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Big Ten Football: Ranking the Teams After Week 3

Nathaniel WaltersCorrespondent IDecember 30, 2016

Big Ten Football: Ranking the Teams After Week 3

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    Another week, another loss for the Big Ten conference.

    Had it not been for Ohio State's late-game heroics vs. a not-so-great Cal squad, the Big Ten would have no respectable undefeated team left.

    As it stands, the Buckeyes are still without a loss.

    That's better than what can be said for Michigan State, as the Spartans looked downright pedestrian at home against Notre Dame.

    Northwestern is the only team in the conference that played three opponents from other BCS conferences to start the season. Their record: 3-0. I don't care that the teams were Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College. The Wildcats are undefeated.

    Michigan overwhelmed an FCS foe; Iowa pulled away late after finally finding some offense; Wisconsin relied on luck; Nebraska and Purdue beat inferior opponents into the ground, and Indiana did what we all expected: lost.

    Finally, oh finally, Penn State has a number besides a zero in the win column.

    There are now three undefeated teams in the conference. Fun fact: Every BCS conference except the Big Ten has had at least one conference game played.

    The Big Ten won't begin conference play for two weeks.

    On to the list!

1. Ohio State (3-0)

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    The Buckeyes had to stave off upset-minded Cal 35-28 late in the fourth quarter. There were missed tackles all over the place on the Ohio State defense, and the offense, led by do-everything quarterback Braxton Miller, sputtered badly at times.

    When it came down to it, though, and the chips were on the table, the Buckeyes came through. The teams behind them: Nebraska, Michigan, and Michigan State, crumbled when they were met with an opponent who regularly punched them in the chops.

    You can ignore the fact that the Golden Bears missed three field goals, had a touchdown called back by a questionable penalty and amassed 512 total yards, because Ohio State found a way to win.

    For the first time this season, Miller wasn't the only one running the ball. Senior running back Jordan Hall made his season debut and rushed for 87 yards on 17 attempts.

    You know that takes a bunch of stress off coach Urban Meyer.

     

    Stat of the Game

    512: The Buckeyes gave up 512 yards of offense to Cal; the Golden Bears had come in averaging 441. There were missed tackles and missed assignments everywhere. They escaped versus Cal, but teams with more offensive talent might make them pay.

     

    Player of the Game

    Braxton Miller: The Ohio State sophomore is easily 80 percent of the Buckeye offense. His 55-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was a thing of beauty. He had 249 yards passing and threw four touchdown passes to go with his 75 yards rushing.

     

    Up Next: vs UAB (0-2)

2. Nebraska (2-1)

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    It was tough to decide between the Cornhuskers and Wolverines in the second spot, but it appears as though the Cornhuskers have a better body of work. I know Michigan fans will disagree, and they will get their chance to prove me wrong as the Wolverines travel to South Bend next weekend.

    There are so many story lines in this game: Bo Pelini's health, Nebraska's defensive resurgence, Taylor Martinez throwing and running and Nebraska's offense as a whole.

    It just all came together.

    Coming off a dismal defensive performance in which they gave up the second-highest amount of yards in Nebraska football history at UCLA, and with high-powered Arkansas State coming to town, the Nebraska coaching staff needed to make some changes.

    Fans demanded answers on the field instead of obligatory coach-speak answers.

    Arkansas State came into the game with the No. 7 offense in the country. They averaged nearly 575 yards each game, and dual-threat quarterback Ryan Aplin was No. 8 in the nation in total offense. The Red Wolves were averaging over 33 points per game.

    Would the defense be up to the task?

    I guess so.

    With more speed on the field and different defensive schemes nearly every play, the Cornhuskers held Arkansas State to 286 total yards, including just 89 in the second half, as they didn't allow an offensive touchdown in their 42-13 rout on Saturday.

    At times, it didn't even look that close.

    Nebraska turned the ball over more than once deep in Arkansas State territory. There was a punt that was ruled to glance off running back Ameer Abdullah's foot that gave the Red Wolves possession deep in Cornhusker territory.

    There are definitely some areas the Cornhuskers need to improve on. 

