Normally we would save the likes of Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne for the Halloween weekend to keep with the spirit of the season. However, the grim feast that awaited Big Ten fans last Saturday made it fitting to call up Ozzy and have him come play some themes for this week's power rankings.
When the teams in a conference go 6-6 in a non-conference play week, there will inevitably be some moving and shaking in the rankings. Indeed, every single team has moved at least a spot upward or downward thanks to last Saturday's bloodbath. While some teams survived, others could not get out of their own way.
So where will your favorite team land? It will certainly be a wild ride, with a team that has never been at the bottom of the rankings finding the cellar and a familiar face approaching the top spot. As Ozzy belts out a warm-up tune of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (to commemorate the carnage of Week 2), let's take a look at the best and the worst the Big Ten has to offer.
These Lions were sad in a loss to Virginia...sound familiar?
Theme Song: "No More Tears"
Despite going into another game with depleted ranks, the Nittany Lions once again played tough against a quality opponent in Virginia. However, another heartbreak would come as four more missed field goals opened the door for Virginia to win the game on a last-minute touchdown pass to go ahead 17-16. Just like that, Penn State is all alone at the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
The last time Penn State went to Virginia and lost was 2001, which also happens to be the last time the team started 0-2. That team stumbled to a 5-6 finish and no bowl game, which is a similar position that Penn State appears to be headed towards in 2012.
One good sign for going forward was the lack of mistakes from backup running back Derek Day and quarterback Matt McGloin, who helped Penn State win the turnover battle by four. However, missing four field goals makes up for those turnovers, and the kicking game has to get a lot better if Penn State is going to win close games this year.
It is clear that this team has not quit on Bill O'Brien yet, and a good week of preparation needs to be had this week to be ready for the Navy option attack. The Nittany Lions will not hold the Midshipmen to 32 rushing yards like the defense did to Virginia, but that will not matter if the offense and special teams takes advantage of opportunities against an over-matched defense.
Time to move on and get a win in Happy Valley. Crying about the circumstances is not worth doing at this point.
That's Iowa, not Notre Dame.
Theme Song: "Let Me Hear You Scream"
Last week, the Hawkeyes were happy to escape Chicago with a late touchdown and a one-point victory over Northern Illinois. Bon Jovi knew that Iowa was living on a prayer with the ineffectual offense, and the Cyclones proved that true with a dominant performance on Saturday. Iowa only managed 304 yards of offense, of which 236 were passing yards by QB James Vandenberg.
Speaking of Vandenberg, he threw a couple critical interceptions that killed comeback drives. With Damon Bullock and Vandenberg struggling to rush for more than three yards per carry, it is vital to avoid these mistakes so that every opportunity can be maximized in the opponents' territory. The Cyclones used a plan that will become common: pressure Vandenberg and make him beat your defense with limited time to make the throwing decisions.
In doing so, the Achilles heel of Iowa has been revealed. The Hawkeyes defense is strong enough to compete with the best Big Ten teams, but the offense will not be adequate unless improvements are made soon. The ineptitude on offense and against the rival Cyclones in general (Kirk Ferentz is 6-8 overall against ISU, with the only other loss being in 2000) is enough to make Iowa fans scream. And not in the positive way.
This week brings another in-state rival to Kinnick Stadium, and Northern Iowa cannot be overlooked despite being an FCS team. The Panthers nearly knocked off Wisconsin two weeks ago and were close to doing the same to Iowa a few years ago. The Hawkeyes need to get things straightened out now before Big Ten play begins, or else there's a risk the team ends up in last place in the Legends Division.
Theme Song: "Dreamer"
Indiana achieved something on Saturday that eluded the team in Kevin Wilson's first year as head coach: a second win, and a win over a FBS school. Yes, Massachusetts might be a brand new FBS team heading to the lower tier of the MAC, but a road win is still valuable for this up-and-coming Hoosiers team. Anything to keep Indiana out of the basement of these rankings is a good thing.
Of course, the thrill of victory came with a pall of defeat, as starting quarterback Tre Roberson was carted off the field in an ambulance and is out for the season with a broken leg. Cameron Coffman came in and led the Hoosiers to just as much effective offense in the latter portion of the game as Roberson did in the first quarter.
Coffman is not the running threat that Roberson was, but the offense should be just fine if Saturday's accurate passing display is an indication of things to come for the backup quarterback.
Perhaps a bigger developing story is a toughness on defense that Indiana found against the Minutemen. Massachusetts was held to 78 yards rushing, and that allowed Indiana to pull away despite some efficient passing numbers from Mike Wegzyn. These numbers will be hard to match against Ball State this week, which comes in averaging nearly 300 yards per game on the ground. Perhaps Indiana will get a big game from the secondary to make the Cardinals one-dimensional in another manner.
