Big Ten: Northwestern Wildcats

Northern Illinois beat Northwestern 23-15 last weekend, after which I wrote that the Huskies have the best football program in the state of Illinois.

The school's alumni group must feel that way, too, judging by this full-page ad in Friday's Chicago Tribune:


Yep, that's Northern Illinois basically taunting both the Wildcats, who like to market themselves as "Chicago's Big Ten Team" (check the reference to that in the ad), and Illinois -- while daring the Illini to play them.

Illinois is 4-0 all-time vs. the Huskies, with the most recent game occurring in 2010. There are no future scheduled meetings between the teams.

Playing an in-state team would have generated a lot more interest than the Illini's first two nonconference games this season, vs. Youngstown State and Western Kentucky. Yet there is very little if any upside to scheduling Northern Illinois -- which also beat Iowa last year and has won 48 games since the start of 2010 -- for any Big Ten team right now.

And the school in DeKalb knows that, which is why it can taunt its Big Ten friends in a newspaper ad.

Tracking our B1G fantasy teams: Week 3

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
4:30
PM ET
I demand a redraft.

We’re hosting our league on the ESPN College Football Challenge, and The Trombone Shorties currently rank No. 3 overall – nationally – in points scored. It hasn’t been close yet, but hopefully that’s about to change. Your Week 2 results:

The Trombone Shorties (Adam Rittenberg): 160
Massive Attack (Austin Ward): 119
Coal Crackers (Josh Moyer): 91
Sherman Tanks (Mitch Sherman): 81
Legendary Leaders (Brian Bennett): 70

And your overall standings so far:

The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg): 333
Massive Attack (Ward): 227
Legendary Leaders (Bennett): 206
Coal Crackers (Moyer): 195
Sherman Tanks (Sherman): 177

The Shorties have a big lead, but a lot can change in this league. We only have one bench spot, so bye weeks can be killer. The waiver wire is especially important, so here’s a look at our moves this week:

Sherman adds Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner and drops Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian

Moyer adds Penn State RB Bill Belton and drops Michigan State kickers

Bennett adds Illinois WR Martize Barr and drops Michigan RB Derrick Green

Rittenberg adds Purdue QB Danny Etling and drops Wisconsin RB Corey Clements

Sherman adds Michigan RB Derrick Green and drops Maryland WR Deon Long

Moyer adds Michigan kickers and drops Michigan State WR Tony Lippett

Bennett adds Michigan defense and drops Rutgers defense

Rittenberg adds Iowa defense and drops Minnesota defense

Moyer takes Penn State defense and drops Michigan State defense

Waiver-wire overview: Most of the moves this week were simply made because our players were on bye, but there were a few exceptions. The big switched happened on Bennett's team, where he tried to upgrade at wideout by picking up Barr and sliding Kenny Bell over to his bench. Bell has gotten off to a bit of a slow start, while Barr is sure to rack up some numbers with Wes Lunt under center. Both Bennett and Rittenberg also both substituted their defenses for more favorable matchups.

The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg)
Purdue QB Danny Etling
Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Rutgers RB Paul James
Michigan WR Devin Funchess
Penn State WR Jesse James
Ohio State kickers
Iowa defense
Bench: Michigan State QB Connor Cook (on bye)

Massive Attack (Ward)

Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld
Illinois RB Josh Ferguson
Minnesota RB David Cobb
Ohio State WR Devin Smith
Penn State WR Geno Lewis
Nebraska kickers
Ohio State defense
Bench: Rutgers QB Gary Nova (vs. Penn State)

Legendary Leaders (Bennett)

Michigan QB Devin Gardner
Maryland QB C.J. Brown
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott
Illinois WR Martize Barr
Nebraska WR Jordan Westerkamp
Maryland kickers
Michigan defense
Bench: Nebraska WR Kenny Bell (at Fresno State)

Coal Crackers (Moyer)

Illinois QB Wes Lunt
Iowa QB Jake Rudock
Penn State RB Bill Belton
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Maryland WR Stefon Diggs
Indiana WR Shane Wynn
Michigan kickers
Penn State defense
Bench: Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (on bye)

Sherman Tanks (Sherman)

Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner
Michigan RB Derrick Green
Penn State RB Zach Zwinak
Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton
Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo
Penn State kickers
Nebraska defense
Bench: Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford (on bye)

Watch: Big Ten live chat, 2 p.m. ET

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
9:30
AM ET
To watch on your mobile device click here.

