I think I'm starting to finally come to peace with the fact that the Big Ten isn't that great at football this year. At least the conference has basketball to look forward to. Northwestern, Ohio State, and Minnesota are still trucking strong while Michigan, Iowa, and Illinois are having major struggles. Nebraska showed that it has one of the best offenses in the conference, and maybe Wisconsin has found its bearings under redshirt freshmen quarterback Joel Stave.
Normally I post this column at noon on Wednesdays, but due to midterms it left me with no time to do so. Because I've been so stressed from midterms, my roommate and I stress ate a giant pizza tray of homemade nachos at 10:00pm last night. Things like that, and the amount of time I spend at Harry's, will probably lead me to dying by the age of 30. Anyway, I had a crazy dream that I posted this column today but screwed up every single team in the Big Ten. They were teams I had never even heard of with fictional players and then I was publicly humiliated and shunned from the Hammer & Rails community.
So on that note, let's get to it.
1. Ohio State (4-0. Week 3 ranking: 1)
The Buckeyes are still trucking along under Urban Meyer and Braxton Miller. The past two games haven't exactly been the prettiest for the Buckeyes, though. But they're doing what the Chicago Whitesox did in 1983 when Texas manager Doug Rader called them out for 'winning ugly'. OSU's defense allowed another 400 yard game to the opposing team, and the offense was 3-10 on 3rd down attempts. Braxton Miller is keeping this team alive with his take-over-the-game capabilities, but can he do that against a stingy Michigan State defense this week? Saturday is going to show us a lot about this Buckeye team, and Miller can't win this game on his own.
2. Northwestern (4-0. Week 3 ranking: 4)
Northwestern was won non-conference games against the ACC, SEC, and Big East. This Saturday marked the first time they played an FCS team, and they pulverized them. Northwestern continues their extremely successful running game behind Venric Mark. Last week I said that the Wildcats will go 6-0, now I think that they may get their first loss when Nebraska on October 20th, which would leave them at 7-1. This team is fun to watch and their defense is starting to put things together. Expect another great performance against a weak Hoosier defense this Saturday.
3. Nebraska (3-1. Week 3 ranking: 6)
If you put up 73 points in a game against anyone, you're going to make a jump in the rankings. Nebraska came out and ran train all over Idaho State last Saturday; the Bengals really didn't stand a chance against this team. Taylor Martinez continues his dominate performance this season as he threw for another pair of touchdowns and zero interceptions. Rex Burkhead made his return from an injury to rush for 119 yards and two touchdowns as well. Nebraska may be the most talented offense in the Big Ten. Pair that with an alright offense, and this team could do some damage in the Big Ten. Wisconsin will have their hands full this weekend.
4. Purdue (2-1. Week 3 ranking: 5)
Purdue has dominated each game, minus Notre Dame. But the Boilers gave the Irish a big scare and kept it close the whole game, which is something that can't be said by Michigan State or Michigan, who were both dominated by Notre Dame. Purdue holds strong with their defense: holding opponents to 14 points a game and 293 total yards per game. Ricardo Allen, Josh Johnson, Kawann Short, Bruce Gaston, and Ryan Russel are showing that they are the proven leaders and most talented players on this defense. TerBush looked good last game, and the offense has multiple guys that can run the ball and make plays. For the first time in years Purdue looks like a legit contender for the Big Ten Championship. If we keep this rate of play up we should have high hopes for the postseason. But for now let's live in the moment and get excited for Saturday's game against Marshall and then prepare for The Wolverines.
5. Michigan State (3-1. Week 3 ranking: 2)
In my Big Ten Pick 'Ems league, I picked MSU over Eastern Michigan and also picked Eastern Michigan to score the fewest points of the week, thinking that since Purdue EMU out of the water that MSU would have no trouble at all. I failed to meet the spread and lost that pick. So out of sheer bitterness, MSU will be moved three spots down...and the fact they played poorly against a bad EMU team. The Spartans had a sad performance against Notre Dame two weeks ago. But ND looks to be a good team this year, so we'll let that slide. But not finding the end-zone till 4th quarter against a bad EMU team should have Sparty panicking a little bit. Le'Veon Bell bounced back with 253 yards and a touchdown after two mediocre games. Michigan State will face The Buckeyes this Saturday. We'll see if they've gotten over the ND and EMU hangovers by then.
