The search for Big Ten supremacy isn’t getting any easier. Since I last wrote about the conference, a team previously thought to be a doormat rose up to challenge a conference title contender, a trendy dark horse pick took a big dose of reality, and two programs rife with defensive tradition combined for almost 600 rushing yards.
Minnesota didn’t play last week, so the whooping they took at the hands of seemingly docile Iowa has them stranded at the bottom. This week, they host a Northwestern team that is fresh off their first loss of the season. A Minnesota upset would do a lot for their respectability, but more realistically they’ll be run over by Kain Colter and Venric Mark.
Illinois did improve their standing by hanging with Wisconsin for three quarters, but the secondary that looked pretty decent two weeks ago against Penn State collapsed in the fourth quarter as the Illini were torched by Joel Stave. There was also little improvement from the Illinois offense, as Nathan Scheelhaase took a great majority of the carries, but only gained 84 yards on the ground.
The B-Town Hoosiers hung onto the tenth spot by showing that their offense was for real… at least in the first half. Hosting a defensively stout Michigan State squad, IU sprinted out to a 17-0 lead and led at the half 27-14. Although their attack was slowed in the second half and the Spartans came back to win 31-27, the Hoosiers showed a lot of promise. Quarterback Chase Coffman impressed with 282 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions despite the absence of a running game.
Even though Iowa had the week off along with Minnesota, I considered moving them past Purdue anyway. The Hawkeyes might have found something in former walk-on halfback Mark Weisman, which takes a lot of pressure off of quarterback James Vandenberg. Vandenberg isn’t going to hold the team back, but he haven’t proven to be a particularly strong asset either.
The Boilers had a chance to make a statement with a home tilt against Michigan, but they fell flat on their faces while allowing Denard Robinson to run for 235 yards. Meanwhile, signal callers Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve were equally ineffective against Michigan’s defense. It’s back to the drawing board for the Boilers, and if this kind of effort becomes typical, they might see themselves battling just to be the best Big Ten team in Indiana.
It looked like the Wildcat magic would continue on Saturday, but a Penn State scoring frenzy in the fourth quarter put the brakes on the Northwestern bandwagon. Although its passing attack turned out to be rather bland, Northwestern was still able to run the ball on Penn State. That aspect of the Wildcats’ attack should keep them competitive throughout the season.
6. Penn State
Yeah, I love the Nittany Lions, and I think they are just about even with Michigan State right now, but I want to see them face a tough defense before moving them up more. The Penn State attack looked potent enough against Illinois and Northwestern, but the Lions required some fourth down magic to sneak by the Wildcats, and there are tougher defenses ahead on the schedule. That said, State’s defense has been more than adequate, and it remains a contender for the Leaders Division crown (yes, PSU can still technically win a division title) headed into its bye week.
5. Michigan State
Sparty’s offense, led by first year starter Andrew Maxwell, has struggled so far this season, but it came alive to overcome Indiana last week in the second half. That’s all good, but IU has a serious deficiency on that side of the ball, and I’m not sure MSU’s passing attack is good enough to defeat Michigan in the Big House this year. However, first up is a home match against Iowa, and I expect the Spartan defense to hand a reality check to Iowa’s upstart running game. MSU’s run defense looks a lot better this week after the game Braxton Miller had against Nebraska.
The Badgers are alive, people! With the quarterback situation seemingly settled, Wisconsin has kept the scoreboard busy during the first two conference games. The comfortable win over Illinois is a nice confidence booster, but they need to take care of a reeling Purdue squad on the road if they really want to get back on track. With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for the conference title game, Wisconsin is almost a conference championship contender by default.
Through the first quarter of action on Saturday, the Huskers looked like the best team in the Big Ten, but the game continued and Ohio State’s ground attack pounded Nebraska relentlessly. A 63-38 result must have been disheartening, but Nebraska still has that impressive three-headed run game as well as a quarterback in Taylor Martinez who is growing more effective through the air. It’s clear in the losses to Ohio State and UCLA that the Huskers’ defensive shortcomings have kept them from being a national contender, but they can still compete for a conference crown.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to move Michigan up one, but Nebraska got thrashed badly, and it’s hard to imagine the Huskers being able to stop Denard Robinson when the two Legends contenders play on October 27. That said, Michigan is far from a lock to win that match-up, especially with the game being played in Lincoln. Michigan’s defense was able to shutdown Purdue this past week, but Nebraska is a whole different animal. Before playing Nebraska, Michigan faces both Illinois and Michigan State, so I’m not sure how much the defense will be tested in preparation for the Huskers.
1. Ohio State
Where else would Ohio State go after that tour de force by Braxton Miller against Nebraska? He’s a freak of nature and a legitimate Heisman contender who has carried the Buckeyes’ offense so far and will probably continue to do so. Ohio State’s defense has disappointed me so far this season, but if Miller is playing up to his potential, it doesn’t need to be fantastic. The Buckeyes should whoop Indiana and Purdue in the next two weeks to set up a very interesting match-up against Penn State in Happy Valley on October 27.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s Tower of Power. You can follow me on Twitter @apy5000.