Tag Archives: big ten west

Over/Under: Big Ten West

Yes, I know a lot can happen during spring practice and the summer months so it may seem premature to be doing an article where I’m doing over/under for the upcoming year but with March Madness upon us, I feel like a gambling man and figured to take a risk. This week I’m doing the Big Ten West and the East next time around.

Illinois 3-9, 2-7 = Under 3-9, 1-8

Illinois loses its entire starting defensive line including first-team, all-Big Ten pass-rushing end Carroll Phillips (20 TFL’s, nine sacks) as well as spots at middle linebacker and secondary for a defense that already ranked near the bottom of the conference In almost every statistical category.  Its offense loses quarterback Wes Lunt and, while running backs Kendrick Foster and Reggie Corbin, who combined for 1243 yards and nine touchdowns, are back, as well as receiver Malik Turner (48 catches, 712 yards, 6 tds), backup quarterbacks Chayce Crouch and Jeff George Jr. were subpar as they appeared in nine games. Lovie Smith’s second year will be even worse.

Iowa 8-5, 6-3 = Under 8-4, 5-4

The biggest question for the Hawkeyes is can sophomore Nathan Stanley, who is slated to be the starting quarterback heading into spring practice, be a reliable leader like his predecessor C.J. Beathard despite his limited experience? Other first-year starters like Beathard and Ricky Stanzi did pretty well and Stanley will have some resources like a seasoned offensive line and tailback Akrum Wadley but few options at receiver even with Matt VandeBerg returning. The other concern is at corner, where they lose the dominant Desmond King and Greg Mabin and have to use raw prospects Michael Ojemudia (five tackles) and Manny Rugamba (19 tackles, two interceptions). I say Iowa takes a step back because of its harder schedule.

Minnesota 9-4, 5-4 = Under 7-5, 4-5

With the departure of Mitch Leidner, Minnesota has very limited quarterback experience. Fifth-year senior Conor Rhoda has just one career start and a host of others are fighting for time including Demry Croft, junior college transfer Neil McLaurin, and redshirt freshman Seth Green and Mark Williams. Yes, starting halfback Rodney Smith was fourth in conference with 1,158 yards and second with 16 touchdowns while backup Shannon Brooks finished with 650 yards and five touchdowns but I see growing pains for a team that went through a very tumultuous season. Plus, they have a new system to get acclimated to with P.J. Fleck and an entirely different staff.

Nebraska 9-4, 6-3 = Under 8-4, 5-4

It’s hard to replace a starting quarterback especially one like Tommy Armstrong Jr., who holds most of the passing and touchdown records for Nebraska, but there is some upside and potential on the roster with Tanner Lee, Patrick O’Brien and Tristan Gebbia. Lee played two seasons at Tulane while O’Brien is a redshirt freshman and Gebbia is an early enrollee who has the second most yards in California high school history (13,109). On defense, Nebraska’s secondary looks strong as starting corners Chris Jones and Josh Kalu (103 tackles, 21 passes defended, four ints) return as well as safety Kieran Williams (five ints) and Aaron Williams.

Northwestern 7-6, 5-4 = Over 9-3, 6-3

Quarterback Clayton Thorson was fourth in the league in passing yards per game (244.8) and tossed 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Running back Justin Jackson had career highs for rushing yards (1,524), touchdowns (15) and yards per carry (5.1). If another receiver can emerge as a reliable target as Big Ten receiver of the year Austin Carr is gone, this offense could be a handful for opponents. On defense, the ultra-talented Anthony Walker is gone but they only have two starters to replace and leading tackler Godwin Igwebuike returns. If Northwestern can improve on pass defense, which ranked 109th nationally, I can see them an upset or two away from division glory.

Purdue (3-9, 1-8) = Over (4-8, 2-7)

There seems to be a lot of optimism surrounding Purdue’s new head coach Jeff Brohm, who led Western Kentucky for three seasons. The Hilltoppers ranked fifth nationally in passing offense and first in scoring offense last year, averaging 44.6 points per game. Yes, the Boilermaker’s lose their top three receivers (DeAngelo Yancey, Bilal Marshall, Cameron Posey) as well as Domonique Young, all of whom combined to haul in 157 passes for 2,122 yards and 17 touchdowns but David Blough has a lot of talent and Brohm’s system could greatly benefit him. Winning one more conference game isn’t much but it’s a step forward for a program that has won two Big Ten games in the past three years.

Wisconsin 11-3, 7-2 = Over 12-2, 8-1

It remains to be seen if quarterback Alex Hornibrook is the answer and can build upon a solid freshman season but the Badger faithful are crossing their fingers he is because if he can deliver, this team could be very dangerous. Yes, they lose both outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel but still should be a disruptive front seven especially at inside linebacker as T.J. Edwards led the team in tackles for a second consecutive season and Chris Orr and Jack Cichy return after suffering season-ending injuries. Secondary, which was second in FBS with 22 interceptions, will also be strong. With all this in mind and a softer schedule, I predict another 10-plus win season.

E-mail Mike at mike [dot] tews [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

Image courtesy of flickr user usdagov

So You’re Saying There Is A Chance

In what turned out to be a highly entertaining, epic defensive battle, the Michigan State Spartans held off the Iowa Hawkeye’s 16-13 in the Big Ten championship game to advance into the College Football Playoff. There is no question that it was a well-earned, hard-fought victory and the Spartans deserve a chance to potentially play for a national title, but drew the Alabama Crimson Tide as its opponent in the Cotton Bowl.

(Truth be told, I wanted Iowa to win simply because it would’ve provided another piece of evidence that the Big Ten is better and deeper than it has been getting credit for the past several years. Everyone predicted that the winner would come from the Big Ten East this season and if the Big Ten West had produced a conference champion, then people might take the Big Ten even more seriously.)

Up until this point in this season, no one has been able to stop the offensive running game of Alabama or solve the puzzle the defense constructs every game. Sure, Ole Miss was able to defeat Alabama but the Crimson Tide still accumulated over 500 yards in that game and uncharacteristically turned the ball over five times. It was more of an anomaly than anything else and is something very rare to see from a disciplined Nick Saban team.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, since losing to Ole Miss in October, Alabama has led the nation in fewest points allowed per game and yards allowed per game. Alabama has 46 sacks, most in the nation, has held nine opponents under 300 yards, rank No. 2 in the nation in total defense (258.2 yards per game) and is No. 1 in rushing defense (74.0 yards per game).

However, as daunting and improbable as it may seem, I believe the Spartans give the conference a chance at the title.

Just look at the numbers.

Ever since Alabama trounced Michigan State 49-7 in the 2011 Capital One Bowl, the Spartans have garnered four consecutive bowl wins, back-to-back top five finishes, and won 38 of their past 42 games including seven of their past eight games against top 10 teams, beating Iowa and the same Ohio State squad that eliminated the Tide from last year’s College Football Playoff.

They have defeated nearly everyone in their path with one blemish on their record due to a controversial call and have overcome adversity and injuries to get where they are today.

Also, the Spartans have Connor Cook, who has proven, at least to me, he is a legitimate, reliable anchor for this team as he was selected as a first-team All-Big Ten QB. They also have the Big Ten Receiver of the Year in Aaron Burbridge, depth on the offensive line and four tailbacks with great potential. On the other side of the ball, they possess one of the best defensive lines in the programs history, athletic linebackers and an ever-improving secondary, though they do allow 230 passing yards per game.

So you’re thinking they are going to beat Alabama?

Woah. Slow down there.

I think there’s a chance they can defeat the Crimson Tide, but a lot of things need to go right. It starts up front in the trenches. Derrick Henry has had a monster year, rushing for an unprecedented 1,986 yards in the SEC and a nation-leading 23 touchdowns.

The front seven, which is allowing just 3.6 yards per carry, is the heart and soul of this team. Preventing Henry from breaking away for a big gain will be their biggest hurdle this season, but if they can contain him, they’ll give their team a good chance.

Next, they’ll need Cook at full strength and for him to stretch the field versus the Tide’s stout defense by getting the ball into Burbridge’s hands, something they struggled to do against Iowa, and by moving the chains for first downs as Alabama leads the nation in forcing three-and-outs since its loss to Ole Miss.

And finally, Michigan State has to be free of mistakes on offense and special teams. In what should be a low-scoring game, one big score could be the difference in this game and kicker Michael Geiger needs to be on point for Michigan State.

