The conference did not look very good this week. In the two biggest statement games the Big Ten lost big time. To make matters worse, Purdue and Northwestern each dropped games they probably should have won. On the contrary, Indiana makes a move out of the cellar on my ballot. With conference play beginning this week we will finally get some true separation between teams. Here is the ballot I submitted for this week.
•1. Penn State (3-0) - Some people would say they haven't been very impressive yet, but what does it matter? They have yet to be tested. With Iowa starting to turn a bit of a corner this weekend's game on ABC could be one of the best of the conference season.
•2. Ohio State (2-1) - They looked a lot more impressive in shutting down a pretty potent Toledo offense. I don't think people were surprised they won, but a shout of an offense that was averaging about 40 points per game all against BCS conference foes was unexpected.
•3. Michigan (3-0) - This is what Big Ten teams should do to MAC teams. Before the season, Indiana fans pointed to this weekend's Michigan game as a potential Hoosier win. That is unlikely now, but seeing Michigan at 7-0 before hosting Penn State is not.
•4. Wisconsin (3-0) - Clearly they have played two pretty good mid-major teams before dismantling Wofford. They now have a chance to prolong Michigan State's suffering. This team has a chance to go on a big roll if its defense can keep playing well.
•5. Iowa (3-0) - They are getting better every week, which is what good teams should do. The Arizona win was an impressive one as they didn't totally dominate, but they still won comfortably over a mid-level Pac 10 team. Sadly, this is one of the better non-conference wins the Big Ten has earned.
•6. Minnesota (2-1) - Call this a desperation move at this point, but I think there is a major gap between the five and six spots right now. Minnesota gets the nod because they played a good game against a top 10 team and they beat Syracuse, who in turn beat Northwestern.
•7. Indiana (3-0) - Yeah, I went there. It hasn't been pretty, and it is more a result of the other team screwing up than anything else, but 3-0 is 3-0. Sure, it took four Akron interceptions and fumbles by Western Michigan and Eastern Kentucky, but they have still won. That's more than what a lot of teams can say right now.
•8. Michigan State (1-2) - The Spartans are 3-0 and ranked in the top 25 if they just recover an onside kick and throw a better pass to w wide open receiver. Sometimes it is the little things that make a difference. The schedule does them no favors over the next few weeks.
•9. Northwestern (2-1) - There is no arguing that this was a bad loss, as they let Syracuse dominate the game from the start. The Wildcats now have a must win game at home against Minnesota. I just don't understand why it is so hard for Northwestern to get through a non-conference season unscathed.
•10. Illinois (1-1) - It is hard to impress me with a bye week. Other than Purdue, they are the only team that might go 1-3 in the non-conference season.
•11. Purdue (1-2) - Getting dominated by a mid-level MAC team at home sends you right to the bottom. There really is nowhere else to go but up now. Still, the season is not over. If this team plays as it is capable of playing they can beat Notre Dame. Should that happen, they will be 2-2, just as many people expected at that point. Beating the Irish erases the NIU loss in my mind. With the rest of the conference being unimpressive there is still room to make noise there. I don't think it will be a 1-11 season, but those forecasting 7-9 wins after the close Oregon loss were a tad premature. We're likely somewhere in the middle, with six wins absolutely possible if we can take things one game at a time.
Other non-conference opponents:
Oregon W 31-24 over Utah - Since our other two non-conference opponents were playing Big Ten teams, the Ducks were the only other team not entirely on the radar. They got the job done too, ending the nation's longest winning streak. They now get a huge Pac-10 home game by hosting Cal.