Join Big Ten reporters Josh Moyer and Austin Ward as they talk about how the conference rebounds from a tough Week 2, discusses Penn State's future without sanctions and looks ahead to Week 3.


Big Ten Week 3 predictions

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
9:00
AM ET
Reports of the Big Ten's death are greatly exaggerated. Look, they're still playing games in Week 3 and everything.



Why West Virginia wins: Maryland crushed West Virginia 37-0 last year in Baltimore, but Dana Holgorsen brings a much better team to College Park. Quarterback Clint Trickett looks like a different player so far, and the Mountaineers seem much more competent on defense. The Terrapins have been a bit sloppy so far (seven turnovers in two games) and it will cost them in a close one. West Virginia 31, Maryland 28. -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Maryland wins: A lot of concerns remain on a West Virginia defense that was among the worst in the nation last season. So the Mountaineers can score -- but can they stop the Terps? Granted, Maryland didn't look great in the last outing, but there's simply too much firepower here for the offense to stay down. WR Stefon Diggs is an elite talent, and the defense is at least average. Maryland 31, West Virginia 24. -- Josh Moyer



Why Penn State will win: The Scarlet Knights turned heads by flying across the country and knocking off Washington State. But the Cougars followed that up by losing to Nevada. That leaves Rutgers as somewhat of a mystery, and while it will have a raucous home crowd and plenty of motivation for a rivalry game in its Big Ten debut, the Nittany Lions suddenly have even more to play for after their NCAA postseason sanctions were repealed this week. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg is throwing for 386.5 yards per game, which could be trouble for a Rutgers defense that has allowed more yards than any team in the conference through two weeks. Still, this should be an entertaining game. Penn State 35, Rutgers 31. -- Austin Ward

Why Rutgers will win: Rutgers' shaky pass defense certainly concerns me against Hackenberg. But Penn State hasn't been dominant, either, and the Scarlet Knights' defensive front seven could pose some problems for the Nittany Lions' offensive line and mostly invisible run game. I expect this one to come down to the wire in an emotional game for both sides. The home-field advantage and Rutgers' desire to prove itself on a B1G stage cause me to go with the mild upset. Rutgers 28, Penn State 27. -- Brian Bennett

Unanimous decisions

Indiana over Bowling Green, 31-21: A rested Hoosiers team comes out firing against a Falcons squad that was blown out by Western Kentucky and lost its starting QB.

Michigan over Miami (Ohio), 48-7: The Wolverines take out some frustration from last week's Notre Dame fiasco against the overmatched RedHawks.

Ohio State over Kent State, 38-3: The Buckeyes work out their own frustrations against another MAC pushover.

Washington over Illinois, 44-31: The Illini keep it interesting behind Wes Lunt's arm, but their defense isn't yet good enough to slow the Huskies.

Iowa over Iowa State, 21-17: It's a slugfest, and offensive lineman Brandon Scherff's injury limits the Hawkeyes' offense enough to keep this one close.

TCU over Minnesota, 17-13: Another low-scoring, defensive slog; the Gophers' lack of a passing attack (especially with gimpy QB Mitch Leidner) dooms them.

Nebraska over Fresno State, 34-24: The Huskers get a scare, but they finally pull away in the fourth quarter behind RB Ameer Abdullah.

Notre Dame over Purdue, 37-17: The Boilermakers just don't have the talent to hang with QB Everett Golson and the Irish.

Our records:
Austin Ward: 21-5
Brian Bennett: 20-6
Adam Rittenberg: 20-6
Mitch Sherman: 20-6
Josh Moyer: 19-7

Big Ten morning links

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
8:00
AM ET
In just more than 48 hours, the Big Ten can finally get back on the field and start erasing those painful memories from last week. Maybe the opportunities to wash out the stains of a miserable Week 2 aren't as plentiful this Saturday, but the process has to start somewhere. These three developments will be key, and there's plenty of news to dive into after that.