If all these things happen, then the Spartans no question have a legitimate shot and in college football, just a little can be the difference as strange things do occur. Of course, Michigan State is all too familiar with this as they beat Michigan in the most bizarre fashion in the closing seconds.

Anyways, the importance of this game can’t be overstated.

The Big Ten is arguably the country’s best conference this season and if the Spartans can knock off yet another SEC flagship program, it would be difficult to argue otherwise. This game is crucial and with millions watching, could greatly enhance the Big Ten’s reputation. This year’s game is the ultimate measuring stick for how far the entire Big Ten has come to closing the gap with the South.

Now, the optimistic Big Ten fan gives me hope as it screams that anything can happen but the rational college football fan inside of me screams don’t be stupid, no one can beat the red hot Crimson Tide especially not the Spartans who lack that it factor that Alabama seems to possess.

However, being doubted and overlooked is nothing new to the Spartans. They relish the role of being David and Michigan State has won nine of the last 13 games in which it has been an underdog. The last time they were underdogs was against Ohio State and we all know what happened then. They walked out with a 17-14 victory over the defending champions.

With all that said, I do not know if the Spartans will win or not but I’m giving them a shot and sometimes that’s all you need.

Wisconsin: Third Down And Gophers To Go

It had been five weeks since the Wisconsin Badgers found themselves in a football game in the fourth quarter. At Iowa on Saturday, UW led 19-3 in the third quarter and seemed on their way to another relatively easy, though more physical, Big Ten win. That wasn’t the case, as the Hawkeyes scored 21 points over the final 18 minutes to make Wisconsin sweat and really work for their sixth straight league win. It was a win that showed the Badgers have the right type of playmakers for when the going gets tough, which it likely will this coming Saturday when Minnesota comes to Camp Randall Stadium for a Big Ten West, winner-take-all showdown.

The Badgers already knew they have a playmaker in Melvin Gordon; that part is obvious when it comes to the Heisman Trophy candidate. What came as more of a surprise in Iowa City, was the emergence of the UW quarterbacks as playmakers. Tanner McEvoy saw limited snaps, but was able to make the game’s first big play scoring on a 45-yard run. The rest was left in the hands of Joel Stave, who came through in the most clutch situations.

Stave and AndersenThis was especially visible on third downs, for which the Badgers converted on seven of 13. After failing to score on third-and-goal after Gordon ripped off an 88-yard run to the Iowa 4 yard line, the Badgers converted on three of their next four third downs. All involved Stave, and all came when Wisconsin absolutely needed a play to further a scoring drive or to run out the clock.

Stave twice completed passes for first downs, both times with the Hawkeyes defense bearing down on him with blitzes. He completed the night by making the most unlikely of conversions, rushing for 12 yards and diving for a first down that ultimately allowed UW to run out the clock and get out of town with the win.

While the game will mostly be remembered for Gordon’s gut-check performance that yielded 271 total yards of offense and two scores, what can’t be forgotten is the clutch playmaking in the second half. An even bigger test and challenge awaits in the regular season finale against the Golden Gophers. The two rivals rank fifth (Minnesota) and sixth (Wisconsin) in third down conversation percentage in the Big Ten.  Whichever team’s playmakers step up most consistently with the game, or a drive, on the line will have the upper hand.

Badger Bites: The biggest question heading into Saturday’s 124th meeting between Wisconsin and Minnesota will be the health of Gophers running back David Cobb, who injured his hamstring prior to UM’s fourth quarter rally at Nebraska. Cobb, the Big Ten’s third leading rusher, is a major weapon Minnesota’s offense needs against the Badgers league-leading defense. That unit was exposed by the Iowa passing attack, something Jerry Kill’s squad severely lacks. The Badgers have owned this rivalry for the past decade, and it will take a near perfect effort by the Golden Gophers to end that trend. Prediction: Wisconsin 30, Minnesota 14

Big Ten Roll Call

As the age-old saying goes, it’s not over until the fat lady sings and that phrase accurately sums up the Big Ten this year. Like many other pundits, I said the season was over in Week 2 and that the playoffs were an impossible reality as Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan all suffered high profile losses along with three losses to Mid-American Conference foes. But the sun didn’t set all the way on the Big Ten’s season. A lot can happen throughout the course of a season and the league has slowly changed the narrative in its favor.

 
While Nebraska fans are understandably distraught over their team’s recent face-plant, Saturday, overall, was really good for the Big Ten.

 
First let’s talk about star power

 
The Big Ten hasn’t had a Heisman Trophy winner since 2006, when OSU quarterback Troy Smith received the award and the league has had just one Hesiman finalist since then (Wisconsin’s Montee Ball in 2011).
However, this year, the league features two legitimate candidates in Melvin Gordon and J.T. Barrett.
Gordon is definitely going to Gotham after smashing multiple records Saturday, finishing with 408 yards to break LaDainian Tomlinson’s single-game FBS mark and four touchdowns on 25 carries (16.3-yard average). He has 15 runs of 40 yards or longer, more than any other FBS team.
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett continues his incredible ascension to greatness, setting the new Ohio State single-game quarterback rushing record at 189 yards Saturday at Minnesota. Barrett has now thrown 38 touchdowns in his first ten games. To put this in perspective, Barrett’s 38 touchdowns in his first 10 career games are the most by any player in the past 10 seasons. That total includes Johnny Manziel (33) and Jameis Winston (31), who of course both won the Heisman as redshirt freshmen quarterbacks. And those 38 touchdowns are tied for the most in the country this year with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, another Heisman front-runner.

In addition to the stars, there also remain several intriguing teams in the league. Ohio State is still very much alive in the playoff hunt while Michigan State is fighting for a New Years Six bowl. Wisconsin has overcome early season losses and put itself in position for a third Big Ten championship appearance in four years and Minnesota continues to improve. The West Division is far from being over, and if Iowa can somehow someway upend Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium, things will really get interesting.

Last, for as much criticism as the Big Ten has received this season for being a weak conference, the league should have no problems filling it bowl slots this season as 11 out of the conferences 14 teams have a chance to reach six wins before the season comes to a conclusion. Rutgers and Penn State became the eighth and ninth bowl-eligible teams in the conference this weekend with wins against Indiana and Temple. These two programs making the postseason is significant given the sanctions levied against PSU the last several years and the murderous schedule along with key injuries for Rutgers.

Northwestern still needs work to reach bowl eligibility, though it’s crazy three of the Wildcats wins have come against Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Penn State, the latter two on the road. The Illini could also sneak in a few weeks of extra practice if they beat Penn State and then Northwestern in the regular-season finale.

Now this is not to say everything is sunny in Big Ten country as Michigan could soon follow Florida in dumping its coach, and Indiana, which beat SEC East-leading Missouri in September, remains winless in conference play.

However, in spite of all the critics including me saying the season was over in Week 2, the Big Ten is doing all it can to keep the fans on the edge of their seats and is still very much alive and well. The second act is nearing its conclusion, and the fat lady has yet to begin singing.

Power Rankings

1 Ohio State Buckeyes
Record: 9-1 overall, 6-0 conference
Previous ranking: 1

It may have been the coldest game ever at TCF Bank Stadium (a mere 15 degrees) but the 6th  ranked Ohio State Buckeyes were red hot with redshirt freshman QB J.T. Barrett showing his underrated speed, streaking by the entire Minnesota defense for an 86-yard touchdown, the longest run ever by a Buckeyes quarterback. Barrett threw for 200 yards and three touchdowns.
As far as playoff implications, the Buckeyes beat their second consecutive ranked opponent and have to hope the final score doesn’t affect their overall standing with the selection committee (No.4 TCU beat Minnesota 30-7 earlier this season). Ohio State will be the favorites in its final two games against Indiana and Michigan but still needs help to crack the top four.
T-2 Michigan State Spartans
Record: 8-2 overall, 5-1 conference
Previous ranking: 2

MSU was still feeling the effects of their emotional loss to OSU as they started out sluggish with three first-half field goals before Jeremy Langford scored just before halftime at Maryland. The defense finished strong as it forced three turnovers. Winning the East maybe over but the Spartans are still playing for a shot at a New Years Six Bowl and can feel satisfied with wins over Rutgers and Penn State to close out the season.

