Chicago Colleges: 2012-midseason-overview

Big Ten viewer’s guide: Week 7

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10
10:00
AM CT
Week 7 is here, and let’s not sugarcoat it: Big Ten football has looked more interesting on other weekends. This first Saturday of the season without nonconference action lacks marquee matchups. Still, the division races will continue to take shape.

Here’s a look at the five games (all times Eastern):

Noon

Illinois (3-3) and Wisconsin (3-2), ESPN2: Will Melvin Gordon run for 300 yards? If the Badgers wanted it to happen, Illinois’ 119th-ranked rushing defense would likely comply. More of the intrigue in Madison involves the quarterbacks. For Wisconsin, Joel Stave, who returned last week against Northwestern, will see time, in addition to Tanner McEvoy, who might also take a shot at receiver. And with Illinois’ Wes Lunt out with a fractured leg, senior Reilly O’Toole and sophomore Aaron Bailey, who was set to redshirt, have competed in practice this week.

Indiana (3-2) and Iowa (4-1), ESPNU: Indiana has shown it can win on the road in tough spots, handing Missouri its lone loss on Sept. 20. The Hoosiers are more explosive on offense than any foe Iowa has faced. But Indiana still can’t defend well, in particular against proficient quarterbacks. The Hawkeyes are going back to Jake Rudock at the start, but C.J. Beathard will play. How well can Greg Davis manage this? If it’s a disaster, Indiana might just find itself in the right place at the right time for an upset bid.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cobb
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesDavid Cobb and Minnesota can take a big step in their quest for a Western Division crown by beating Northwestern on Saturday.
Northwestern (3-2) at Minnesota (4-1), BTN: Who would have guessed a month ago, as the Golden Gophers fell flat at TCU and the Wildcats sat winless, that this game would have legitimate implications for the West Division title race? It does, with NU in quest of a third straight unexpected win to open league play. Its defense led the charge against Penn State and Wisconsin. Minnesota is simply solid, led by David Cobb, statistically the league’s most valuable offensive player. Minnesota has defended the pass especially well in recent games and will test Northwestern’s Trevor Siemian, 13th in the Big Ten in QBR.

3:30 p.m.

No. 8 Michigan State (4-1) at Purdue (3-3), ESPN2: At least it’s not the best team in the Big Ten against the worst. Purdue escaped the low spot last week with a win over Illinois. And sophomore quarterback Austin Appleby looked good in the victory. Very good, in fact. Back at home, he figures to find a much more difficult situation against the Spartans, who might come in a bit angry after nearly blowing a 24-point, fourth-quarter lead against Nebraska.

7 p.m.

Penn State (4-1) at Michigan (2-4), ESPN2: The visitors from Happy Valley, after an off week, get an opportunity to show that their anemic performance against Northwestern was just a fluke. With an upcoming stretch of three challenging games, no better time exists for PSU to get healthy than at Michigan, trying to avoid its first 0-3 start in the Big Ten since 1965. Against a good Penn State front, the Wolverines must protect Devin Gardner and throw the football, neither of which they’ve done well in recent weeks.

Required reading

2012 Big Ten midseason report

October, 15, 2012
10/15/12
10:00
AM CT
After a historic offseason of transition, the Big Ten endured a historic first half of ineptitude.

The league entered the fall with unique circumstances, as two of its premier programs (Ohio State and Penn State) couldn't compete in the postseason because of NCAA sanctions. But between a surging Michigan State program, a Michigan team coming off of a Sugar Bowl championships, a Wisconsin team that had made consecutive Rose Bowl appearances and a veteran-laden Nebraska squad, the Big Ten had ample reasons for optimism. They soon vanished.

Things got off to a rocky start at JerryWorld, as Michigan was stomped 41-14 by defending national champ Alabama. They only got worse in Week 2, the Big Ten's worst regular-season Saturday in recent memory. Big Ten teams went 6-6, including three losses at Pac-12 venues, including two by ranked teams (Wisconsin and Nebraska) against unranked foes (Oregon State and UCLA). The Big Ten went 6-9 against teams from BCS automatic-qualifying conferences and Notre Dame, with three wins coming from one team (Northwestern). Although Ohio State hasn't lost a game under new coach Urban Meyer, the Big Ten removed itself from the national title talk earlier than anyone expected.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State coach Bill O'Brien and quarterback Matt McGloin have earned accolades through the midpoint of the season.
The league endured several weeks without a top-10 team. Last week, the Big Ten failed to have a team ranked in the coaches' poll for the first time ever (the coaches aren't ranking Ohio State and Penn State). The Big Ten also was shut out of the initial BCS standings.