    If they can play this well while coach Bo Pelini is at the hospital, imagine how the team will do with him back on the sidelines for four quarters. It was one game, but the Huskers contained a dual threat quarterback and amassed 527 yards.

     

    Stat of the Game

    13-of-14: Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez set a Nebraska record for completion percentage en route to his 180 passing yards and two touchdowns through the air.

     

    Player of the Game

    Martinez: I almost want to give this to the defense for their performance, or even to Ameer Abdullah for rushing for 167 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries, but Martinez kept drives alive with his feet and arm. He was the reason Nebraska was 10-of-13 on third downs. Oh, and he turned 22 today.

    Happy birthday, Taylor.

     

    Up Next: vs Idaho State (0-1)

3. Michigan (2-1)

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    Denard Robinson played just under three quarters of football. In that time, he completed 16-of-24 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing 10 times for 106 yards and another score in Michigan's 63-13 demolition of Massachusetts. 

    That means people got to see Michigan's backup quarterback.

    Yes they actually have one.

    We have only seen Robinson for the past four years, so it was nice to know they have somebody in the wings. His name is Russell Bellomy, and he attempted a total of one pass. It was incomplete, and the Wolverines ran the ball the rest of the time. 

    As is the case with both Ohio State and Nebraska, a mobile quarterback is the glue that keeps this team going. Robinson's performance since being knocked around against Alabama has been stellar. He is No. 9 in the nation in total offense and averages just over nine yards per play. That's tops in the nation.

    Since the Alabama debacle, he has hit 61 percent of his passes for 499 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions. He has also run for 324 yards and three scores.

    On the opposite side of the ball, the Wolverines are showing some life. I know it was Massachusetts (again, I hate spelling that word out), but Michigan did not allow an offensive touchdown. The only Minuteman score was a 32-yard interception return. 

    Denard Robinson and Michigan enter the tough part of their season now.

    They travel to Notre Dame and have a week off before traveling to Purdue, welcoming Illinois and Michigan State to the Big House in successive weeks and then traveling to Nebraska. If Michigan can finish that stretch undefeated or even suffer just one loss, they may have a firm grasp on the Leaders Division.

    Both Michigan State and Nebraska play much tougher conference games.

     

    Stat of the Game

    291: Denard Robinson had 291 yards passing. That might not seem like a bunch, but it's what Michigan will need as the season progresses and they play defenses with a pulse.

     

    Player of the Game

    Is it really any surprise that it's Robinson? I almost picked the Michigan defense or maybe even Fitzgerald Touissant for showing that he still plays for the Wolverines, but Robinson is just ridiculous when he's in space.

     

    Up Next: @ No. 11 Notre Dame (3-0)

4. Michigan State (2-1)

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    We all wondered if the Spartans could score on a defense with a pulse.

    We found out they cannot.

    Michigan State was held to 237 total yards, including just 50 on the ground, in their 20-3 home loss to Notre Dame. 

    Quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who had looked efficient through his first two games, was in all sorts of trouble all night. He completed just 23-of-45 passes for 187 yards and no touchdowns. He felt pressure from the Irish front seven all game. 

    Running back Le'Veon Bell, who had been considered the best back in the Big Ten, was held to 77 yards on 19 carries. His longest run was 15 yards, which was a far cry from what he usually puts up.

    All is not lost for Michigan State, though.

    The Spartan defense held Notre Dame to an abysmal 1-for-14 on third down attempts. They were simply on the field too long, and the Irish won't be the best offense they face this year.

     

    Stat of the Game

    51: Quarterback Andrew Maxwell completed just 51 percent of his passes. He had come into the game completing 61 percent.

    That much of a drop is, hopefully for Michigan State, an anomaly. 

     

    Player of the Game

    Michigan State's defense: It seemed like they were on the field the entire game, but they kept battling. They didn't allow Notre Dame much, and they have given up just two offensive touchdowns this year. That's still impressive, and they are the No. 13 defense in the nation.

    That's still tops in the Big Ten.

     

    Up Next: vs Eastern Michigan (0-3)

5. Northwestern (3-0)

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    It's true. Northwestern is undefeated.

    It hasn't been easy, but the Wildcats are one of just three teams in the conference without a loss. That's impressive given their body of work.

