Ohio State winning the Big Ten has felt like an inevitability the last few years. Since 2017, Ohio State is 35-2 against Big Ten opponents with 4 straight conference titles. The Buckeyes winning the league has been a mere formality.

But as anyone who has seen the Buckeyes play through the first 2 weeks knows, that is no longer the case.

It isn’t just that Ohio State lost 35-28 to No. 12 Oregon, because that happens. It’s the way the Buckeyes lost. There wasn’t anything fluky about Saturday. A team from the Pac-12, which hasn’t had a team in the College Football Playoff since 2016, soundly defeated the Big Ten’s premier program in its home stadium.

For all of Saturday, the Buckeyes were holding on for dear life. They allowed over 7 yards per rush, which hadn’t happened since 2018. They never led the Ducks and have trailed at halftime in both their games this season, something that hadn’t happened in their last 18 regular season games dating to 2018. They trailed Oregon by double digits for 16:04 on Saturday, the first time they have been down by 10 or more in the regular season since 2018.

Sensing a theme?

Oregon, despite playing without its 2 best defensive players and 5 starters, held Ohio State to 28 points (though to be fair, the Buckeyes piled up 612 yards). The Ducks, no longer the offensive juggernaut they were under Chip Kelly, turned back the clock in piling up 505 yards on an Ohio State defense that has now let up an average of 494.5 yards in its last 4 games. This isn’t just a bad game; it’s a trend that shows no signs of changing unless adjustments are made.

While Ohio State still has all of its goals in front of it — i.e. Big Ten title and national title — the Buckeyes are in somewhat of a transition phase. They have accumulated talent at absurd levels, rivaled by only Alabama and Georgia in that regard.

But despite their track record and a roster littered with 5-star recruits, this year was always going to be tough. There wasn’t a QB on the roster who had thrown a pass in college before this year. There wasn’t a returning starter at linebacker (a critical position in terms of leadership), and Ohio State had only 5 starters back on defense overall.

In a year or two, super recruits such as QB Quinn Ewers, DE JT Tuimoloau, DE Jack Sawyer, WR Julian Fleming, RB TreVeyon Henderson and WR Emeka Egbuka will probably be dominating the sport. But they aren’t ready quite yet (with Jaxon Smith-Njigba a notable exception to the young Bucks ready to contribute). CJ Stroud is really, really good, but he’s not quite polished enough to overcome a flawed defense like Justin Fields was able to last year, not quite ready to win shootouts against Clemson.

They appeared to have widened the gap even more with their conference counterparts. Ohio State has 66 blue-chip recruits, including 15 of the 5-star variety. It is 3rd in the 247Sports Team Talent Composite, with Michigan (No. 15) and Penn State (No. 16) the closest of the rest of the B1G.

But based on what we’ve seen the first 2 weeks, it’s not going to be easy for Ohio State to make it 5 straight B1G titles. Is there a team in the country with 2 better wins than now-No. 5 Iowa? If No. 10 Penn can beat No. 22 Auburn this week, the Nittany Lions will have one of the best resumes in the country. I know it’s early, but No. 25 Michigan (2-0) whipped what is supposed to be one of the best Pac-12 team without even throwing the ball. If No. 18 Wisconsin’s offense catches up to the defense, the Badgers will be dangerous in December.

Those teams all have flaws, yes, but it isn’t like Oregon doesn’t have those same warts. It has a more dynamic QB than any of the B1G contenders, but it was able to win up front and on the ground, just like Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State want to, as well.

Will Ohio State still win the Big Ten? Maybe. Possibly. (Probably.) But it’s inarguable that the Buckeyes are vulnerable. And there is no shortage of teams waiting in the wings to take them down.


No. 10 Iowa 27, No. 9 Iowa State 17. This is vintage Iowa. The defense forced 4 turnovers, held one of the best running backs in the country under 70 yards and caused a 4-year starter at QB to be benched. Can a team go into the house of a top-10 team, gain 173 total yards and win comfortably? When you have a defense like Iowa, the answer is unequivocally “yes.”

Do you remember the last time Iowa allowed more than 24 points? It was in the 2018 season. In today’s game, that’s not even a big threshold; 93 of the 127 FBS teams averaged more than that last season. There just aren’t many holes to attack. Cornerback Matt Hankins had 2 interceptions this week; the other starting corner, Riley Moss, had 2 interceptions last week. There are 4 Power 5 outside corners with a PFF grade of 90 or higher, and half of them belong to Iowa.