T-2 Wisconsin Badgers
Record: 8-2 overall, 5-1 conference
Previous ranking: 4

Wisconsin sits atop the West Division all alone after being tied with Nebraska and Minnesota for first place entering last Saturday.
After falling behind by 14 points, Wisconsin overcame a sloppy start and used a 21-point second quarter to seize control as Melvin Gordon ripped off runs of 62, 44 and 39 yards in the quarter. Gordon may have uncharacteristically lost two fumbles but no one will remember that as Gordon went all out beastmode. Gordon continued the tradition of Badger running backs doing extraordinary things as Wisconsin backs have the FBS single season rushing record (Dayne), single-season touchdowns record (Ball) and now the single game rushing record. They also proved their recent offensive streak wasn’t a fluke or a product of a cupcake schedule. Wisconsin is averaging 44 points per game in its current five-game win streak, after hanging 59 on Nebraska. Gordon left the game, that crew kept plowing through the snow to lead the Badgers to a total of 581 rushing yards. Wisconsin ranks third nationally in rushing yards per game and is tied for fourth in sacks allowed.
4 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Record: 7-3 overall, 4-2 conference
Previous ranking: 5

The Gophers put up a valiant effort against OSU in the snow and cold, scoring ten points in the final seven minutes to make it a one-score game but failed on the onside kick attempt. David Cobb scored three touchdowns and ran for 145 yards all in a losing effort but Minnesota still controls its own fate as it needs wins against Nebraska and Wisconsin on deck.

5 Nebraska Cornhuskers
Record: 8-2 overall, 4-2 conference
Previous ranking: 3

First of all, I am not a fan of Nebraska nor will I ever be one as I bleed Wisconsin red and white as it is my alma mater and home state but even I was shocked at how the Badges steamrolled over the Huskers, accumulating 627 yards of offense while limiting Nebraska to just 180 yards. You would think a team that has a wide access to a plethora of resources and talent would be at least competitive and while they did build a 17-3 lead, it was short lived as their defense wilted away and resembled a junior varsity high school unit that was unable to prevent the inevitable rush from happening. It was clear Wisconsin was going to run the ball and the Huskers didn’t just let Melvin Gordon run all over them but allowed the Heisman trophy candidate to break the FBS-single game rushing record in just three quarters. To put this in better perspective, Western Illinois was able to hold Gordon to just 38 yards rushing while the Husker defense, which has been formidable to say the least, was thoroughly humiliated and embarrassed.

While it may not be as dire as Michigan right now, someone needs to be held accountable for the team’s performance given the rich history and tradition of this program.

Some of the Bo-lievers are still defending him saying that it’s likely that Nebraska will finish the season 10-2 and that winning at least 9 games in 7 seasons as head coach is a record many college programs would die for (Only 2 coaches have been fired after winning 8 games since 2009. One was Dave Wannstedt in 2010 at Pitt; The other was Joe Paterno in 2011).

The man makes $3 million but is 3-9 against ranked opponents and since Pelini arrived in 2008, Nebraska has lost 10 games by 20 points or more. It has allowed 45 points or more six times since the 2011 move to the Big Ten.
It’s been 19 years since the last time Nebraska was a National Champion and 13 years since it played for one.

My personal opinion is that something has to change among the coaching ranks and upper management in an effort to improve this team because unless this team wants to be great, it will be stuck being the 5th or 6th best team in conference year after

6 Iowa Hawkeyes
Record: 7-3 overall, 4-2 conference
Previous ranking: 7

The Hawkeyes dominated the Illini defense on the ground as Mark Weisman rushed for 134 yards and in the air as tight end Ray Hamilton hauled in his first two touchdowns. Even with two losses, the Hawkeyes are still in the running for the West division crown if they can sweep the Badgers and Huskers combined with a Minnesota loss. In their four Big Ten wins, Iowa is averaging 226.8 yards on the ground, while holding those opponents to 148.3

7 Maryland Terrapins
Record: 6-4 overall, 3-3 conference
Previous ranking: 6

C.J. Brown threw three interceptions and the rushing attack didn’t even show up on the field as it totaled a measly six yards against the stout MSU defense. Maryland has definitely learned that an inconsistent offense will not top the league’s best defenses. However, Maryland has a chance to head into the postseason with some momentum with games against Michigan and Rutgers.

8 Penn State Nittany Lions
Record: 6-4 overall, 3-4 conference
Previous ranking: 8
Coach James Franklin’s Nittany Lions won convincingly over Temple with a 30-13 victory in Happy Valley and is now officially bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011. Christian Hackenberg was a shaky 12-for-26 with two interceptions and missed a few wide open, despite getting good protection. Hackenberg has now thrown 12 interceptions and only seven touchdowns this season.
Defensively, PSU held Temple to 248 yards.

 
9 Michigan Wolverines
Record: 5-5 overall, 3-3 conference
Previous ranking: 10
Following their first two-game winning streak in over a year, Michigan got a nice week off to enjoy the victories and prepare for an up-and-down Maryland team. The Wolverines have a perfect opportunity to become bowl-eligible against the Terrapins before ending the season with The Game at OSU.

10 Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Record: 6-4 overall, 2-4 conference
Previous ranking: 9 .

In spite of criticism for joining the Big Ten and a murderous schedule, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights prevailed over Indiana to snap a three-game losing streak and become to the ninth bowl-eligible team for the Big Ten. While it was shaky on defense, the offense came through as Gary Nova went for yards and Leonte Carroo contributed with two scores.

11 Northwestern Wildcats
Record: 4-6 overall, 2-4 conference
Previous ranking: 13

Down 11 points in the fourth quarter, Northwestern 17.5-point underdogs Saturday stormed back to stun No. 18 Notre Dame 43-40 in OT. Jack Mitchell nailed a 41-yard kick to seal the victory after Kyle Brindza missed from 42. QB Trevor Siemian put up average numbers (30/48 passing, 284 yds, 1TD, 1 rushing TD), but came through big in the clutch and now Northwestern has a great shot at bowl eligibility if they win their final two games against struggling Purdue and Illinois.

12 Purdue Boilermakers
Record: 3-7 overall, 1-5 conference
Previous ranking: 11

The Boilermakers were off at a good time last Saturday as they were able to catch their collective breath following four consecutive losses. If they can win even one of their next two games against Northwestern or at Indiana, this season would be considered a nice improvement from last year.

13 Illinois Fighting Illini
Record: 4-6 overall, 1-5 conference
Previous ranking: 12

Iowa ruined the return of Wes Lunt from injury as it held him to just 102 yards and kept the other two quarterbacks from being any more effective. The Hawkeye offense decimated the Illini defense on the ground and through the air for nearly 600 yards. As painful as a loss it was, a bowl game still remains within reach for Illinois.

14 Indiana Hoosiers
Record: 3-7 overall, 0-6 conference
Previous ranking: 14

As it is the story of Tevin Coleman’s career, he was once again overshadowed by Melvin Gordon despite rushing for a career-high 307 yards, which was only the third most impressive performance in the league Saturday. Yet, Indiana is still winless as Rutgers stymied the Hoosiers in the second half and only gets worse, as they head into the Horseshoe to take on OSU.

 

Greatest Two Quarters…EVER!

There will be – and already has been – plenty written about Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon III and his record setting performance against Nebraska Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. His 408-yard effort on 25 carries in a resounding win over a higher ranked team not only vaulted Gordon into a two-man race for the Heisman Trophy with Oregon’s Marcus Mariotta, it also came as part of the greatest two quarters of football by a single team – possibly ever.

Let’s jump to a moment in the game where Nebraska just claimed a 17-3 lead less than one minute into the second quarter. At this point, the Badgers amassed just 82 yards of offense and two turnovers, including 49 yards for Gordon with one fumble. The UW defense, which entered the game No. 1 in the nation, seemed to have no answer for the Cornhuskers rushing attack of RB Ameer Abdullah (44 yards, nine carries) and QB Tommy Armstrong, Jr (33 yards, seven carries), who also appeared to baffle the Badgers secondary on a way-too-easy 12-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Bell.

Then it all changed – on both sides of the ball.

Gordon carried the ball 19 more times for 359 yards in the second and third quarters. While it will go down officially as Gordon breaking the all-time FBS single game rushing record over three quarters, it’s important to realize the magnitude of what he did in just two. Yes, he needed all 408 yards to break LaDainian Tomlinson’s 15-year old record by two yards. But if you take away a very less-than-average first quarter, MGIII broke the school record held by Ron Dayne (339 yards) and nearly re-set the Big Ten mark in that time frame (377 yards by Indiana’s Anthony Thompson). Gordon’s per carry average of 18.9 is absurd, but so are six carries of 20 yards or more and four that surpassed 40 yards. Oh, and he also scored four touchdowns in two quarters, part of 56 straight points tallied by Wisconsin.

