Wisconsin Rules: Ranking Legends and Leaders After Teams Butt Heads in Week 1
As if you have not heard this before—"Welcome to the Big Ten, Nebraska!"
It was a rude invite for Nebraskans, traveling to Camp Randall to play Wisconsin in their backyard under the lights with thousands of Badger fans taunting Cornhusker magic.
But take heart, Cornhuskers, because next week you get to welcome the Ohio State Buckeyes into your own Husker Hornet’s nest—an Ohio State team that stands now as a shadow of its former self.
True, the Buckeyes will replenish some key positions with returning players suspended for the first five games, but Terrelle Pryor will not be among them. OSU is hurting on offense—their timing is off and their confidence nonexistent.
Michigan State barely managed to get past Ohio State but the Spartans did hang on to win on the road in the Horseshoe, no less. Still, you must admit that Michigan State looked less than impressive.
In the meantime, Penn State hung on to win on the road against Indiana. That means only one of two things—either Indiana is suddenly very, very good or it is going to be another long Penn State season.
Illinois managed to squeeze past Northwestern with Dan Persa once again back in the Wildcat’s pocket. That is something the rest of the league must have noted as well. Persa is hard to ignore.
More importantly, however, Illinois is now 5-0.
In Ann Arbor, Minnesota could not get up off the ground in their game against an on-fire Denard Robinson as Michigan begins their season 5-0, just like last year.
Purdue could not contain Notre Dame—not even at home. The Boilers lost.
Finally, the Iowa Hawkeyes were idle.
So at the end of the first week of conference showdowns, who leads the way in a fresh new season of Big Ten conference play?
12. Minnesota Golden Gophers (Legends, 1-4, 0-1)
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It was not easy watching his team from the sidelines on Saturday for Jerry Kill, Minnesota’s newest head coach.
Kill who has been struggling with newly surfacing “seizure” issues could not have been pleased as the game unfolded before him—ending with a 58-0 shellacking of his football team.
Gopher quarterback MarQueis Gray was sidelined in Ann Arbor with a toe injury, sending freshman Max Shortell into the fray. The Minnesota defense spent most of the game on the field because the offense could not move the ball.
Ineffective play and penalties killed the Gophers on the afternoon.
This week the Gophers travel to Purdue where they should have a chance to right the offense and tighten special teams.
Jerry Kill has his work cut out for him.
11. Indiana Hoosiers (Leaders 1-4, 0-1)
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Another new Big Ten head coach, Kevin Wilson, had his chances to take down the Penn State Nittany Lions in Bloomington; but in the end, the Hoosiers could not rise to the occasion.
It was not pretty for either team with mistakes and turnovers confounding offensive coordinators on both sidelines.
Indiana had a tough time scoring but finally put up seven points to bring the score to 16-10 with a little under four minutes left on the clock.
After forcing Penn State to punt with two minutes left, Indiana stormed down the field.
First-time starting quarterback Dusty Kiel, however, could not make a completion for the go-ahead score as time expired.
The Hoosiers have lost two in a row. Next week they play host to fellow “leader” Illinois who has yet to lose a game.
Indiana needs a win to stay relevant, even this early in the Big Ten race.
10. Purdue Boilermakers (Leaders, 2-2, 0-0)
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The Boilermakers defeated Middle Tennessee and Southeast Missouri State earlier this season, but were no match for a Notre Dame team that had plenty to prove on Saturday.
Led by Tommy Rees’ passing barrage and Michael Floyd’s amazing catches, Notre Dame thumped Purdue big time—38-10.
The Irish practically doubled everything that Purdue offered up except penalties.
Like Penn State, Purdue has not settled on a quarterback. That means whichever man stands in the pocket—he must look constantly over his shoulder wondering how long before he gets yanked in favor of the other quarterback.
Bad timing and back luck cost the Boilers big time on Saturday.
Next week Purdue will be looking to get back on the winning track as they welcome the Minnesota Golden Gophers into West Lafayette.
9. Northwestern Wildcats (Legends, 2-2, 0-1)
It is true. Dan Persa has returned, trying to carry Northwestern on his back once again.
