Big Ten Football: Revisiting the Power Structure at the Top of the Conference
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One week of college football is in the books. And as we shut the door on Week 1, it's time to put together some power rankings for the top-five teams in the Big Ten. Yes, we're stopping at five because, let's be honest, you're not interested in whether, say, Iowa or Indiana looks stronger at this point. The top of the conference is what drives the story on the state of the Big Ten, so let's take a look.
1. Michigan State
We've seen teams beat Boise State before. It hasn't happened often, but it has happened. Usually, it's because of a late lapse or two by the Broncos, or impeccable execution by their opponent. Rarely, however, is it because Boise just gets worn down and broken over 60 minutes.
That's what Michigan State did, even with a horror show of a passing game and while practically giving the Broncos all 13 of their points (interception returned for TD, two more drives that started in field goal range). The defense held Boise to only one drive that went more than 35 yards, and that drive ended in a pick.
Meanwhile, the offense kept feeding Le'Veon Bell the ball, and the result was 44 carries, six catches, two TDs and a starring role in both the go-ahead touchdown drive and the clinching, clock-killing drive thereafter. Bell touched the ball 14 times in the last quarter alone, and there was nothing Boise State could do to stop him or the Spartans.
Yes, the Broncos had a boatload of new starters, but anyone watching that game could tell those guys were ready to play. Bell and the MSU O-line just crushed them late. And if it can happen to Boise, it can happen to your team too.
2. Ohio State
No, the Buckeyes won't get to play Miami (Ohio) every week. No, Devin Smith isn't going to make it onto SportsCenter every week with impossible catches. And no, Braxton Miller isn't going to rush for 161 yards every week. But my oh my, that did not look like a team in Week 1 of a new offense under a new head coach. That looked like a team that is ready to go to work right now.
UCF is going to present an ostensibly tougher challenge, and we'll know much more about how legit this Buckeyes team is in a few days.
For now, though? We're buying.
What we did not expect on any level, however, was a five-point win for Wisconsin over Northern Iowa. Now, as FCS teams go, UNI is pretty strong; it's a perennial top-25 program and lost one-point games to Iowa State in 2011 and Iowa in 2009.
But at the same time, Wisconsin had won its last three games over FCS opponents by an average of 49 points.
Danny O'Brien was ruthlessly efficient and looked more or less good to go at quarterback. But Montee Ball never got going against a defense that was determined to stop the ground game, and let's be honest—usually, with Wisconsin's offensive line, it doesn't matter how determined the other team is to stop the ground game.
Ball racked only 120 yards and a touchdown versus the Panthers. Yes, "only." With 30 carries, he should have been up near 200 and at least two scores. Wisconsin's offensive line was a letdown here, and it's been a while since we've had to say that. If that becomes a trend, the Badgers won't merit a spot this high on the list.
Taylor Martinez threw for five touchdowns. In one game. And they were all touchdowns for his team. He didn't even throw an interception. Taylor Martinez.
We'll see how the Huskers do away from home with a trip to UCLA this week, and that's not quite the slam dunk it looked like on paper a few weeks ago. UCLA looked far more explosive in its opener against Rice than it has in years (which, granted, was against Rice), and Nebraska may be without the services of Rex Burkhead, who's nursing a low-grade sprained MCL.
If Nebraska can get past the Bruins—especially if Burkhead's workload is reduced or nonexistent—it'll likely warrant a move up in the rankings. Then again, it always seems like Bad Taylor Martinez is always just a throwaway. We'll see if this is the same ol' Nebraska or something special.
Congratulations, Michigan, you won't have to play Alabama again this year. That debacle's over. And suffice it to say, those didn't look like two teams that were going to end up in the same bowl game at year's end.
That said, Alabama's going to make the vast majority of its schedule look bad this year, possibly even a team ranked higher than Michigan was coming into the game. So while it's probably time to dial back expectations for the Wolverines this year, we don't need to dial them back too far. Not yet, anyway.
But man, if Courtney Avery keeps getting torched and the team keeps missing Blake Countess all year, that could submarine Michigan's division title hopes right off the bat. Brady Hoke's defense needs guys to step up in a big way over the course of the year.
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