1. Jerry Kill's old buddy and a guy he hails as a defensive genius is certainly cooking up something special for Minnesota's visit, and TCU coach Gary Patterson isn't going to take it easy on his longtime friend. The road trip is going to be difficult no matter what, but it might be more manageable now that quarterback Mitch Leidner is officially expected to play against the Horned Frogs. There's been uncertainty swirling around the sophomore since he injured his knee late in Saturday's win over Middle Tennessee State, and while Minnesota had been publicly optimistic about his availability throughout the week, Kill made it quite clear on Wednesday that Leidner would be playing. The Gophers haven't exactly lit the world on fire through two games offensively, but taking their field general out of the lineup would have made for a pretty tall order against a coach who isn't afraid to dial up some pressure packages.

2. The offseason quarterback competition at Michigan always seemed contrived and destined to be won by Devin Gardner, more of a challenge to the starter than an indicator of a tight competition. Coming off another turnover-filled loss, it seems more clear than ever that the Wolverines don't have an alternative they feel confident enough to play with Brady Hoke standing firmly behind his senior. "He's our quarterback," Hoke said Wednesday. Those three words can always change if Gardner has any more 3-interception outings, and the loss at Notre Dame was only one game. But if Shane Morris had really been challenging Gardner for playing time, wouldn't now be a perfect opportunity to test him out with Miami (Ohio) coming to the Big House?

3. Which seems stranger at this early juncture: Ohio State ranking No. 10 in the conference in rushing or Indiana sitting last in the league in passing yardage? Those attacks were the best in the Big Ten a year ago in those categories, showing how differently the spread could be used to keep defenses off balance and making it look easy to find the end zone. The Hoosiers have only played once, and they really didn't need to air it out to beat Indiana State, so perhaps Kevin Wilson's play-calling and the postgame stats sheet will be more recognizable after visiting Bowling Green. But the Buckeyes might have a tougher time getting back to what has been so successful for them until their young offensive line comes together and starts opening up the kind of holes four seniors provided Carlos Hyde last year.

East Division
  • Does being a "Michigan Man" give Hoke more fan support than his predecessor? He answered that question and defended the Big Ten.
  • James Franklin still isn't sure exactly how Penn State might be able to get all the way back up to 85 scholarship players by next season, even though it is once again allowed to hit that number.
  • The atmosphere for primetime games and the chance to play in matchups like Saturday's against Penn State is part of the reason Darius Hamilton signed with Rutgers.
  • Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley is expecting shifting looks and personnel from West Virginia ahead of the showdown on Saturday.
  • Ohio State had some problems with drops in its loss to Virginia Tech. It might look to break in a couple new faces at wide receiver against Kent State.
  • Instead of hearing from teammates wanting the ball from him, Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld is getting more requests for unique handshakes.
  • A closer look at some Michigan State players who are off to slow starts.
West Division
  • Illinois will have its hands full with a Washington offense coming off a 59-point outburst. Expect a shootout on Saturday.
  • Nebraska has had to tweak its travel plans for the long journey over to Fresno State and the late kickoff when the program gets there.
  • Another series with Notre Dame is coming to an end, although it's only temporary and there's far less fanfare around the annual meetings with Purdue.
  • Pat Fitzgerald isn't just blowing smoke about toughening up Northwestern based on the practice location on Wednesday.
  • Friends may not like to play against each other, but TCU coach Gary Patterson said there weren't any other options as the two programs put together a home-and-home.
  • What is going on with Iowa's rushing attack?
  • Wisconsin has already played more true freshmen this year than it did all of last season.
Last month, I drove up to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to attend one of Northwestern's off-site practices at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. I learned absolutely nothing.

It was the same day the Big Ten Network's bus tour visited the Wildcats. Barely 60 players suited up for the workout. The most energy shown was a watermelon-eating contest at the end.

Although Northwestern traditionally keeps its practices fun and takes an extremely cautious approach with banged-up players, it felt different this year, more like a country club. After Northwestern's 5-7 flop last season that included every imaginable way to lose games, I figured practices would be more competitive and physical.

Northwestern had a soft offensive line in 2013 and a defensive line thinned by several legitimate injuries in the spring. Preseason camp was the time to mix it up. Instead, Northwestern took the let's-get-everybody-to-the-opener approach.