However, Gordon wasn’t alone with his masterful performance on offense. Joel Stave was 5-for-7 for 45 yards and a score. Tanner McEvoy, Corey Clement, and Kenzel Doe added 78 yards on six touches for 13 yards a carry and two touchdowns. All against a Nebraska defense that ranked 25th overall and 20th against the run.

To match – and assist – that level of production, the Wisconsin defense turned it up a notched during the middle two quarters, as well. Beyond holding the Huskers scoreless, they forced four turnovers (three fumbles and one interception) that resulted in 21 points, registered three sacks and three more tackles for loss or no gain. Nebraska also settled for two three-and-outs. As the defensive pressure picked up, Armstrong, Jr. appeared hurried and flustered in the pocket, thus firing deep passes well beyond their targets.

This collective two quarter effort by the Badgers was as impressive a showing as college football has seen this season. It also set up Wisconsin as the lead dog in the race for the Big Ten’s West Division and a spot in the league title game. Before then, and before game number 11, let’s just take a moment to enjoy the greatest two quarters of football put together by Melvin Gordon III and his teammates…possibly ever.

Badger Bites (Weekly nuggets about Wisconsin’s next opponent): Now  that Gary Andersen has earned that signature victory at Wisconsin, it’s time the second year head coach to continue the programs recent dominance over its biggest rivals. That begins inside the always tough Kinnick Stadium Saturday against Iowa. This year’s Hawkeyes, like most years, are dependent on having a successful run game and simultaneously stopping the run. In their four Big Ten wins, Iowa is averaging 226.8 yards on the ground, while holding those opponents to 148.3. That number would be drastically lower if not for the 316 yards allowed to Indiana in a win. Comparatively, the Hawks two league losses saw Iowa gain 200 yards via the run, but surrendering 503. Prediction: Wisconsin 38, Iowa 17.

Big Ten Power Rankings Week 11

After eleven weeks of anxious anticipation, the Big Ten’s biggest game of the year has finally arrived. Michigan State and Ohio State face off in what will be a true clash of the titans as the winner will take the lead in the East and claim their spot in the Big Ten title game in Indy. Moreover, the winner will become the Big Ten’s best chance at the inaugural College Football Playoff.
For me, it is difficult to select a winner for this upcoming game because I can see either team coming away with the victory but in the end, I am picking MSU. Last year, it was all about the vaunted MSU defense matched up against Ohio State QB Braxton Miller but ultimately, it was the Spartans offense that sparked a 34-24 win.
The offense has not only returned this season, literally and figuratively, but is vastly improved, ranking the country’s fifth-best scoring offense at 45.5 points per game. In addition, the Spartans rank No. 1 in the Big Ten in yards per game (515.3), yards per passing attempt (9.1), and have allowed just five sacks.

Plus, the Spartans will have the home-field advantage and in Ohio State’s lone trip to a hostile environment, they needed overtime to escape Penn State and finished with less than 300 yards. As far as defense goes, MSU should be able to bring the heat as they have 54 tackles for losses and unlike Penn State’s defense, which was able to harass Ohio State all night, this defense is even more experienced and talented.

Another key matchup to keep an eye on is the battle between MSU’s offensive line, which has allowed only five sacks, and OSU’s defensive front, which is one of the best in the nation at disrupting plays in the backfield.

While the battle of the season takes place in the East, the race in the West heats up as Iowa ventures into Minnesota for the first head-to-head game between the four remaining teams in the running for the division crown: Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska. All have a conference loss and all four will play each other in the final four weeks of the season.

Three weeks ago, the West was a befuddled mess with Nebraska and Wisconsin, the two most popular picks to win the division, both suffering embarrassing losses while Iowa was just scrapping by without a convincing win and Minnesota was undefeated. Fast forward three weeks later and everything is playing out the way we thought it would.

Nebraska has ripped off three consecutive wins by 18 points or more, Wisconsin decimated Maryland and Rutgers 89-7, and Iowa put together its first complete game in a 48-7 win over Northwestern.

All the improvement from the West helps the narrative for the Big Ten championship game. In all likelihood the West champion will be an underdog in Indianapolis. But underdogs have won each of the past two title games, and Michigan State nearly pulled off an upset against Wisconsin in 2011.

For the bottom-feeders of the conference, they will be playing to keep their postseason hopes alive. Indiana’s one-dimensional offense needs to produce points against Penn State to have any shot at the postseason for the first time since 2007. Purdue needs to somehow stymie Wisconsin’s offensive juggernaut to make a bowl while Northwestern and Michigan face off in Evanston with the winner still in decent shape while the loser will need to have an upset to get to six victories. Penn State is right on the cusp of postseason qualification and could essentially stamp its ticket with a W over Indy and Illinois and Temple remaining on the schedule

1. Michigan State Spartans
Record: 7-1 overall, 4-0 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 1
The well-rested Spartans are still the top dogs in the power rankings as a win over Ohio State would provide a boost in their quest for a playoff berth and would likely mean a spot in the Big Ten championship game for Mark Dantonio’s team.

2. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Record: 8-1 overall, 4-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 2
With a win over Purdue, Nebraska has now recorded three straight wins by 18 points or more but their star back Ameer Abdullah missed most of the game due to a knee injury and the offense generated a season low 297 yards. He should be healthy for Wisconsin on Nov. 15th but if he isn’t, the Cornhuskers could be in for a long day in Madison.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Record: 7-1 overall, 4-0 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 3
In Ohio State’s 55-14 shellacking of a weak Illinois team, the defense showed its drastic improvement from the start of the year with four turnovers and 11 tackles for loss. It wasn’t enough to overtake the top spot from the idle Spartans, but the Buckeyes will get their chance Saturday in the highly anticipated rematch of the 2013 Big Ten title game..

4. Wisconsin Badgers
Record: 6-2 overall, 3-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 4

Ever since their clunker against Northwestern, the Wisconsin Badgers have been catching fire, beating up on welcomed Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers by a combined score of 89-7. The pass game remains shoddy, but running backs Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement, along with the country’s third-best scoring defense, give the Badgers a chance in every remaining game .

5. Iowa Hawkeyes
Record: 6-2 overall,  3-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 7
The Hawkeyes enjoy the largest leap forward in the rankings after a convincing 48-7 drubbing of Maryland. It was their most complete performance as they were balanced on offense with 221 rush yards and 262 passing yards and featured an incredible outing from S John Lowdermilk. He finished with a dozen tackles, a pass breakup and a forced fumble.

6. Maryland Terrapins
Record: 6-3 overall, 3-2 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 6

Maryland hadn’t beaten Penn State in over 50 years (1961) and had never won in Beaver Stadium before but that all changed Saturday as Brad Craddock hit the game-winning 43-yard field goal with under a minute remaining. However, the win was overshadowed by the Terps blatant lack of sportsmanship

7. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Record: 6-2 overall, 3-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 5
The Golden Gophers fell one spot during the bye week because of Iowa’s performance and following two weeks of having a bad taste in its mouth from its loss to Illinois, Minnesota will get to let out its frustration against Iowa in the annual battle for bacon.

8. Penn State Nittany Lions
Record: 4-4 overall, 1-4 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 10
Everything was looking up for PSU after having their bowl ban lifted and winning their next two games. Yet, since opening the conference season with a nailbitter at Rutgers, they have four straight losses (though three have come down to the final possession).

9. Michigan Wolverines
Record: 4-5 overall, 2-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 13

With athletic director Dave Brandon gone on Friday and a solid win against Indiana on Saturday, it was actually a calm week for the Wolverines, who showed off their superior talent it has recruited.

10. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Record: 5-4 overall, 1-4 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 10
The Scarlet Knights have lost three straight by a combined score of 135-41, and the closest margin of defeat in that stretch is an 18-point loss to Nebraska. Yet Rutgers still hangs on to No. 9 in the Power Rankings this week

11. Purdue Boilermakers
Record: 3-6 overall, 1-4 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 11

There is no question, the Purdue Boilermakers are vastly improved from last season and have been relatively competitive in the past few weeks but that hasn’t translated into wins. A three-touchdown loss to Nebraska was Purdue’s third straight defeat in conference play.

