Welcome to the first edition of the Big Ten (+ Nebraska) Power Rankings. I will update with a new edition after each week's games have been played. Excitement for the Big Ten is at a fever pitch entering the 2010 season; close attention will be paid to several teams as they jockey for position in the race for the Rose Bowl and beyond.
Before we jump into the rankings, here's a little breakdown of how I settle on these rankings. By and large, I rank these teams based on how the team in question played and how good the opponent is perceived to be. Was there a complete team effort for a full 60 minutes? Did they look good in a loss (or bad in a win)? Was it a road game? Was the opponent a layup? These are the most important factors. Preseason expectations are thrown out the window for the most part; I'm not interested in rewarding a team for playing a poor opponent. What this means, of course, is that the rankings for the first few weeks won't correlate with the expectations of the teams. Minor things such as suspensions or injuries may also be factored into rankings but their overall impact will probably be minimal. Unfortunately, this method of ranking is not an exact science, since I'm unable to watch all 12 teams play in any given week, but hopefully that's not too apparently reflected in the rankings (hah).
So what have we learned so far? Overall it was a fairly ho-hum Week 1, as none of the results or scores should really surprise anyone. The heavyweights took care of business and a couple of teams with rising stock picked up solid wins. The competition gets a jolt next week with a few rivalry games and a few big OOC games against ranked opponents; these rankings could be substantially different next week.
Michigan answered the bell in the newly renovated Big House
Biggest winner: Michigan
A trendy pick to lose their season opener against a good UConn team, Michigan charged out of the gates and never looked back. The Wolverines are closer than ever to being the full-fledged iteration of RichRod's vision, as Denard Robinson ran circles around the UConn defense much like Pat White used to do at WVU. The going gets tougher, but this is exactly how UM needed to kick off its 2010 campaign.
Honorable mention: Minnesota
Brewster's boys lack elite talent, but they went on the road and beat an MTSU team that won ten games a season ago.
Biggest loser: Illinois
The Illini were within striking distance of Missouri in the fourth quarter, but some highly questionable playcalling resulted in a quick, panicky four-down drive that effectively ended any hopes of a comeback. A real shame too, because the defense played quite well all things considered. The good news is that this team can't really get much worse.
(Dis)honorable mention: Purdue
Purdue doesn't really deserve it, but they were the only other team to lose this week, so they get the nod despite a good effort.
The seat gets warmer for Ron Zook
LW: LOSS at Missouri, 13-23
NW: vs Southern Illinois
The Illini had some unfortunate breaks, but down by just four in the final period, they basically rolled over and died against their archrivals. An early 14-play drive resulted in a field goal on Illinois' first drive, but the offense fell apart from there with Nathan Scheelhaase tossing three picks and completing less than 40% of his passes. Mikel LeShoure went over 100 yards rushing, but penalties killed several drives. The Illini defense was picked apart by Blaine Gabbert, and over the weekend starting linebacker Michael Buchanan was arrested on DUI charges. Not good.
Ricardo Allen cannot make the play
LW: LOSS at Notre Dame, 12-23
NW: vs Western Illinois
Purdue played admirably on the road against a fired-up Notre Dame team. Two 15-play drives stalled and yielded only three points for the Boilermakers, and they were likely the difference in the ten-point loss. Purdue's stars were out on full display today, with Keith Smith hauling in a dozen catches and Ryan Kerrigan forcing two fumbles early. Robert Marve threw two interceptions, however, and the special teams gave up a few big returns, which has been a problem for Purdue dating back to last year.
Doss was inactive for the game against Towson
LW: WIN vs Towson, 51-17
It's Towson, so take it with a grain of salt. The Hoosiers showed some big-play ability even without standout receiver Tandon Doss as three touchdowns came on drives of two plays. The two longest Hoosier drives stalled in the red zone, however, and Indiana was a dismal 1-10 on third down. Despite the lopsided score, Towson actually outgained the Hoosiers, which is a troubling sign. Still, it's one fewer game that IU fans can worry about, and they get 16 days to freshen up before they travel to WKU.
The ageless wonder
LW: WIN vs Youngstown State, 44-14
NW: at Alabama
Robert Bolden looked very good in his first start, quelling any notion of a QB controversy. Brett Brackett made life easier with eight catches and two touchdowns. Troubling, though, was Evan Royster's statline: a pedestrian 40 yards on 11 carries. He has to be better next week if the Lions are gonna control the tempo against Alabama. The defense was swarming all game, but it got burned badly on the bubble screen that turned into an 80-yard touchdown. A good team effort, but clearly some things need work.
