Big Ten Monday mailbag

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
Let's cut through the pleasantries -- it wasn't really a pleasant weekend for the Big Ten -- and get right to the mailbag questions. As always -- more than ever, in fact -- thanks for your submissions.

Mitch Sherman: Nothing has changed in the East, where Michigan State remains the team to beat. The Spartans look like the best team in the league, and I don't think you will get much of an argument from logical fans of other Big Ten teams. If anything, the results of the past two weeks -- even the Michigan State setback at Oregon -- has solidified MSU atop its division. It's murky in the West, where the schedule says Iowa is the favorite. The Hawkeyes' play does not. Wisconsin also plays a favorable slate, and we will see if the week off has allowed the Badgers to flip momentum. If so, they are a co-favorite with Nebraska, which, despite a near disaster against McNeese State, has produced two of the league's top performances this seasons in wins against Fresno State and Florida Atlantic.

Mitch Sherman: Joel Stave, fighting a football version of the yips, returned to team drills in some form last week, though coach Gary Andersen has not declared anything in regard to his senior quarterback. Sounds like it remains an extended process with Stave, who has sought some outside attention in dealing with his throwing issues. It's good to hear that Stave has maintained a healthy approach in practice, though I have concerns about his effectiveness even after he clears the hurdles necessary to get back on the field. What happens when adversity strikes in a game? How will it impact his play to perform in front of tens of thousands of people who know about his struggles? For that reason, expect the Badgers to move slowly with Stave. The schedule is on their side, staying soft through October.

Mitch Sherman: Well, considering that the Boilermakers tanked this year before playing Notre Dame, I don't know if parallels exist to be drawn. It seems that Purdue does a nice job of getting up for the Irish, or maybe it's something about the matchup that works well. Or maybe Notre Dame is disinterested. Regardless, the Boilers have a good shot on Saturday against unbeaten FCS foe Southern Illinois. If it doesn't happen, another one-win season enters the realm of possibility. As bad as the Big Ten looks, I still don't see that as likely. Quarterback Danny Etling showed improvement against Notre Dame, and hey, Northwestern visits Ross-Ade Stadium this year. Realistically, if Purdue can build on the good things from Saturday in Indianapolis, as many as four games in the Big Ten could be competitive.

Mitch Sherman: That question wins the award, Matt, for most intriguing of the day. I'm not sure J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes would have defeated Kent State 66-0 if it had been the opener. But it would have been an easy victory that could have provided the young quarterback and his offensive line with the confidence it lacked against Navy and Virginia Tech. I'm convinced that by the end of this season, Virginia Tech could not come into the Horseshoe and dominate Ohio State in any way close to what happened in Week 2. By the same token, the Buckeyes might have had even more trouble with Navy if that game came later in the season. But to answer your question, no; Ohio State would have fared better in its bid to escape this nonconference season with a perfect mark intact if the order of games had been arranged differently..

One and ten. Get to know those numbers because they'll be shoved down your throat all week.

After the Big Ten's worst two-week stretch in nonconference play since, well, ever, the league sits with a 1-10 record against Power 5 teams and Notre Dame. The season looked so promising when Rutgers upset Washington State in Seattle on college football's opening night.

Since then: bupkis.

So prepare for 1-10 fever. Many of you would expect nothing else from evil ESecPN and its Big Ten-hating agenda. But 1-10 is a fact, and in a playoff-first environment where conferences will be constantly compared until Dec. 7, the Big Ten finds itself in a miserable spot.

So, you ask, is there hope for a turnaround? Sure. There's a lot of season left, and as we saw Saturday night at Boston College, anything can happen in college football. The biggest measuring-up opportunities -- Wisconsin-LSU, Michigan State-Oregon, even the Notre Dame games -- are finished, but the baby-step opportunities remain.

There are several of those for the Big Ten in Week 4. It's not the end of nonleague play, but it's the last full Saturday before conference play kicks off.

