In-depth look around the B1G as we head into Week 3
It’s important to pay attention to what goes on in September in the Big Ten, but it’s equally critical to not make final judgments on any team — or any player — after just a couple of weeks. It is, quite simply, still too early to tell.
There are a few things we’re pretty sure of. Ohio State’s offense is legitimately scary, and likely will remain so. Same with Iowa’s defense, and Wisconsin’s running game, based on two weeks of this season and decades of history.
A few teams look better than we thought (Maryland, Indiana) so far, and a few look worse (Purdue, Northwestern). Others are still confusing us (Penn State, Michigan State) but that’s the joy of a college football season. We enjoy each weekend and let it all play out.
Here are five things that are on my mind this week:
1. Wisconsin running game hitting high gear
I’m putting a small asterisk next to what I’ve seen from Wisconsin so far, because Western Kentucky and New Mexico aren’t very good. Scores like 34-3 and 45-14 are impressive and dominant, but if you’re a top-5 team in the country, shouldn’t you pound those two by even more?
What I saw as a nice improvement in just a week was the Wisconsin running game. The Badgers rolled up 413 yards against New Mexico, with Jonathan Taylor leading the way with a career-high 253 yards. It was a nice step up from the opener, when Taylor ran of 145 and the team totaled 234. BYU will be a better test this weekend in the last tuneup before the huge Sept. 22 Big Ten West showdown with Iowa. Taylor has earned a few Heisman Trophy votes so far.
2. Better test for Ohio State has me curious
Ohio State is clearly the best-looking team in the conference so far, but they’ve done it against Oregon State and Rutgers, and those are probably the two worst Power 5 teams in America.
The Buckeyes’ primetime showdown with TCU is must-watch TV when it comes to mid-September football. TCU is always well-coached under Gary Patterson and this is a huge high-profile game for them, too. It’ll be interesting to see what they bring to the table. And it will also be interesting to see if Ohio State can continue its dominant ways. Are in they in the Alabama, Clemson, Georgia conversation as the best in the country, or are they in that group just below? We’ll know more Saturday night.
3. It’s all good again at Penn State
Penn State’s 37-0 second-half run against Pitt on Saturday seemed to act like a big eraser to the Nittany Lions’ first three halves of this season. They barely survived in the opener against Appalachian State before winning in overtime, and they only led 14-6 at halftime against their in-state rivals.
But then everything started clicking. Trace McSorley threw a couple touchdown passes, and even the defense and special teams got in the act putting points on the board. It ended with a 51-6 win and they looked just like the team we thought they’d be. Showdowns with Ohio State (Sept. 29) and Michigan State (Oct. 13) are looming, and the Lions seem to be putting it together now. Or is it too early to tell?
4. Is Big Ten West already defaulting to Wisconsin?
Purdue has lost twice at home as a favorite. Nebraska had a game cancelled and then lost at home as a favorite, too. Northwestern benefitted from Purdue’s meltdown on opening night but then lost as a home favorite to Duke last Saturday.
Iowa has won twice but can’t score any points. Minnesota has won twice but isn’t considered a threat to win any titles. And Illinois, well, they’re just Illinois. So if we had to guess right now, it seems like no one has a chance to hang with Wisconsin in the Big Ten West. Iowa and Wisconsin play in two weeks, and maybe we’ll think different then, but for now it seems like this division race is over before it even starts.
5. Three games worth watching this weekend
The Ohio State-TCU game at Jerry’s World in Arlington, Texas is the only premier game this week, but there are two others that I want to play close attention to.
One is Purdue’s game at Missouri. The Boilermakers lost two games as home favorites to Northwestern and Eastern Illinois and now they travel to Mizzou, where they will have their hands full with quarterback Drew Lock and the Tigers. Purdue is desperate for a win, but can they get one here? It’s not going to be easy.
And even at 2-0, Iowa is desperate to see the offense get on track. The Hawkeyes have had one good half out of four on the offensive end, and Saturday’s game with Northern Iowa is the last chance to get things worked out before the Big Then West showdown with Wisconsin on Sept. 22. Can the Hawkeyes flip the switch and turn it on?