Thankfully, easily the most uninteresting week of the Big Ten season has now passed. There were very few compelling matchups, with Penn State, Illinois and Purdue falling flat in the highest profile games of the weekend for the conference. Cheer up Rutgers fans, it could be much worse, we could be Northwestern. Without further ado, here are how I see things standing in the Big Ten headed to the last week on the non-conference schedule for most teams.
14. Northwestern (0-2)
Last Week: 11th; Lost at Illinois State 9-7
This Week: Host Duke (1-1)
As frustrating as Rutgers was in the first half against Howard, at least they pulled away with 52 unanswered points for the win. It could have been worse, which it was for Northwestern, who lost to FCS school Illinois State. After losing by 1 point at home to Western Michigan to open the season, the Wildcats followed that by losing on a last second field goal. Their 10 win season from a year ago feels like a distant memory. They finish their non-conference portion of the schedule against always difficult Duke. The Wildcats appear to be in serious trouble.
13. Purdue (1-1)
Last Week: 13th; Lost to Cincinnati 38-20
This Week: BYE; next week host Nevada (1-1)
Purdue was not competitive against Cincinnati in a game they needed to prove that they are close to turning a corner. Didn’t happen. They were down 31-7 in 4th quarter, before making the score more respectable at the end. They need to rebound in a big way at home against Nevada after this bye week and before they begin Big Ten play at Maryland.
12. Rutgers (1-1)
Last Week: 14th; Beat Howard 52-14
This Week: Host New Mexico (1-1)
I gave my full thoughts on the Howard win here. Rutgers is currently a 4 point favorite against the Lobos, who bring with them to Piscataway the 7th best rushing attack in the country. They feature an option offense that includes the pistol formation. It will be a big test for Rutgers, who had tackling issues against an FCS school and were embarrassed early on. They cannot afford to fall behind in this game like they have in the previous two. On the flip side, New Mexico isn’t built to play catch up all game with a limited passing attack. It should be an interesting game and it really is a must win for Rutgers.
11. Illinois (1-1)
Last Week: 10th; Lost to North Carolina 48-23
This Week: Host Western Michigan (2-0)
The Illini had a huge game against North Carolina and played respectably, trailing 24-16 at the half. However, they were dominated in the second half and lost by four scores. Credit Illinois for playing a challenging non-conference schedule, as MAC upstart Western Michigan rolls into Champaign this weekend feeling pretty good. The P.J. Fleck led Broncos already upset Northwestern on the road and put up 70 points on FCS school N.C. Central. This is a huge game for Illinois.
10. Maryland (2-0)
Last Week: 12th; Beat FIU 41-14
This Week: At UCF (1-1)
Maryland was very good on the road against Florida International, jumping out to a 17-0 lead and they never looked back. They have to travel to Florida again this week to take on Central Florida, who got pounded at Michigan last week. With Purdue the Big Ten opener for the Terps, they have a realistic shot at starting 4-0 in the D.J. Durkin era.
9. Penn State (1-1)
Last Week: 7th; Lost to Pitt 42-39
This Week: Host Temple (1-1)
The Fighting Franklin’s came out flat against their self declared non-rival Pitt and fell down 28-7 early. Credit Penn State for clawing their way back behind five touchdowns from Saquon Barkley, but the comeback fell short, as their last drive resulted in an interception in the end zone. There is a ton of pressure on Franklin to avenge last season’s loss to Temple this weekend at home, where the university will honor Joe Paterno. A road trip to Michigan awaits the following weekend.
8. Indiana (2-0)
Last Week: 9th; Beat Ball State 30-20
This Week: BYE; next week host Wake Forest (2-0)
Indiana took care of business against MAC school Ball State and play ACC have not Wake Forest next weekend after their bye. If Indiana is to make a leap this season, taking care of the Demon Deacons at home is an absolute must.
7. Minnesota (2-0)
Last Week: 8th; Beat Indiana State 58-28
This Week: BYE; next week host Colorado State (1-1)
The Golden Gophers took care of things against an FCS school most famous for having Larry Bird rewrite their record books in basketball. They now have an extra week to prepare for Colorado State, who lost to their in-state rival Colorado by 37 points and beat UTSA by single digits. That should be a fairly easy game for Minnesota, before opening conference play in two weeks on the road in Happy Valley against Penn State.
6. Nebraska (2-0)
Last Week: 6th; Beat Wyoming 52-17
Next Week: Host #22 Oregon (2-0)
Nebraska was only leading the Cowboys 24-17 entering the fourth quarter, before scoring four touchdowns in the last frame to win going away. They now host a ranked Oregon team that handled Virginia last week 44-28. This should be a wild, high scoring affair and one that Nebraska needs to win for the fan base to feel Mike Riley is making significant progress in year 2.
5. Michigan State (1-0)
Last Week: 5th; Bye
Next Week: At Notre Dame (1-1)
The Spartans had an early week off, but it could play to their advantage, as they head to South Bend to take on the Irish. Notre Dame blew out Nevada after losing a heartbreaker to Texas on Labor Day weekend. It will be a major test for first year starter Tyler O’Connor and a great chance for a Big Ten team to leave Notre Dame with a losing record.
4. Wisconsin (2-0)
Last Week: 4th; Beat Akron 54-10
Next Week: Host Georgia State (0-2)
Wisconsin continues their two week break from their incredibly difficult schedule this season. They need to jump ahead early and get out of this game healthy, as a road game against Michigan State looms the following week.
3. Michigan (2-0)
Last Week: 3rd; Beat UCF 51-14
Next Week: Host Colorado (2-0)
Michigan is bludgeoning teams so far, but this week could be far more interesting than was originally expected. Colorado has been down for years now, but have started 2016 with a 2-0 record by beating Colorado State and Idaho State by a combined score of 100-14. The Michigan defense might be the best in the country, so something will have to give in this game. I am not expecting Michigan to have too much trouble in this one though. Penn State will visit the following week in the Big Ten opener for both schools.
2. Iowa (2-0)
Last Week: 2nd; Beat Iowa State 42-3
Next Week: Host North Dakota State (2-0)
Wow, the Hawkeyes were not playing around this past weekend, throttling blood rival Iowa State at home. It must have been a satisfying win for head coach Kirk Ferentz, who signed a contract extension earlier in the week. Iowa had lost to the Cyclones three times in the past five years, so this blow out win was quite the statement. It also served notice to the rest of the Big Ten that Iowa was no fluke last season and will be a force to be reckoned with again this year. They now face five-time FCS defending champion North Dakota State, which should be a fascinating game, as they played another wild one this past weekend.
1. Ohio State (2-0)
Last Week: 1st; Beat Tulsa 48-3
Next Week: At #14 Oklahoma (1-1)
The most difficult part of this game for the Buckeyes was the weather delay they needed to sit through on Saturday. Now comes a gigantic road game against Oklahoma. You know head coach Bob Stoops is looking for payback after his Sooners opened the season with a loss to Houston and Urban Meyer’s protégé Tom Herman. I think Ohio State is loaded with talent againt this season, but it will be the first road test for many newcomers on their two deep. If the Buckeyes win this game in convincing fashion, it will prove their roster turnover has not diminished this program’s firepower and will make them a legitimate national title contender.