No one will confuse Missouri, Pitt, Syracuse, Utah and Miami for world beaters, although Mizzou is pretty darn good (Big Ten expansion miss?). But the Big Ten's Week 4 opponents provide chances for that 1-10 mark to look a little bit better ... or much worse.

Fans have to understand that in the playoff environment, everything is connected. Teams can be both playoff contenders and enhancers for league brethren who carry genuine playoff hopes.

For example: If Maryland beats West Virginia on Saturday, and WVU later knocks off a Big 12 heavyweight or two, Maryland suddenly carries more cache, even in subsequent defeats. If Michigan State beats Maryland later this season in College Park, the Spartans would get more playoff credit for that road win.

The problem for the Big Ten is when you lose almost all of your games against comparable conferences, your league race becomes devalued. Conference wins that could make the difference between getting into the playoff and just missing the cut aren't as impressive because of the opponent's nonleague struggles.

And don't kid yourself: it's all about the playoff now. Don't imprison yourself in a Big Ten bubble and pretend like the national race is secondary. You can still enjoy league play and all the twists and turns from now until Dec. 6 in Indianapolis. But you should ultimately judge this league on whether it's in or out on Selection Sunday. Some of you will disagree, but expecting less than the best is part of the reason why the Big Ten finds itself in this position.

That brings us to Week 4. On paper, it should be a better week for the Big Ten, but the last two weeks have shown us nothing is guaranteed.

Nebraska will beat Miami in Lincoln if it plays like it did Saturday night at Fresno State. But if the Huskers revert to McNeese State form against a Hurricanes team that never lacks talent, things could turn sour for one of the Big Ten's last two remaining unbeatens.

Michigan also gets its Power 5 foe at home, where it has been 11-0 in nonconference games under Brady Hoke (21-2 overall). But Utah leads the nation in sacks per game (5.5) and is tied for first in tackles for loss (10.5 per game), which could be a problem for a still-shaky Michigan offensive line.

Other than Rutgers, Big Ten teams have been dreadful in nonleague road games against the Power 5 -- not just losing but losing big (average margin of defeat: 24.5 points). This week, Iowa travels to Pitt, Indiana travels to Missouri and Maryland visits Syracuse.

Pitt is off to a very good start behind bruising back James Conner, while Iowa hasn't played particularly well in any of its three games. Indiana just lost to an undermanned Bowling Green team on the road, as the Falcons ran 115 plays and racked up 39 first downs. Maryland and Syracuse look fairly comparable, but Syracuse comes off an impressive win at Central Michigan, while Maryland surrendered 694 yards in the West Virginia loss.

A 4-1 or a 5-0 record in these games won't transform the national narrative about the Big Ten. But it will keep the league out of the crosshairs. After all, 6-10 sounds a lot better than 1-10.

But another bad day -- 1-4 or 0-5 -- would make the Big Ten's playoff path even trickier. And the way this season is going, expect the worst.

The Big Ten can't repair its reputation in Week 4, but it can begin the patching-up process and take some baby steps toward respectability.

B1G early look: Setting up Week 4

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
The Big Ten is down to its final weekend of widespread nonconference play before mercifully retreating to league games.

The conference followed its flop on the big stage in Week 2 by dropping from eight unbeaten teams to two -- Nebraska and Penn State -- in Week 3. Big Ten teams fell to 1-10 on the season against Power 5 opponents. Saturday night ended with a glimmer of hope thanks to Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg's fourth-quarter magic in a win over Rutgers. A few teams will have an opportunity to build on that optimism in the coming week.

1. Last chance to save face: The last two weeks sufficiently bulldozed any Big Ten claims to conference supremacy, or even equality, but a couple programs can scrape a bit of remaining dignity off the pavement with wins this weekend. Indiana and Iowa get a shot to redeem last-minute losses on the road. The Hoosiers are a long shot to beat No. 18 Missouri, and Iowa’s run defense will be put to the test at Pitt. Nebraska is the league’s best chance at this point. The Cornhuskers(3-0) can provide some relief if they stay unbeaten with a win over Miami in primetime. After that game, the Big Ten has only one nonconference matchup with a Power 5 team remaining in 2014 – Northwestern’s trip to Notre Dame in mid-November.