Without Roberson, this team will likely struggle mightily to keep up in Big Ten play. However, the Hoosiers have this game and a couple of weeks to get Coffman ready for the long grind ahead.
Man Hugs For Everyone!
Theme Song: "I Don't Wanna Stop"
Not to be outdone by fellow cellar-dweller Indiana, the Golden Gophers returned home and blew out an over-matched New Hampshire team to go 2-0 on the young season. After losing two straight games to FCS division schools, it was nice to see Minnesota look like a real Big Ten team on Saturday. Without the same problems of a lost starting quarterback like Indiana, the stock market looks better for Minnesota going forward when comparing these two teams.
Quarterback MarQueis Gray managed to gain 100 yards rushing and passing for four total touchdowns in limited first half duty. Both Gray and backup Max Shortell completed over 75 percent of their passes and sliced up the New Hampshire defensive backfield repeatedly.
The Gophers offense got a big assist from special teams and defense, which put Minnesota up 2-0 and put the ball on the New Hampshire 27-yard line before Gray and company got the ball. The offense never looked back.
Although the numbers were a bit inflated by UNLV in triple overtime, Minnesota's defense has shut down the first two opponents and allowed the offense plenty of time to make the key plays to win. Neither of the New Hampshire running backs broke 40 yards on the day, while backup quarterback Andy Vailas struggled to find openings in the Gophers secondary. By limiting the big plays, Minnesota will have a chance to stay close with some better teams in 2012.
Minnesota now has two compelling home games against Western Michigan and Syracuse to close out the non-conference portion of the schedule. Both of these games should tell us just how far Minnesota has come under Jerry Kill, and there's a chance Minnesota could reach the top half of the power rankings if the wins keep coming.
This about sums up the Illinois roadtrip...
Theme Song: "Time After Time"
Despite looking solid in Week 1, the Illini could not bring the same intensity in the desert, as Arizona State romped to a 45-14 victory. To be fair, it is difficult to go on the road and win games without a senior starting quarterback, but that does not explain where the defense got lost on the road to Tempe.
Starting with that defense, the numbers for Arizona State were simply shocking. Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank completed the first 14 passes of the game as the Sun Devils raced out to a three-touchdown lead. The Illini backed off from the defensive front to try and stop the bleeding on pass defense, but that just opened up the running game for a group of ASU running backs who amassed 192 games.
The need for this team to have Nathan Scheelhaase healthy became apparent with the struggles of both backups Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei. Both quarterbacks only threw for about 50 yards apiece, which was not enough to keep up despite a better effort in the running game this week. Freshman Josh Ferguson broke a 51-yard run and should earn more playing time with his performance in Tempe.
This weekend brings the easiest game on the 2012 schedule with Charleston Southern coming into town. With Scheelhaase likely being rested for Big Ten play, the Illini defense will need to play better even against this level of competition to ensure victory. Time after time Illinois fools us with good play only to pull the rug out later. This season, that rug was pulled quickly.
Adios, Heisman Campaign...
Theme Song: "Changes"
Speaking of West Coast stinkers against the Pac-12, none looms larger than the shocking upset of Wisconsin at Oregon State, 10-7. The Badgers played so poorly on offense that a shutout seemed imminent for most of the game. This certainly does not look like the same team that went toe-to-toe with Oregon (the Ducks, not the Beavers) back in January.
Oregon State was not intimidated despite being blown off the ball by the Wisconsin offensive line in the 2011 matchup of these teams. A much better effort from the defensive front stuffed Montee Ball and James White, who combined for 72 yards on 18 carries. After being wildly efficient in the opening game against Northern Iowa, quarterback Danny O'Brien struggled to reach 50 percent passing completions and only achieved 4.5 yards per pass.
With star receiver Jared Abbrederis being taken out in the first half, O'Brien looked out of sorts with his receivers. If the offensive line does not learn to dominate with the zone blocking scheme in the next couple of games, O'Brien will need to carry this team like Russell Wilson did at times in 2011. IT is a big question mark whether he can do that.
Wisconsin was solid on defense and gave the offense some opportunities to score, but kept getting disappointed. Sean Mannion did throw for 276 yards, but Wisconsin surrendered most of that on short passes and lateral-direction plays.
Wisconsin must win games where the defense holds the opposing team to 10 points. There is no excuse, and two bad games indicates there will likely be some changes atop the Leaders Division in 2012. Wisconsin might end up in Indianapolis, but this team is nothing like the powerhouse expected before the season began. Utah State cannot be overlooked this week.
It's Good To Be Home...
