How are things looking in the Big Ten West?

Like this: Nebraska finally fired Scott Frost after a 45-42 loss to Georgia Southern dropped the Cornhuskers to 1-2 this season and Frost to 16-31 as Nebraska’s head coach. Receivers coach Mickey Joseph, himself a former Nebraska quarterback, will take the helm for the rest of this season.

The Huskers allowed 642 yards to the Eagles, which marks a new Memorial Stadium record for a Nebraska opponent.

It was an all-time rock-bottom loss for the program. Hence the coaching change.

Nebraska is bad enough on film that firing Frost 3 games into the season was absolutely warranted. Things were not going to get better with him in charge.

But as bad as the Huskers are, I refuse to count them out in the Big Ten West title race. Because I’m unconvinced any of their peers are that much better.

Nebraska’s loss stole the limelight in what was an embarrassing day overall for the division. With the exception of Illinois, every West team that played an FBS opponent on Saturday lost.

Wisconsin, a 17.5-point home favorite over Washington State, lost. Northwestern, which looked so improved from a year ago when it beat Nebraska in Dublin, lost to Duke as a 10-point home favorite. Iowa’s offense managed only 150 yards in a 10-7 home loss to Iowa State.

It was a bad scene all around.

It’s hard to trust anyone in the West right now, but the following is my order of confidence for the remainder of 2022. This might be updated weekly, monthly, or never again.

Big Ten West Trust Index

1. Minnesota (2-0)

Before Gophers fans break out the party hats, this is not yet a full-throated endorsement. Pounding New Mexico State and Western Illinois proves nothing. But since it’s fair to wonder whether anybody else in the West would be capable of such a feat, the Gophers are No. 1.

This week’s game against 0-2 Colorado continues Minnesota’s “Seinfeld” September schedule. These are games that mean nothing.

2. Purdue (1-1, 0-1 B1G)

At the end of the season, I have a feeling the Boilers will rue letting Penn State off the hook in Week 1. The margins will be narrow in the West, and that loss could be the difference in whether or not Purdue is playing at Lucas Oil Stadium in December.

The Oct. 1 game at Minnesota will be incredibly consequential in the division race.

3. Wisconsin (1-1)

I think the Washington State loss will prove to be a weird blip at the end of the season.

The Badgers outgained the Cougars by 148 yards. Wisconsin had 22 first downs to Washington State’s 10. The turnover margin was equal, with both teams committing 3. Third downs were completely lopsided, with Wazzu converting just 2 of 11 attempts while Wisconsin was 8-for-15.

The thing that troubles me is self-induced mistakes. In addition to the giveaways, Wisconsin committed 11 penalties for 106 yards. If that goes away, the Badgers are the team to beat in the West. If it doesn’t, it’s anybody’s division.

4. Illinois (2-1, 0-1 B1G)

At the end of the season, I have a feeling the Illini will rue letting Indiana off the hook in Week 1.

Wyoming, Indiana and Virginia are far from offensive dynamos, but the Illini have looked defensively sound against all of the above. Wyoming passed for just 30 yards against Illinois. Indiana rushed for 32 yards on 26 carries, and Virginia had 42 yards on 29 carries. And given the offensive construction of most of the West, that means this team might have a chance to win some games. Maybe even enough to compete for a title.

5. Northwestern (1-1, 1-0 B1G)

Losing to Duke is a massive disappointment, but even in good seasons Northwestern has duds like this. The 1995 Rose Bowl team followed the Week 1 win at Notre Dame with a home loss to Miami (Ohio). Then didn’t lose again until Pasadena.

If I’m the Cats, I’m pleased as punch that Ryan Hilinski is currently leading the Big Ten with 374.5 passing yards per game. A month ago, no one on the planet would have taken “Ryan Hilinski will be averaging 90 passing yards per game more than CJ Stroud” as a bet, even if it only covered 2 games.

The defense, however, allowed 7.8 yards per play against the Blue Devils. And that leak concerns me.

6. Nebraska (1-2, 0-1 B1G)

Give Nebraska credit for 1 thing and 1 thing only — the Huskers recognized it wasn’t working, and made a change that gives them hope for the rest of the season. Which is more than can be said of team No. 7.

7. Iowa (1-1)

It’s quite possible the Hawkeyes have 1 of the best defenses assembled in modern Big Ten history. Even so, I have less faith in Iowa reaching Indianapolis than any other team in the West.

The offense might get a jolt when receivers Keagan Johnson and Nico Ragaini get back from injuries, but this will require the same voltage as reanimating Frankenstein’s monster. Brian Ferentz’s offense is averaging 3.5 points per game, and quarterback Spencer Petras has 1 TD and 9 interceptions since Oct. 10, 2021.

Something needs to change in Iowa City.

Around the B1G horn

Couldn’t watch every game? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.