    As I mentioned, Northwestern is the only Big Ten team to play games against BCS foes the first three weeks. They came from behind after giving up a big lead against Syracuse, came from behind and beat Vanderbilt and beat Boston College 22-13 on Saturday.

    What's great about the Wildcats is they keep finding new ways to get it done.

    In their win over Syracuse, it was an offensive explosion. Against Vanderbilt, it was defense and turnovers. Against Boston College, it was special teams.

    That's fairly complete.

    Against Boston College, kicker Jeff Budzien tied a school record with five field goals.

    Five.

    Northwestern didn't score but a single touchdown, and that was with just over a minute left in the game to put it away. Budzien looked solid all-around yesterday, and he was easily the reason the Wildcats won.

    It can't all be on his shoulders, though.

    Northwestern rolled up 560 yards of total offense and were 12-of-19 on third down attempts. For a team that has no-name players, they sure know how to get it done when they have the ball. Quarterback Kain Kolter was 16-for-20 with 144 passing yards. He has been steadily efficient all season, completing over 66 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions. 

    You can't really mention this game without noticing how well Northwestern did against the run. They allowed just 25 yards on 21 attempts.

    That's huge.

    They haven't been a team that's traditionally good on defense, but they are No. 16 in the nation against the run. In the conference, only Michigan State, at No. 14 in the nation, has a better rush defense so far than the Wildcats.

     

    Stat of the Game

    5: That's the amount of field goals Budzien kicked. They were from 42, 20, 29, 41, and 19 yards.

    Great game, kid.

     

    Player of the Game

    Gotta give that to Budzien as well.

     

    Up Next: vs South Dakota (1-1)

6. Purdue (2-1)

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    Purdue had a bit of a shaky start but overcame some offensive miscues as they blasted hapless Eastern Michigan 54-16.

    With the Boilermakers up 13-0 early in the second quarter, things looked a bit shaky for a bit as they turned the ball over on two consecutive drives. First, quarterback Caleb TerBush threw an interception that was returned 28 yards for a touchdown. Then, on their next possession, TerBush threw a one-yard pass that was fumbled and recovered by Eastern Michigan at the Purdue 32 yard line.

    That turned into three points.

    On the ensuing kickoff, Purdue fumbled and was able to somehow recover the ball at their own one-yard line.The score was 13-9.

    Could Eastern Michigan pull off the upset?

    Not so much.

    The Boilermakers went 99 yards in 10 plays and pushed their lead to 20-9. The drive took just over four minutes as TerBush was a perfect 5-for-5 on the drive, including the 51-yard scoring strike to Akeem Hunt. That was the nail in the coffin for Eastern Michigan.

    At the half, Purdue was up 33-9.

    I know it was against a team that's literally last in the country against the run, but Purdue ran the ball 42 times and gained 392 yards on the ground.

    That's a bunch.

    They had 576 total yards as TerBush was lethal through the air, completing 16-of-24 passes for 158 yards and two scores. I'm not certain why they ever decided to throw the ball, but at least they had fun doing it.

    This was a game in which every Purdue player that suited up got a chance to get on the field. That's good for a team that looks like the front-runner to win the Leaders Division right now.

    They might not be better than the Buckeyes, but Ohio State is banned from postseason play.

     

    Stat of the Game

    392: The amount of rushing yards the Boilermakers had is the most by a Big Ten team so far this year. 

     

    Player of the Game

    TerBush: Purdue's sandy-haired quarterback threw for two scores and ran for another. That's a good game.

     

    Up Next: vs Marshall (1-2)

7. Illinois (2-1)

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    This is where it starts to get a little complicated.

    As we enter the bottom half of the list, it's apparent that not many of these teams are very good.

    Illinois thumped Charleston Southern 44-0 on Saturday. I do realize the Buccaneers are without a win this season, but the Illini racked up 479 yards and held them to just 125. That's not bad, especially when you realize that only 25 of their yards were through the air.

    In a time when college football makes a living airing the ball out, Illinois stopped the pass.

    The Illini are still without quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and that may be a problem heading into Big Ten play, as the play will definitely get harder in the coming weeks.