12. Northwestern Wildcats
Record: 3-5 overall, 2-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 9
It sure seemed Northwestern was a legitimate dark horse in the Big Ten West race after two conference wins. However, since then, the Wildcats have suffered three consecutive losses and managed only 180 yards of total offense against Iowa last week

13. Illinois Fighting Illini
Record: 4-5 overall, 1-4 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 12
The euphoria from upsetting Minnesota vanished quickly as a far superior Ohio State team trampled over the helpless Illini. They are still a long way from being consistently competitive in the Big Ten.

14. Indiana Hoosiers
Record: 3-5 overall, 0-4 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 14
The Hoosiers will have a hard time winning a conference game this season with no threat at the quarterback position. And in 34-10 loss to Michigan the Wolverines demonstrated how to successfully contain Tevin Coleman.

Big Ten Power Rankings

The College Football Playoff rankings are officially out for the first time and what was once seen as a potential lifesaver for the Big Ten has done the conference no favors. The playoff was supposed to create three more opportunities at the title but at this juncture in time, not even six spots would be enough for the conference to qualify as MSU checks in at No. 8 in the initial rankings and in a mild but completely understandable surprise, Nebraska is 15th just ahead of Ohio State.
 
It is clear that the Buckeyes massive defeats were overshadowed by their blemishes including a double overtime scare from Penn State and a Week 2 home loss to an unranked 4-4 Virginia Tech team, even though it was before J.T. Barrett truly blossomed. Yes, I know there is a ton of football yet to be played and everything could become gobbledygook near the top but these early rankings are far from encouraging for the Big Ten. And just for argument’s sake even if the Spartans were ranked higher than they are now, they would need other leagues to stumble. Thursday night’s matchup between Florida State and Louisville would’ve been huge for the conference if Louisville hung on to win but the Seminoles came back and it’s hard to fathom them losing again this year, guaranteeing them a spot. And it’s all but certain given the strength of the SEC West, two SEC teams get in, leaving one spot left. The Big Ten would be in a competition with the Big 12 champ, Pac-12 champ, and Notre Dame for that final spot and based on what has transpired this season, I would say the Big Ten will be left out even if MSU, OSU or even Nebraska wins the rest of the way.
If there is any silver lining, last year at this time with the BCS, MSU was No. 22 and six weeks later would’ve qualified for a playoff spot so it remains to be seen what happens but early signs aren’t great for the Big Ten. All the conference can do is continue having its top tier teams win out and hope for the best, which brings us back to an updated power rankings lineup.
1. Michigan State Spartans
Record: 7-1 overall, 4-0 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 1.
The Spartans have now won 14 consecutive Big Ten games but unlike seasons past, their defense has been more vulnerable to the big play. Fortunately, after throttling Michigan again, MSU has earned a nice bye week to recuperate and work out the kinks in preparation for the biggest game of the year.
2. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Record: 7-1 overall, 3-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 3
Nebraska set the tone early as Ameer Abdullah continued his dazzling season by churning out a school record for total yardage in a single game with 341 yards in a victory over Rutgers. It was the fourth time this season he has gone over 200 yards.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Record: 7-1 overall, 3-0 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 2
The Buckeyes barely hung on to defeat Penn State as J.T. Barrett rose to the occasion in overtime and Joey Bosa was a one man wrecking crew. The Buckeyes can let out a collective sigh of relief as they face Illinois in a nice tune-up game before the grand showdown with MSU next weekend.
4. Wisconsin Badgers
Record: 5-2 overall, 2-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 9
In their most complete and balanced performance of the season, the Badgers shined with stout defense (held Terps to 175 yards), efficient passing from QB Joel Stave and of course, Melvin Gordon running over everything in his path. Rutgers, who was singlehandedly demolished by Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah could be in for another long day with Gordon hitting his stride.
5. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Record: 6-2 overall, 3-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 4
The Illinois defense forced three costly turnovers including the game-changing fumble in the fourth quarter and though David Cobb finished with118 yards, he was held to 34 yards for nearly three quarters. If they can’t get passed Illinois, they definitely are in trouble four top-tier teams are coming up in the future: Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
6. Maryland Terrapins
Record: 5-3 overall, 2-2 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 10
A week following a jovial win over Iowa, the Terrapins were decimated by Wisconsin 52-7 in their worst loss of the year and it remains to be seen if they can rebound from such a crushing defeat especially with a tough schedule ahead. The Terps aren’t ready to take on the B1Gs elite.
7. Iowa Hawkeyes
Record: 5-2 overall, 2-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 6
The Hawkeyes are still in the thick of the West division title race and control their own destiny even with a troubling loss to Maryland last week. However, if they want to rise to the top, there needs to be much improvement especially on defense and offensive line.
8. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Record: 5-3 overall, 1-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 8
Rutgers attempted to drive down the field in the final minute of the second quarter only to have QB Gary Nova suffer a leg injury and it proved to be costly, as the Scarlet Knights were handed their second straight loss after an encouraging six game start.
9. Northwestern Wildcats
Record: 3-4 overall, 2-2 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 5
Even with a 3-4 overall record, there is still plenty to play for in the coming weeks and we have seen spurts of brilliance from this team but if it is going to be a successful season, it has to start this week at Iowa. It also must win three of its final five games to become bowl eligible
10. Penn State Nittany Lions
Record: 4-3 overall, 1-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 7
Even in an overtime loss to Ohio State, Penn State delivered a valiant effort to comeback after a 17-0 deficit at halftime against the second best team in the conference. If only their offense was not so stagnant and had an offensive line that could adequately block to compliment a strong defense.
11. Purdue Boilermakers
Record: 3-5 overall, 1-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 12
Purdue was off last weekend in their quest for constant improvement following two competitive outings and a breakthrough win against Illinois. Now comes the hardest part of the schedule with Nebraska and Wisconsin next on tap.
12. Illinois Fighting Illini
Record: 4-4 overall, 1-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 14
A poised effort from QB Reilly O’Toole coupled with decisive defense and solid coaching helped the Illini put away Minnesota in their first Big Ten win since 2011. They will need their defense to play like it did against Minnesota if they are to win two more games and make a bowl.
13. Michigan Wolverines
Record: 3-5 overall, 1-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 13
Even with two weeks to prepare for MSU, the Wolverines looked dazed and confused especially on offense in another lackadaisical outing and need to win out the rest of the season just to finish above .500.
14. Indiana Hoosiers
Record: 3-4 overall, 0-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 11
It is hard to imagine how far this team has fallen ever since their signature win over Missouri, arguably the best nonconference victory of the Big Ten. Yet, without injured QB Nate Sudfeld, the Hoosiers are a one-man show with Tevin Coleman and he can’t do everything by himself.

State of the Big Ten

What a difference several weeks can make especially in the cyclical, turbulent world of college football. Following a historically horrific first three weeks (1-10 against Power 5 opponents), the Big Ten looked dead in the water and was on the chopping block for elimination from the inaugural College Football Playoff.

