We are just two weeks into the 2009 Big Ten season, and already there have been plenty of surprises, plenty of suspense, and plenty of heartache.
In Ann Arbor, the Wolverine faithful are celebrating a huge win over the Irish. Time will tell if this is a turning point in the Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan.
But just a short drive west to East Lansing, there is a decidedly different feeling. Confidence has given way to doubt after a difficult loss, and Spartan fans are hoping this isn't a return to the days of old.
Fans in Bloomington are celebrating a 2-0 start when nothing was expected, while just a few hours east on Interstate 70, Buckeye fans are left wondering what could have been.
On the Big Ten's western boundary, Hawkeye fans saw the improvement in their team that they wanted to see from week one to week two. But on the conference's eastern boundary, the Penn State faithful, though still confident, are left wanting more after six so-so quarters of football against subpar competition.
Those Nittany Lions remain No. 1 in the B/R Big Ten Power Rankings, but their margin over No. 2 Ohio State has closed slightly. The Buckeyes, after losing a heartbreaker to Southern California, still received two first place votes—a testament to the way the Buckeyes performed against the Trojans.
It is becoming more and more evident that the Big Ten race is going to be an exciting one, and there are several teams that could challenge.
This week Big Ten teams will once again take on some marquee non-conference opponents in nationally televised games. Michigan State will travel to Notre Dame, while Minnesota welcomes No. 5 Cal and Iowa will host Arizona.
The B/R Roundtable Big Ten Players of the Week:
Offensive Player of the Week: QB Tate Forcier, Michigan
Defensive Player of the Week: S Tyler Sash, Iowa
Special Teams Player of the Week: WR Darryl Stonum, Michigan
On to the rankings...
1. Penn State (6) 93 points Last Week: 1
Allen: Basically the Nittany Lions treaded water, facing an impotent Syracuse team whose season is referred to as “rebuilding.”
Krumrey: Not as strong as one would like to see, but PSU has done nothing to get themselves dropped from the No. 1 spot. Daryll Clark looks great as expected.
Bielik: The Nittany Lions have not allowed a first half point at all, though not much is known about this team yet. The schedule stays extremely soft with Temple until Big Ten play picks up.
2. Ohio State (2) 89 points LW: 2
Feddern: They put up a good fight against USC and proved they were a quality team, but they should have won. The OSU defense is as tough as they come, but Terrelle Pryor can’t win games by himself on offense. Not yet, anyway.
Cary: While many fans in Columbus act like the sky is falling, losing a heartbreaker against the decade's most dominant team isn't reason to move the Bucks down this list...or throw in the towel on 2009.
Bielik: Ohio State seemed to outplay the Trojans on both lines, to the surprise of everyone in the country. Now if they can figure out how to coach an offense properly, they will be in great shape.
3. Michigan (1) 83 points LW: 4
Luber: Impressive win against Notre Dame. Forcier looks good; he may be a threat to Big Ten secondaries everywhere, and watch out, this boy can run!
Feddern: I am not drinking the Wolverine Kool-Aid just yet. Well, not completely. It is hard to deny that they have looked good the last two weeks, and they are a lot better than people thought. But I hesitate to even put them this high, as I have a hunch we haven’t seen the real Michigan yet.
Cary: Every contender for "Big Ten's third-best team" has disappointed in one of the first two weeks (Hawkeyes and Spartans, I'm looking at you), so Michigan gets the nod based on a big win over the Irish.
4. Iowa 73 points LW: T5
Jelley: The Hawkeyes bounced back well, and if they put on a good show against Arizona, they could find themselves among the top 25 again.
Allen: Iowa rebounded well after squeaking out a miracle win over Northern Iowa in week one. The offensive and defensive units played extremely well after a shaky first quarter, and there were signs of a burgeoning running game.
Cary: The good news is the Hawks are 2-0, and they're hoping to get Bryan Bulaga back sooner rather than later. And hey, for as bad as they looked against Northern Iowa, things got better against Iowa State. If Kirk Ferentz's crew only had to play in-state teams all year, they could be national champs.
