Big Ten play hasn’t even started in earnest, but the league’s landscape deserves a reassessment.
The overwhelming preseason favorite, Ohio State, looks vulnerable. Indiana, another summertime contender, is a few notches below that.
Their struggles have opened the door, in the East at least, for Michigan and Michigan State. They’ve coasted to 3-0 records with better-than-expected play on both sides of the ball.
Ohio State, per oddsmakers, is still the heavy favorite to win the Big Ten. What we’ve seen on the field, however, tells a different story.
Last week’s ranking: 14; overall record: 1-2; Big Ten record: 0-1; next games: Ohio
In what figured to be an important game for recruiting, Northwestern came out flat against Duke, falling behind 27-0 late in the third quarter. The Wildcats rallied, scoring late to get within one score, but couldn’t get the ball back and lost 30-23. Northwestern committed five turnovers and have seven on the season; only six teams in the country have committed more.
LW: 13; overall: 2-2; Big Ten: 0-1; next: at No. 20 Michigan State
The Cornhuskers, a 22-point underdog at No. 3 Oklahoma, made their former conference rivals sweat. Nebraska lost 23-16, but it was an encouraging performance for Scott Frost’s team (and yes, moral victories are a thing now in Lincoln).
LW: 12; overall: 1-3; Big Ten: 1-1; next: at Purdue
The Illini stay ahead of Nebraska in these rankings by virtue of their head-to-head victory, but they’ve lost three straight since that Week 0 win. Illinois led at Maryland late in the fourth quarter last Friday night but allowed a touchdown with 2:13 left and a field goal as time expired to lose 20-17.
LW: 11; overall: 1-2; Big Ten: 0-1; next: at Western Kentucky
Look at the Hoosiers’ Big Ten schedule. Making a bowl game is no guarantee. Indiana led then-No. 8 Cincinnati in the fourth quarter on Saturday, only to allow two touchdowns and fall 38-24. Michael Penix Jr. threw three interceptions, giving him six for the season. He threw just four picks across last year’s six-game slate.
LW: 9; overall: 1-1; Big Ten: 0-1; next: vs. No. 12 Notre Dame
The Badgers were off last week, given them an extra week to prepare for No. 12 Notre Dame. That game will be played at Chicago’s Soldier Field, though Wisconsin has been designated the home team. (Notre Dame is the “home team” for next year’s matchup in Green Bay; go figure.) Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan will look for revenge against his former team.
LW: 6; overall: 2-1; Big Ten: 0-0; next: Illinois
The Boilermakers outgained Notre Dame but allowed some big plays in the second half and lost 27-13. Quarterback Jack Plummer left the game after a sack, though the switch may have been performance-related. Top receiver David Bell is in concussion protocol and is questionable for the Illinois matchup.
LW: 10; overall: 2-1; Big Ten: 0-1; next: Bowling Green
Colorado, coming off a three-point loss to then-No. 5 Texas A&M, couldn’t score a single point, at home, against Minnesota. The Golden Gophers waited until the second quarter to score, but left Boulder with a 30-0 win. Colorado totaled 63 yards, losing 19 yards on the ground.
LW: 8; overall: 3-0; Big Ten: 1-0; next: Kent State
The Terrapins earned the aforementioned win over Illinois, with Joseph Petrino serving as hero. Taulia Tagovailoa continued his hot start. He’s thrown seven touchdowns and no interceptions while completing 75 percent of his passes, looking like the best quarterback in the Big Ten so far.
6. Ohio State
LW: 3; overall: 2-1; Big Ten: 1-0; next: Akron
Losing to Oregon, even at home, was understandable. Letting Tulsa hang around into the fourth quarter? Not so much. The AP poll is swayed by preseason expectations; these rankings ignore them. The Buckeyes own a nice road win at Minnesota. It’s a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten résumé right now.
LW: 7; overall: 3-0; Big Ten: 0-0; next: at No. 19 Michigan
The Scarlet Knights accomplished their first season goal, to enter Big Ten play undefeated. They followed up a win at Syracuse with a 45-13 victory over Delaware. Aron Cruickshank returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown. Now Rutgers has to prove it can compete in the Big Ten, a challenge since it entered the league in 2014.
LW: 5; overall: 3-0; Big Ten: 0-0; next: Rutgers
The Wolverines are the No. 1 rushing team (350 yards per game) in the country. They are top 10 in scoring offense and scoring defense, having outscored opponents 141-34. No player in the country has scored more touchdowns than running back Blake Corum (eight). Northern Illinois’ coach was certainly impressed.
3. Michigan State
LW: 4; overall: 3-0; Big Ten: 1-0; next: Nebraska
The Spartans are compiling quite the September résumé. They’ve earned their place in the AP poll after going to then-No. 24 Miami and leaving with a 38-17 win. Payton Thorne (stats 261 yards, four touchdowns) earned co-offensive Player of the Week in the Big Ten, Kenneth Walker III had another strong performance, and Michigan State’s defense forced four turnovers.
2. Penn State
LW: 2; overall: 3-0; Big Ten: 1-0; next: Villanova
Maybe that’s why SEC teams don’t play nonconference road games too often. Auburn couldn’t survive a primetime “white out,” as the Nittany Lions escaped with a 28-20 win. Only four teams in the country own wins over two ranked teams, and Penn State is one of them.
LW: 1; overall: 3-0; Big Ten: 1-0; next: Colorado State
Iowa is one of the other teams with two ranked wins (Alabama and BYU are the other two). The Hawkeyes beat unranked Kent State 30-7 on Saturday with their signature stout defense and a balanced offensive attack.