What We Learned About the Big Ten in Week 2, and Power Rankings
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From the first afternoon snap to the last touchdown Denard Robinson threw Saturday night, there was plenty of action in Big Ten country.
Five teams lost games, three got blowout victories over hapless opponents and three games went down to the wire.
It was a revelatory week in the Big Ten. Let's see what we can learn about each team in this week's power rankings.
Think I overrate the importance of beating Notre Dame? Tell me in the comments. Think I underrate how good Nebraska's offense really is? Tell me in the comments. Think I'm crazy for bumping Illinois up and Iowa down? Tell me in the comments. Think I'm just not seeing the value in Purdue's plan to build a super team from sixth-year medical redshirts? Might want to sleep on that one.
On with the show.
12. Indiana (0-2)
MATT KRYGER / The Star
Last week: No. 12
What happened: Lost to Virginia 31 - 34
Indiana scored three unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter to take a lead on the Cavaliers with a little over six minutes to play, but it wasn't enough. Virginia answered with a five-minute touchdown drive and two-point conversion, and forced an Edward Wright-Baker fumble which set up the game-winning field goal as time expired.
Kevin Wilson's team was inefficient on offense completing just over 50 percent of its passes for 5.5 ypa, while rushing for only 3.6 yards per attempt and giving away three turnovers. However, the Hoosier defense held the Cavaliers to a similar offensive profile (16/30, 6.6 ypa, 4.1 ypc, 4 TOs).
What we learned: Indiana is who we thougth it was.
Indiana has not had much luck in close games in the past couple years, and that streak continues unabated. Last year the Hoosiers suffered crushing last-second defeats to Michigan and Iowa on similar self imposed circumstances. Michigan was allowed to drive for the game-winning score with very little time left, and Demarlo Belcher dropped the game-winning pass against Iowa. Saturday was no different as the Hoosiers allowed Virginia to drive the length of the field, score the two-point conversion then force a turnover leading to the game winning FG.
Kevin Wilson's job in Indiana looks to be just as much about changing the culture of losing that surrounds the program as it is about building an efficient offense and a solid defense. If Indiana continues to find agonizing ways of losing close, winnable games, the team is going to continue its long stay in the Big Ten cellar.
Justify Thy Rank: Lost its first two games to an MAC team and the whipping boy of the ACC. Sounds like last to me.
11. Purdue (1-1)
Photo: Houston Chronicle, Karen Warren
Last Week: No. 11
What happened: Lost to Rice 22 - 24
Purdue had a chance to win the game at the end, setting up a field goal with seconds left to eek out a one-point lead.
Rice, however, wasn't having any of it and the Owls blocked the attempt to steal the win. Purdue still seems to be surviving without its first two options at quarterback, as third-stringer Caleb TerBush threw for a respectable 183 yards and one touchdown on 58 percent passing. Three Purdue players combined for another 183 yards on the ground.
What we learned: It's going to be a long season in West Lafayette.
Rice isn't going to fool anyone into believing it is a good team. The Owls had lost the previous 22 straight games to BCS opponents — a streak that lasted 10 years. Purdue simply lacks the firepower and depth to compete on the level of a solid BCS conference team.
Purdue's offense was good but not good enough, and its defense let the Owls convert on nearly half the team's third down attempts and pass for 7.6 yards per attempt— two yards better than Purdue's average.
The Boilermakers have yet to play a high quality opponent, but early returns aren't very kind to Purdue's chances.
Justify Thy Rank: Two down to the wire finishes against two weak opponents. One win is good enough for a bump over the winless pair.
10. Minnesota (0-2)
Paul Battaglia - AP
Last Week: No. 10
What happened: Lost to New Mexico State 21 - 28
The Gophers fell short against New Mexico State as coach Jerry Kill had to be taken to the hospital late in the game due to a seizure. While the prognosis on Kill is positive after such a frightening episode, his team doesn't look to be in very good shape.
