Week 3 was a great one for the Big Ten, as both Ohio State and Michigan State went on the road and beat ranked teams in impressive fashion. Nebraska also had a big win, knocking off a ranked Oregon team in front of the Cornhusker faithful. Even Northwestern broke through for their first win of the season, beating Duke from the ACC. The only teams to stumble this past weekend were Iowa losing to FCS five-time defending champion North Dakota State on a last second field goal, and Illinois getting embarrassed at home by MAC upstart Western Michigan.
The conference now has five teams ranked in the AP top 20 in this week’s poll, and every team in the East Division has a winning record. There was a lot of movement in the rankings this week, so here is how I see things as conference play begins this Saturday.
14. Purdue (1-1)
Last Week: 13th; BYE
This Week: host Nevada (2-1)
Purdue dropped back to the last spot in the rankings, despite being on a bye. Northwestern was the caboose last week, but moved up a couple spots after beating the Dukies. The Boilermakers were not competitive against Cincinnati the week before, which doesn’t bode well for them in Big Ten play. They need to rebound in a big way at home against Nevada this week before starting Big Ten play at Maryland.
13. Illinois (1-2)
Last Week: 11th; Lost to Western Michigan 34-10
This Week: BYE
After the Illini played North Carolina tough in the first half last week, they ultimately lost by a wide margin. This past week was far more disheartening for Lovie Smith’s team, as they were blown out by P.J. Fleck’s Western Michigan Broncos at home. They fell behind 21-0 early in the 2nd quarter and never recovered. This loss shows this program has a long way to go and that Lovie is going to need to step up recruiting quickly. They are surely happy to have be on a bye this week so they can have the extra preparation ahead of conference play. They open at Nebraska on October 1st.
12. Northwestern (1-2)
Last Week: 14th; Beat Duke 24-13
This Week: Host #20 Nebraska (3-0)
After also losing to Western Michigan in the season opener, Northwestern self-destructed at home last week in losing to FCS school Illinois State. However, give head coach Pat Fitzgerald and his team credit for beating Duke in their last non-conference game. It does seem Duke is down this year, as they have already lost to ACC rival Wake Forest. Even so, a win is a win and the Wildcats desperately needed one. Off to Lincoln they go to take on the Cornhuskers, who are flying high after taking down the Ducks of Oregon.
11. Rutgers (2-1)
Last Week: 12th; Beat New Mexico 37-28
This Week: Host Iowa (2-1)
Perhaps Athletic Director Pat Hobbs should look into sponsorship opportunities with Maalox or Pepto Bismol, as the way Rutgers has started every game this season, those companies have probably profited handsomely from the Scarlet Knight faithful watching this team. At the end of the day, Rutgers did their job finishing non-conference play at 2-1. Now the start of Big Ten play begins with a treacherous three game stretch of Iowa, at Ohio State, and back home for Michigan in the first ever “Stripe Out.” Good luck to us all!
10. Indiana (2-0)
Last Week: 8th; BYE
This Week: Host Wake Forest (3-0)
The Hoosiers had an early off week, but it gave them time to prepare for ACC school Wake Forest, who are headed to Bloomington this weekend. Although the Demon Deacons did beat Duke and have started 2016 with a 3-0 record, their other wins aren’t that impressive. They include a 7-3 win over Tulane and a 38-21 win over FCS Delaware last weekend. If Indiana is serious about taking a step forward this season and making back to back bowl games, this is a game they should absolutely win.
9. Maryland (3-0)
Last Week: 10th; Beat UCF 30-24 2OT
This Week: BYE
The Terps didn’t make it easy against UCF, but they ultimately prevailed with a 24 yard touchdown run by true freshman quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome in double overtime. Starting quarterback Perry Hills was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury right before that play and he is listed as day-to-day for now. Maryland has an off week before kicking off Big Ten play by hosting Purdue on October 1st. A 4-0 start for D.J. Durkin would be a great beginning for him, but the schedule ramps up quickly after that, so the jury is still out on this team for now.
