Here's an interesting question after this, the third week of college football action in the Big Ten: Is the Big Ten that bad?
We all know that Ohio State, Michigan, and Northwestern are the best teams in the conference, with Wisconsin and Michigan State part of the conversation, and maybe even in the team picture. But, really: which team is the worst team in the Big Ten?
5. Bottom rises up: Say this about the Big Ten: there might not be any truly bad teams, if Saturday's action was a true indicator. Purdue occupied the bottom spot in our power rankings for good reason, but the Boilermakers battled Notre Dame to the wire. Darrell Hazell's team showed far more fire, resolve and offensive cohesion than it had in its first two games. Though the schedule remains brutal, Purdue has something to build on with that effort. Illinois had a prove-it game against Washington, and while the Illini lost 34-24, they kept battling back and stayed competitive throughout. This still looks like a vastly improved team over last year's 2-10 version. Iowa came through with a much-needed victory over rival Iowa State on the road. The Hawkeyes physically dominated their Big 12 foe, outrushing the Cyclones 218-59. The score didn't have any business being as close as 27-21, and Iowa's lack of big-play ability will hurt it down the line. But Kirk Ferentz's team ran it 60 times on Saturday and has an identity in its power ground game. None of these three teams will be pushovers in Big Ten play if they can replicate this weekend's performances.
Pretty much your standard Big Ten non-conference weekend, when you think about it.
The statement above by Rittenberg and Bennett is worthy of consideration, though, that there are truly no bad teams in the conference. This is really the first time that's been a true statement in some years. Even the so-called bad teams are showing elements of "decent" in their wins and losses on the season. Let's take a look at the conference as a whole, from perceived bottom to perceived top.
The Boilermakers had a tough go of it to start the season, serving as punching bag for the University of Cincinnati, but Darrell Hazel's bunch rebounded against FCS Indiana State, and stayed right with a top-25 Notre Dame squad, reeling from a loss the previous week to Michigan. Purdue is never an easy out, especially for the Buckeyes, and should prove to be a very interesting foe when they open conference play against Wisconsin next week.
Normally, a Kirk Ferentz stealing money joke is appropriate, but the Hawkeyes have bounced back after an opening week loss to Northern Illinois, and handled Iowa State for some weird corn trophy. They were impressive when they did it, too, relying on Mark Weisman's 145 yards, and a defense that held the Cyclones to just 59 yards on the ground.
The Illini are clearly a different team than they were last year. Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit had, for the first two weeks of the season, an offense that was clicking as few really expected. A buzzsaw game against a surprising Washington team gave the Illini their first loss, but they should move to 3-1 after welcoming in Miami University this weekend.
Penn State (2-1)
It is probably going to be up-and-down for the Nittany Lions for the next few years, and this game was no exception. But Central Florida, which gave the Buckeyes fits last year, is undefeated with a season-making game against South Carolina next week. It's a minor slip for O'Brien's team, but this is still a good offense capable of making good plays.
Jerry Kill (whether he's on the sidelines or not) has an undefeated team that is three wins away from going bowling in (probably) December. Okay.
Forever a basketball school and football pushover, Kevin Wilson has turned the Hoosiers into a reputable offensive machine. 156 points thru three games should make most conference defenses a little bit queasy. 80 points allowed on the season, however, should make opposing offenses lick their chops.
WISCONSIN AND UCLA JUST SCORED AGAIN. Bo Pelini needs to fix his defense in a hurry, but the offense, which was up by 18 at one point, is still as scary as ever. Taylor Martinez has nine TDs this year already, with only one INT to his name.
Michigan State (3-0)
Did a Jim Bollman-coached team hang 55 on Youngstown State? SPARTY YES!
Ok, let's take a minute and talk about the Badgers. For the last few years, Wisconsin has typically done three things, and three things well. First, they use a starting QB who is a retread from the ACC (see: Wilson, Russel; O'Brien, Danny). Second, they are able to slot in anyone at running back who can destroy an opposing defense and control the clock (see: Ball, Monte; Gordon, Melvin). And finally, they poorly represent the conference in losing every Rose Bowl in which they play (see: here; here; here).
In losing to Arizona State, regardless of how you feel they lost that game, you know that Wisconsin is going to be a difficult game for every team that has the opportunity to play them. Arizona State is sneaky good, like several outfits from the Pac-12 this year. And if Stave had taken a knee like, I don't know, EVERY SINGLE QUARTERBACK IN HISTORY HAS, than the Badgers would be looking at 3-0 with no problems. But things went the way things went, Arizona State lost, and Melvin Gordon still ran for over 190 yards. This is a good football team.
This is probably as good a Northwestern team as there has been in Evanston since the 90s when the Wildcats played in a few Rose Bowls. What they do against Wisconsin and Michigan and Ohio State will be interesting, and the biggest game in the program's recent history will be the upcoming night tilt against the Buckeyes.
Better play-calling by a Bowden, and Michigan is staring at "Appalachian State 2: The Electric Akron Bugaloo". But Brady Hoke's team won again, at home, where he hasn't lost a game since the early 2000s.
Ohio State (3-0)
Forget the fact that Kenny Guiton could start for pretty much every team in this conference, and probably 90% of the teams in the country right now. His aerial assault > Cal's air raid, and Guiton is doing all of this under the supposed moniker of "backup". Having Jordan "Better Call" Hall lined up next to him can't hurt the conference's premier team.
So is there a bad team in the conference? Purdue isn't great, but they can play with top-20 teams. Illinois stumbled, but their offense is legit. Even Iowa looks dangerous as a power running team. Even at the bottom, the talent and ability is there, and the Big Ten is beginning to get out of the gutter it has been in for the last five years, at least in the hearts and minds of the fans and pollsters who have entrenched them there. Is the Big Ten good this year? So far, the teams are proving that yes, the conference is good this year.
Or, at least for now, not anywhere near as bad as it has been.