Welcome to the third edition of the Big Ten (+ Nebraska) Power Rankings.
While Week 3 didn't have the star power matchups or high-profile games of Week 2, it still included several very intriguing OOC games, including four teams against the vaunted Pac-10, which provided better competition and allowed for more questions to be answered as we get closer to conference play.
Before we begin, here's a little reminder on how these rankings were chosen. By and large, I rank the teams based on how the team in question played the previous week and how good the opponent is/was 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. 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).
Week 3 had its ups and downs--some teams looked very strong while others looked weak. The rankings are getting a little more concrete, but as we see in the rankings, big wins and hard losses can still make a big difference.
Biggest winner: Michigan State
It wasn't a road win, or a dominating win, or a win over an elite team. Further, it doesn't cement Sparty as a contender just yet. Still, for the sheer ballsiness of Dantonio's call and the perfect execution with which it was carried out, Michigan State gets the nod for this week.
Honorable mention: Nebraska
The Huskers completely overwhelmed Washington on the road and may have ended Jake Locker's Heisman hopes in the process.
Biggest loser: Iowa
The Hawkeyes' vaunted defensive line doesn't want to take a backseat to anybody, but they were only the second-best front seven on the field this night. Their national championship hopes now almost assuredly gone, the Hawkeyes have to regroup and focus on getting to the Rose Bowl.
(Dis)honorable mention: Minnesota
The Gophers didn't really look all that bad in a game they weren't supposed to win, but they get the mention since they were the only other team to lose this week.
LW: LOSS vs Southern California, 21-32
NW: vs Northern Illinois
How's this for punctual? As Minnesota took a 14-13 lead in the third quarter to get the crowd rocking, Robert Woods took the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a USC touchdown, all but deflating the Gopher fans and effectively killing their chances to win the game. The Gopher offense, so effective in the first two games, was stopped in its tracks by USC, only gaining 83 yards on the ground. MarQuis Gray made the most of four catches--98 yards and a score against a suspect USC secondary. The linebackers continue to be the bright spot for the defense, with Gary Tinsley and Keanon Cooper accounting for 13 solo stops between them. Kyle Theret returned from a two-game suspension and had seven tackles and a pick.
LW: WIN vs Northern Illinois, 28-22
There's some optimism in Champaign as the Illini head into the bye to prep for conference play--the ground game that's struggled early erupted for 319 yards against NIU, with both Mikel LeShoure and Nathan Scheelhaase going over 100 and seven yards a pop. That said, the offense has to get two-dimensional soon. Scheelhaase only completed 50% of his passes. That's good enough against NIU, but against the Buckeyes in two weeks it ain't gonna cut it. Ian Thomas had a good game for the defense with a forced fumble, but the effort could have been better. NIU missed three conversion points, which may have made the difference in a game as close as this.
LW: WIN at Western Kentucky, 38-21
NW: vs Akron
We won't know much about this Hoosier squad until its date with Michigan on October 2nd, but in the meantime the Hoosiers have a chance to get out of September undefeated for the first time since 2005. Ben Chappell was sharp, going 32/42 for 366 and accounting for four touchdowns, and Tandon Doss almost took the opening kickoff to the house. A slow start, however, kept WKU alive after a turnover by Darius Willis led to a 10-play, 91-yard touchdown drive by the Hilltoppers. The defense locked down after that, however, with Adam Replogle getting a sack and Nick Sliger chewing up the middle. Akron comes to town next week.
LW: WIN vs Ball State, 24-13
NW: vs Toledo
Purdue has had to turn to its bench a lot this season already, and that trend continued on Saturday when Robert Marve came out with an injury and backup Rob Henry was forced into action. Without top playmaker Keith Smith, another Smith--Cortez--stepped in and caught five passes for 117 yards and two TDs, including an improvised 76-yard score after the ball was tipped. The ground game picked up 203 yards. Miscues on offense and special teams let BSU start five drives at midfield or better, which makes the 13 points given up by the defense a little more impressive. Albert Evans had five tackles, a sack, and a pass breakup, and Kawann Short had two tackles, half a sack, two pass deflections, and a blocked extra point.
LW: LOSS at Arizona, 27-34
NW: vs Ball State
Iowa was beaten more convincingly than the score suggests, as Arizona's Nick Foles poked holes all over the Hawkeye defense. The line made plays, with Broderick Binns notching a sack and making a pivotal play to tie the game late, and Jeff Tarpinian made 12 stops, but the most noise Adrian Clayborn made was on a bone-headed mistake on what would have been a 3rd-and-18 to give the Wildcats a fresh set of downs. The special teams were pitiful, missing a PAT, getting a punt blocked, and giving up a 100-yard kickoff score. The OL struggled to give Stanzi protection, and with Jewel Hampton now lost for the season, Adam Robinson takes over at RB. He was held to just five yards against Zona.
