I am getting really tired of people saying the Big Ten isn't that good just because traditional powers like Michigan and Penn State are struggling while Purdue, Michigan State, Illinois, and Indiana are on their way to their best seasons in the past five years or so. Three programs do not a conference make, but because the rest of the teams aren't "name" programs the whole conference must be down even though those teams are playing well. Kentucky and South Carolina are not traditional powers, but people think it is great they have a huge SEC game this week. People are falling over South Florida and htey didn't even have football 12 years go. We will see as the season goes along, but if the conference is struggling so much then why did it have eight projected bowl bids with two of them being the BCS variety?
If you would read some articles though Notre Dame is suddenly the team to beat because of two fantastic catches on touchdown passes that allowed them to outscore a team in half of a football game. Fortunately we are done with the Irish and they are free to continue a losing streak that will soon reach double digits because they're too stupid to realize that Evan Sharpley is the better quarterback who can help them win now. Instead they will stick with the injured and overrated Jimmy Montana. The moment they were all waiting for finally happened when little Jimmy threw his first touchdown pass Saturday, and even though it happened right in front of my section 128 seats I don't remember hearing a heavenly choir or seeing any wise men bearing myrrh. Enough about the Irish though, as I won't mention them again this year and I consider them as irrelevant as the rest of the winless teams in the country. It's time for the weekly Big Ten Power Rankings.
1. (1) Ohio State (5-0, 2-0)
Here is your mission Purdue: Knock off the best team in the conference and maybe one of the best in the country. Some will question who the Buckeyes have played. Well, the win at Washington is a good one for starters. The Huskies have played one of the most difficult schedules in the country so far and they have been competitive in every game. The rest of the slate hasn't been as tough as Northwestern and Minnesota are the bottom of the Big 10 and Akron and Youngstown State aren't exactly world beaters. The Buckeye defense is awfully impressive and will carry them far.
Brian Robiskie is turning into one hell of a receiver and I fear he may have a big day against our secondary that struggled to contain Notre Dame in the second half last week. I can't forget Chris Wells either, as he is the best running back we have faced so far and may just be a warm up for Mike Hart. As much as the defense scares me, I think we have enough wrinkles in our offense to move the ball and at least score a little. We won't get our usual 35-40, but I think we can at least get into the 20's simply because we have so many weapons.
With Ohio State it is their offense that is starting to scare me, as they have been much more explosive lately than previous thought. We will need to get up on them early and stay there as their defense is too hard to come from behind against. This will be Ohio State's most difficult game until it faces Wisconsin.
2. (2) Wisconsin (5-0, 2-0)
You can say all you want about the Badgers, but they are winning and that is all that really matters. They may be the type of team that, when they give up 14 they only score 17, or they may give up 34, but score 37. Right now they are number one in the, "Just score more than the other team" club. It should be quite provocative when they face a suddenly hot Illinois team this week.
The story of the Illinois game will be the Illini defense. Michigan State proved that you can score on Wisconsin, while Iowa proved that you can't move the ball well with just a running game. Illinois will need more from the Juice this week, and Wisconsin is becoming a team that you cannot count out until they finally lose. I won't pick against them in a close one.
3. (5) Purdue (5-0, 1-0)
It's put up or shut up time as the Boilermakers are playing in their biggest game in three years. Because of what has happened since that infamous Wisconsin game no one will give Purdue any credit until they earn it, and this week is the chance to earn it. You get the impression though that Purdue could roll through the Big Ten this year and win every game by more than 10 points and people would still detract because, "it's a weak year in the Big Ten." Finally Purdue has a chance to make a statement and shut up those who say they are merely a product of their schedule.
Notre Dame ran up so many second half yards for three reasons last week. First, they abandoned the running game and started throwing on every down. Second, they left the punter in the locker room and just went for it on every fourth down. Third, they had some receivers make some amazing catches on balls that were hurled blindly in their direction. The Irish must have gotten at least half their yards that way alone.
Purdue has not trailed since the second quarter of the opening game of the season. If they can get a lead and the defense finally plays the second half like it has the first half of late (6 first half points in the last four games) then Purdue has a chance to pull the upset. Even the special teams are coming together as a special mention needs to go to Chris Summers this week. The much-maligned sophomore kicker has hit on 8 of 10 field goals this year and, though it is a minor record, connected on his school record 70th straight PAT Saturday. He is actually leading all kickers in the country in kick-scoring (the LSU kicker has a weird touchdown to his credit).
Quite simply, a win on Saturday makes Purdue the team to beat in the Big Ten with no Wisconsin on the schedule.
4. (7) Illinois (4-1, 2-0)
And why shouldn't they be here? Their only loss was in the first game of the season against one of the better teams in a major conference. Their defense is starting to play with a ton of confidence, and if they can knock off Wisconsin this week the Illini will suddenly become a big surprise in the championship race. A bowl game is all but assured now, and Illinois can go out over the next few weeks and make it a good one. Suddenly eight wins are not outside the realm of possibility. I'm actually quite glad we don't face them now.