What happened? The Wildcats weren't ready to play against Cal, falling behind 31-7. Last Saturday, they made myriad mistakes, from drops to penalties, in their first-ever loss to Northern Illinois.

The Wildcats are 0-2 and in a serious crisis. The foundational elements that helped Northwestern to the most consistent stretch of success in team history -- energy, creative play-calling, discipline, crunch-time execution -- have vanished. Perhaps a rough offseason that included the union debate and Venric Mark's sudden departure is taking a bigger toll than Northwestern let on, but something is very wrong.

Pat Fitzgerald seems to know it, too. During Tuesday's Big Ten teleconference, Fitzgerald said, "We're embarrassed right now. I'm embarrassed as the leader of the ship." He didn't bite his tongue after Wednesday's practice, either.

Here's some of what the Wildcats coach told reporters:
"We're not successful now and to continue to do the [same] things and expect a different outcome would be the definition of insanity."

"The person I'm mad at the most is myself. I'm the leader of the ship, and I'm the one who will get it fixed. I played on two championship teams here because we had a hard edge and we were tough. I've coached five bowl teams here in a row and coached multiple guys who have played at an All-Big Ten level and they were tough. Right now our football team is not very tough, and that's an embarrassment from my standpoint."

When asked about fans' being upset with the team's start, he said, "No s--- ...We're an embarrassment to anyone who's ever put on the purple and white."

Fitzgerald typically puts a positive spin on things, but he needed to call out his team, his staff and himself after the past two weeks. Accountability must be a bigger theme at Northwestern, even for a seemingly untouchable coach courted by more prestigious programs, and a staff of assistants that hasn't changed in three years.

The Wildcats seemed to get too comfortable after their break-through bowl win in January 2013 and with a 4-0 start last season. Since then, they've dropped nine of 10 and could miss the postseason yet again.

There's no guarantee Fitzgerald's fire will spark his team. But something dramatic needs to shift in Evanston, and this is a start.

Big Ten morning links

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
8:00
AM ET
News, notes and observations coming right at you:

1. The hits keep on coming for Northwestern: First, it lost its star running back due to transfer. Then its top two wideouts came down with injuries, as Christian Jones is out for the season. Now? Quarterback Trevor Siemian is coming off a "minor" leg injury, and DT C.J. Robbins will miss the next game after the Big Ten suspended him for throwing a punch Saturday. He'll only miss the Western Illinois contest, so the Wildcats shouldn't be affected much. But, every week, it seems as if there's more bad news for Pat Fitzgerald's squad. Northwestern continues to make the kinds of headlines it wants to avoid, and it keeps getting harder for the Cats to stop this downward spiral. Maybe that finally ends next week?

2. RU should remove Ray Rice's art from campus -- and be open about it: Yes, Rutgers has been asked about whether it plans to scrub Rice's photos completely. No, it's declined to come out and say exactly what it plans to do, although you can probably read between the lines when a spokesman says the university plans to change "all the art around our program." Here's an idea: Let's just be transparent and direct about this. It's difficult to celebrate Rice's on-field feats at Rutgers after watching that video. And it would be a huge misstep if Rice's photos remained at the football building through all this. Although, as it's been pointed out, at least Rutgers announced such photos would not be at the football stadium ... several hours after it wouldn't say for sure.

3. Oh say, did you see Maryland's jerseys? I don't care how you feel about the Terps, you have to admit these are pretty cool. The new uniforms, which were inspired by the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore and the writing of the Star-Spangled Banner, are now the most patriotic in all of sports. The helmet and jersey even feature the words to Francis Scott Key's "Defense of Fort McHenry," a poem that was transformed into the national anthem. That's the best part, in my opinion. These jerseys would look incredibly out of place at, say, Michigan or Penn State ... or, really, just about any other team in the Big Ten. But at Maryland? It's obviously a perfect fit.

Now, onto the links ...