No. 3 Ohio State 45, Arkansas State 12

Injuries are easier to deal with when you can account for them in practice. Ohio State’s receivers didn’t look big enough for the moment after Jaxon Smith-Njigba went down against Notre Dame, but got more comfortable in a week of practice without their top dog. Marvin Harrison Jr. (7 catches, 184 yards, 3 TDs) and Emeka Egbuka (4 catches, 118 yards) are going to be just fine as complementary weapons when he returns.

No. 4 Michigan 56, Hawaii 10

JJ McCarthy is exactly who we thought he was — Michigan’s next starting quarterback.

McCarthy didn’t have to do much, but it was still jaw-dropping — 11-of-12 for 229 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Rainbow Warriors are down on their luck, but this offense will find a different gear against many of its opponents with McCarthy running the show.

No. 14 Michigan State 52, Akron 0

The Spartans have slaughtered 2 Mid-American Conference opponents, but quarterback Payton Thorne has been a bit too middling for this level of competition. Thorne is 10th in the B1G in completion percentage (57.7%) and has 4 touchdowns against 3 interceptions. Thorne was picked off twice by the Zips.

He has to step it up at Washington this week. This is a dangerous road environment for the Spartans.

Washington State 17, No. 19 Wisconsin 14

This was almost certainly the only game I’ve seen that featured each team getting an interception, then fumbling the interception return back to the team that threw it. As noted earlier, this was simply a very odd game.

Graham Mertz wasn’t great, but also wasn’t why Wisconsin lost — 18-of-31 for 229 yards with 2 TDs and the aforementioned INT that was fumbled right back. Most of the time, that’s probably going to be good enough for the Badgers. But because we might not be able to expect much more than that, Wisconsin is also capable of losing a game like this.

Penn State 46, Ohio 10

If you forgot what it looks like when the Nittany Lions can run the ball, freshman Nicholas Singleton is on the case. The former 5-star recruit lived up to the hype with 179 yards on 10 carries. Those are numbers you see in a high school game.

Singleton had touchdown runs of 70 and 44 yards against the Bobcats. It’s still fair to wonder if Penn State’s offensive line is worth a hoot — Ohio had 5 sacks. There will be far better defensive fronts coming after the Nittany Lions in the future.

But Singleton may just need them to be average enough to open up some slivers of air. This guy is special.

Minnesota 62, Western Illinois 10

Maybe the only thing to take away is that there will be no Bowling Green-type slipup from the Gophers this season. PJ Fleck’s team is all business, as you’d expect from a squad led by 4 sixth-year seniors.

Also, Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense may be diverse enough to get the Gophers to Indy. Trouble is Minnesota is jumping straight in to the deep end with a game at Michigan State after 3 straight lightweights.

Duke 31, Northwestern 23

A tragic ending for the Wildcats after a curious decision by first-year Duke coach Mike Elko kept them in the game.

Elko kicked a field goal on fourth-and-goal from Northwestern’s 1, electing to go up 8 rather than staying up 5 and making the Cats drive 99 yards with 1:20 remaining. Or, of course, scoring a touchdown that would have made a comeback mathematically impossible.

The game instead ended on the opposite goal line, with Evan Hull getting stripped a la Cleveland Browns running back Earnest Byner in the 1987 AFC Championship game as he rumbled toward the potential tying score. Northwestern and the Browns already share the best quarterback in their respective histories (Otto Graham), and now goal-line fumbles from running backs who otherwise had outstanding games join that company.

Really, Hull was terrific, with 14 catches for 213 yards out of the backfield. He’s going to win the Cats some conference games that have more meaning than this one, which will be felt more acutely at law firms and country clubs.

Maryland 56, Charlotte 21

This game wasn’t as close as the scoreboard indicates. The Terps had 4 touchdowns in their first 15 plays from scrimmage.

Taulia Tagovailoa was the quarterback most of us are expecting to see this season, connecting on 27 of 31 passes for 391 yards and 4 touchdowns. Most encouraging was his use of Florida transfer Jacob Copeland, who had 4 receptions for 110 yards and a pair of scores. Copeland is the X-factor Maryland brought in to match with Rakim Jarrett and Dontay Demus Jr.

This becomes a very difficult offense to stop if all 3 are producing along with any semblance of a running game. And with 193 rushing yards against the 49ers, the Terrapins had that semblance.

Iowa State 10, Iowa 7

The wildest stat I could find after this one:

In case you were wondering, and I know you were, those Cowboys went 11-0 before losing to Syracuse in the Independence Bowl. And they were even involved in a few barnburners, including a 44-33 win over Northwestern State. So historically speaking, better days may be ahead for Iowa’s offense.

Hawkeye fans probably want Iowa to avoid scheduling Northwestern State, though.

Illinois 24, Virginia 3

A year ago, the Cavs won this game 42-14. That’s how far Bret Bielema has brought Illinois in a year, more or less.

In a division built on amazing defense — Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin are all in the top 11 nationally in scoring defense — the Illini are building something legit under coordinator Ryan Walters. Virginia was 0-for-16 on third down against Illinois.