Persa has not played since last November when he tore his right Achilles tendon after throwing a decisive winning pass against the Iowa Hawkeyes, winning the game but losing the rest of the season.
Not many expected such an immediate impact, but Persa returned ready to play for all the marbles last Saturday.
As the two Chicago teams battled for the lead, Nathan Scheelhaase of Illinois had the final say as he engineered the last scoring drive of the fourth quarter taking it in himself from the one-yard line.
Illinois snatched the victory away in the last seconds of the game, leaving coach Pat Fitzgerald once again flabbergasted by the ineffective play of the Wildcats' secondary. The long ball killed them again—38-35.
Still, the return of Persa has to give the Wildcats hope, although the quarterback did take himself out of the game in the latter stages. Hopefully, he did not re-injure the tendon.
Northwestern will need Persa back, strong and determined as the Wildcats welcome the Michigan Wolverines into Champaign next Saturday.
8. Ohio State Buckeyes (Leaders, 3-2, 0-1)
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It was so hard to watch Ohio State play without their swagger, their bold confidence and their running game.
One thing's for sure, the Buckeyes offense was not prepared for the top-ranked Michigan State defense. The Buckeyes never settled into a rhythm and were constantly pressed into making bad decisions, resulting in broken plays, penalties and a turnover.
Starting OSU true freshman Braxton Miller at quarterback with his lack of experience led to many stumbles and miscues. It was quite an assignment for the untested freshman who had difficulty reading the Spartan's defensive alignments.
Former starting quarterback Joe Bauserman came in to give the Buckeyes their only score with 10 seconds left on the board. It was that close to a shutout.
Even with their defense stifling the Buckeyes, Michigan State hardly looked sharp, barely able to muster much scoring glory themselves. Still the Spartans won—and in the Horseshoe that is no small feat.
Next week does not get any easier for the Buckeyes as they travel into Cornhusker Land to play Nebraska in Lincoln.
Woe betide the team coming into Lincoln after the Cornhuskers lost the week before.
7. Iowa Hawkeyes (Legends, 3-1, 0-0)
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Iowa's only loss in 2011 came in triple overtime to instate rivals, the Iowa State Cyclones.
To date, Iowa has not lost a game in the Big Ten—but of course, they have not won one either.
For some obscure reason, the Hawkeyes took a break before they began. The time off, we are sure, was spent to get ready for Iowa’s biennial trek to Happy Valley where the Hawkeyes will do battle with the Nittany Lions once again.
So far the Hawkeyes seem to have the Lions by the tail. They have won eight of their last nine meetings—the last three consecutively.
The Lions did not have a real easy time of it against Indiana. Life will not improve except for the fact that Penn State will be at home.
The game is going to be a turning point for the winner.
6. Nebraska Cornhuskers (Legends, 4-1, 0-1)
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The Nebraska Cornhuskers slumped back into Lincoln after being bushwhacked 48-17 in Badger Land.
It looked good at the start with Nebraska scoring first, moving the ball well and holding the Wisconsin running game in check.
But the Badgers broke it open in the second quarter as the Nebraska offense began to sputter under constant pressure by Wisconsin’s defense.
Nebraska fans are hoping that they get another chance to play the Badgers—in the Big Ten title game in December. That means that Nebraska must win the “Legends” Division, meeting Wisconsin as the winner of the “Leaders” Division.
Next week the Cornhuskers welcome the Ohio State Buckeyes into Lincoln. This game has lost some of its early season luster because so far Ohio State has not lived up to its preseason billing. With the suspended players returning to the playing field, some improvement may be noted.
Nebraska, however, will be out to even the score on the “Leaders” by taking out Ohio State.
5. Penn State Nittany Lions (Leaders, 4-1, 1-0)
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The Penn State offense once again had a hard time finding the end zone against the Indiana Hoosiers last Saturday.
Quarterback Rob Bolden seemed powerless to move the ball. Enter quarterback Matt McGloin in the third quarter to pitch a 74-yard touchdown pass to save the day.
The Lions won the contest 16-10, but it was far from a convincing performance.
Still a win is a win, plus, it was on the road.