The only thing holding up Illinois will be a team that can stop the run. As good as Juice Williams is at running the ball he has struggled mightily passing, and with Arrelious Benn as a weapon they need to get him the ball more, especially after this week. It's nice to see a highly touted recruiting class actually begin to pay off, even with inferior coaching.
5. (3) Michigan (3-2, 2-0)
With this week's game Michigan goes back on probation. They showed they are still susceptible to a spread passing attack, it's just that Northwestern isn't running it with their normal efficiency and wasn't able to generate enough points. Win or lose against Ohio State I am liking Purdue's chances more and more because of the nature of our own offense.
Now the Wolverines have Chad Henne back, and they also have the advantage of essentially a scrimmage this week against Eastern Michigan. We have a no-holds-barred cage match for the world heavyweight title. It's time for Michigan to be Michigan again and get on a bit of a roll. Even a Big Ten title won't soothe the wounds of this season, but it would be a start.
6. (6) Michigan State (4-1, 0-1)
Michigan State finally lost, so it is time to find out if they are going to go into the tank like the past few seasons, or if this close loss will steel their will and turn them into a good football team. They get the perfect bounce back game this week in hosting Northwestern. It's amazing to see the difference a coaching change makes, as the Spartans seem so much more disciplined and confidant than they have in past years.
The offense is moving the ball well and the defense is playing well at times, although Wisconsin was the first team to contain their sack attack. The key stretch of their season begins after the Northwestern game when they host an Indiana team that annihilated them last year. A Big Ten title is probably too much to hope for, but they have an outside shot at a New Year's Day bowl.
7. (8) Indiana (4-1, 1-1)
It is time to fear and respect the Hoosiers just as much as the Illini. In Iowa's last conference win they completely shoved us around on both sides of the ball with dominant lines last year in Iowa City. Now they allow nine sacks to an Indiana team that I think had nine sacks all of last season? Illinois had an impressive win, but it was at home against a team that seemed to do everything in its power to lose offensively. Indiana went on the road smacked around Iowa, a team that was one of the best in the conference not that long ago. The fact Indiana smacked ANYONE in this conference around causes one to take notice.
As I said last week, Indiana needed this win in order to slot themselves ahead of someone bowl-wise. Now the Hoosiers merely need to get two of three very winnable games and the dream of 13 will be alive. It is beginning to look more and more like the bucket game will be for bowl positioning for just the second time ever and first since 1979.
8. (4) Penn State (3-2, 0-2)
Desperation will take center stage this week in State College as both Iowa and Penn State will look to avoid an 0-3 conference start. It is especially hard to believe this when both were looking to have a big year this year. As bad as Penn State has played the past two weeks I still think Iowa is playing worse. At least Penn State has shown some semblance of an offense that, if it had merely shown up the last two games, Penn State would still be unbeaten. I am really not sure what had gone wrong with Penn State.
I know they are better than this. The defense is too good to give up 27 points to a one-dimensional Illinois attack. The offense is too good to score only nine points against a Michigan team that gave up 34 to Appalachian State. I really feel like Iowa is walking into a huge trap and they are in store to get mauled this week.
9. (9) Iowa (2-3, 0-2)
Now it is Iowa's turn to be in the no man's land of ninth place. Much like Indiana last week, if Iowa can get to six wins there may not be enough bowl slots to go around. With its recent play you have to ask if there are even three more wins on the schedule. As much trouble as Iowa has scoring Minnesota and Northwestern are far from guarantees.
Iowa has proven they cannot overcome even the smallest of deficits so far, and should they fall behind to anyone it is pretty safe to say it is over. Giving up nine sacks to Indiana is simply inexcusable. I am officially calling Iowa's troubles the Black and Gold curse of No Michigan or Ohio State, or BGNMOS for short. In a season when much was expected because of the schedule, BGNMOS rears its ugly head again.
10. (11) Northwestern (2-3, 0-2)
At least for Northwestern the schedule can only get easier and if they can get any consistency out of their offense at all the season is not totally lost. Right now, for a winning season, the Iowa game is critical. If Tyrell Sutton can come back this team can still get a few more wins and sneak into a bowl. They will have a much more powerful offense with him, and the defense actually played well against Michigan.
Of course, they still lost to Duke, and that's just bad.
11. (10) Minnesota (1-4, 0-2)
What on earth was with those uniforms? If they play Illinois later this year and wear those with Illinois wearing its all orange TV across the Midwest will explode. They had a better performance defensively than I expected against Ohio State, but it scares me that their pretty good offense managed just seven points and we have to face the Buckeyes next.
Just please don't wear those uniforms again if you play Oregon.