2. Letdown alert: What a week it was for the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley. It started with the announcement that Penn State’s NCAA sanctions were cut short for good behavior and ended with ruining Rutgers’ conference welcome party in a 13-10 come-from-behind victory. The Lions, now that they are eligible for the postseason, are suddenly in the mix in the East Division. Penn State gets easy-to-overlook UMass this week. The Minutemen are 0-3 but gave Vanderbilt all it could handle last weekend. Could they catch James Franklin’s new team peeking into the future and make this Saturday an interesting game?

3. Is Michigan’s defense for real? The Wolverines enter Week 4 with a top 10 defense despite three of its veteran starters missing time due to injuries. Michigan has shut down the teams it should, allowing an average of 252.7 total yards against Appalachian State, Miami (Ohio) and No. 9 Notre Dame. The Irish hung 31 points on the Wolverines, but turnovers were the bigger culprit in that loss. Michigan held Everett Golson and his offense to a respectable 280 yards. Enter Utah, which brings the No. 3 scoring offense in the nation to Ann Arbor. The Utes racked up 1,115 yards of offense in wins over Idaho State and Fresno State. They should provide a good measuring stick for where the Michigan defense stands a month into the season.

4. The Same Old Nova: Senior quarterback Gary Nova threw five interceptions in Rutgers’ Big Ten debut, proving he may not have exorcised his past turnover demons just yet. His shot at redemption will come against Navy, which has won two games since sticking with Ohio State for three quarters in its season opener. Consecutive losses for the Scarlet Knights could knock the wind from the sails of a positive start for Kyle Flood’s team this season. Rebounding from an emotional week and a tough loss won’t be easy.

5. Can Northwestern keep its season from going completely off the rails? Losers in nine of their last 10 games, the Wildcats host the Leathernecks of Western Illinois (2-1) this weekend. Coach Pat Fitzgerald challenged his team’s toughness and pride heading into the bye week and ramped up the intensity at practice. Will the attitude adjustment help Northwestern improve its 115th-ranked rushing attack and 112th-ranked scoring offense? The best case scenario for Fitzgerald’s team this weekend would be keeping the jury in deliberation until the start of conference play. Another rough outing against a lowly opponent could spin things out of control in Evanston.

Weekend Rewind: Big Ten

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
There they go again.

Just when it looked like it was safe to start kicking around some other leagues, the Big Ten tripped all over itself and bumbled away its handful of chances to claim wins over teams from Power 5 conferences.

Minnesota and Illinois were blown out. Purdue fought hard but was ultimately overmatched. A shootout slipped away from Maryland. It’s probably best not to mention what happened to Iowa at all.

The conference obviously has nobody else it can blame for the lack of respect nationally when it keeps coming up short in its biggest opportunities to earn it around the nation. There may still be a College Football Playoff contender or two at the top of the league, but if there’s a logjam for the third and fourth spots in December, the Big Ten’s best may look back at September games it wasn’t even involved in as the reason it gets left out of the playoff field.

There were a few bright spots Saturday scattered among the wreckage. Reflect on those and start turning the page to Week 4.

Team of the week: Struggling mightily to find the end zone for 58 minutes, Penn State didn’t look much like the program about to pick up the most valuable win of the weekend. But Christian Hackenberg again delivered when it mattered most, calmly leading the game-winning drive in the closing minutes and staking the Nittany Lions to an early lead in the East Division with a rivalry win over Rutgers.

Game of the week: The game tape won’t be sent to the Hall of Fame and the outcome didn’t go the Big Ten’s way, but the battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy was still an entertaining affair -- though certainly not because of the offenses. The emotions were high, the score was close from start to finish and the closing minutes leading up to Iowa State’s go-ahead field goal also provided a seemingly endless amount of opportunities to question the clock-management skills of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. There were high-scoring, competitive games elsewhere, but this was pretty solid theater that will still be worth dissecting all week.