     

    Stat of the Game

    0-for-13: Illinois kept the Buccaneers from converting a single third down. That's impressive no matter who you're playing. They are currently No. 10 in the country, and first in the Big Ten in third down efficiency defense.

     

    Player of the Game

    Reilly O'Toole: The Illinois quarterback completed 26-of-31 passes for 333 yards and five touchdowns. It's nice when your backup quarterback steps up like that.

     

    Up Next: vs Louisiana Tech (2-0)

8. Wisconsin (2-1)

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    Why are the Badgers in front of Iowa?

    After all, Iowa looked better than Wisconsin when they beat the same Northern Iowa team. 

    Well, Wisconsin isn't being decimated by injuries like the Hawkeyes are. That's kind of the only reason.

    The Badgers look horrid on offense. Let's look at some of their numbers:

    • Total offense: No. 116. 276 yards per game. Six touchdowns.
    • Rushing offense: No. 94. 119 yards per game. Two touchdowns.
    • Passing offense: No. 114. 156 yards per game. Three touchdowns.
    • Scoring offense: No. 113. 16 points per game.
    • Third down efficiency: No. 105. 31 percent.

    The Badgers are last in the Big Ten in more than a few offensive categories.

    For a team that has made a living running the football and converting third downs, this is just awful. It's worse than Penn State and Indiana.

    Without a missed field goal by Utah State with six seconds left, the Badgers would be looking at a 1-2 record.

    What's keeping Wisconsin afloat? Their defense. Here are their defensive numbers:

    • Total defense: No. 30. 322 yards per game. 
    • Rushing defense: No. 17. 82 yards per game. Have no allowed a rushing touchdown. 
    • Scoring defense: No. 27. Allowed 15 points per game.
    • Passing defense: No. 72. Allowed 240 yards per game. Have allowed six touchdowns. 
    • Third down defense: No. 31. Allowed just 29 percent.

    While the passing defense may seem a bit alarming, the Badgers have been solid overall on defense.

    It's their offense that is atrocious.

    After their big loss to Oregon State, they fired their offensive line coach. They were overwhelming favorites to take Utah State apart.

    Then the game happened.

    Wisconsin couldn't convert on numerous third downs, including one inside the three-yard line, and had to settle for a field goal in the first half. Utah State burned them on a some deep passing routes, and it was 14-3 Aggies at the half.

    Starter Danny O'Brien was benched to start the second half, but it didn't matter.

    They held Utah State scoreless in the second half but had to rely on a 82-yard punt return by Kenzel Doe to bring the game to within four points. Montee Ball, who's production has fallen dramatically from last season, found the end zone again from 17 yards out to put the Badgers ahead. 

    It just wasn't a good game for Wisconsin, and their upcoming game against UTEP isn't a guarantee.

     

    Stat of the Game

    3-of-15: As reported earlier, Wisconsin is awful on third downs. If this doesn't improve, they will be in major trouble as their season progresses.

     

    Player of the Game

    Josh Thompson: He is the Utah State kicker that missed the 37-yard field goal with 11 seconds left.

    Had he not missed the field goal, Wisconsin would be 1-2.

     

    Up Next: vs UTEP (1-2)

    Since there were no real highlights from the game, enjoy this video of Jump Around. Yes Camp Randall Stadium does shake during the song.

9. Iowa (2-1)

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    Iowa is a lot like Wisconsin.

    They can't score, can't convert third downs and have a lack of offense.

    Of course, it would be easy to attribute their offensive woes to a first-year offensive coordinator and their running back situation. When I say situation, I mean it. They have to be down to their fifth or sixth string running back by now.

    At what point do you run out of scholarship running backs and start having tryouts? 

    The Hawkeyes beat Northern Iowa 27-16 on Saturday on the back of sophomore fullback Mark Weisman's 113 yards and three touchdowns.

    Again, how on Earth does a fullback get 24 touches?

    Either way, without Weisman, Iowa loses to the Panthers.

    A bigger issue may be the play of their senior quarterback.

    James Vandenberg came into this season touted as the best pro-style quarterback in the league. So far, though, he has been average, at best. He has completed just 57 percent of his passes for 593 yards and has zero touchdowns while throwing two interceptions.

    He has also been sacked six times. 