Austin Jones hulks up
LW: WIN vs Western Kentucky, 49-10
NW: vs Idaho
Have the Huskers found a QB that fits their mold? Taylor Martinez was lethal with his arm and his legs, gaining a buck twenty-seven and three touchdowns on the ground to power Nebraska to a win. It is Western Kentucky though; the true tests lie ahead. The defense was stout in the first half but was gashed badly in the second half, allowing 220 yards and all ten of WKU's points. Nebraska also committed six penalties, three of which gave WKU first downs. An improving Idaho team comes to Lincoln next week.
The fury of Herky
LW: WIN vs Eastern Illinois, 37-7
NW: vs Iowa State
Iowa went out and took care of business, quickly crushing any chance of a repeat from last year's opener. We can't learn much from this game, only confirm what we already know--that the defense is swarming and that Stanzi can be the leader the Hawkeyes need him to be. Iowa held EIU to 190 yards, 74 of which came on back-to-back plays including a fake punt. Stanzi was a cool 18 of 23 and Adam Robinson picked up three tough TD runs. The defense generated eight points on a blocked punt and a safety. ISU is next.
Dan Persa was nearly perfect for the Wildcats
LW: WIN at Vanderbilt, 23-21
NW: vs Illinois State
In the only regular-season Big Ten/SEC game, the Wildcats escaped Vanderbilt with a win. The 'Cats were aided by several Vandy mistakes including eight penalties, two failed two-point conversion attempts, and a highly questionable late hit. Northwestern did their own part to make it interesting by missing a PAT late, but new starter Dan Persa shredded the Vandy defense, going 20-22 for 223 and three touchdowns. The defense gave up 433 yards, but ten Vandy drives ended without any points. Justan Vaughn had a pick but was also flagged for a stupid penalty that led to a Vandy field goal.
Brewster gets a big win in Week 1
LW: WIN at Middle Tennessee, 24-17
NW: vs South Dakota
A stubborn MTSU gave Minnesota a game going into the second half, but the Gopher OL controlled the tempo to the tune of 280 yards rushing, 187 from Duane Bennett. Adam Weber looked very shaky, but overall the offense had its way with five drives of 10 plays or more. Mike Rallis had a good game for the defense with seven tackles and a pick. Special teams had its ups and downs. Overall there's definitely room for improvement, but this could end up being the Big Ten's best win of Week 1. The Gophers get South Dakota next week.
Greg Jones is prepping for a big year
LW: WIN vs Western Michigan, 38-14
NW: vs Florida Atlantic
It'd be easy to want to drop MSU in the rankings with Larry Caper on the sideline, but true freshman Le'Veon Bell exploded for 141 yards on just ten carries as the OL paved the way for over 300 yards on the ground. Quick strikes ruled the day as four MSU touchdown drives lasted less than two minutes, but 3-11 on third down is a little concerning. The defense allowed WMU to sustain several drives, but it forced three turnovers.
Bucky wearing a sweater in 100-degree weather
LW: WIN at UNLV, 41-21
NW: vs San Jose State
In typical fashion, the Badgers pounded the rock and drained the clock, holding the ball for over 36 minutes and racking up 278 yards on the ground. An impressive first drive set the tone with a steady dose of John Clay and Montee Ball. The defense held UNLV to 15 yards in the first half and generated good pressure all game. However, gaffes on offense and special teams greatly aided the Rebels, who made the score uncomfortably close at halftime. Still, Wisconsin did exactly what they wanted to do on offense all game, and the outcome was never really in doubt.
Expectations in Ann Arbor are ballooning
LW: WIN vs Connecticut, 30-10
NW: at Notre Dame
Denard Robinson carved UConn's defense to pieces and it looks like RichRod has his guy. The OL took over in the second half as Michigan ran 45 plays in just three drives, effectively suffocating any chance of a UConn comeback. Michigan's defense wasn't outstanding and they were aided by lots of poorly thrown balls and drops on UConn's behalf, but holding their opponent to 10 points is a good start, and if the offense keeps humming against ND next week, the defense won't have to be a brick wall anyway.
Brewster needs a new helmet already
LW: WIN vs Marshall, 45-7
NW: Miami (FL)
To the surprise of nobody, OSU rolled against hapless Marshall on the strength of Terrelle Pryor's three passing touchdowns. The run game was strong with Saine going over the century mark. Special teams must clearly be a concern heading into the eight-game layoff after giving up a long return and having a field goal blocked that led to Marshall's only points, but it was still the most complete effort by any team in the conference in Week 1. The defense will head into the Miami game unscored upon after holding the Herd to less than 200 yards.