5. Northwestern 50 points LW: T5
Feddern: The Wildcats need to make a lot of movement if they want to compete in the Big Ten this year. While they are 2-0, their defense has left some wondering.
Allen: Is there is a pattern starting to repeat of letting leads slip away? Northwestern held a 21-point advantage and allowed Eastern Michigan back into the game just to make things interesting. In the end Stefan Demos kicked a 49-yard field goal to secure a win in the closing seconds.
Cary: Another of the "lucky to be 2-0" teams. The Wildcats didn't have any trouble with Eastern Michigan in the first half but seemed to forget the games last 60 minutes now.
6. Wisconsin 49 points LW: 7
Feddern: John Clay could end up being the best running back in the Big Ten this year, but the Wisconsin defense needs to step it up a bit, or all of Clay’s hard work will be for nothing.
Cary: The Badgers got down early to Fresno State but rallied late to stay undefeated. With how much flu's been going around, credit Bret Bielema and company for handling adversity.
Bielik: The Badgers battled a huge flu epidemic to a gritty 2OT win over Fresno State to stay undefeated. Scott Tolzien looks like a legitimate starting QB, something the Badgers truly lacked in 2008.
7. Minnesota 45 points LW: 9
Jelley: The Gophers managed to knock off Air Force thanks to an impressive fourth quarter, but they must establish a run game if they hope to contend in the Big Ten.
Trahan: After a sloppy game against Syracuse, the Gophers rebounded to beat Air Force at home. A win is a win, but Minnesota needs to play much better next week against Cal.
Bielik: Minnesota needed a big fourth quarter to win their first game in TCF Bank Stadium. Neither of their wins this season has been glamorous, and the offense will need to be more consistent as the year goes on to make consecutive bowl trips.
8. Michigan State 36 points LW: 3
Jelley: Central Michigan is one of the better MAC teams, but the Spartans looked much like the Spartans of old as they gave the game away.
Trahan: The Spartans suffer a huge drop in this week's power rankings after losing to Central Michigan. The defense underachieved, and the inexperience at quarterback and running back definitely showed.
Bielik: A home loss to a MAC team is simply an embarrassment, especially leading late into the game. The schedule does not get easier as they face the Irish, who come off a disappointing loss of their own.
9. Purdue 35 points LW: 8
Luber: Props to them for playing a close one in Oregon, where it is tough to play. They aren't as talented as Oregon, yet hung in there and showed they are not a team to mess around with.
Cary: I really want to put the Boilers higher, but I'm not buying into the idea that losing a close game at Oregon is a moral victory. If Purdue really takes confidence out of Eugene, they'll prove it in the upcoming three-game home stand (NIU, Notre Dame, Northwestern), and that will be enough to get noticed.
Bielik: They came within two points of pulling a huge road upset in Autzen, something not easily accomplished. Ralph Bolden is one of the best RBs in the Big Ten, and an unexpected running game could help Purdue be a surprise this season.
10. Illinois 26 points LW: 10
Allen: The Illini bounced back from their defeat last week and in the process lost their vaunted quarterback Juice Williams, who went down on the first drive of the afternoon. Illinois State was not much of a challenge for this team and luckily proved to be compliant patsies.
Trahan: A win against Illinois State doesn't mean much, and the Illini should be concerned about the health status of quarterback Juice Williams. Plus, the defense needs to get better after a horrible game against Mizzou and a so-so game against Illinois State.
Krumrey: Lost the Juice but didn't lose the game. Eddie McGee was solid as one would expect in relief of Williams. Maybe McGee getting in could be a blessing in disguise for Illinois.
11. Indiana 15 points LW: 11
Trahan: A win against Western Michigan is decently impressive, especially for the Hoosiers. They're 2-0, and while they probably won't keep up the winning streak, they have already achieved more than most of the conference thought they would for the whole season.
Krumrey: The Hoosiers are actually 2-0. Who would have thought they would win even one? A win over a solid Western team has the Hoosiers looking much better in the ranks of the Big Ten.
Cary: I thought they were the worst team in the Big Ten when the year started, and two close wins haven't changed my mind (yet). What does it say about the conference that the Hoosiers are an underdog at a MAC team (Akron) this weekend anyway?