    Until Iowa develops a viable passing or rushing threat, they will likely be favored in very few remaining games. Their defense, overall, is better than Wisconsin's, but the Badgers have more upside than the Hawkeyes. 

     

    Stat of the Game

    4: That's the total number of yards Weisman scored from on his three rushing touchdowns. He scored on runs of one, one, and two yards. If he could have punched it in from the 1-yard line another time instead of being stuffed twice in a row, it would have been four scores.

     

    Player of the Game

    Weisman: How often does a fullback get this honor?

    Well only one time this year. 

     

    Up Next: vs Central Michigan (1-1)

10. Minnesota (3-0)

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    It doesn't really make sense to the naked eye that an undefeated team should be this low, but here are the Gophers.

    Why are they so low after they matched their entire win total from last season?

    Well, they haven't looked good at all against superbly awful teams. They beat Western Michigan 28-23 on Saturday two weeks after surviving UNLV in three overtimes.

    Yea, UNLV is 0-3 now including losses to Northern Arizona and Washington State.

    Secondly, dual-threat quarterback MarQueis Gray is out 2-4 weeks with a severely sprained ankle that he suffered in the second quarter of their game against the Broncos. You can tell me Max Shortell came in and performed admirably, but this team relies on Gray.

    They might try relying on Shortell more because he showed serious flashes of talent, but the Gophers lean heavily on the play making ability of Gray.

    Minnesota's defense hasn't been half-bad.

    They're No. 22 in the nation in total defense. Of course, it would be an error to ignore that the FBS teams they have played are a combined 1-5. FCS New Hampshire is 2-1 with wins over Holy Cross and Central Connecticut State, but they aren't quite the offensive juggernaut of some of the upcoming teams on Minnesota's schedule.

     

    Stat of the Game

    9: Minnesota had nine penalties for 56 yards. They are No. 87 in the nation in penalty yards per game.

     

    Player of the Game

    Max Shortell: He came in and filled in admirably after Gray's injury, completing 10-of-17 passes for 188 yards and three scores.

     

    Up Next: vs Syracuse (1-2)

11. Penn State (1-2)

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    Congratulations on your first win of the season, Penn State!

    Trust me, nobody cares that it was over a hapless Navy team that can't seem to find any rhythm.

    A win is a win, though.

    I expected Penn State to win this game, but I didn't expect a 34-7 demolition of the Midshipmen. They scored more points in this one game than they had in their first two combined. 

    The last time Penn State won was November 19 of last year. It was head coach Bill O'Brien's first win, and the Nittany Lions needed it.

    Does it cure all ails? No.

    Does it make the Big Ten look better now that they have zero winless teams? Maybe.

    Will the folks in Happy Valley take it? Oh yes.

     

    Stat of the Game

    +4: Penn State forced four Navy turnovers and didn't turn the ball over themselves.

     

    Player of the Game

    Matt McGloin: The Penn State quarterback finally got the protection he needed and did his thing in the pocket. He completed 13-of-21 passes for 231 yards and four touchdowns.

     

    Up Next: vs Temple (1-1)

    Please make sure you watch the entire video of the Penn State band during their Salute to the Military performance of the halftime show. Very good. Very patriotic.

12. Indiana (2-1)

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    Indiana looks to flounder without quarterback Tre Roberson, who is out for the season with a broken left leg. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld replaced Cameron Coffman late and played admirably, but Indiana's defense faltered down the stretch as they were upended 41-39 by Ball State. 

    The Cardinals kicked a field goal as time expired for their third straight victory over their in-state rival. 

    Sudfeld threw for 172 yards and two touchdowns as Indiana rolled up 558 yards of offense, including 423 through the air. The Hoosiers scored quickly twice in the fourth quarter to take the lead, but the defense, who allowed 440 yards, let Ball State drive 46 yards in 49 seconds to kick the field goal as time expired.

    Indiana will get a week off to consider how to build on their early-season success and parlay it into more wins.

     

    Stat of the Game

    558: Indiana rolled up 558 yards of total offense in the loss.

     

    Player of the Game

    Nate Sudfeld: The quarterback engineered the two quick strikes that brought the Hoosiers back late.

     

    Up Next: Bye

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