Quarterback MarQueis Gray threw as many incompletions as completions (16) and touchdowns as interceptions (two) on the way to 211 yards passing. Gray also functioned as Minnesota's most effective rushing option with 110 yards on 17 carries; no one else rushed for more than 25 yards on the day.
What we learned: The Minnesota offense is a work in progress.
Year one under Kill has so far been tough on the offensive side of the ball. In two games so far this season Gray has been the primary rushing threat while the rest of the running backs have struggled to produce consistently. Furthermore, the quarterbacks have only been marginally effective.
All of this adds up to a bad situation as the Gophers have no ability to pick up tough yards when needed. On Saturday the Gophers were only two of 12 on third down conversions while they missed both fourth down attempts. Until the offense develops enough consistency to keep the chains moving, the Gophers will be unable to compete with anyone except the weakest Big Ten teams.
Justify Thy Rank: Putting up a fight against USC in Week 1 is enough for a bump over the Indiana duo.
9. Penn State (1-1)
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Last Week: No. 9
What happened: Lost to Alabama 11 - 27
It really wasn't even that close. The Nittany Lions scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion in the final two minutes to break into double digits on the scoreboard, but that only obscures the fact that the offense had been DOA the rest of the afternoon.
Alabama held Penn State to just 3.7 yards per pass attempt and 3.6 yards per rush while forcing three turnovers. On the other side of the ball, the Nittany Lions couldn't stop Trent Richardson on his way to 111 yards and two touchdowns, but they did make him work for it by holding him to just 4.2 ypc. When Richardson wasn't steadily rumbling ahead for yardage, AJ McCarron was busy moving the ball effectively through the air, completing 19 of his 31 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown.
What we learned: Penn State's quarterback question has been put to rest.
For now. Rob Bolden certainly didn't set the world on fire Saturday. The true sophomore only completed a little more than one third of his passes (11/29) and threw an interception, but his 144 yards was worlds better than Matt McGloin. McGloin threw 10 passes and only managed to complete one of them —a pass that went for no gain.
Penn State's quarterback situation still isn't pretty, although a certain amount of that can be chalked up to facing Alabama's defense. But the fact that Bolden was able to do anything at all through the air should further solidify him as the leader of the Nittany Lion offense. Bolden is the future of the program and McGloin has done nothing to challenge him. It is time to clear McGloin a seat on the bench.
Justify Thy Rank: Administered a beatdown then received one. Still no assurances that the offense improves this year.
8. Iowa (1-1)
Photo: Gene Pavelko/Iowa State Daily
Last Week: No. 5
What happened: Lost in triple overtime to Iowa State 41 - 44
The game between the two old rivals wasn't supposed to be nearly this close.
Iowa was favored by almost a touchdown coming in, but never found a way to account for Cyclone quarterback Steele Jantz. Jantz was electric completing 68 percent of his passes for 279 yards and four touchdowns. James White added two touchdowns on the ground.
Iowa had a very solid day offensively, headlined by James Vandenberg's 16 of 28 passing for 207 yards and two touchdowns and Marcus Coker's 140 yards rushing and two touchdowns. However, the Hawkeyes were held to only a field goal in the third overtime, and Iowa State's touchdown sealed the victory.
What we learned: Iowa isn't taking advantage of opportunities.
When Iowa put together the best seasons in the past decade, it built them on solid fundamentals and opportunistic football. How does this game look in that regard?
Good - Iowa had good offensive balance with a 200-yard passing game from Vandenberg and a 140-yard rushing game from Coker, both contributing two touchdowns. Iowa converted almost half of its third down attempts and was only penalized six times for 35 yards.
Bad - The Hawkeyes lost the game despite winning the turnover battle (three to one). Iowa also allowed ISU to convert on 12 of its 20 third down attempts. Also, the Hawkeye defense allowed ISU to score touchdowns on its final four possessions of the game — including the tying score with under two minutes to go.