The Source: US PRESSWIRE
The Source: US PRESSWIRE

Fast forward seven weeks later and much of that negativity is ancient history. More importantly, the Big Ten is right back in the thick of the playoff discussion and with the exception of Florida State, looks arguably in better shape than the ACC with three teams ranked in the top 16 in the Associated Press and coaches’ polls.
Now if you’re not down with the Big Ten, take a look around the rest of the nation. The other power five conferences aren’t exactly shaping up like we expected just a few short weeks ago.
SEC fans will argue that the SEC beats itself up, and to a certain extent, that’s true. But with highly ranked SEC teams falling each week like dominoes and so many big games left before the playoff is set, it makes sense to believe that any Big Ten team has a reasonable chance to fit into the playoff picture at 12-1.
As far as the conference is concerned, comparing the East and West is almost night and day. It is no secret that the most likely Big Ten champion is coming from the East and will be between powerhouses Michigan State or Ohio State. If they both continue to pummel their competition as they have in the past few weeks, both teams early season losses do not look so bad if the committee takes into account both losses occurred when the season just started. Admittedly, though, if Ohio State wins the all-important November 8 matchup against MSU it maybe a harder argument to consider them seeing their lone loss was against an unranked Virginia Tech team. On the flipside, the committee may take into account it was before the true blossoming of J.T. Barrett.
In the muddled, wild West, five teams all have legitimate shots to win the division and no one knows who the champion will be although in recent weeks, Nebraska has appeared to be the most talented and balanced team.
Minnesota, which was firing on all cylinders having won three games in a row, remained hot with a come-from-behind home win against Purdue, whose defense surrendered 194 rushing yards to Golden Gophers running back, David Cobb. 6-1 Minnesota is all alone atop the West with a victory over Northwestern as their signature win and can’t be excluded from the division championship race even though their remaining schedule is brutal. At 3-0, it controls its destiny as the lone unbeaten team within Big 10 play.
Right behind Minnesota is Nebraska and Iowa.
Nebraska beat Northwestern at home this week for one of their top victories this year and gave MSU all it could handle and more as it rallied back from a 24 point deficit only to fall short in East Lansing in Week 7.
Iowa on the other hand, has an ugly early season loss to a struggling Iowa State team and was incredibly ineffective on offense against Maryland this past weekend, which resulted in a 38-31 loss.
Iowa is a team that is the definition of inconsistency and is facing an identity crisis at the quarterback position. Yet, Iowa still is in the Big Ten race as many pundits picked them to win the West due to their favorable schedule, but dreams of a truly special season for Kirk Ferentz’s squad are now much tougher to make reality.
Behind them, Northwestern started out strong with two solid conference wins over Penn State and Wisconsin only to drop their next two games to Minnesota and Nebraska for a 3-4, 2-2 record. The Wildcats offense sputtered against the Huskers as none of their passes went longer than 23 yards. The offensive limitations stem from the fact they lack explosive receivers, who can’t stretch the field and a quarterback who doesn’t possess a strong arm. They also lost their star tailback Venric Mark and potential downfield threat, Christian Jones.
Bringing up the rear is Wisconsin at 5-2, 1-1. If Wisconsin doesn’t have a passing game, the offense is in trouble and Wisconsin doesn’t have a passing game. The Badgers passers have been downright dreadful at times and are unreliable. The Badgers still have talented running backs in Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement; however, the offensive line has struggled to control the line of scrimmage especially in their two loses.
When the Wisconsin offense struggles, the No. 1 defense in the Big Ten comes to clean the mess up though they have given up big plays marked by poor coverage, especially in the secondary. It is hard to write off Wisconsin in the West race, especially when you think back to 2012 and the Badgers won the Big Ten title with a 4-4 conference record.
The Big Ten is in a slightly favorable position right now but the pendulum has swung back and forth between relevancy and irrelevancy all year long. It is tough to say what exactly the state of the conference truly is but it is remarkably better than when the season started and I, as a big ten fan, feel much more confident in the conference’s chances to actually field a playoff team especially with other conferences beating each other up in conference play.

Big Ten Week 7 Sampler

Best of the Best
Rutgers QB Gary Nova: For the second week in a row, Gary Nova once again makes the list for his stellar performance, throwing for three touchdowns and over 400 yards, and leading the Scarlet Knights to their first Big Ten victory in front of a home crowd at High Point Solutions Stadium.
Northwestern S Godwin Igwebuike: He recorded 8 tackles and picked off three poorly thrown Joel Stave passes including two in the endzone and one late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. His three interceptions tie a school record and took his first career Defensive Player of the Week award.
Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay: The Rutgers front seven not only leads the nation in sacks, but they also possess the leader in blocked kicks. Turay leads the nation with three blocked kicks including a field goal attempt with 3:01 remaining in the fourth quarter by Michigan to help Rutgers hold on for the 26-24 decision.
Worst of the Worst
Illinois defense: It is No. 112 in total defense and it clearly showed as Purdue totaled 551 yards, 349 of which came on the ground in a 38-27 loss. If the Boilermakers could rack up that many yards, I cringe when I think about the Illini having to stop Melvin Gordon and Wisconsin’s vaunted rushing attack.
Michigan secondary: While it has been the offense that has sputtered mostly through the season, the defense, which was ranked near the top in the country, struggled mightily against Rutgers, surrendering over 400 yards and allowing Nova to complete passes to nine different receivers.
 
Game Previews
1. Northwestern (3-2, 2-0) at Minnesota (4-1, 1-0). Who would’ve thought heading into the season that this would be a marquee matchup as each is emerging as a potential contender in the Big Ten West? For Northwestern, it has been night and day. After opening losses to Cal and Northern Illinois, the Wildcats have won three games in a row and are atop the division with a 2-0 Big Ten mark. A victory here for the Wildcats means only them and the Hawkeyes (assuming they defeat Indiana) would remain undefeated in B1G play in the West, and no one would be able to count Northwestern out of the race for the conference title. The Wildcats’ defense has played great, but Trevor Siemian has to be more accurate and consistent. Both of the teams are anchored by strong defenses so whichever offense can gain momentum figures to come away with a W. The Golden Gophers nabbed a victory in Evanston last season, while the Wildcats won their last three trips to Minneapolis.
2. Penn State (4-1, 1-1) at Michigan (2-4, 0-2). The Wolverines are last in the Big Ten in scoring (22.3 ppg) and will have to face a Nittany Lions defense which is No. 2 overall in the league in yards allowed (288.8) This doesnt bode well for the Wolverines as they have lost four in a row vs. the Nittany Lions, including last year’s quadruple overtime defeat. As for Penn State, it was off last week after being exposed in a 29-6 home loss to Northwestern in which it didn’t score a touchdown. The question is can this frequently overpowered offense that can’t run the ball (13th in the Big Ten, 101.0 ypg) find success against Michigan’s D-line? Christian Hackenberg hasn’t thrown a TD pass in the last three games as he has been under constant duress but he faces an underwhelming D-line that hasn’t generated even minimal pressure against any of its opponents especially against Rutgers. The winner in the trenches will likely be the one who comes out on top.
3. Indiana (3-2, 0-1) at Iowa (4-1, 1-0). The Hawkeyes maybe 4-1 with a consistently strong defense but have struggled on offense especially running the ball. In fact, the offense ranks 97th nationally in scoring (22.6 ppg) and 91st in yards (372.4 ypg). Iowa’s biggest concern is a run game averaging just 3.6 yards per carry and Kirk Ferentz wants to play both quarterbacks. As for the Hoosiers, they resoundly rebounded from a disappointing home loss to Maryland by crushing North Texas and a struggling Indiana defense that is 12th in the Big Ten may have a chance for success against a struggling Iowa offense. This could be a good challenge for the Hoosiers’ offense which has run the ball better than it passes it (10th in the Big Ten). The last time these teams met, the Hoosiers won 24-21 in Bloomington in 2012. IU last won in Iowa City in 2007.
4. Michigan State (4-1, 1-0) at Purdue (3-3, 1-1). The Boilermakers will face a tall order when they take on the Spartans, who have won the last five against Purdue and will arrive in West Lafayette looking to extend that streak. As the best team in the Big Ten, MSU can’t afford a flat performance like last year when they won just 14-0 in East Lansing. The Boilermakers also come in with momentum, coming off their first Big Ten win since 2012. The offense came to life under QB Austin Appleby, but can Purdue remain competitive and have sustained drives going against an always-stout Spartan defense?
5. Illinois (3-3, 0-2) at Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1). Both of these teams come into Camp Randall Stadium limping and looking for anything that can salvage their seasons. The Badgers were embarrassed at Northwestern and were rendered obsolete with inconsistent, spotty quarterback performances. Gary Anderson said he will utilize both quarterbacks in the future. Other than that, this rushing offense has continued to churn out chunks of yardage behind Melvin Gordon. He will be licking his chops as he faces an Illini defense that ranks 119th out of 125 FBS teams in rushing defense, allowing 249.5 yards per game on the ground. the defense is also responding, ranking No. 1 overall in the Big Ten (285.6 ypg). The Fighting Illini are a mess on both sides of the ball. Not only do they have the worst defense in the Big Ten (35.5 ppg; 482.3 ypg), but their offense will be without QB Wes Lunt for four-to-six weeks with a broken leg. Wisconsin has blanketed Illinois as of late, going 13-3-1 in the last 17 meetings. The Fighting Illini’s last win in Madison came in 2002.
 