8. Penn State (2-1)
Last Week: 9th; Beat Temple 34-27
This Week: At #4 Michigan (3-0)
It was a big bounce back week for Penn State and they achieved redemption after losing to Temple last season. They certainly made it hard on themselves after leading 24-10, they only led by 3 points with 8 minutes to play. The Nittany Lions ultimately pulled out the victory, but they now prepare for the Big House to take on Jim Harbaugh and Michigan. They will need a near perfect effort to have any chance this weekend.
7. Minnesota (2-0)
Last Week: BYE
This Week: Host Colorado State (2-1)
Minnesota had a bye week and will finish non-conference play against a Colorado State team that was blown out by in-state rival Colorado. They will start Big Ten play on the road the following week in Happy Valley against a Penn State team that will probably be just 2-2 for that matchup. It should be a very big game for both schools.
6. Iowa (2-1)
Last Week: 2nd; Lost to North Dakota State 23-21
Next Week: At Rutgers (2-1)
Yes, this was a bad loss for a program that had a perfect regular season in 2015 and has Big Ten championship goals. However, even though North Dakota State is an FCS school, they have won the national championship five years in a row and have now won their last six games against FBS opponents. Iowa may have lost on a last second field goal, but it did nothing to change their chances to repeat as Big Ten West champs. It’s bad timing for Rutgers, as the Hawkeyes will surely be fired up for their conference opener this weekend at High Point Solutions Stadium.
5. Nebraska (3-0; #20 AP)
Last Week: 6th; Beat #22 Oregon 35-32
Next Week: At Northwestern (1-2)
This was a huge win for Mike Riley and the Cornhuskers, as well as a good PR win for the conference. Tommy Armstrong, while not the most accurate of quarterbacks, is a true gamer and ran for the winning touchdown with just over two minutes left in this game. Nebraska fell down 20-7 to Oregon and showed a lot of heart in pulling out this game. It’s nice to know Rutgers will not have to play them this season. With this win, Nebraska proved they are a legitimate contender for the Big Ten West title.
4. Michigan State (2-0; #8 AP)
Last Week: 5th; Beat #18 Notre Dame 36-28
Next Week: Host #11 Wisconsin (3-0)
The Spartans stunned the Irish, who took a commanding 36-7 lead late into the 3rd quarter until the golden domers woke up and staged a comeback. It ultimately fell short and Michigan State won their third road game in a row in which they were the underdog. If they knock off the Badgers this weekend, the Big Ten East will officially have a three headed monster at the top of the division.
3. Wisconsin (3-0; #11 AP)
Last Week: 4th; Beat Georgia State 23-17
Next Week: At #8 Michigan State
The Badgers did not look good in beating an FCS team at home by just 6 points. I never really thought they were in danger of losing this game, but it is a bit of a red flag for a team that owns the Big Ten’s best out of conference win over SEC power LSU. Wisconsin’s schedule escalates again quickly, as they travel to Michigan State this week to take on a Spartan team that should be fired up after their big win at Notre Dame. This is also a big East v. West battle within the conference.
2. Michigan (3-0; #4 AP)
Last Week: 3rd; Beat Colorado 45-28
Next Week: Host Penn State (2-1)
Michigan pulled a Rutgers and fell behind 21-7 against Colorado at home last week. Although they did trail into the 4th quarter, they did outscore the Buffaloes 38-7 the rest of the game. Jabrill Peppers had a great game and became the first player to win Big Ten player of the week awards for both defense and special teams. While their defense was exposed early, they recovered well in their last non-conference game. Their extended home schedule continues with Penn State coming to Ann Arbor this weekend and it could get ugly for the Fighting Franklins early in this contest.
1. Ohio State (3-0, #2 AP)
Last Week: 1st; Beat #14 Oklahoma 45-24
Next Week: BYE
The only thought scarier than how good Ohio State can become this season is that they are on a bye this week before hosting Rutgers on October 1st. On their homecoming no less. The Buckeyes offense looks unstoppable and Noah Brown broke out in a big way against Oklahoma with 3 touchdown catches in the first half, each more incredible than the next. What they did on the road against the Sooners was impressive and they are officially a legitimate national championship contender.