And it may not feel like it, but Iowa is averaging 34.3 points in its 8-game winning streak. Obviously, some of that is set up from the defense either scoring or putting the offense in advantageous situations. When going against another good defense, as often happens in the Big Ten, Iowa can get by when their star running back averages only 2.6 yards per carry, or their QB averages 5 yards per pass attempt. It’s counter to the style so many in college football play, but how can you argue with the results? Iowa has won its last 5 games against ranked opponents.

Presumably, Spencer Petras will have to win Iowa a game with his arm at some point. It hasn’t happened yet. After throwing for just 106 yards against the Cyclones, Petras is at just over 125 passing yards a game and 5.2 yards per pass attempt (11th in the B1G), but who cares? When Petras attempts 30 or fewer pass attempts, Iowa is 8-0. When he attempts more than 30, Iowa is 0-2. This is by design.

Not that Iowa doesn’t need Petras to play well when he is called upon. Like the sack he took on 3rd-and-10 to put Iowa out of field goal range in the third quarter, for example. A 2nd-year starter should know to throw that ball away. Iowa’s ceiling ultimately will be decided on whether Petras can make a game-changing play or 2 each game, in addition to avoiding those mental mistakes.

Michigan 31, Washington 10. Speaking of Iowa, have you watched Michigan play yet this season? Because the recipe for success looks awfully similar. The Wolverines thus far are committed to the ground game, averaging 339 yards per game (4th nationally) after piling up 343 in this one. They are playing great defense. They aren’t asking their QB to do too much. It’s hardly the most exciting brand of football, but it’s a formula that wins a lot of games.

Cade McNamara threw for just 44 yards, with his only memorable play a 33-yard pass to Cornelius Johnson. After allowing McNamara to throw on 3 of the first 4 third-down plays (he converted once, to Johnson), offensive coordinator Josh Gattis took the ball out of McNamara’s hands. On the final 12 third downs, McNamara attempted only 3 passes. Michigan dialed up run plays on 3rd-and-5 or longer 4 times. It was hard to blame Gattis; Michigan’s offensive line consistently won the battle up front, and Blake Corum (171 yards and 3 TDs on 21 carries) and Hassan Haskins (155 yards and a TD on 27 carries) gashed Washington’s defense.

It’s tempting to overreact and triumphantly claim that Michigan is back (as I did last season after a dominant win over Minnesota), but thank goodness Washington already lost to an FCS team in Week 1 to temper my enthusiasm. Michigan being good at football is great for the conference, and this was a big win for the B1G after Ohio State lost to Oregon earlier.

Until McNamara shows he can come up big in a key spot, we don’t truly know if Michigan is “back.” So far, so good, though.

The AP voters put Michigan back in the Top 25 this week, and it’s justified. We’ll know more in 3 weeks when Michigan travels to Wisconsin, a team that has given the Wolverines all kinds of trouble the last 2 years. Until then, let’s all reserve judgement.


1. RB Blake Corum (Michigan)

The redshirt freshman was terrific against Washington, erupting for 171 yards and 3 TDs on 21 carries. He is forming a dynamic 1-2 punch with Hassan Haskins.

2. DE Jesse Luketa (Penn State)

Maybe he should’ve been on this list last week, because if not for his incredible leaping ability, Wisconsin may have won that game. But there’s no doubt he is as valuable as it gets, as he showcased it in the easy win over defending MAC champion Ball State. The one-handed pick 6 was an incredible display of athleticism. His versatility, though, is what stands out. He started the game at LB as Ellis Brooks served a half-game suspension for targeting, then moved to defensive end in the second half.

3. CB Matt Hankins (Iowa)

Have fun attacking these Iowa corners. Hankins picked off Brock Purdy twice, leading to him getting benched late. He is one of PFF’s highest-graded corners.

4. RB Trey Potts (Minnesota)

The script didn’t change much for Minnesota, as Potts slid right in for the injured Mohamed Ibrahim and ran for 178 yards and 2 TDs on 34 rushes in the win over Miami (OH).

5. QB Adrian Martinez (Nebraska)

Martinez’s ability to get something out of nothing is unique among Big Ten QBs. He played a near-flawless game against Buffalo with 242 passing yards and 2 TDs on 13-of-19, plus 9 rushes for 112 yards. And he made this play midway through the second quarter that completely changed the trajectory of the game. Just, wow.