Theme Song: "Paranoid"
Not only is "Paranoid" a good rocking song for Michigan fans to sing along with this week, it also succinctly captures the mental state of the fanbase following a tougher-than-expected win at home against Air Force. Michigan did not have the win wrapped up until less than two minutes to go, as Air Force hung around and played steady football all afternoon.
However, the Falcons had no answer for Denard Robinson. A week after the quarterback was dinged up and embarrassed against Alabama, Robinson threw for 208 yards and ran for 218 more. Robinson truly did it all on this weekend, as Fitzgerald Toussaint only added seven yards on eight carries. Toussaint needs to step up this week against a weak Massachusetts defense or else he might find himself back o the bench.
Michigan could not pull away because the defensive line did not get any penetration to disrupt the Falcons quarterback. The other player suspended in the opening weekend was defensive end Frank Clark, who had a much better return than Toussaint after breaking up a couple important fourth-quarter passes. This win will look better as the season goes along because Air Force appears to have the talent on the lines to beat many teams on their schedule.
Michigan absolutely cannot struggle this week, or else the paranoia will hit all time highs in Ann Arbor. Whether this team shoots back towards the top of the conference or scuffles in mediocrity is yet to be determined. Without a unique option-based attack to prepare for this week, hopefully the improvement from the Alabama game will be more evident.
Theme Song: "Shot In The Dark"
With all the losses this week, it goes to figure that one of these teams would actually move up in the rankings with a loss. That team would be Purdue, which looked far more impressive in narrowly losing to Notre Dame than it did in the blowout over directional Kentucky community college a weekend ago.
The quarterback carousel or controversy in West Lafayette is likely over with Robert Marve injuring his knee and possibly being out for the rest of the season. Now the offense will be completely reliant on Caleb TerBush, but that might be for the better considering TerBush led the Boilermakers back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter. TerBush also proved he can scamper out of trouble at times and break big gains in the rushing game.
What made Purdue look so solid in this loss was the effort of the defense. Until surrendering a field goal on the last drive to backup quarterback Tommy Rees (started all games in 2011), the Boilermakers had forced Notre Dame into a completely one-dimensional game. The Irish only managed 52 yards rushing and Theo Riddick really struggled to get into the second level of the defense. With strong defense up front, the Boilermakers will be a threat to win all four of the next games on the schedule.
Purdue plays so tough at home, and Eastern Michigan and Marshall should provide little resistance the rest of the month. Then Michigan and Wisconsin come to town, and both teams have looked very vulnerable on the road in the first two weeks. If Purdue can play like it did for most of the day against Notre Dame, the Boilermakers could be in the driver's seat of the Leaders Division by the time the next road game comes in late October at Ohio State.
It's better than a shot in the dark, it's a true threat to Wisconsin.
Better sliding technique than most Chicago Cubs...
Theme Song: "Never Say Die"
The most shocking statistics coming from the first two weeks of college football in the Big Ten are the 2-9 record against BCS opponents, and the two wins coming from Northwestern only. Another fourth-quarter survival against Vanderbilt moves the Wildcats up significantly in the power rankings because these are the two best wins any team has in the conference to date.
Northwestern played it safe mostly with quarterback Kain Colter, as backup Trevor Siemian again saw much of the action against the Commodores. Although Siemian did not throw a touchdown pass, he avoided making mistakes and kept Northwestern in the game until the fourth quarter. Venric Mark kept Vanderbilt on their heels with 123 rushing yards and the first touchdown for the Wildcats after struggling to put up six points in the first three quarters.
If nothing else, Northwestern has proven the offense has clutch playmakers who will win the game if it is close in the fourth quarter. The difference in the game came from Vanderbilt's two turnovers, especially when linebacker Tyler Scott forced a fumble on the final Vanderbilt drive. Northwestern may not have the talent to match up with the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska over the long haul of conference play, but this defense looks tougher than the 2010 and 2011 versions.
That toughness has to make Pat Fitzgerald, the former all-American linebacker, very proud of his team. This week a desperate Boston College team comes to Evanston and should provide another close game for the Wildcats. If Northwestern survives and then defeats South Dakota, the schedule shapes up nicely for a 6-1 or 7-0 start heading into the meat of the schedule in late October.
Northwestern's new motto should be never say die because it could be a long time until this team is eliminated from the chase for Indianapolis and the Rose Bowl. For now, the purple power rises to a rare top four slot in the power rankings.
These ladies aren't deterred about the hard road back to Pasadena
Theme Song: "A Hard Road"
What a difference a week makes for the most impressive team in the first week of power rankings. Similar to Illinois and Wisconsin, the Cornhuskers traveled to Pac-12 territory and were favored to walk out a winner, yet ended up a loser. Rather than being in the national championship picture, Nebraska now must settle for a hard road back to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl as a top goal for 2012.