Iowa doesn't have the firepower to bomb teams out of the stadium, and without defense down the stretch in close games, Iowa will struggle against the better half of the Big Ten. That is, if this game was just an anomaly. Iowa fans prefer to think of it as a bad dream. They better wake up before next week.
Justify Thy Rank: A solid Week 1 victory and a narrow loss to a rival are good enough to top PSU.
7. Ohio State (2-0)
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Last Week: No. 3
What happened: Won against Toledo 27 - 22
Ohio State doesn't lose to other schools from Ohio, but Saturday the unthinkable almost happened. Toledo had an opportunity to win the game with under a minute remaining, but the Ohio defense came up with a stop to preserve the win and the status quo.
Ohio State held the Rockets to just three third down conversions on 16 tries and a measly 1.5 yards per rush, but allowed almost 300 yards passing and three of five conversions on fourth down.
Joe Bauserman did his best "gritty game manager" quarterback impression with just over a 50 percent completion percentage for 189 yards and a touchdown to Jake Stoneburner. Carlos Hyde tacked on two rushing touchdowns for the Buckeyes.
What we learned: Akron is terrible.
To be honest, we already knew this, but it is interesting as we go forward to note that Ohio State is not nearly as invincible as it looked last week. Joe Bauserman still seems to have the starting job on lock down, but while a pedestrian performance such as 50 percent for less than 200 yards is fine against the Rockets, it won't hold up against teams that can score like Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan State.
Defensively the Buckeyes must be worried after giving up almost 300 yards passing to the Rockets. While the offense has a built-in excuse for underwhelming —it is missing arguably three of its top four players to suspension and its starting quarterback to the NFL's supplemental draft —the defense is still largely the same unit it was expected to be at the end of last season personnel-wise.
The Buckeyes will most likely be fine. The talent level on the team is still ridiculously high and the team has two winnable games to pull itself together before welcoming Michigan State for the first challenging test of 2011.
Justify Thy Rank: Still unbeaten unlike the last five on the list.
6. Northwestern (2-0)
Last Week: No. 2
What happened: Won against Eastern Illinois 42 - 21
Kain Colter continues to do his best Dan Persa impression as the Wildcats improve to 2-0 on the season.
This week Northwestern easily dispatched an overmatched Eastern Illinois team. Colter was highly efficient with a 100/100 day: 104 yards passing on 10 of 13 attempts, and 109 yards rushing on 15 carries for three touchdowns. Three other Wildcats had over 50 yards rushing, and two scored touchdowns as Northwestern put up its second straight week of running the ball effectively (4.8 ypc).
Despite the defense allowing EIU to move the ball effectively — 8.4 ypa passing, 5.1 ypc rushing —the Wildcats were able to hold the scoring down by forcing two turnovers and allowing only 40 percent on third down conversions.
What we learned: Northwestern is the No. 1 manufacturer of ridiculously accurate spread quarterbacks in the nation.
Seriously, do they breed these guys in an underground lab on campus? While Kain Colter hasn't matched the out of this world production of Persa last season, he has more than shown himself capable of guiding the Northwestern offense. Not only that, but his running ability and the improvement from running backs has helped the offense become more two dimensional.
While the Wildcats most likely won't have a chance of playing at an elite level until Persa returns, Colter seems more than capable of guiding the team to seven wins and a bowl game. The fact that this worst case scenario is disappointing is a testament to how far Northwestern has come in the past couple decades.
Justify Thy Rank: Victory over a solid BCS team tops OSU's two MAC-rifices.
5. Michigan (2-0)
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Last Week: No. 7
What happened: Won against Notre Dame 35 - 31
I have a feeling that this will be the most disagreed about ranking this week. Some will argue that Michigan deserves to be higher after an incredible comeback against a good Irish team. The rest will point out that the Wolverines played three terrible quarters of football and beat an Irish team that collapsed in on itself like a black hole.
Whatever your opinion of where the Wolverines stand, it is hard to argue with one thing: the fourth quarter comeback staged by Michigan was one of the most exciting games of the season.
