Sunday, October 16, 2011
What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 7
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.
1. Wisconsin is the Big Ten's only national title contender: Not a huge revelation, but it became official Saturday as both Michigan and Illinois lost to leave Wisconsin as the Big Ten's only unbeaten team. The Badgers have absolutely dominated the competition through the first six games, outscoring their opponents by a combined count of 301-58. Bret Bielema's squad is clearly the class of the Big Ten at this point, and there could be a substantial gap between Wisconsin and the rest of the league. We'll find out this week as Wisconsin visits East Lansing, a place where it has struggled in recent years (three straight losses).
Isaiah Lewis' interception against Michigan helped the Spartans remain undefeated.
2. Spartans are team to beat in Legends division: Michigan State is the only unbeaten team in the Legends division, and the Spartans established themselves as top dogs with a 28-14 win against archrival Michigan. With three division road games left -- Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern -- Michigan State had to take care of business on its home field. The nation's top-ranked defense contained Denard Robinson and forced mistakes, the biggest a pick-six by Isaiah Lewis. Michigan State's offense surged behind Edwin Baker, Kirk Cousins and Keshawn Martin. Michigan State now has a chance to make a league-wide statement next week against Wisconsin before resuming division play.
3. Michigan hasn't arrived: Brady Hoke kept trying to warn us, saying his team was overrated and that it wasn't close to his expectations for Michigan football. The Wolverines had some red flags during their 6-0 start, but they managed to cover up their warts with solid second-half adjustments and some heroic play from their quarterback. Well, we saw what happened when Michigan's flaws ran up against a good team on the road. Robinson's shortcomings as a passer were exposed, especially in a windy environment, and the Wolverines' defense got pushed around by a young Spartans offensive line. Michigan is clearly not anywhere near ready to be ranked in the top 10. The good news is, the Wolverines are still good enough to beat every team left on their regular-season schedule.
4. Illinois has a ways to go, too: Like Michigan, the Illini got off to a 6-0 start based in part on their comfortable home schedule. And like Michigan, we wondered just how for real this team was. Illinois had been living on the edge this season, winning its previous three home games by a total of nine points. The margin for error narrowed to nothing against Ohio State, which used a dominating defensive performance and power running game to humble Ron Zook's team. When you lose by 10 at home and the other team completed only one pass, you've been outmuscled. The Illini weren't as good as their record, but they still have enough talent to get to a good bowl game.
5. The next bubble to burst might be Penn State: The Nittany Lions deserve credit for being 6-1, and the defense continues to shine. But like Illinois and Michigan, they have some highly-exploitable weaknesses: namely, their offense. Purdue nearly pulled the upset in State College, and who knows what the outcome would have been if Carson Wiggs didn't miss a field goal and an extra point. Our point is, the Nittany Lions could be in trouble once they start facing the better teams on their schedule, particularly the ones who can score at least a couple of touchdowns. As this weekend taught us, a team's flaws will eventually catch up with it.