East Division
  • DT Willie Henry entered Michigan without much fanfare, but he's one of the defense's bright spots now.
West Division
  • Without left tackle Brandon Scherff, Iowa will need to find success running the ball by adopting the "Next Man In" philosophy.
  • Purdue's Austin Appleby is ready for his turn at quarterback, if the coaches decide to plug him in Saturday.
  • Wes Lunt's slow starts can't follow Illinois to Washington.
Extra point

Conference call: Best of the B1G

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
3:15
PM ET
Despite all the prompting on the heels of last weekend's disasters around the league, the Big Ten coaches predictably kept their focus on the future instead of looking back at the past.

There were injuries to discuss, the repeal of the NCAA sanctions at Penn State and much, much more during the two-hour whip around the conference. Get caught up on the highlights right here, right now.

Big Ten morning links

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
8:00
AM ET
Three thoughts to kick off a fine Tuesday morning.
  • The timing of Penn State's bowl ban being lifted coincides nicely with Saturday's trip to Rutgers. We knew the Scarlet Knights faithful would be geared up for Rutgers' Big Ten debut against the program of record in the Mid-Atlantic region. Now Penn State fans will be even more energized as their team is eligible for a Big Ten championship and a postseason berth. I'll be at a non-Big Ten venue on Saturday night, but I can't wait to see the images from Piscataway, as High Points Solutions Stadium will be rocking for the first conference game of the season. Good times.
  • The Big Ten's Week 3 schedule lacks the national showcase opportunities we saw in Week 2, but there are some sneaky good matchups that could help or hurt the league's profile. Illinois aims for a bowl-boosting road upset against Washington, which has struggled in its first two games under new coach Chris Petersen. West Virginia, which visits Maryland on Saturday, looks much improved after testing Alabama in Week 1 and thumping Towson. Minnesota tries to validate its stock with a road win against TCU, while Iowa faces an Iowa State team that nearly stunned Kansas State last week. Notre Dame is a heavy favorite against Purdue, but the Boilermakers have given the Irish their best shot in recent years.
  • Perhaps we should expect this early in the season, but it seems like Big Ten coaches are being outwitted quite a bit by their opponents. In Week 1, Northwestern's staff admitted it didn't expect Cal to use freshman quarterback Luke Rubenzer as a complement to Jared Goff. Now Ohio State's coaches say they didn't expect Virginia Tech's defense to load the box so much or Hokies quarterback Michael Brewer to move around so much in the pocket. "That is the first time I've seen that kind of defense, maybe in our coaching career, where they were all [within] six yards [of the line of scrimmage]," Urban Meyer said. Meyer is a big fan of hyperbole, so take that into account. I just wonder when Big Ten teams will get the schematic edge in some of these games.

To the links ...

Penn State
East Division
West Division
And, finally ...

Weekend rewind: Big Ten

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
10:00
AM ET
Maybe you were like a lot of fans on Sunday around the Big Ten who don’t follow Minnesota or Rutgers: You had no reason to want to know what people were saying about your team.

You needed a break. So you went off the grid, perhaps turned to the NFL for a shoulder on which to cry.

But it’s Monday, and you’re back, ready to face the college football world. You missed Big Ten commish Jim Delany urging patience in the aftermath of a Saturday dumpster fire and ESPN Insider’s Playoff Predictor, suggesting that hope still exists for the league this year.

We all know that’s not what you want. You want answers. Why did it all go so badly in the Big Ten on Saturday? Again. Well, I’ve got nothing fancy for you, other than to say that the Big Ten needs better players and coaches and schemes.

The results of Saturday were symptomatic of a problem with no short-term fix. Painful as it may be, let’s review:

Team of the week: Here you go, Minnesota fans who believe the Gophers are regularly overlooked for the flashier, big-name programs. It’s substance over style with Jerry Kill’s group, which jumped to a 28-0 halftime lead over Middle Tennessee and required no drama in moving to 2-0 -- more than can be said for every other team in the league. The Gophers got just 67 passing yards from Mitch Leidner, but the running game was strong as usual, and the defense intercepted three passes.

Game of the week: Seventy-six points, four lead changes. Three fourth-quarter touchdowns by Illinois to earn a second straight come-from behind win. What’s not to love? Oh, yes it came at home against Western Kentucky, a week after the Illini roared back to beat Youngstown State. Nevertheless, Wes Lunt and the Illini are nothing if not resilient. Illinois trailed 27-21 early in the fourth quarter before Justin Hardee snagged a 62-yard TD. Taylor Barton then all but clinched it with a 77-yard interception return. Lunt, in his second start, threw for 456 yards.