I’ll use the same line I did when the Illini held Wyoming to 30 passing yards: I don’t care who the opponent is. That’s impressive.

Purdue 56, Indiana State 0

Jeff Brohm heard everyone griping about why he didn’t run the ball more down the stretch against Penn State. Or maybe he just didn’t want to be mean to the Sycamores, who dealt with the tragic deaths of 2 players before the season.

At any rate, Purdue ran the ball 45 times for 232 yards. And Aidan O’Connell could have played blindfolded, going 17-for-19 for 211 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Rutgers 66, Wagner 7

Any doubts about New Jersey’s supremacy over Staten Island were erased in this victory.

The Scarlet Knights had a preposterous 33 first downs to Wagner’s 9 in this mismatch. The 66 points are the most scored by Rutgers since it pasted 68 on Colgate in 1993.

Rutgers will go for its second straight 3-0 start, attempting to prove New Jersey’s supremacy over Philadelphia at Temple.

Georgia Southern 45, Nebraska 42

There’s not much more to say about this pathetic performance that we haven’t already said. But it is still shocking how soft Nebraska’s defense is.

The Cornhuskers did not record a sack for the second time in 3 games. Against a program that didn’t exactly recruit pass blockers — Georgia Southern ran the option until Clay Helton was hired this offseason.

If you’re looking for the antithesis of the Illinois defense, it’s Nebraska’s. Georgia Southern went 11-of-15 on third and fourth down.

Indiana 35, Idaho 22

Idaho led 10-0 at halftime, and this game felt poised to join a list of truly ignominious defeats experienced by Indiana in the 21st century.

But Tom Allen’s powers remain stronger than the program ghosts that preceded him. This game flipped on a bad snap that the Hoosiers converted into a safety, cutting the deficit to 10-9 early in the third quarter. Indiana took the lead on the ensuing possession and never looked back.

Shaun Shivers rushed for 155 yards on 20 carries, which may be another indicator that the Illinois run defense that shut him down in Week 1 is the real deal.

Week 2 MVPs

1. RB Nicholas Singleton (Penn State)

Singleton averaged 17.9 yards per carry with touchdowns of 70 and 44 yards. He also threw in a plain-old 50-yard carry that didn’t result in a touchdown for good measure.

This was the best performance by a Penn State running back since the New York Giants drafted Saquon Barkley, because it allowed Singleton to display his open-field explosiveness.

2. DL Lukas Van Ness (Iowa)

Van Ness tied a school record with 2 blocked punts, because of course Iowa would have another guy who blocked 2 punts in a game. Van Ness also added a tackle for loss while playing defense.

If Iowa had won this game, Van Ness would have gotten the game ball.

3. QB JJ McCarthy (Michigan)

This is how you win a quarterback competition in decisive fashion: 11-of-12 passing for 229 yards and 3 touchdowns. That’s like a pitcher throwing a 1-hitter with 10 strikeouts in 6 innings in his first career start.

Yes, it’s against the equivalent of the Detroit Tigers. But it’s still an impressive debut.

4. WR Marvin Harrison Jr. (Ohio State)

Harrison Jr. flashed his Rose Bowl form, fully making up for Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s absence with 184 yards and 3 touchdowns.

In fact, it is Harrison, not Smith-Njigba, who is the first to join Joey Galloway as the only receivers with multiple 3-touchdown games in Ohio State history. Given the rate at which the Buckeyes are churning out NFL wideouts these days, that’s pretty amazing.

Even more amazing: Harrison has 6 career touchdown receptions. They’ve all come in 2 games.

5. QB Taulia Tagovailoa (Maryland)

Tagovailoa averaged 12.6 yards per attempt at Charlotte. Just silly stuff. And who knows how far beyond 391 yards he was capable of going if Maryland actually needed him in the fourth quarter.

Honorable mention

Northwestern running back Evan Hull, who was a lousy foot away from being the No. 1 player of the week. His 213 receiving yards were the most all-time for a Wildcats running back, and the No. 3 single-game showing in Northwestern history. Furthermore, he had the most single-game receiving yards of any Power 5 back since 2000. … Purdue receiver Choo-Choo Charlie Jones, who continued his scorching start with 9 catches for 133 yards and 3 TDs. … Maryland receiver Jacob Copeland for turning 4 catches into 110 yards and 2 TDs. … Illinois running back Chase Brown for a steady 146 yards on 20 carries. … Rutgers tight end Johnny Langan, who threw a 43-yard TD pass on the final play of the first quarter, then caught a 10-yard TD pass near the end of the first half.

Play of the week

Northwestern cornerback Garnett Hollis Jr.’s acrobatic back-of-the-end zone interception was a key turning point in the Wildcats’ rally against Duke. But this play was bonkers regardless of context.

Blooper of the week

For the second straight week, the blooper reel takes us to Madison. This time for an actual play rather than announcers badly attempting to Jump Around.

In the words of Maxwell Smart, missed it by that much.