Just like 10 years ago in the national championship game in this stadium, the defense was outclassed by UCLA. This is shocking considering how well the Blackshirts shut down a comparable set of talented players from Southern Mississippi in the opening weekend. UCLA broke 650 yards of offense, including 309 passing from Brett Hundley and 344 rushing, led by 217 yards from Jonathan Franklin. Many of the players on the UCLA offense are underclassmen, which makes the defensive breakdowns even more profound.
Perhaps UCLA will be much improved from the 6-8 squad of 2011, but this is likely just another inexplicable clunker from the Nebraska defense. Taylor Martinez threw for 179 yards and rushed for 112 more, but most of those came on the play of the game in a 92-yard touchdown run. Running back Ameer Abdullah played solid in Rex Burkhead's absence, but the offense still could not come up with enough plays to outgun the UCLA team.
Although Arkansas State may look like a nice recovery game this week, the Huskers will need to perform much better against an offense that has put up serious points on Oregon and Memphis in the first two games.
The Red Wolves are averaging nearly 600 yards per game on offense, which is exactly the kind of numbers UCLA put up with questionable depth on offense. If Nebraska is a true Rose Bowl contender, teams like this need to be put away early by the Blackshirts.
Laying the wood, so to speak
Theme Song: "Iron Man"
Ohio State received a much stiffer test from UCF than Miami in Week 1, but the Golden Knights were dispatched by two touchdowns in a relatively ugly game. What was not ugly was the performance of quarterback Braxton Miller, who is making a solid case for Big Ten offensive MVP with just a little over one season under his belt. However, Miller needs to be an iron man if he is going to continue sustaining 20-25 rushes per game and many big hits in the absence of running backs Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall.
A week after running the ball to unprecedented success, the Golden Knights came in with a more regular game plan (for them) of passing the ball laterally to force the Buckeye defenders to make tackles in open space.
These tackles were sloppy at times and allowed UCF to stay within legitimate striking distance all game. Despite giving up 249 yards passing, the Buckeyes came up with three huge interceptions to seal the game, led by CB Travis Howard who now leads the country with three interceptions in two games.
On offense, the loss of starting running back Carlos Hyde made this the Braxton Miller show. Similar to Denard Robinson, Miller did it all for his team including rushing for 141 yards and three touchdowns. Miller will likely not be forced to run over 25 times again this season, but he is explosive enough to warrant the risk of a few designed runs each game. Miller is receiving plenty of time from his offensive line, but there are still times when he needs to make quicker decisions in the passing game.
If he develops that portion of his game, the Buckeyes will be nasty to stop in Big Ten play. The defense has a long way to come to get back to nationally elite, but the building blocks are there with some young players like Noah Spence seeing significant playing time on the defensive line. This week California might provide another tough test, but Ohio State has no business losing in the Horseshoe against these caliber teams.
This is easier when I don't throw three interceptions!
Theme Song: "Flying High Again"
The Spartans may not have a win over a BCS conference opponent officially, but the win over Boise State looks like one of the best the conference will get in 2012. The Spartans backed up that dominant defensive performance with another one to blow out Central Michigan on Saturday, setting up another huge weekend against Notre Dame. The Spartans are flying high at the top of the power rankings and hoping the Irish don't knock them off this lofty perch.
A week after relying pretty much exclusively on running back Le'Veon Bell to get the job done with 44 carries, he shared the load more in the second game. Bell only rushed 18 times for 70 yards, but Larry Caper added 66 more to put the Spartans at a respectable rushing total. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell recovered nicely from a three-interception performance against Boise State to throw for 275 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. This looked like Michigan State of a year ago, which is a great sign despite the weaker competition.
Michigan State remains ridiculous on defense, and there still has not been an offensive touchdown against the Spartans so far in 2012. Only two interception returns for touchdowns have crossed the goal line, so the defense is keeping the intensity level high for the entire 60 minutes. William Gholston was an absolute beast on the defensive front, playing a big role in stopping all three of Central Michigan's fourth down attempts.
Michigan State is the last great hope for BCS glory in 2012, assuming Northwestern and the other 2-0 teams will struggle in conference play. A loss to Notre Dame this weekend would all but crush the conference, with only the ineligible Buckeyes left undefeated among the top conference powers. Purdue laid a nice game plan for stopping Notre Dame out there this week, and one can expect the Spartans to convert on that plan to a 3-0 start.
But as this week proved, just when you are flying high...the sky could fall on you. Beware Spartans, it could happen this week!
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