Big Ten Football: The Winners and Losers of September

Zach Dirlam@Zach_DirlamSenior Analyst IIOctober 1, 2012

Big Ten Football: The Winners and Losers of September

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    The Big Ten Conference has hurt itself more than any other league in college football through the month of September. 

    Three Big Ten teams were defeated by Mid-American Conference opponents thus far; the Pac-12 had no trouble taking down a couple of the conference's heavyweights; the Michigan Wolverines have been beaten badly by nationally ranked opponents, and the Michigan State Spartans have struggled to a 3-2 record.

    Despite the tumultuous start, there are some winners in the Big Ten thus far, but there are undoubtedly several losers.

    Click the next button to find out some of the Big Ten's biggest winners and losers through the month of September.

Winner: Venric Mark & Trevor Siemian

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    The Northwestern Wildcats have gotten off to a 5-0 start in large part because of the breakout seasons of junior running back Venric Mark and sophomore quarterback Trevor Siemian.

    In addition to being one of the most dangerous kick returners in the Big Ten Conference, Mark has rushed for over 100 yards in three of the Wildcats' first five games.

    Meanwhile, Siemian has won Northwestern's starting quarterback job and pushed last year's starter Kain Colter into a utility role for the Wildcats. Siemian began making some noise in Northwestern's season opener against the Syracuse Orange when the Windermere, Florida native led the Wildcats on a 10-play, 75-yard game-winning drive in the final three minutes.

    Siemian has thrown for 672 yards, one touchdown and one interception, while Mark is among the nation's top-10 all-purpose backs.

Loser: Denard Robinson's Heisman Trophy Chances

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    There is no doubt that Michigan Wolverines senior quarterback Denard Robinson is still one of college football's most dynamic players, but his performance against ranked opponents through the first four games of the 2012 season has virtually taken him out of the Heisman Trophy race.

    In games against the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Robinson has accrued only 455 total yards and two touchdowns. Robinson also turned the ball over a total of seven times in those two losses.

    Robinson turned in impressive performances against the Air Force Falcons and UMass MInutemen. However, performing well against those two teams does not exactly inspire talk of a Heisman Trophy.

Winner: Ohio State Buckeyes

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    The Ohio State Buckeyes have ridden the legs and arm of sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller to get out to a 5-0 start in Urban Meyer's first season at the helm of the program.

    Miller has thrown for 933 yards and eight touchdowns in the month of September. Additionally, Miller has rushed for over 100 yards in three of Ohio State's first five games, including a 22-carry, 136-yard performance against the Michigan State Spartans vaunted rush defense.

    Although Miller and the Buckeyes are ineligible to play in the Big Ten Conference championship game, Ohio State still looks like a team with the talent to win a minimum of nine games this year.

Loser: Wisconsin Badgers

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    The Wisconsin Badgers entered the 2012 season with high hopes, given the fact that two teams from the Big Ten Leaders Division were ineligible to play in the postseason.

    However, Bret Bielema's squad has struggled thus far and only managed to post a 3-2 record for the month of September.

    Wisconsin's offensive line appears to be in complete disarray, and the loss of numerous assistants from last year's Rose Bowl team looks as though it will be much tougher to overcome than many fans originally thought.

    Transfer quarterback Danny O'Brien proved to be completely inept when the Badgers needed him the most. As a result, Bielema benched the former Maryland Terrapin after just two games.

    The Badgers suffered a 10-7 setback against the Oregon State Beavers, who have turned out to be much better than expected. Wisconsin was then outscored 20-7 in the second half of their 30-27 loss to the Nebraska Corhuskers this past weekend.

    Wisconsin is no longer the outright favorite to win the Leaders Division and may be overtaken by the next team in this slide show.

Winner: Purdue Boilermakers

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    Given the Wisconsin Badgers early season struggles, the Big Ten Leaders Division race is now wide open, and the Purdue Boilermakers are front and center of any conversation about which team is the favorite to make it to Indianapolis in early December.

    Antavian Edison and O.J. Ross have proven to be two reliable playmakers at wide receiver for the Boilermakers through the first four games.

    The Boilermakers have taken care of business against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels, Eastern Michigan Eagles and Marshall Thundering Herd for their three victories. Purdue's only loss came in South Bend to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. 

    Purdue's defense should give them a chance to slow down the Wisconsin Badgers running game in two weeks when the teams meet at Ross Ade Stadium to play a game that may wind up deciding the Leaders Division.

Loser: Michigan State's Wide Receivers

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    The Michigan State Spartans came into the 2012 season having to replace their top four wide receivers from a year ago, and thus far the young men attempting to fill that void have struggled to consistently catch the football.

    Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell has been far from perfect, but Michigan State's unproven wide receivers have not been able to separate from defenders or hang on to many balls that hit them right in the hands.

    The Spartans are still going to be one of the best teams in the Legends Division because of their talented defense.

    However, the Michigan State offense needs to get things going, especially with the Michigan Wolverines and Nebraska Cornhuskers waiting in the wings.

Winner: Taylor Martinez's Mechanics

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    The Nebraska Corhuskers have roared out to a 4-1 start behind the arm of Taylor Martinez, who has significantly improved his mechanics since the end of the 2011 season.

    Martinez is completing 67.8 percent of his passes for 1,059 yards, 11 touchdowns and just one interception. He turned in one of his best games over the weekend in a 30-27 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers, throwing for 181 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 107 yards rushing and another touchdown.

    The junior signal-caller still looks a bit awkward throwing the football, but Martinez's mechanics are no longer the joke they were last year. 

Loser: The Entire Big Ten Conference

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    The Big Ten Conference has hurt itself more than any other league in college football through the opening month of the 2012 college football season.

    The Nebraska Cornhuskers and Wisconsin Badgers suffered losses to Pac-12 teams, the Ohio State Buckeyes were outgained by the Cal Golden Bears and UAB Blazers, the Iowa Hawkeyes lost to the Central Michigan Chippewas and the Indiana Hoosiers were outscored by the Ball State Cardinals.

    Additionally, the Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans have been far from impressive after being labeled as the Big Ten's top two teams entering the 2012 campaign.

    The only saving graces thus far have been Northwestern and Ohio State, both of which have started the season 5-0.