Power Rankings
1 Michigan State Spartans
Record: 4-1 overall, 1-0 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 1
Despite Michigan State barely holding on for an 11th straight conference win, they showed why they are the best as the defense held the Cornhuskers to their lowest output on the ground (47 yards) since 2007. The offense is generating first downs and points (leads the Big Ten in scoring at 45.6 ppg) at a prolific pace and Connor Cook looks even better than last year.
2 Ohio State Buckeyes
Record: 4-1 overall, 1-0 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 3
J.T. Barrett continues to looks more at ease conducting Urban Meyers offense every time he is on the field. The offense is clicking as Barrett accounted for five touchdowns as Ohio State racked up 52 points against Maryland. Ohio State may have a lackluster loss to Virginia Tech , but it has climbed its way back to the conference’s top tier with a convincing win on the road.
3 Nebraska Cornhuskers
Record: 5-1 overall, 1-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 2
The Huskers may have rushed for just 47 yards on 1.3 per carry and allowed five sacks but no one can say the Cornhuskers are quitters after their resilient 4th quarter comeback, erasing most of a 24-point deficit on the road. Their effort kept thems from falling farther down the rankings.
4 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Record: 4-1 overall, 1-0 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 6
The Gophers move up for the simple fact that they did not play and lose a game this past Saturday. Plus, their 30-7 loss to TCU doesnt look as bad as Oklahoma was defeated by the Horned Frogs. Anchored by a strong defense and reliable rushing attack, Minnesota has a chance to be 8-1 midway through November.
5 Northwestern Wildcats
Record: 3-2 overall, 2-0 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 11
No team comes in hotter than Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats, who have undergone a radical transformation within the past two weeks. Following losses to Cal and Northern Illinois, NW has back-to-back upsets including a strong victory over Wisconsin despite Melvin Gordon’s career day. That performance vaults the Wildcats into the upper echelon and now, have a chance to validate itself as a bonafide contender in the wide open West.
6 Iowa Hawkeyes
Record: 4-1 overall, 1-0 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 7
Somehow Iowa has managed to stay in the top half of the league despite its virtually non-existent offense and without scoring more than 24 points in its last four Yet, it remains to be seen who is the real quarterback of this team. Beathard is the more dynamic of the two but Rudock, who is slated to start against Indiana, has been more consistent.
7 Penn State Nittany Lions
Record: 4-1 overall, 1-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 8
The Nittany Lions got some much needed time to re-evaluate themselves and prepare for a prime time game at the Big House. Yes, there were blanketed by Northwestern but they still have a solid defense that should win some games, and the pass game has potential with young wideouts Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton.
8 Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Record: 5-1 overall, 1-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 9
Kyle Flood proved he should be the frontrunner for Big Ten Coach of the Year with his smart gameplan that picked apart a porous Wolverine secondary. Rutgers has been the surprise of this season and fans showed their gratitude by storming the field after a 26-24 decision over a struggling Michigan program. And to think this team could be 6-0 barring a fourth quarter comeback by Penn State.
9 Wisconsin Badgers
Record: 3-2 overall, 0-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 4
The Badgers certainly have a quarterback problem as neither Tanner McEvoy nor Joel Stave looked poised or comfortable against a rugged Northwestern defense as was clearly shown with countless incompletions and three turnovers. Plus, despite Melvin Gordon running for 249 yards, the Badgers somehow managed to total 14 points in all.
10Maryland Terrapins
Record: 4-2 overall, 1-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 5
Maryland has weapons on offense that can strike at any moment but a total of 66 rushing yards against OSU doomed them from the start. Fortunately, The Terrapins are 3-0 on the road, so if they can take care of business at home, they’ll secure a nice bowl trip.
11Indiana Hoosiers
Record: 3-2 overall, 0-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 10
There have been flashes of brilliance like the upset of Missouri and Tevin Colemans outstanding production, but it’s mostly been a stagnant, disappointing journey for Kevin Wilson’s team. Plus, even with a 49-24 thrashing of North Texas, it will need to pull an improbable upset over a tough opponent to be bowl eligible.
12 Purdue Boilermakers
Record: 3-3 overall, 1-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 14
Freshman quarterback Austin Appleby injected life into an offense that totaled 551 yards and the rushing game took off with 349 rushing yards behind Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert. Purdue fans should be optimistic after the team’s first conference win under Darrell Hazell and the first Big Ten victory since 2012,
13 Michigan Wolverines
Record: 2-4 overall, 0-2 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 13
The offense was clicking and Devin Gardner played consistently during stretches, but the defense surrendered over 400 passing yards to Rutgers. Nothing on the Wolverines schedule looks like a given and Michigan will basically need divine intervention to pull off a few upsets to become bowl eligible.
14 Illinois Fighting Illini
Record: 3-3 overall, 0-2 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 12
The Illini are now in the basement following a disheartening loss to perrenial cellar-dweller Purdue. Wes Lunt threw for 332 yards in the losing effort but had to leave the game with a fractured leg and to add insult to injury, the defense was non-existent as it gave up 551 total yards including 349 rushing yards to Purdue.

Big Ten Week 6 Sampler

Best of the Best
Rutgers QB Gary Nova: Nova threw four touchdowns in the Scarlet Knights’ 31-6 win over Tulane, hitting 9 of 9 throws for 195 yards and three scores in the first half alone. As a result, he became the school leader in passing touchdowns with 61 in 38 games.
Maryland LB Cole Farrand: He recorded 19 tackles, the highest single-game tackle total in the Big Ten this season, including 1.5 tackles for loss, to lead Maryland over Indiana.
Minnesota RB David Cobb: He ran for 183 yards on 32 carries and had three catches for 50 yards as Minnesota retook the Little Brown Jug. Cobb outgained the Wolverines’ entire offense (171 yards) all by himself.
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett The redshirt freshman is quickly becoming the Buckeyes’ leader. In Ohio State’s 50-28 over Cincinnati, Barrett completed 26-of-36 passes for 330 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions. He also ran for 79 yards on 14 carries.
Worst of the Worst
Michigan QB Shane Morris: He was supposed to jumpstart and energize the offense as he started for the maligned Devin Gardner but was completely ineffective as he was just 7 for 19 for 49 yards and turned the ball over twice including a pick six by De’Vondre Campbell. Minnesota held the Michigan offense to a grand total of 171 yards.
Penn State Offensive Line: The Nittany Lions have problems on their offensive line and, consequently, in the running game. Northwestern exploited that in as Penn State ran for only 50 total yards, and Christian Hackenberg was sacked four times while also throwing a pick six that broke the game wide open in the fourth.
Illinois Rush Defense: The Illinois Fighting Illini were pretty much doomed from the start. By halftime, Heisman Trophy candidate Ameer Abdullah had rushed for 196 of his 208 yards and scored three touchdowns. In fact, Nebraska churned out a staggering 458 rushing yards out of 624 total yards in the game. The Illini have now lost 16 out of their last 17 Big Ten games.
 