Biggest play: After the Nittany Lions beat their heads against the wall for more than three quarters, Hackenberg had one final shot at a breakthrough as he took a snap with three minutes left on the clock. His strike to Geno Lewis on first down went for 53 yards, instantly flipping the field position and setting the stage for Penn State’s breakthrough. Lewis would also grab another 23-yarder on the drive, but it was the initial hookup that generated the momentum that finally carried the Nittany Lions to the end zone.

Big Man on Campus (offense): The opponent clearly didn’t provide much of a challenge, and looking back now, Ohio State surely wishes it could have shuffled around its schedule to get J.T. Barrett a chance to tune up against a team like Kent State instead of throwing him into the fire against Navy and Virginia Tech. Who knows if it would have changed anything, but the redshirt freshman quarterback certainly left Saturday’s blowout with more confidence after tying a school record with six touchdown passes and throwing for more than 300 yards -- two things Braxton Miller has never done with the Buckeyes.

Big Man on Campus (defense): The Nittany Lions might need to split this award up after that impressive second-half shutout and only allowing one touchdown total on the way to their road win. Anthony Zettel was again a fixture in the backfield with three tackles for loss, C.J. Olaniyan forced a fumble and tallied a sack, and four different defenders intercepted Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova. But Trevor Williams doubled down with a pair of picks and finished second on the team with five tackles, giving him the slight nod.

Big Man on Campus (special teams): The Huskers might have finally found the solution for the problem that has been plaguing them over the last couple seasons on special teams. De'Mornay Pierson-El provided a jolt of energy to Nebraska’s punt return unit, dazzling with an 86-yard scamper for a touchdown and following that up with a 51-yarder as an encore shortly after to set up another score in the rout of Fresno State.

Biggest face plant: The Hawkeyes are tempting, but Indiana’s loss at Bowling Green figures to be far more damaging to Kevin Wilson’s club and its bid to get back to a bowl game. The defense is still a weakness that no amount of production from running back Tevin Coleman can consistently overcome, and the Hoosiers will probably be kicking themselves over this loss in November.

Numbers and facts to know: Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah moved up to No. 5 on the school’s all-time rushing list, posting his 19th 100-yard rushing performance to move his career total up to 3,373. ... Officially, Barrett’s 300-yard outing through the air was Ohio State’s first since Troy Smith in 2006. Terrelle Pryor threw for 334 yards against Indiana in 2010, but those statistics were vacated. ... Michigan held Miami (Ohio) to 33 rushing yards, its lowest rushing total allowed since 2010.

Michigan helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
The top performers from the Wolverines' 34-10 victory against visiting Miami (Ohio) Saturday:
  • RB Derrick Green: The sophomore powered Michigan’s rushing attack with 137 yards and two touchdowns against Miami (Ohio). He averaged 6.2 yards per carry, but his best run of the day picked up only two yards. He sidestepped one would-be tackler in the backfield and dragged another past the first down marker on a 3rd-and-1 in the fourth quarter. That second effort helped Green finish the day without getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage.
  • LB Joe Bolden: The Ohio native made seven stops against the RedHawks, increasing his team-leading total to 22 tackles this season. Bolden also dove to deflect a third-down pass for his highlight-reel moment, which killed Miami’s first drive of the second half when the game was still in question.
  • TE Jake Butt: In his first fully active appearance since tearing his ACL in February, Butt caught three passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. Two plays after yanking a potential interception away from a Miami linebacker for his first catch of the season, Butt slipped into a wide-open field on a fake screen play and hauled in a much-needed, 29-yard scoring play. "Things weren’t going exactly how we wanted them that game," he said. "[I] went in there and took the ball out of the defender’s hands and scored the touchdown. It kind of provided a good spark for our team."