It hasn't been all gloom and doom, though. The Buckeyes are 7-0 and quarterback Braxton Miller is a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate. Penn State has rebounded from an 0-2 start to rattle off four consecutive wins, as new coach Bill O'Brien has transformed the offense and particularly senior quarterback Matt McGloin. Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa also have bounced back from shaky performances in the non-league portion, while a young Northwestern team sits at 6-1. Minnesota started 4-0, eclipsing its wins total from the past two years, while Indiana has completed well in each game. Surprise stars have emerged such as Iowa running back Mark Weisman, Northwestern running back Venric Mark, Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson and Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan.

Perhaps the Big Ten will be a second-half league, complete with a better-than-expected showing in the bowls. Michigan is eying its first outright league title since 2003 and has the defense to win it. Wisconsin has stabilized nicely after a rocky three weeks that saw a shocking drop in offensive production and the firing of assistant Mike Markuson after just two games.

But there's no masking the disappointment of the first seven weeks. Michigan State already has lost three games at Spartan Stadium, where it was perfect in both 2011 and 2012, and faces significant issues at offensive line, receiver and quarterback. Purdue entered its defining stretch of the season with Big Ten play but flopped in consecutive weeks on its home field. An Illinois program that has won back-to-back bowl games is in complete disarray under new coach Tim Beckman, getting outscored 163-45 in the past four games.

Many longtime league observers say they've never seen the Big Ten so weak. The good news: it can only get better.

Offensive MVP: Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller. Although many pegged him to be a natural fit in Meyer's spread offense, he has exceeded all expectations in the first half. Miller ranks third in the Big Ten and seventh nationally in rushing average (130.3 ypg), ranks 34th nationally in passer rating (145.3) and has accounted for 20 touchdowns (11 pass, 9 rush). Miller has had four runs of 55 or more yards and five 100-yard rushing performances in the first seven games. Ohio State certainly wouldn't be undefeated without Miller, who is very much on the Heisman Trophy radar.

Defensive MVP: Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti. The most vocal Nittany Lion in the wake of the NCAA sanctions is making the most of his final season in Happy Valley. Mauti has been a beast, winning two Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week awards and a National Defensive Player of the Week honor for his efforts against Illinois. The numbers are impressive -- 57 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovered, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 2 pass deflections -- but they don't fully show the impact Mauti has had on a surging Penn State team. The senior is showing how good he can be when finally healthy.

Biggest surprise: Penn State. After the midsummer roster reduction and an 0-2 start, Penn State was largely written off. But the Lions have rebounded for four consecutive wins and remain one of just four teams still unbeaten in league play. An offense that returned almost no proven players has held its own, ranking in the middle of the league, while Mauti and others have energized a defense that has surrendered just 16 points per game. A young Northwestern team merits a mention at 6-1, and Iowa's strong start to Big Ten play has been a bit surprising after its September struggles.

Biggest disappointment: Michigan State. There are two other possibilities here -- Purdue and Illinois -- but no team has performed worse, relative to expectations, than the Spartans. After back-to-back 11-win seasons and a Legends Division title in 2011, Michigan State entered the season pegged by some, including both of us, to win the league and reach its first Rose Bowl since 1987. But the personnel losses on offense -- not just at quarterback and receiver, but also offensive line -- have been extremely hard to overcome. Michigan State already has dropped three home games and now enters a difficult stretch -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern.

Best game: Nebraska 30, Wisconsin 27. After being blown out in its Big Ten debut last year in Madison, Nebraska faced a similar fate after Wisconsin stormed out to a 27-10 lead early in the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. But Huskers quarterback Taylor Martinez, who had thrown three interceptions against Wisconsin the year before, led a furious comeback in the final 25 minutes. Nebraska scored the game's final 20 points to tie for the second-largest comeback in team history. Martinez racked up 181 pass yards, 107 rush yards and three touchdowns (2 pass, 1 rush) in the win.

Best coach: Penn State's O'Brien. The first-year boss has kept his team focused despite the rocky offseason and the 0-2 start. He has modernized the offense and helped McGloin transform his game. He has worked around depth issues and identified new standouts like Robinson. This season easily could have gotten away after all Penn State had been through during the offseason, but O'Brien has things stabilized as the Lions chase the Leaders Division title. Ohio State's Meyer and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald also merit mentions.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TOP 25 SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 10/30
Saturday, 11/1