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) – Up 1|
|Last Week: Beat USF 35-17||This Week: Sat at West Virginia (2-0), 3pm, FS1|
Maryland bounced back from an embarrassing home loss to Bowling Green with a comfortable win over South Florida in Week 3. The transition to Caleb Rowe at starting quarterback had its ups and downs. Rowe threw for 297 yards and four touchdowns, but turned it over three times to keep USF in the game. The Terrapins gained over 400 yards on offense and allowed a season-low 17 points. They’ll face a big test Saturday in West Virginia.
|7. Rutgers (1-2, 0-1) – Down 1|
|Last Week: Lost to Penn State 3-28||This Week: Sat vs Kansas (0-2), 12pm, BTN|
The Scarlet Knights picked up right where they left off Saturday, losing their second straight game and falling to 0-1 in the Big Ten. Rutgers couldn’t get anything going on offense, averaging a terrible 1.3 yards per carry and turning it over three times. Penn State ran for 330 yards against the front seven, leading an anemic offense to 471 total yards. The Scarlet Knights have a great chance to finish the non-conference schedule even as Kansas comes to town this weekend.
|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.