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
The major development in this week's bowl projections isn't that the Big Ten suddenly looks poised for a breakthrough postseason. If anything, things went from bad to worse for the league in Week 3 with a 3-6 record in nonconference games.

So what changed? Penn State is back. For good.

Not only did the Lions improve to 3-0 under new coach James Franklin, but they learned Monday that they once again are eligible for bowl games after two seasons of sanctions. So for the first time since the 2011 season, Penn State appears in the bowl projections. While the Lions have a lot to fix, especially on offense, they're a young, talented team that should improve throughout the season. They've posted two of the better wins (UCF and Rutgers) of any Big Ten team so far, and we like their potential to keep racking up W's.

Penn State is slotted for the Capital One Bowl, which knocks several teams down a peg. There's some shuffling at the bottom of the projections as Minnesota tumbles following its blowout loss at TCU, and Indiana falls out of the rankings entirely after an all-too-familiar-looking defeat at Bowling Green.

We continue to keep two teams in the major bowls as Ohio State rebounded nicely from the Virginia Tech loss to crush Kent State.

To the projections ...

Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton/Fiesta/Orange: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton/Fiesta/Orange: Ohio State
Capital One: Penn State
Outback: Nebraska
National University Holiday: Wisconsin
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Iowa
San Francisco: Michigan
New Era Pinstripe: Maryland
Quick Lane: Minnesota
Heart of Dallas: Rutgers

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14

Best of the visits: Big Ten

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
Rutgers and Penn State played in what turned out to be an exciting game, right down to the wire. There were a few other big home games for Big Ten teams, which means there were important recruits on campus as well.

Here is a look through social media as to how those visits went.

Rutgers vs. Penn State:

It was a packed house and an exciting atmosphere for Rutgers first Big Ten game. There were a ton of local prospects including No. 5 ranked 2016 target Kareem Walker.

He and the other visiting prospects had good seats to take in the contest, and fellow ESPN Jr. 300 tight end Naseir Upshur gave the fans a look at their view.

This was a big game for both teams, as Penn State heavily recruits the East Coast and New Jersey. The targets for both teams said they are watching closely as to how the programs compete with a new coach at Penn State and a new conference for the Scarlet Knights.

Going into the visit a lot of the recruits said they were hoping to see an exciting game and they got just that.
Maryland vs. West Virginia:

Rutgers wasn’t the only Big Ten team hosting important prospects. Maryland had a handful of big time recruits for the game against the Mountaineers.

While the outcome on the field wasn’t what Maryland was hoping for, getting ESPN 300 athlete Ryan Davis and No. 2 ranked Byron Cowart is a huge win for the program.
Michigan vs Miami (Ohio):

The Wolverines came away with a win on Saturday, and while it wasn’t a huge visit weekend, Michigan did still have visitors on campus.

A few of the commits, including Tyree Kinnel, Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Alex Malzone were able to reconnect on the visit and spend some time at their future home.

Malzone took some video of the trip and gave the fans a look at what it’s like to walk out of Michigan’s tunnel as a recruit on game day.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
Recognizing the best and brightest from Week 3 in the Big Ten:
  • Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: A week after Barrett's tough night against Virginia Tech, the redshirt freshman bounced back in a big way. He completed 23 of 30 passes for 312 yards and a school-record tying six touchdowns (with one interception, off a tipped ball) in the Buckeyes' 66-0 laugher over Kent State.
  • Michigan RB Derrick Green: The Wolverines struggled with Miami (Ohio) for more than two quarters, but Green's hard running helped salt the game away. The sophomore finished with 22 carries for 137 yards and two touchdowns in Michigan's 34-10 victory.
  • Penn State DT Anthony Zettel: Perhaps the early frontrunner for Big Ten defensive player of the year, Zettel was terrific yet again in the Nittany Lions' 13-10 win over Rutgers. He led the defensive charge with three tackles for loss and a sack while helping control the line of scrimmage. "We couldn't handle him in the second half," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said.
  • Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: It wasn't easy most of the night for the Nittany Lions' sophomore signal caller. He was harassed under a heavy pass rush, and Penn State didn't score a touchdown for the first 58:47. But Hackenberg proved he's the king of clutch among current Big Ten quarterbacks by leading a two-minute drill that led to Bill Belton's game-winning touchdown. Hackenberg finished 25-of-44 for 309 yards and an interception.
  • Nebraska WR De'Mornay Pierson-El: The true freshman accumulated 136 yards on a pair of punt returns in the first half of the Huskers' 55-19 road win over Fresno State. Included was an 86-yarder for a touchdown, the longest ever by a Nebraska freshman. Pierson-El fills a key area of need for Nebraska, which amassed 70 yards all of last season on punt returns, averaging 3.04 yards on 23 returns to rank 121st nationally.

