Big Ten Football: Power Ranking the Big Ten Teams in Week 4
Well, we're in no man's land now, aren't we? Michigan State, the Big Ten's last best hope for an elite team to carry the conference's banner into bowl season, got utterly wrecked by Notre Dame on Saturday night, meaning the only two bowl-eligible teams sitting at 3-0 now are Minnesota and Northwestern. It's OK to cry about that.
But we've still got an entire season to get through, so let's just pretend this is all going great and rank the Big Ten teams like a normal, healthy conference would do.
1. Ohio State
It's time for everyone to do the Fat Man Happy Dance along with Johnathan Hankins there, because Ohio State looks like the prohibitive favorite to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl—OHHHH, wait, scratch that, never mind. Stupid Jim Tressel.
At any rate, Ohio State does look like the best team in the Big Ten this season, both on the merits of the Buckeyes' record and by overall quality of play. Those are admittedly low bars to clear in the conference this year, but y'know.
2. Michigan State
Hang on, get worked by Notre Dame by 17 points and still be at No. 2 in the Power Poll? Yep—for as bad as Michigan State looked on Saturday, it's still the second-best team in the Big Ten, and that says so much about how god-awful this conference is right now. Notre Dame would be a clear No. 1 on this list if it weren't so in love with the ACC right now.
The lack of explosiveness (hurdlin' be damned) on the entire Michigan State offense was exposed badly by a lightning-fast Notre Dame defense on Saturday, but when that offense is actually clicking and moving downhill, it's still damaging in its own way. And like it or not, but most of the teams Michigan State will face in the Big Ten aren't physically capable of neutralizing the Spartan ground game.
The passing game has to start improving soon, though.
The word out of Lincoln is that Bo Pelini's going to be fine (if he isn't already), so anyone worried about a sudden upheaval at the helm of the Huskers' football program may rest easy now. Pelini says he's doing great and is already back to work, so that's that.
Speaking of getting back to work, Nebraska should see Rex Burkhead return from his sprained MCL, although after the Huskers mashed the living daylights out of Arkansas State on the ground on Saturday, it's almost as if Nebraska doesn't even need Burkhead. Meanwhile, Taylor Martinez continues to do good things throwing the ball, which is just as big a surprise to us as it is to you.
The defense looked better against Arkansas State on Saturday, especially in the second half, but the Red Wolves were able to get to midfield pretty regularly in the first three quarters, and that's a troubling sign for a defense still reeling from the 653-yard demolition UCLA put on it.
The good news for Michigan is that it dropped a 50-point win on its opponent on Saturday. The bad news is that opponent was UMass, who Indiana just beat by 39 in Boston and was without its star quarterback for over half the game. We're not talking about an accomplishment here.
Still, the most reassuring aspect of Saturday's game was the continuing emergence of the Devins: TE Devin Funchess and WR Devin Gardner, both large, fast receiving targets who are going to be instrumental in filling out a receiving corps whose depth chart looked like "Roy Roundtree, Jeremy Gallon, Wishes, Prayer, Drew DiLeo" coming into the season.
But Michigan's got to put together a solid game against an opponent with a pulse. We still haven't seen that. Notre Dame's coming in looking as good as it has in more years than Irish fans want to admit, and while Michigan probably has the talent to make this a dogfight, it needs to put it all together on the field.
With any luck, though, we're in for one more fireworks show out of Denard Robinson, since he usually saves those for Notre Dame week. If he can do it against this version of the ND defense, color us impressed.
Don't look now, but the Wildcats are starting to put things together. The team's decision to schedule higher-level competition than the cupcakes that normally dominate non-conference slates has paid off; with Ohio State's win over Cal, Northwestern is now one of two teams in the entire Big Ten to have defeated a BCS conference opponent, and the Wildcats have three such victories to their name.
Better yet, they're much more prepared for the week-in, week-out struggle that is life in the Big Ten than, say, Illinois is.
That said, the defense is still a mess, especially in the secondary. That Vanderbilt and Boston College each managed only 13 points against Northwestern says more about Vandy and BC than anything else. But a poor secondary isn't going to get punished much in this conference, so Northwestern's set up nicely to make a run at, say, eight or nine wins this year.