Week 6 Game Previews
Wisconsin vs NW
The Badgers have had considerably sluggish starts in two of their victories, leading Western Illinois just 9-3 at halftime before a 37-3 win and being tied with South Florida 3-3 at halftime before a 27-10 win. A similar start could be hard to overcome since Northwestern (2-2, 1-0) has allowed 13 points, forced six turnovers and recorded eight sacks over the past two weeks. Plus, even though Wisconsin leads the nation in rushing yards per game at 359.7, the Wildcats have held opponents to 2.9 yards per carry after holding Penn State to 50 yards on 25 carries.
Fortunately, the Badgers’ defense, which allows a conference-low 14.5 points per game, has helped them overcome their slow starts. Wisconsin has allowed an average of 226.0 yards in its three victories and has let its four opponents convert just 26.9 percent of their third downs. In last seasons game, the Badger defense came up huge as Wildcats QB Trevor Siemian was sacked five times while converting 13 of 34 passes for 163 yards. Wisconsin is the only FBS squad yet to give up a red zone touchdown this season.
Nebraska vs MSU
In a potential preview of the Big Ten title game, Michigan State, widely considered as the best team in the conference, will take on rival Nebraska, the last remaining undefeated team. Both teams have high-octane offenses. The Spartans are No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring (50.2 ppg); the Cornhuskers are No. 2 (45.4 ppg). Nebraska is No. 1 in total offense (572.6 ypg); Michigan State is No. 3 (515.0 ypg). It will come down to who commits less turnovers. Last November in Lincoln, Michigan State beat the Cornhuskers 41-28 as Bo Pelini’s team committed five turnovers, leading to 24 Spartans points. I expect the game plan for Saturday to include a heavy dose of senior Ameer Abdullah. In the last four years, Nebraska is 18-3 when Abdullah runs for at least 100 yards, and Michigan State is 6-5 during that time when allowing a player to rush for 100. If Michigan State wins, there are no more doubts about the Spartans being the best Big Ten team. If Nebraska comes away with the victory, it should vault itself into the College Football Playoff debate.
Michigan vs Rutgers
Unless Michigan somehow wins the rest of its games, it is pretty much set in stone, at least in my opinion, that Brady Hoke is gone – the only question is when – and is almost laughable that he still thinks this team is capable of winning the Big Ten title. Heading into this weekend, Michigan is a four-point underdog to Rutgers and the Scarlet Knights are playing well, their lone loss coming by three points, 40-37 against West Virginia. A Wolverines’ attack that is last in the Big Ten in scoring (22.0 ppg), 11th in total offense (357.6 ypg) and 12th in passing (172.2 ypg) may find it tough to gain any traction going against a solid RU defensive seven in front of an electric crowd at High Point Solutions Stadium. If Rutgers wants to reach a bowl, it likely will need to win this game with a such a hard schedule coming up. The Scarlet Knights are off after this weekend then play at Ohio State and at Nebraska before coming home to play Wisconsin. Absolutely Brutal.
Ohio State vs Maryland Maryland’s offense is firing on all cylinders, displaying explosive playmaking on both sides of the ball and ranking fifth in the conference in scoring (36.8 ppg). And even though its defense stepped up in last week’s win at Indiana by yielding only 332 yards and 15 points (one TD), the Terps are No. 13 in the league in defense (434.8 ypg) The Buckeyes’ attack also is playing well, ranking No. 3 in the Big Ten in scoring (42.8 ppg) and finished with 710 yards and a school record 45 (!) first downs in a victory over Cincy. But like Maryland, the OSU defense remains suspect. The Buckeyes allowed 422 yards overall and 352 in the air vs. Cincinnati. This could turn into a good old shootout. Maryland could have a big say in the East and if they can somehow knock off Ohio State, it instantly goes from a darkhorse in the Big Ten title race to a legitimate contender. Meanwhile, Ohio State has bounced back nicely after struggling early with a new quarterback and revamped offensive line.
Illinois vs. Purdue
In 2013, the only Big Ten win for the Fighting Illini was an ugly 20-16 win with four turnovers at Purdue to make Tim Beckman 1-16 in conference play. Boilermakers coach Darrell Hazell is still searching for his first Big Ten victory, holding an 0-9 mark and still doesn’t know who to start at quarterback. Purdue needs to revv up its offense (last in the league, 312.0 ypg) while Illinois needs to buckle down on defense (last in the league, 468.6 ypg) especially against the run, giving up 229.6 yards per game. They have given up 1,304 yards and 10 TDs on the ground in the first five games. Only Fresno State and Bowling Green are worse. Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt missed last week with an injury, but he is expected to return this week. He has completed two thirds of his passes and is already well over 1,200 yards. Illinois hasn’t won the Cannon trophy in consecutive seasons since 2002 and Purdue leads the series by a 32-27-2 mark. This Saturday’s meeting will be the 90th meeting between the Illini and the Boilermakers.
North Texas vs. Indiana
The 2-2 North Texas Mean Green of the MAC, coached by Dan McCarney could be a formidable challenge for the Hoosiers as they try to get to 3-2 through five games for the first time since 1995. Indiana’s running back Tevin Coleman, who leads the conference in rushing at 172.8 yards per game and has rushed for over 200 yards in every game this year, takes on a defense that has held three consecutive opponents under 100 yards rushing. Indiana will look to key in on redshirt freshman QB Dajon Williams who completed 11 out of 14 passes for 176 yards with three touchdowns and also ran in two scores. In fact, North Texas is one of only seven FBS teams to score on every trip inside the 20 this season, with 11 touchdowns and two field goals. Indiana lost at North Texas in 2011, the only meeting between the schools.
Power Rankings
1. Michigan State Spartans (3-1, 0-0)
Previous Ranking: 1
No change here as the Spartans ate another nonconference cupcake, taking out Wyoming quickly and decisively in another blowout. MSU is in for a big home test against Nebraska in what could be a preview for the Big Ten title game and prove if the Spartans are the cream of the crop.
2. Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-0, 1-0)
Previous Ranking: 2
Ameer Abdullah pummeled the Fighting Illini for 208 total yards and raised his Heisman Trophy campaign while Nebraska remained unbeaten with a blowout over Illinois. If the Huskers can pull off the upset versus MSU, they will not only be the Big Ten’s leading playoff candidate but also a player in the national title hunt.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes (3-1, 0-0)
Previous Ranking: 4
With a 50-28 victory over Cincinatti, the OSU Buckeyes looked like an Urban Meyer team as redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett played like a seasoned veteran and Ezekial Elliott gained 182 yards on the ground. The pass defense is still highly susceptible and needs to be fixed but everything else is running fairly smoothly.
4. Wisconsin Badgers (3-1, 0-0)
Previous Ranking: 5
It remains to be seen who the Badgers really are. Their defense has played solid and kept them in games and while their offense is one of the best running attacks, it has also been inconsistent and lost for periods of time. Fortunately, Wisconsin heads into Saturday with some momentum as Melvin Gordon scored two touchdowns and racked up 131 yards in the second half.
5. Maryland Terrapins (4-1, 1-0)
Previous Ranking: 6
Many scoffed when Maryland was invited to come to the Big Ten saying they would be a doormat but low and behold, this team is showing it is definitely worthy and is achieving more than what might have been expected. Maryland is poised to become an undisputed contender in the East Division with a signature victory over Ohio State this weekend.
6. Minnesota (4-1, 1-0)
Previous Ranking: 10
The Gophers could be – no check that – are a team that will have an impact on the West Division if they continue to play relentless, solid defense and utilize their reliable rushing attack that has stymied opponents. Minnesota definitely earned the Little Brown Jug, holding Michigan to just 171 total yards offensively and pounding the rock with David Cobb for 183 yards.
7. Iowa Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-0)
Previous Ranking:8
The Hawkeyes are fortunate they head into a bye week after a sloppy, forgettable performance against Purdue, where they were down 10-0 before rallying for a 24 point turnaround. This team likes to live on the edge as that was the third come-from-behind victory of the young season and one of these times, being down late in the fourth quarter will come back to haunt them.
8. Penn State Nittany Lions (4-1, 1-1)
Previous Ranking: 3
Even though they won their first four games, Christian Hackenberg has struggled at times and their offensive line has been exploited by opposing defenses. In fact, Northwestern held PSU to just 50 yards on 25 carries Saturday. The Lions are just two victories away from being bowl eligible, something almost inconceivable before the season began yet need more consistency for that to be a reality.
9. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-1, 0-1)
Previous Ranking: 7
Even without their starting running back Paul James, backups Desmon Peoples and Justin Goodwin played just fine, combining for 165 yards, while Gary Nova had his best outing of the season, throwing for four touchdowns. Now more than ever, Rutgers has a chance to claim its first conference victory over a disjointed, struggling Michigan team.
10. Indiana Hoosiers (2-2, 0-1)
Previous Ranking: 9
Just when the Hoosiers appeared to turn the page with an upset over Missouri, they reverted back to their old selves, getting humiliated by the Terrapins at home. The defense didnt even show up and cant be trusted while the high-octane, high-scoring offense was held in check to only a single touchdown.
11. Northwestern Wildcats (2-2, 1-0)
Previous Ranking: 14
The Wildcats were all but written off at 1-2 and stuck in the basement of the Big Ten until they decided to actually play against Penn State, which resulted in a stunning upset on the road. They completely shut down the Nittany Lion’s run game and if they can do that this weekend against Wisconsin, things could get really interesting down in Evanston.
12. Illinois Fighting Illini (3-2, 0-1)
Previous Ranking: 12
In spite of the shortcomings of the porous Illini defense, Wes Lunt’s arm has made them an offensive threat and an intriguing team to watch. However, Illinois had no shot at beating the Cornhuskers on the road with him on the sideline. Fortunately, they should get back on track this weekend when they take on a reeling Purdue team.
13. Michigan Wolverines (2-3, 0-1)
Previous Ranking: 11
It continues to blow my mind how low Michigan continues to plummet week after week and just when you think it couldn’t get possibly any worse, it does. Starting Shane Morris at quarterback did nothing to jumpstart and energize an offense but was completely ineffective as he was just 7 for 19 for 49 yards and turned the ball over twice including a pick six by De’Vondre Campbell.
14. Purdue (2-3, 0-1)
Previous Ranking: 13
Another weekend, same result. The Purdue Boilermakers came out strong against the Hawkeyes and the defense played ok for several stretches but in the end, they predictably fell apart as they accumulated just 72 yards in the air. It remains to be seen who will be the quarterback this weekend as both Danny Etling and Austin Appleby threw interceptions.