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Big Ten Week 3 in review

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A quarter of the way through the season already and we have too many teams (Minnesota, Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan) looking like disappointment than we do teams (Michigan State and Purdue, to some extent) that look like surprises. This is not good news for the long-term health of the conference and considering the most marquee non-conference game remaining is Michigan State this week against an absolutely horrid Notre Dame team there are few chances to make a statement unless it is in the conference. While I didn't expect this, there was only one loss I could really have foreseen in the first 33 games of the season (three games for all eleven teams) and two more I thought were possible, but not likely. I saw Illinois losing to Missouri, but the Illini made a good game of it. I also saw Michigan State possibly losing to Pitt and Michigan possibly losing to Oregon. That was really it. There were a few games that looked better once the season started like Ohio State-Washington and Bowling Green-Minnesota, but in reality it would not have surprised me if the conference was 32-1 right now.

26-7 isn't bad for a conference, but some of the losses have been ghastly. Michigan's loss to Appalachian State is obviously the worst, but I would argue the Mountaineers are probably better than Duke, Florida Atlantic, and Iowa State as teams that have beaten Big Ten foes so far. Of course if the conference was 32-1 right now we could have been in store for nine or even ten bowl teams if things broke right.


I still think three teams are head and shoulders above the rest right now, but Wisconsin is slipping at the moment. I also think people need to calm down about Indiana and their hot start. What the Hoosiers have done is good, but let's wait a little bit before putting them into a top four finish as some are wildly saying. With that being said, here are the Big Ten Power Rankings this week, with last week's rankings in parenthesis.


Week 3 Big Ten Power Rankings:


1. (1) Penn State (3-0)


They haven't been challenged yet, and unless Notre Dame is just that bad they shouldn't face much of a challenge in Ann Arbor this week. It's amazing to see that so far Buffalo has had the most success against them, and it wasn't much. Penn State got to work on a lot of things Saturday, and if they are smart they will head into Michigan, stack eight in the box to stop mike hart, and simply dare true freshman Ryan Mallett to beat them. Austin Scott and Rodney Kinlaw are moving the ball effectively on the ground and Anthony Morelli has had three good home tune-ups.


So what if Buffalo threw for more than 300 yards? As long as the offense continues to produce and the defense stops the run Penn State can build a big lead and sit on it. How much of Buffalo's 24 points on Saturday came from losing focus with a big lead like Purdue did? The Michigan game will tell if Penn State is for real and if Michigan has turned things around.


2. (2) Ohio State (3-0)


What a second half by the Bucks in Seattle! After falling behind 7-3 just before the half Ohio State turned in a dominating performance and used a solid defensive effort to shut down one of the most surprising teams in the country. I thought this Ohio state team was going to be a lot like the 2002 team that used a stellar defense and just enough offense to pull out close win after close win. If they can turn on the offense in the second half like they did on Saturday though they will be a very dangerous team to deal with.


Now the Buckeyes have to get ready for a demoralized Northwestern team that is missing its best weapon in Tyrell Sutton. Chris Wells also finally got on track and had a solid day against the Huskies, making the offense that much more effective. Ohio State is turning into the type of team that can seal games with its defense if the offense scores more than 25. Right now the Ohio State-Penn state game may decide the Big Ten, if Ohio State gets past Purdue.


3. (3) Wisconsin (3-0)


For the second week in a row Wisconsin played a craptacular game against an inferior opponent. When I stepped inside the club section and saw The Citadel of all teams was tied with Wisconsin at the half I had to make sure it wasn't… well I can't think of any sport where the Citadel should be tied with Wisconsin halfway through a game unless it was baseball, and Wisconsin doesn't even have a team! P.J. Hill has to be the team MVP so far, and if he goes down Wisconsin will fall fast.


Because of their recent performance I don't know what to think about this week when Iowa visits to start conference play. Iowa can certainly play defense, but their offense probably doesn't have enough firepower to stay with Wisconsin if they get even a couple of scores. Both teams will probably just slug it out in Madison on Saturday. I just can't figure this team when they struggle to score against UNLV and then struggle to stop the Citadel. At least they woke up and avoided another stinging loss for the conference.


4. (4) Purdue (3-0)


The Boilers now have no excuse to be 5-0 going into the 8pm October 6th game at Ross-Ade against Ohio State. The teams they have beaten are now a combined 1-8 (with the one win being Central Michigan over Toledo) and the next two teams they face have horrible pass defenses and a combined 1-5 record. Still, this is Purdue and I know we have it in us to just completely crap the bed and lose one of the next two. It never fails that Purdue always loses a game it has absolutely no business losing if it just plays like it has shown it can play in that particular season.


That being said I have read a couple of Minnesota fan blogs as part of the Big Ten blogging network this week and they are scared to death of facing our passing attack. These guys haven't been able to stop Florida Atlantic and Miami (OH), who aren't exactly passing teams. Shoot, Ball State held Miami (OH) to just 14 points. If Curtis Painter stays vertical this week he should destroy the Gopher secondary. As much press as he has gotten, Dorien Bryant only has one touchdown catch this year. Dustin Keller, Greg Orton, Selwyn Lymon, and even Kyle Adams have more than one though. I really don't see team slowing us down as long as Painter has time to throw because he has five solid receiving options on every play. If not for drops last week he would have thrown for 400 yards easily.