Michigan 34, Miami (Ohio) 10

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
Devin Gardner threw for two touchdowns and Derrick Green rushed for two more to help Michigan beat Miami (OH) 34-10.

Green leads Michigan past Miami (OH) 34-10

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Derrick Green ran for 137 yards and two touchdowns, and Michigan overcame three first-half turnovers to beat Miami (Ohio) 34-10 on Saturday.

The Wolverines (2-1) held the RedHawks (0-3) to eight first downs, but it wasn't a particularly impressive win against a Miami team that has lost 19 straight. Michigan was coming off a 31-0 loss to Notre Dame, and the Wolverines struggled to put this game away.

Standout wide receiver Devin Funchess, who appeared to hurt his leg against Notre Dame, did not suit up for Michigan. Devin Gardner went 13 of 20 for 184 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

It was tied at 10 in the second quarter when Michigan went on a six-play, 66-yard drive capped by Green's 1-yard scoring run. Gardner's 29-yard touchdown pass to Jake Butt made it 24-10 with 3:44 left in the third.

There were some empty seats in the northwest corner of Michigan Stadium, where students generally sit, but the announced crowd of 102,824 was enough to extend the team's streak to 253 home games of at least 100,000. Those fans weren't too pleased at the end of the first half, though.

Up 17-10, the Wolverines were facing fourth-and-1 from the Miami 32 with 1:00 remaining in the second quarter. After Miami took a timeout, Michigan was called for delay of game. After another Miami timeout, Michigan took another delay of game -- the second one appeared intentional, to give the punter more room to pin the RedHawks back.

(Read full post)

Devin Funchess not dressed for Michigan

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess is watching Saturday's game against Miami (Ohio) in street clothes on the Wolverines' sideline. The team's leading receiver is one of three regular starters not suited up for Michigan.

Head coach Brady Hoke declined to discuss any specifics about injuries during the week. Funchess appeared to injure his leg during the second half of last week's loss to Notre Dame. Funchess ran onto the field with the team without any visible problems. He caught 16 passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns during the first two weeks of the season.

Senior cornerback Raymon Taylor appeared to injure his knee during the Notre Dame game and is on the sidelines this weekend. He did not play during the second half of the 31-0 loss to the Irish. Junior safety Jarrod Wilson is also missing from the defensive starting lineup.

The Wolverines' secondary should get a boost from the return of freshman standout Jabrill Peppers. The cornerback and punt returner went through team warm-ups without any issues after missing all of last week's game in South Bend. He injured his ankle during the team's season opener against Appalachian State.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
Week 3 arrives with fresh reasons for optimism. There aren't any heavyweight tilts quite like the Week 2 night games, but there aren't many snoozers on this docket, either. And we get the start of Big Ten conference action. Huzzah!

Here's your rundown for the day (all times ET):

Noon games

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsWVU QB Clint Trickett ranks No. 7 in the country in passing yards with 713.
West Virginia (1-1) at Maryland (2-0), Big Ten Network: This game is getting overlooked a bit nationally but could be a pretty good one between Eastern neighbors. West Virginia gave Alabama a solid run in the opener and should be better than it was in last year's 37-0 loss to the Terps.