The memory of that opener will fade, especially if Penn State can find a way past the perennial thorn in their side—the Iowa Hawkeyes next Saturday. The Lions have lost their last three contests against the Hawkeyes, and luckily, this game takes place in Happy Valley.
The Lions will need to play some quality offensive football next Saturday to stay in the hunt with the Wisconsin Badgers in the Leaders Division.
4. Michigan State Spartans (Legends 4-1, 1-0)
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No Big Ten team looks forward to playing Ohio State in Columbus in the Horseshoe.
But this year is different. Jim Tressel is gone. Terrelle Pryor is gone. The Ohio State offense is missing.
So early on, when the Spartans found Ohio State back on their schedule as their Big Ten opener, the Spartans focused on that—winning on the road against the mighty Ohio State Buckeyes.
In the end, they were aided in their quest by Ohio State themselves as the once-mighty offense sputtered and died on the field during important moments.
In fact, the vaunted Spartan defense practically shut out the Buckeyes who were saved by a late touchdown to make the score respectable.
The Spartans defense allowed the Buckeyes only 178 total yards of offense—remarkably only 35 yards on the ground.
The Michigan State offense, on the other hand, seemed off target with numerous miscues on the afternoon, but, they did enough to win the game.
Winning on the road in the Horseshoe is good enough.
Next week is a bye week for the Spartans who will return on October 15 to face their instate rivals, the Michigan Wolverines.
3. Illinois Illini (Leaders, 5-0, 1-0)
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The Illini remain undefeated so far in 2011.
Their win over Dan Persa and the Northwestern Wildcats is a testament to how far this program has come since 2009 when Illinois went 3-9, winning only two Big Ten games that season against Michigan and Minnesota.
Under the leadership of quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois rallied after suffering through a mistake-prone first half to score 28 points and secure the win at home over the Wildcats.
With time expiring, Scheelhaase punched in the final score, carrying the ball himself to give the Illini the victory.
It was a great comeback for Scheelhaase and should do much to build the sophomore’s confidence as the Illini head deep into conference play. There are some powerful opponents waiting in the wings.
Next week, Illinois travels to Indiana to try to keep their winning streak alive.
2. Michigan Wolverines (Legends, 5-0, 1-0)
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It was a terrible game if you were a Minnesota Gopher football fan and it was a thing of beauty if you were a supporter of the Michigan Wolverines as the two teams met last Saturday in the Big Ten opener.
Quarterback Denard Robinson threw two touchdown passes on the afternoon.
He also ran the ball in for one more score on Saturday to cement his legend as the quarterback who almost unaided, turned around Michigan football.
Trying to bolster his aerial numbers, the Michigan offense concentrated on their passing game and came up big against the over-matched Gophers amassing 217 yards through the air.
Michigan travels to Evanston next Saturday to face the Northwestern Wildcats—a team with more offense and defense than the Minnesota Gophers could muster in their 58-0 beatdown by Michigan.
1. Wisconsin Badgers (Leaders, 5-0, 1-0)
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The undisputed leaders of the Big Ten at the moment reside inside Camp Randall in Madison, Wisconsin.
The Badgers faced the vaunted Nebraska Cornhuskers last Saturday for Big Ten bragging rights as conference play got underway.
After a tense opening quarter with Nebraska scoring first, the Badgers soon established themselves behind quarterback Russell Wilson and the rout was on.
Piling up 486 yards of offense, the Badgers owned the field midway into the second quarter as Wilson began to find his rhythm while Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez threw the first of his three interceptions on the day.
It was a powerful performance by the Badgers who seemed to feed on the crowd and energy inside Camp Randall.
The running game was key to the Badgers offense led by Montee Ball who gained 151 yards while scoring four touchdowns.
Wisconsin has a bye week coming up and then welcomes the Indiana Hoosiers into Madison on October 15.
The Badgers have yet to take to the road this season except for their trip to Soldier Field in Chicago to stomp Northern Illinois.
For Wisconsin, the worst is yet to come as they must travel to Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota and Illinois.
Still they only have four Big Ten road games for the entire season and that bodes well for the Badgers.