Oh, and for good measure Kory Sheets got on track for 144 yards and two TD's this past week. The only concerns offensively though lie with him, as he is the featured back with Jaycen Taylor out for the season (broken arm) and he fumbled three times this past week, losing two. Dan Dierking has played well in scrub minutes, but must grow up fast.


5. (6) Michigan State (3-0)


The Spartans have been the most surprising team, in a good way, so far in the conference. It's not so much that they have won, but the way that they are doing it. A win this week over Notre Dame means a 4-0 start and they look more disciplined to avoid the collapse that has come the last few seasons. The Spartans will at least go bowling this year somewhere, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them pull off a major upset along the line in conference play. I certainly am not looking forward to seeing them just after a tough trip to Happy Valley in November.


It starts with defense and it looks like Mark Dantonio is building a good one in East Lansing. They must now carry the torch of the nation and keep Notre Dame out of the end zone lest they face the stigma of letting the worst offense in America score on them. Of course, I'd rather they give up a token touchdown than us in two weeks. This is the surprise team to watch in conference play right now.


6. (6) Indiana (3-0)


Here's what I don't understand and maybe some other people will help me on this. Indiana had one of the easiest if not the easiest non-conference schedules in the country. They got three MAC teams of which only one might be a contender and a bad, bad 1-AA team. Purdue plays Notre Dame (albeit a bad Notre Dame) a good 1-AA team, and two contenders in the MAC, yet we're a product of our schedule while Indiana is one of the surprise teams in the country. What? So far the two programs have had identical schedules and Purdue's is probably tougher, yet some are saying they have passed us in the Big Ten? Let's all calm down a moment here.


Everyone knew Indiana was going to be 3-0 unless they had serious problems. Akron made a game of it for three quarters this week while Purdue has not been challenged past halftime yet. The first real test is this week, as the winner of the Illinois-Indiana game suddenly has a long-sought bowl game starring them straight in the face if they just take care of business in games they should win the rest of the year.


7. (10) Illinois (2-1)


I think there's a huge drop-off after IU at the moment, but the Illini are my choice this week for what will likely be a very fluid #7 spot for the rest of the season. They went on the road and won a game, even though it was against one of the worst teams in America right now. They looked dominant in doing so as well. Now they face IU and a win would be a big step forward as Illinois has won three games in a season only once since 2002. It's another road contest two and really it's a case of a decent Illinois defense against a good Indiana offense, while an inconsistent Illinois offense faces a shaky Indiana defense.


Rashard Mendenhall has been a nice surprise so far with more than 300 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Turnovers actually weren't an issue against Syracuse either and that is a major positive for a team that has struggled with holding onto the football lately.


8. (9) Michigan (1-2)


This is a probationary ranking in part because Michigan finally played to its talent level and the fact that Iowa, Northwestern, and Minnesota don't deserve to be this high after last week. Who would have thought Michigan would start the season with four straight home games and possibly be 1-3 at home by the time the home stand was over? They desperately need a good showing against Penn State this week. With one they can still dream of a Big Ten title. Without one they will struggle to simply make a bowl game.


Even though they looked good against the Irish, right now Michigan needs to show its defense is really that much better and that they have more than Mike Hart on offense. Until then team will just line up to stop him and dare the Wolverines to beat them through the air until Chad Henne gets back. Of course, if Ryan Mallett plays well Henne may never return.


9. (6) Iowa (2-1)


Why can't Iowa play Iowa State well? Every Hawkeye fan knows this game should have been a blowout and the fact the Cyclones were even in the game at the end is a testament to how bad Iowa played down to their level. This is a team that got shoved around by 1-AA Northern Iowa a week earlier for crying out loud! The Hawkize page says it is not going to drink the Purdue Kool-aid this year. Well, I love their content, but after getting burned on Drew Tate last year and this week's stink bomb I am no longer talking up the Hawkeyes until they beat a team that matters. Iowa has lost six of its last nine and the three wins have been over Northern Illinois twice (who also lost to 1-AA Southern Illinois this year) and a bad Syracuse team.


They can turn it around this week if the defense shuts down Wisconsin, but the offense has been so bad they will likely need to pitch a shutout to have any kind of a chance. At least the revenge game against Indiana is next after that.


10. (11) Minnesota (1-2)


My wife is quite a big football fan and I had to consult her on this one. She said I should put Minnesota above Northwestern right now because even though the Gophers have looked bad so far, at least they didn't lose to Duke. She has a point, so special consideration goes to the team that lost to a team on a 22 game losing streak.


Minnesota shouldn't get off the hook though, as seven turnovers and 463 yards passing against Florida Atlantic is a pretty sad feat. Drew Brees had some of the best games of his Purdue career against the Gophers, but I shudder to see what Curtis Painter is going to do Saturday night if he can stay protected. Minnesota has shown some life on offense though, just enough that they might shock someone this year.


11. (8) Northwestern (2-1)


What the hell was that Northwestern? Seriously, what the hell was that, losing at home to Duke? You sit in the basement here for a week and think about what you have done.