LW: WIN vs Kent State, 24-0
NW: vs Temple
A tuneup game was just what Penn State needed, and the Lions took advantage, shutting out hapless Kent State 24-0. The offense wasn't spectacular, being held to just 45 yards in the second quarter. Robert Bolden was given the go-ahead and he delivered, hitting two big pass plays early to open things up, but he accounted for all three Lions turnovers, which is maddening. Strangely enough, the OL, once the team's biggest question mark, might actually be the team's best unit so far, having not allowed a single sack through 12 quarters, although Johnnie Troutman had a holding penalty that negated a touchdown. The collective defensive effort was strong, holding KSU to 228 yards while getting two sacks and two interceptions.
LW: WIN vs Arizona State, 20-19
NW: vs Austin Peay
This week has been a roller coaster for Wisconsin. For the most part, we saw things we expect to see offensively--John Clay going for 123 yards, Scott Tolzien putting together an efficient effort (19/25 for 246 and a score), and Lance Kendricks making big plays (seven catches for 131 and a TD). However, the defensive line was tested by a big ASU line, and Steven Threet was on-target all game. Wisconsin played pretty cleanly, with only three penalties and no turnovers, but it again got gashed by a huge play, giving up a 97-yard kickoff score. Even with that, however, the special teams get the game ball after Shelton Johnson stopped an ASU kickoff at the one-yard line before halftime and Jay Valai blocked an XP that preserved the 20-19 score. Losing Chris Borland for the season really, really hurts.
LW: WIN at Rice, 30-13
NW: vs Central Michigan
Northwestern put together its best team effort so far, putting the game away early against Rice on the road. Dan Persa and Quentin Davie were again outstanding for the 'Cats, with Persa going 24/32 and accounting for two scores. Davie had 10 tackles, including 1.5 TFL, a pass breakup and an interception returned for a score on his way to picking up Big Ten DPotW. Rice managed 377 yards, but four costly turnovers, including three in NW territory, killed their chances. Stefan Demos converted all six of his kick attempts. If there's an area that needs work, it's probably run-blocking, as 3.2 YPC isn't gonna blow opponents away. Still, with a favorable schedule upcoming, the Wildcats have a real chance at 6-0 before Michigan State comes to Evanstown on October 23rd.
LW: WIN vs Massachusetts, 42-37
NW: vs Bowling Green
Where's the defense? That's the big question in Ann Arbor after the tense 42-37 win over UMass. They needed every point as the Minutemen staged a furious comeback, scoring 20 points in the fourth quarter before falling short. UMass ran 78 plays, racked up 440 yards (217 rushing) and 26 first downs, and held the ball for nearly 38 minutes--a troublesome sign for a team that scores so quickly on offense, leaving the defense little time to rest. That said, Denard Robinson was again outstanding, totalling 345 yards and keeping UMass off-kilter all game with a coolly efficient 10-14 day. He might finally have a fellow playmaker to ease the load, as Michael Shaw went for 126 and three TDs. One more tuneup game is all Michigan gets before Big Ten play starts.
LW: WIN vs Notre Dame, 34-31
NW: vs Northern Colorado
News of Mark Dantonio's heart attack has put everything on hold for the time being, but no school in the rankings flew higher on Saturday than Michigan State, whose team and fanbase were supercharged by Dantonio's unbelievable call in overtime to beat the hated Irish. It's the sort of call that can make or break a season, and since it paid off so handsomely, I'm giving Sparty the boost. The game preceding it was possibly the most fun game in college football this year, but there are lots of questions that need addressing, first and foremost with the defense, which got ripped for 262 yards and 24 points after halftime. The offense was bruising again, however, piling up 200+ yards for the third time this season, and Kirk Cousins put together a solid 23/33 game. After NCU next week, we'll get to know these Spartans a lot better as conference play starts.
LW: WIN at Washington, 56-21
NW: vs South Dakota State
No word better sums up the Huskers' Week 3 game against Washington than "dominant." Despite giving up 21 points, the defense was stout, holding UW to 246 yards and a paltry 4-14 on third downs. Jake Locker was atrocious, completing 4/20 for 71 yards, 45 of which came on a single play. On the offense, Nebraska put together its strongest effort to date, looking very much like those old Husker teams of yore, with 383 rushing yards. Taylor Martinez continued his awesome season, accounting for 287 yards and four touchdowns. The competition is iffy, but Nebraska is still averaging nearly 48 points and over 500 yards a game so far. Alex Henery's booming leg was on display as five Husker kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. The Huskers can rest easy with SDSU and a bye week forthcoming.
LW: WIN vs Ohio, 43-7
NW: vs Eastern Michigan
Same old same old--Ohio State runs over an inferior opponent at home. It's easy to want to overlook the Buckeyes after the attention other teams got this past week, but the Buckeyes still have the best quality win, and have taken care of business in their other games. OSU racked up 439 yards against the Bobcats while sitting on the ball for almost 38 minutes. Terrelle Pryor was sharp, at one point completing 16 straight passes and accounting for three touchdowns. He tossed his first two picks of the season in this game, but with the way the defense has been playing, that's really no big concern--the ferocious OSU D has forced 12 turnovers already in this young season, and the Buckeyes lead the nation in turnover margin at +10. The one loose cog continues to be special teams, but if they can fix that up, OSU will be a dominant force all year.