Biggest play: Ameer Abdullah’s 58-yard touchdown reception in the final minute at Memorial Stadium allowed Nebraska to avoid overtime and possibly the biggest upset loss in school history against McNeese State of the Football Championship Subdivision. Abdullah caught a short pass in flat from Tommy Armstrong Jr. and broke five tackles en route to the end zone, providing the difference in the Huskers’ 31-24 victory.

Big Man on Campus (offense): Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock for his 9-of-11, cool-under-fire performance during the Hawkeyes’ marches to score two touchdowns in the final three minutes of a 17-13 win over Ball State.

Big Man on Campus (defense): Can we just give this to Virginia Tech’s ferocious pass rush against a hapless Ohio State pass-protection unit, which offered no chance for freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett to thrive? No? OK, then kudos to Penn State linebacker Mike Hull, who collected 11 tackles as the Nittany Lions held Akron to 69 rushing yards in a 21-3 win.

Big Man on Campus (special teams): Maryland fullback Kenny Goins, who blocked a South Florida punt in the end zone. Linebacker Avery Thompson recovered for the go-ahead touchdown in the Terrapins’ 24-17 win.

Biggest face plant: Tempting to go with Northwestern, which failed to score in the first half of the closest thing to a must-win game in Week 2, losing 23-15 to Northern Illinois. Or Purdue for continuing to be Purdue in a 38-17 loss to Central Michigan. But there’s no just denying Michigan. Come on, Michigan. The Wolverines were mauled by Notre Dame, 31-0. They rushed for 100 yards on 35 carries, committed four turnovers and generally made things way too easy for the Fighting Irish.

Numbers and facts to know: Michigan’s FBS-record streak of 365 straight without losing by shutout is over. The margin of victory was Notre Dame’s largest in series history. U-M quarterback Devin Gardner, who had not thrown an interception in his previous five games, was picked off three times to equal a career high. ... Ohio State lost its first home opener since 1978 and its first home game under Urban Meyer. Its 108 rushing yards were the fewest in a game under Meyer. ... Michigan State, in losing 46-27 at Oregon, allowed more points than in any game since Alabama scored 49 in the 2011 Capital One Bowl. ... Wisconsin won its 30th straight nonconference home game, 37-3 over Western Illinois. Melvin Gordon’s 38 rushing yards marked his lowest total over the past two seasons. ... Bo Pelini won his 60th game as coach at Nebraska, joining only Tom Osborne and Bob Devaney in school history.

Big Ten morning links

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
8:00
AM ET
All summer, we looked forward to the three Big Ten night games in Week 2 as the league's best opportunity to make a statement. Unfortunately for the conference, it proved the worst kind of statement possible, as all three league teams lost by double digits.

If you were so inclined, you could make excuses for Michigan State, as hardly anybody could beat Oregon on the road, and to a lesser extent Ohio State, which is a very young team playing without Braxton Miller.

But Michigan? That 31-0 loss at Notre Dame was inexcusably bad. And it was sadly indicative of a troubling trend for the Wolverines under Brady Hoke.

The curb-stomping in South Bend dropped Hoke to 0-5 in road games against chief rivals Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State. Things appear to be getting worse, too, Michigan has dropped its last two rivalry road games by a combined 55 points.

Hoke was asked Saturday night what the biggest factor was in reversing that trend. His answer? "Winning." OK, then.

The Notre Dame game was a complete disaster for Michigan, Jeff Seidel writes. The Wolverines seem even farther from success than before, Nick Baumgardner writes. There's only one silver lining for the Maize and Blue: They still get to play in a weak Big Ten.

Quarterback questions

Keep an eye on a couple of quarterback situations this week.

Minnesota might have to turn to redshirt freshman Chris Streveler at TCU this week if Mitch Leidner can't go. Leidner hurt his knee late against Middle Tennessee State and has a strained MCL, Marcus Fuller reports. It's not like the the Gophers' passing game was doing much, anyway.

