After just two weeks of college football action, there are only a handful of things that can be said with any level of certainty.
For instance, Nick Saban doesn’t produce football teams as much as he manifests the most evil thoughts he can conjure into 105 different moving parts.
Oregon’s offense is so productive it makes you feel lazy, like you should be out doing yard work or solving math problems, but there you are just sitting in front of a television watching its raw efficiency.
The Big Ten, on the other hand, has the potential to produce some terrible football. You know it’s bad when you’re watching the Iowa - Iowa State game and the most entertaining form of competition is between Ice Cube and that terribly daring and stubborn Coors Light can during commercial breaks.
After two weeks, only five Big Ten squads remain unbeaten, a group of teams that surprisingly includes Indiana and Minnesota.
As Ohio State nears conference play, it’s becoming increasingly clear where they stand when compared to the rest of the Big Ten. We won’t definitively know which teams comprise the upper echelon of the conference until late November, but as of right now, would the Buckeyes be at or near the top?
To answer that question, a list of contenders needs to be established. Despite their record, Minnesota, Indiana and Northwestern will be excluded. Including them is just giving logic, history and science the middle finger.
Purdue could be mentioned, but we’ll leave them out for fear that inclusion would spontaneously blow out the ACLs of everyone on the team.
Michigan has looked sluggish against two quality opponents, Nebraska gave up over 600 yards to UCLA and Wisconsin looks like a shell of its former self this year.
That leaves Ohio State and Michigan State.
The Case for Michigan State
The Spartans have the Big Ten’s most impressive victory this year with their season-opening 17-13 win over Boise State.
Michigan State boasts a strong defense that ranks eighth in the country in yards allowed per game. Their anchored by a fantastic defensive line that features one of the most talented defensive ends in the country—William Gholston. All-American candidate Johnny Adams at cornerback makes it difficult to throw the ball, especially when he essentially locks down the opponents’ best receiver.
The offense relies heavily on Le’Veon Bell, the junior running back from Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Bell has carried the load for Michigan State early, rushing for 280 yards with four touchdowns through two games this year. Head coach Mark Dantonio isn’t hesitant to put the ball in his hands—Bell is averaging 31 carries per game so far.
The passing game is where Michigan State is weakest. The Spartans replaced three-year starter Kirk Cousins at quarterback with junior Andrew Maxwell, who threw three interceptions in the season opener. Michigan State is also working in an entire crop of new receivers after losing Keshawn Martin, B.J. Cunningham, and Keith Nichol.
The case for Ohio State
Who is the best team in the Big Ten?
The Buckeyes have opened the season with two impressive victories over Miami (OH) and UCF with an average margin of victory a hair over 30 points per game.
Ohio State’s defense has gotten off to a rocky start this season. The Buckeyes have allowed their first two opponents to throw the ball with a moderate amount of success.
Ohio State currently ranks 96th in the country in pass defense, giving up an average of 281 yards per game through the air. Still, Miami (OH) and UCF scored a combined 26 points against the Buckeyes, mainly because Ohio State has done a good job limiting points when teams reach the red zone.
The offense is producing at an exponentially higher rate than last year. So far this season the Buckeyes are averaging just over 43 points per game. For comparison's sake, Ohio State didn’t score more than 42 points once in game during the 2011 season.
A big reason for that is Braxton Miller’s success running Urban Meyer’s spread offense. The sophomore quarterback has been dynamic in 2012, averaging 332 yards of total offense per game with seven touchdowns (four rushing, three passing) against just one turnover.
Right now, despite how well Ohio State is playing, the Spartans look like the best team in the conference. The defense is as talented as you’re going to see in the Big Ten, and the offense has a running game it can rely on when Andrew Maxwell struggles throwing the ball.
Of course, this debate will be taken to the field later this month when these two teams open up conference play against each other (September 29).
Who gets your vote for the top team in the conference? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.