6. Minnesota (4-0. Week 3 ranking: 7)
The Gophers added another win last Saturday as they spanked the Syracuse Orange in their third home game of the season. Minnesota, Northwestern, and OSU are the only teams in the Big Ten that are undefeated, but I still am not convinced that the Gophers are that good offensively. However, their defense has proven time and time again that they are a threat and will make opposing offenses struggle. Minnesota's defense is giving up 16.8 points per game (4th in Big Ten), has 7 interceptions (tied for first with OSU), and is allowing 307.5 yards per game (3rd). Their defense is stingy, but a questionable offense without quarterback MarQueis Gray. We'll see if the winning keeps up without their QB during Big Ten play.
7. Michigan (2-2. Week 3 ranking: 3)
Michigan takes a huge fall this week after a piss-poor performance against Notre Dame. Denard Robinson is one of the most streaky quarterbacks in the NCAA and the Wolverines will have no shot at any post-season hopes if he plays like he did on Saturday. The good news: Michigan's defense looked the best it has all season against ND; holding them to 239 total yards and only one touchdown. This Michigan team has looked good on paper, but after escaping with a win against Air Force and blowing out a terrible UMass team it's hard to see what the future holds for Brady Hoke and the Wolverines. Denard Robinson HAS to stop turning the ball over if this team wants to win in the Big Ten.
8. Wisconsin (3-1. Week 3 ranking: 9)
Quarterback Joel Stave made his first career start against UTEP and also picked up his first career win. Stave looked calm, confident, and made some good passes; it looks like Wisconsin may have found their quarterback for the season. Despite losing Montee Ball to an injury, Wisconsin ran all over UTEP with backups James White and Melvin Gordon, who are bot quality backups. The Badgers travel to Nebraska this weekend to face their toughest opponent since Oregon State. Lets see if Stave has what it takes to compete in the Big Ten or if he is a fluke.
9. Penn State (2-2. Week 3 ranking: 11)
Bill O'Brien recorded his second win as the Nittany Lions' head coach as PSU defeated the Temple Owls 24-13. Senior quarterback Matt McGloin continues to be impressive as he threw for a career high 318 yards which put him over a thousand for the season already. Penn States defense is still looking strong as it's held opposing teams to just 15.3 points a game, which is good for 3rd in the conference. This team will need to find some sort of answer in the running game, but other than that things are starting to look up for Penn State. PSU travels to Champaign to play a miserable Illinois team this weekend.
10. Indiana (2-1. Week 3 ranking: 12)
Due to the atrocious performances by both Iowa and Illinois there wasn't much of a choice but to move IU up from last place. This week off is good for the Hoosiers as it gives new starting quarterback Cameron Coffman time to heal up from a hip injury against Ball State and become more comfortable as a starter. Other than that there really isn't much to say about this team. They are pretty terrible. Look for Northwestern to rack up the points this weekend.
11. Iowa (2-2. Week 3 ranking: 10)
The Hawkeyes drop a spot after losing to a sub-par Central Michigan team on Saturday. Quarterback James Vandenberg was able to find the endzone for the first time this season and Hawkeye fans everywhere have to hoping that was the spark he needed. Mark Weisman had another great game as he rushed for 3 touchdowns and 217 yards. The offense is looking like it's coming together. The same can't be said for the defense. It looks like it's going to be a very up and down season for Iowa who should hope to finish just above .500.
12. Illinois (2-2. Week 3 ranking: 8)
After dominating the week before, the Illini were absolutely destroyed by Louisiana Tech. There was not a lot of good, if any, that came from this game. Illinois couldn't stop LTU on the ground or through the air and turned the ball over six times. Quarterback Nate Scheelhaase made his return from injury and managed to throw a touchdown. Illinois will have to pull it together both offensively and defensively if they want to have a chance against Penn State and the rest of the Big Ten.