Purdue coach Darrell Hazell will get questions this week about his quarterbacks, as he pulled Danny Etling in the second half for Austin Appleby during the loss to Central Michigan. Appleby looked slightly more effective than Etling, but will it matter who's under center when the Boilers take on a surging Notre Dame in Indianapolis?

C.J. Brown is in no real danger of losing his job at Maryland, but he needs to start playing better. Brown has completed just 53.8 percent of his passes through two games, and he tossed two interceptions against South Florida on Saturday. With the talent the Terrapins have at receiver, those numbers need to improve.

West Division
East Division

Early Offer: B1G's losses will hurt 

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
10:23
PM ET
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: Ohio State and Michigan State likely won’t see any effects of their defeat’s this weekend, but two Big Ten recruiting coordinators believe others like Michigan, Purdue and Northwestern could be hurt by the non-conference losses. Plus, USC should be able to gain some momentum against Stanford after beating the Cardinal. We also continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 2

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
2:00
PM ET
The Big Ten went 8-5 in Week 2, and we learned some things in the process. Brace yourself; this won't be pretty.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsAmeer Abdullah's heroics helped Nebraska escape what would have been an embarrassing loss to McNeese State.
1. The Midwest misery index is at an all-time high: Don't completely count out the Big Ten from the College Football Playoff; we're a long, long way until the first Sunday in December, after all. But the road to getting a team in the four-team field became extremely difficult after a disappointing and dispiriting Week 2 showing by the conference. In the three marquee night games, Michigan State lost by 19 points to Oregon, Michigan got embarrassed in a 31-0 shutout at Notre Dame and Ohio State lost by 14 at home to an unranked Virginia Tech squad. Meanwhile, Nebraska needed Ameer Abdullah's heroics in the final minute just to squeak past FCS McNeese State, and Iowa had to pull off a huge comeback to escape at home against Ball State. Two other MAC teams took down Purdue and Northwestern (Central Michigan and Northern Illinois, respectively). This is as bad a weekend as the Big Ten has had since Week 2 in 2012, and the league was supposed to be improved this season. Instead, it took another savage beating in terms of national perception, with almost no opportunities to turn that around the rest of the regular season.

2. (Almost) anyone can win the mild, mild West: We knew the West Division would feature plenty of parity this season. But can anyone identify a favorite in this division now? Iowa could be 0-2 just as easily as it is 2-0 right now. Wisconsin has major passing game issues. Nebraska is dealing with injuries, barely beat an FCS team Saturday and still has the toughest schedule of any division contender. Minnesota actually had the best day of any West team in Week 2, and its defense looks legitimately strong. But the Gophers still have problems throwing the ball and are holding their breath that quarterback Mitch Leidner didn't get hurt late against Middle Tennessee. Illinois at least can score in bunches behind Wes Lunt and might have a puncher's chance. At this point, it seems you can count out Northwestern (0-2) and Purdue. But who knows how things will eventually shake out in a division that appears to lack any great teams.

3. Running games disappearing: We've talked a lot about poor quarterback play being a reason for the Big Ten's recent decline. But we've almost always been able to count on league teams lining up and pounding the ball on the ground, especially against supposedly weaker competition. That hasn't been the case for far too many league teams. Iowa, which figured to have one of the league's best offensive lines and rushing attacks, is averaging just 4.1 yards per carry and had 113 yards on 29 rush attempts versus Ball State. We underestimated the difficulties Ohio State would have with four new starters on its offensive line; the Buckeyes have done very little on the ground outside of quarterback J.T. Barrett's scrambles. Penn State has basically abandoned the run in its first two games, while Michigan's apparent gains in the rushing attack against overmatched Appalachian State in Week 1 proved a mirage in South Bend. Oregon mostly stuffed Michigan State's attempts to run the ball. Heck, even Wisconsin failed to have a running back gain more than 57 yards against FCS Western Illinois, and Melvin Gordon was held to 38 yards on 17 carries. Big Ten teams can't expect to win big games if their main calling card is bankrupt.