Denard Robinson spent most of the game looking like the 2009 version of himself: unable to throw anything past 10 yards and held in check on the ground. However, he turned in a huge fourth quarter in the comeback. The good: 338 yards passing and four touchdowns plus 108 yards rushing and a score. The bad: he completed less than half his passes and threw three interceptions.
Notre Dame controlled most of the game but once again shot itself in the foot by turning multiple scoring chances into turnovers. The Wolverine defense was opportunistic again, snatching up three fumbles and stealing two interceptions, but the Irish gained over 500 yards of total offense.
What we learned: Denard Robinson will struggle this year.
While this point is sure to get lost in the big final numbers and the hype surrounding an exciting comeback, it was painfully clear for most of the game that the Wolverine offense has regressed far back from its 2010 form and at times it resembled the ineffectual unit that was the 2008 abomination.
Robinson's inability to pass the ball effectively had a lot to do with this. Through three quarters Robinson looked shaky and uncomfortable in the pocket. He had passes batted down, intercepted and even when he completed passes they were generally underthrown.
Without the Herculean efforts of his receivers —most notably Junior Hemingway and Jeremy Gallon— Robinson would be looking at rumblings of a quarterback controversy. Instead, he is staring down 10 games to prove that he is the quarterback capable of leading an offense to 28 points in a quarter, not the quarterback who led the team to the 17-point deficit in the first place.
Justify Thy Rank: Questions about just how valuable a win over Notre Dame is will be answered next week. Until then the Irish —and Michigan — get the benefit of the doubt. But not by much.
4. Illinois (2-0)
Last Week: No. 8
What happened: Won against South Dakota State 56 - 3
Illinois had a pretty easy time of it on Saturday. The Illini held a 400-yard advantage in total offense, putting up 519 yards to SDSU's 96. Nathan Scheelhaase continues to show improvement from last year in the passing game. Scheelhaase threw only eight times, completing six of them for 102 yards. He was equally dangerous on the ground, rushing for 93 and two touchdowns.
Four Illini players scored touchdowns on the ground as the Illini totaled 364 yards rushing and over seven yards per carry.
Defensively the Illini held SDSU to just 3.2 yards per pass attempt and one yard per carry on the ground, while adding three sacks and two interceptions.
What we learned: When Illinois run game is going, they are tough to stop.
While South Dakota State isn't the stiffest competition on which to measure an offense, the number of running backs that had productive days on the ground is encouraging. To the numbers:
- Troy Pollard: eight carries, 101 yards, one touchdown, 12.6 ypc
- Scheelhaase: nine carries, 93 yards, two touchdowns, 10.3 ypc
- Donovonn Young: seven carries, 65 yards, two touchdowns, 9.3 ypc
- Jason Ford: 11 carries, 48 yards, one touchdown, 4.3 ypc
One of the big concerns entering the year was replacing the production of Mikel Leshoure. If some of these running backs can step into a larger role as the season progresses, the Illini offense may not miss a beat from 2010.
Justify Thy Rank: Two comfortable victories and solid play from Scheelhaase are worth more than a victory over ND and questions about Denard Robinson's transition to Borges' offense.
3. Nebraska (2-0)
Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images
Last Week: No. 4
What happened: Won against Fresno State 42 - 29
Nebraska needed a big fourth quarter to get away from Fresno State, and the three touchdowns it got were enough to seal the victory.
Taylor Martinez continued a very impressive start to the season on the ground by pouring in 166 yards. He is currently tied for third nationally at 301 yards. Martinez averaged 11.1 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns in the game. When he dropped back to pass he was less successful. Martinez completed 10 of 21 pass attempts for 219 yards and one score, but threw two interceptions. Running back Rex Burkhead added 55 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively the Huskers gave up 444 yards as well as three scoring drives longer than 60 yards. The defense struggled to stop the run, allowing 190 yards at 4.8 yards per carry, 169 of them coming from Fresno State's starter Robbie Rouse.