Hey, suddenly losing by three at Notre Dame doesn't seem too shabby, does it? The lone blemish on Purdue's record now looks like a more valiant effort than anything Michigan State mustered, and while MSU's going to stay higher on the Power Rankings than Purdue for now—we still think the Spartans would win that one pretty handily—Purdue's resume strength is at least worth noting.
Still, with a bye week coming up followed by a visit from Marshall, that resume's not going to be getting stronger for a while, especially since the rest of the Big Ten will be playing conference opponents at that point, and it would be awfully nice to see Purdue close out a victory over a team that would be capable of winning at least one game in the Big Ten. No offense or anything, Eastern Kentucky, but c'mon.
First things first: The high ankle sprain that is shelving MarQueis Gray for the next few weeks is beyond disappointing, and hopefully Minnesota's dual-threat man will be back on the field before too much of the Big Ten season is in the books.
That being said, Minnesota's actually pretty well prepared for Gray's injury since he split time with QB Max Shortell last season. Shortell stepped into Gray's absence against Western Michigan and threw three touchdowns in relief, and all was well.
Now, some of this probably has to do with the light level of competition Minnesota has faced, and that's not an insignificant aspect of the Gophers' 3-0 mark, but that defense is actually looking pretty strong. The Gophers' pass efficiency defense is best in the conference, and only Michigan gives up fewer passing yards altogether (about five fewer per game, to be exact).
Whether that holds up in conference play is another thing altogether, of course, but bad defenses tend to make their presence known long before they face good offenses.
So keep an eye on this team. It could go south in a hurry, especially in a deep division like the Legends, or we could definitely see a Gopher resurgence here in Year 2 of the Jerry Kill era.
8. Penn State
Nothing's better for what ails a slumping college football team than a good, old-fashioned beatdown, and that's what Penn State administered to Navy for the Nittany Lions' first win of the year. Penn State weathered injury trouble in its backfield in the process, so it's nice to see that team overcome a depth issue, since that was one of its major flaws coming into the year.
Matt McGloin continues to have a quietly good year—at least, compared to his others—and the defense continues to improve incrementally. This isn't a horrible team. Not yet, anyway.
The Iowa offense finally got a boost, and it came in the form of walk-on backup fullback Jacob Weisman, who shouldered the load in the rushing game and ended up with three touchdowns and over 100 yards on the day.
The real story for Iowa, though, is a defense that continues to be surprisingly stout, especially against the run. The Iowa defensive line can hold the point of attack and beat blocks, which is a welcome departure from the last couple of years—and it's especially surprising because there doesn't look like a single all-conference-caliber lineman in the mix. They're all just solid players.
As a result, Iowa's giving up just 14 points per game thus far, and that's nice because the offense is just dreadful and will continue to be noted as such until Iowa can score more than one touchdown in a game against FBS competition.
So apparently Charleston Southern is an actual FCS football team that exists. Illinois dispatched the—quick, can you name Charleston Southern's mascot? No, of course you can't, nobody can—Buccaneers 44-0 on Saturday, and if there's anything to read into that game, it's that Illinois would make a great FCS program.
The quarterback controversy in Champaign should only intensify this week as Illinois hosts a surprisingly tough Louisiana Tech team and Nathan Scheelhaase should return from injury...just as Reilly O'Toole is getting settled at quarterback and doing good things.
Also, that Illini defense looks unsettlingly average so far.
Yes, Indiana just lost a heartbreaker to Ball State. But at least Indiana can put some points on the board, unlike our last-placed team. The Hoosiers are going to miss Tre Roberson for the rest of the year, there's no doubt about that, and the defense is somewhere between "adventure" and "disaster" against nearly everyone it faces.
If you don't think Wisconsin is the worst team in the Big Ten so far this year, you're not watching the Badgers...and you're probably a Coaches Poll voter.
The line continues to be a disaster. Danny O'Brien has already been benched, though we don't know if it's permanent yet. The Badgers were bailed out by a missed field goal to beat Utah State. The Badgers are last in the Big Ten in total offense, last in passing offense, second-to-last in rushing offense (seriously) and last in points scored.
Right now Wisconsin looks like it wouldn't win a single game on its Big Ten schedule—and it's not even in the tough division. That is an astonishing fall from power. What in the world happened?