4. The best program in Illinois isn't in Champaign or Evanston: Nope, it's located in DeKalb, home of Northern Illinois. The Huskies went into Northwestern and won 23-15 on Saturday. That shouldn't come as a surprise, as NIU has won 48 games since the start of the 2010 season and showed Saturday that life without Jordan Lynch will be OK. As for Northwestern, the Wildcats never should have bought that monkey's paw before the Ohio State game last year. They're 1-9 since, with no end to the misery in sight. Illinois has more reason for optimism, especially given Lunt's potential at quarterback and some big-play ability. But the Illini have had to sweat out home wins over Youngstown State and Western Kentucky in the first two weeks. The top team in the Land of Lincoln plays in the MAC, a conference that came within one great Iowa comeback of notching three wins over the Big Ten on Saturday.

5. Field goals are an adventure: Iowa was 1-of-4 on field goals against Ball State, with none longer than 37 yards, and it almost cost the Hawkeyes the game. Ohio State's Sean Nuernberger missed both his field-goal attempts in the first half against Virginia Tech, while Illinois' Taylor Zalewski also went 0-for-2. Not that it would have changed the outcome, but Michigan's Matt Wile missed two attempts in the first half at Notre Dame, too. With the margin for error so small for many Big Ten teams, field-goal units need to improve significantly.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 2

September, 6, 2014
Sep 6
8:00
AM ET
Week 2 in the Big Ten brings three titanic tilts at night, a few decent afternoon games and a handful of chaff. We're here to get you ready for all the action, as every league team but Indiana hits the field Saturday (all times listed are ET):

Noon games

Western Kentucky (1-0) at Illinois (1-0), BTN: The Illini will have to play much better than they did in Week 1 against Youngstown State, as Western Kentucky showed a powerful offense in beating Bowling Green 59-31 last week. New Hilltoppers coach Jeff Brohm is a former Illinois assistant.

McNeese State (0-0) at No. 19 Nebraska (1-0), ESPNU: McNeese State is ranked No. 7 in the FCS Top 25, so the Cowboys are no pushover. But if the Huskers roll like they did last week against Florida Atlantic, it won't much matter.

Akron (1-0) at Penn State (1-0), ABC/ESPN2 mirror: The Zips nearly pulled off the huge upset last year at the Big House, and Penn State will have to hope its body clocks are adjusted after returning from Ireland last weekend.

Central Michigan (1-0) at Purdue (1-0), ESPNEWS: The Boilermakers can double their win total from 2013 in the first two weeks. First, they'll have to get by a Chippewas team that can be pretty feisty, though they had to rally just to beat Chattanooga in the opener.

Western Illinois (1-0) at No. 18 Wisconsin (0-1), BTN: A trying and strange week in Madison will conclude with what ought to be a typical Badgers home beatdown of a much lesser opponent.

Howard (0-1) at Rutgers (1-0), BTN: Let us know when it's time to talk about the Penn State game in Week 3, because this one holds little to no interest.

[+] EnlargeMike Dantonio
AP Images/Bradley LeebMark Dantonio and Michigan State face a mammoth nonconference test at Oregon on Saturday.
3:30 p.m. games

Middle Tennessee (1-0) at Minnesota (1-0), BTN: The Gophers are dealing with a rash of injuries to their defensive line but are still heavy favorites at home against the Blue Raiders.

Ball State (1-0) at Iowa (1-0), ESPN2: The Hawkeyes struggled to get by a game Northern Iowa team last week and now host a solid MAC outfit. Kirk Ferentz's team will look to make rapid improvement over Week 1.

Maryland (1-0) at South Florida (1-0), CBS Sports Network: Job One for the Maryland defense is to slow Bulls running back Marlon Mack, who leads the FBS in rushing after he piled up 275 yards in Week 1. Job One for the Terps offense is to get quarterback C.J. Brown in a better passing groove after he completed less than 50 percent last week versus James Madison.

Northern Illinois (1-0) at Northwestern (0-1), BTN: A must-win already for the Wildcats? Maybe, after the season-opening loss to Cal. The Huskies would love nothing more than to notch a win over their in-state neighbors.

The three biggies

No. 7 Michigan State (1-0) at No. 3 Oregon (1-0), 6:30 p.m., Fox
Michigan (1-0) at No. 16 Notre Dame (1-0), 7:30 p.m., NBC
Virginia Tech (1-0) at No. 8 Ohio State (1-0), 8 p.m., ESPN
Other must-reads

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