle Ayinde, who 22 tackles and four passes defended. Senior Eric Murray and fifth year senior Briean Boddy-Calhoun are the starting corners, while Jalen Myrick is the nickel corner. Myrick leads the team with three interceptions and six passes defended, while Murray also has a pick.

The other third

Both kicking specialists are veterans. Kicker Ryan Santoso was the team’s kicker as a redshirt freshman in 2014, connecting on 12 of 18 field goal attempts with a long of 52. So far this season he is 10 of 13 with a long of 50. Fifth year senior punter Peter Mortell ranks fourth in the Big Ten with an average of 44.0 yards per punt. He has booted 12 of his 43 punts longer than 50 yards and downed 18 inside the 20.

Myrick and Brooks share the kick return duties, averaging 21.4 and 18.7 yards per return, respectively. Sophomore defensive back Craig James is the normal punt returner, but is out with an injury, so Myrick and freshman KiAnte Hardin will do the job.

Prediction

Michigan will come out focused and determined to reclaim the Little Brown Jug and stay in the Big Ten title hunt. Minnesota’s defense is just average against the run and allowed 203 yards on 5.3 yards per carry to Nebraska, which managed just 82 rushing yards last week against Northwestern. Expect a heavy dose of De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson, who should finally be healthy.

Minnesota doesn’t have the offense to keep up with Michigan, so the main question will be whether or not Michigan’s defense can record its fourth shutout of the season. Northwestern shut Minnesota out 27-0 and the Gophers managed just 10 points against Kent State, who is just 3-5 at this point and has given up at least 10 points in every other game.

It won’t be a pretty or exciting game, but it will be classic Jim Harbaugh as Michigan pounds the ball on the ground and wears down the Gopher defense. Jake Rudock has a classic Jake Rudock day and Michigan wins and returns the jug to its rightly place.

Michigan 35 – Minnesota 6

First Look: Minnesota

Monday, October 26th, 2015


Jerry Kill(GopherSports.com)

Michigan got a week to think about — or get over — one of the most heartbreaking losses in program history. When the Wolverines return to the field Saturday in Minneapolis, they still have the Big Ten title to play for, with a little help. It’s now a five game season and it begins with the Golden Gophers, a team that has underperformed this season after embarrassing Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2014.

Minnesota team stats & Michigan comparison
Minnesota | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 20.4 | 28.6 110 | 70
23.1 | 9.3 45 | 1
Rushing Yards 1,097 1,270 1,060 453
Rush Avg. Per Game 156.7 181.4 94 49
151.4 64.7 52 2
Avg. Per Rush 4.1 | 4.4
3.9 2.1
Passing Yards 1,360 1,303 1,241 1,021
Pass Avg. Per Game 194.3 186.1 95 98 177.3 145.9 18 4
Total Offense 2,457 2,573 2,301 1,474
Total Off Avg. Per Game 351.0 367.6 101 90 328.7 210.6 28 1
Kick Return Average 18.4 33.4 103 2 21.4 18.8 73 | 27
Punt Return Average 2.3 10.3 122 48 9.9 6.1 89 | 27
Avg. Time of Possession 30:06 | 34:05 63 | 5
29:54 | 25:55
3rd Down Conversion Pct 37.0% | 41.0% 89 | 58
36.0% | 20.0% 47 | 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 12-60 | 11-57
T51 | T39
10-53 | 18-135
T103 | 34
Touchdowns Scored 16 24
19 | 9
Field Goals-Attempts 10-13 | 10-12
10-13 | 1-4
Red Zone Scores (16-20) 80%|(24-25) 96% T93 | T4
(19-22) 86%|(7-8) 88% 87 T92
Red Zone Touchdowns (9-20) 45%|(17-25) 68% (12-22) 55%|(6-8) 75%

After setting high expectations with back to back 8-5 seasons in 2013 and ’14, Jerry Kill’s squad has been a letdown through the first seven weeks of 2015. It opened in promising fashion hard-fought six point loss to then-No. 2 TCU, but over the next six weeks, the Gophers have produced exactly one convincing win and that came by way of Big Ten doormat Purdue. A 23-20 overtime win over Colorado State, a 10-7 win over Kent State, and a 27-24 win over Ohio university don’t exactly look great on the resume even though they do go down in the ‘W’ column.

Minnesota was shut out 27-0 by Northwestern a week before Michigan turned around and spanked the Wildcats 38-0. In their last time out — Minnesota had a bye last weekend just like Michigan — the Gophers were dismantled by a 3-4 Nebraska squad, 48-25.

So what has gone wrong? Minnesota’s offense has struggled to move the ball and put up points against anybody not named Purdue. They’ve been shut out once, held to 17 points or fewer in three of seven games, and 27 or fewer in six. Their 20.4-point scoring average ranks 110th nationally and dead last in the Big Ten. Their total offense ranks 101st nationally and 10th in the Big Ten, ahead of Purdue, Penn State, and Northwestern. Northwestern’s offense is lower only because it has already faced Michigan’s defense.

Minnesota’s rushing offense ranks 94th nationally and ninth in the conference, but did get a spark from freshman Shannon Brooks with 17 carries for 176 yards and a touchdown against Purdue. But then again, it was Purdue. The passing offense ranks 95th nationally and 11th in the conference, one spot ahead of Michigan with about eight more passing yards per game.

Defensively, Minnesota is still pretty stout, ranking among the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in most categories, 28th nationally in total defense, and 18th in pass defense. It held TCU’s high powered offense to a season low 23 points — 22 fewer than the Horned Frogs’ next lowest point total of 45 against Iowa State last weekend. But on the other side of the coin, Minnesota allowed a Nebraska offense that averages 31.6 points per game to score a season high 48 two weeks ago.

Nebraska rushed for 203 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per attempt, against the Gophers’ rush defense, which is where Michigan’s offense can take advantage. Minnesota ranks 52nd nationally and ninth in the Big Ten against the run.

Special teams could also play a big factor this Saturday, although hopefully not nearly as dramatically as it did last time out. Minnesota ranks 122nd nationally in punt returns, 103rd in kick returns, 89th in punt return defense, and 73rd in kick return defense. Michigan, on the other hand, ranks 48th in punt returns, second in kick returns, and 27th in both kick and punt return defense. The Wolverines have used special teams to make up for its work-in-progress offense by averaging good starting field position.

So what can we expect on Saturday night? A Minnesota student section full of costumes is a given, but aside from any Halloween trickery, Michigan should come home with win number six. The main question will be can Michigan’s defense start a new shutout streak?

 

Big Ten power rankings: Week 4

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015


Power Rankings_header

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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