What we learned: Nebraska is leaning too heavily on Taylor Martinez and it could blow up in their face.
Nebraska is second to only Michigan when it comes to dependence on the guy taking snaps doing everything. At least Nebraska has Rex Burkhead.
The problem for Nebraska comes if Martinez gets injured at some point during the season. Nebraska's offense never regained its early season form after Martinez was slowed with injury. What's more, even with Martinez in there, the Cornhuskers aren't passing the ball very efficiently — Martinez is currently 84th in the nation while having played no one challenging. This has the added effect of diminishing Nebraska's efficiency on third down conversions. Nebraska was just four of 12 Saturday, and nine of 18 against FCS UT-Chattanooga.
Once Nebraska begins to face some of the better rush defenses in the Big Ten this season, Martinez will need to be more efficient throwing the ball or his team will struggle to string together drives against defenses geared against the run.
Justify Thy Rank: Both teams beat a mid major and a FCS team. I trust Nebraska's defense more. Plus, Zook is a tiebreaker.
2. Michigan State (2-0)
Last Week: No. 6
What happened: Won against Florida Atlantic 44 - 0
It was never really a game for the Spartans. After taking the first drive 51 yards for a touchdown, Michigan State slowly grounded Florida Atlantic into fine powder en route to a huge win.
Kirk Cousins was his usual effective self before being relieved by backup Andrew Maxwell. Cousins was 16/21 for 183 yards and two touchdowns. On the ground the Spartans got touchdowns from Le'Veon Bell (69 yards) and Edwin Baker (50 yards) while also getting contributions from freshman Nick Hill (56 yards) and junior Larry Caper (27 yards). BJ Cunningham and Keshawn Martin both had over 70 yards receiving.
Defensively the Spartans held the Owls without a third down conversion (0/10) and allowed less than 50 yards of offense (48 yds, 2 yds/pass, 1.1 yds/rush).
What we learned: Not much we didn't already know.
Sometimes there isn't too much a dominating win over a lesser opponent can tell you.
On the bright side, Michigan State's defense came to play and pitched a shutout, and the offense moved the ball however it pleased for the entire game. It was the kind of game you want to see against a mid major school, but the kind that doesn't tell you anything. Michigan State's biggest questions are still in the trenches, and until MSU faces a school with the kind of offensive and defensive linemen that present a challenge*, this teams' ceiling is still unknown.
Good news, of all Notre Dame's problems the last two weeks, line play seems to be an early strength. All the better to test Dantonio's boys.
Justify Thy Rank: Neither team that MSU has played has been very good, but excluding the slow start against Youngstown St., MSU has basically rolled through the competition with ease. With less in the way of questions than everyone else, MSU moves up. This week is the first true test.
* (Although it is slightly disconcerting that MSU was only able to run for 3.7 yards per carry against FAU.)
1. Wisconsin (2-0)
Last Week: No. 1
What happened: Won against Oregon State 35 - 0
Wisconsin rode the hot hand of Russell Wilson and favorable field position to get the win over Oregon State. Wilson was a scorching 17 for 21 through the air for 189 yards and three touchdowns, and the Badger running game rumbled for 208 yards at 4.8 yards per carry.
Defensively the Badgers allowed Oregon State to pass for 261 yards, but held them to only 23 yards rushing.
What we learned: Even less.
This should be Wisconsin's toughest non conference test, but with Oregon State's shocking loss last weekend, there isn't any telling how good the Beavers really are. Mike Riley has done a good job building this program into a solid Pac-12 squad capable of pulling off big upsets. This is the same program that had USC's number for a couple years in the heart of the Pete Carroll dynasty.
Unfortunately, there isn't much to gain from wins against average teams. Wisconsin has a few weeks before it reveals something deeper about itself to the country. Until then, cruise control will be just about enough.
Justify Thy Rank: The fewest questions so far and the easiest victories means that the king stay the king.