Indiana (1-0) at Bowling Green (1-1), ESPNU: The Hoosiers come off their odd Week 2 bye to play their first FBS team of the year. This is the first of two straight Big Ten opponents for the Falcons, who take on Wisconsin next.

Kent State (0-2) at No. 22 Ohio State (1-1), ABC/ESPN2 mirror: The Buckeyes need to work out some kinks and let off some steam after last week's Virginia Tech loss, and this game provides that chance. Kent State has lost to Ohio (the other one, Brady Hoke) and South Alabama at home already this season.

Mid-afternoon games

Miami (Ohio) (0-2) at Michigan (1-1), 3:30 p.m., BTN: You think the Wolverines have struggled of late? The RedHawks have lost 18 straight games. If this one is even competitive, things are worse than we thought in Ann Arbor.

Iowa State (0-2) at Iowa (2-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPN: The Hawkeyes have won four of the past six in the Cy-Hawk series and face a scuffling Cyclones squad at home, although Iowa State did play Kansas State close last week. Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff (knee) is not expected to play. (Oh, and I made it all week without mentioning this trophy. Whoops, I guess I just did. So close!)

Minnesota (2-0) at TCU (1-0), 4 p.m., Fox Sports 1: Good friends Jerry Kill and Gary Patterson square off in what should be a defensive battle. Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner is expected to play despite injuring his knee last week against Middle Tennessee.

Illinois (2-0) at Washington (2-0), 4 p.m., Fox: A rematch of the 1964 Rose Bowl or, more recently, last year's Huskies win in Soldier Field. Washington has a new coach in Chris Petersen and has had close calls with Hawaii and Eastern Washington the first two weeks. But the Illinois defense will need to make big-time improvements to give the team a shot.

Night games

Purdue (1-1) at Notre Dame (2-0), 7:30 p.m., NBC: The last scheduled meeting between these old rivals until 2020. You'd need something more than 20/20 vision to foresee a Boilers victory here.

Penn State (2-0) at Rutgers (2-0), 8 p.m., BTN: The Big Ten opener. Rutgers' first league game as a Big Ten member. Penn State's first game since learning it can make a bowl this year. Yeah, it's a big one.

Nebraska (2-0) at Fresno State (0-2), 10:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network: Expect a wild atmosphere in Fresno that may lift the Bulldogs, who have gotten blown out by USC and Utah thus far. Nebraska should prevail, but the late kickoff and road environment could conspire to keep this one interesting.

Week 3 byes: Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin

Required reading

Big Ten mailbag

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
I'm back on the mailbag today. It's been too long. What's on your mind?

Fred S. from Washington, D.C., writes: Read with interest regarding a path for BIG to the playoff. I see where you still hold out Michigan State after their 19-point loss. Why would not the same hold true for a Wisconsin team after a four-point loss to LSU, even without considering the personnel loss in that game?

Brian Bennett: Good question and a fair point, Fred. Wisconsin is really intriguing from a College Football Playoff standpoint. If the Badgers are able to run the table and their only loss is a game in which they led LSU by 17 points in the second half, they will have a strong case, potentially. But Wisconsin will also be pretty much invisible from a national perspective until mid-November because of its schedule. Michigan State has more spotlight games, including an early conference showdown with Nebraska, plus the Oct. 25 Michigan game and Ohio State two weeks later. I also think Oregon is one of the very best teams in the country, while LSU looked, to me, like it will be too young and shaky offensively to win a loaded SEC West.

But that's the beauty of the season. Lot of time left, and Wisconsin could certainly continue to hang around and sneak its way up the selection committee's board.

Ashley from JC, Missouri, writes: I understand why the B1G took its lumps last week, not winning any high-profile games and struggling in "easy" games. But I guess I don't understand why the Big 12 and ACC aren't getting the same kind of heat. Big 12 teams have lost every one of their high-profile games and as a conference, the best win is probably Oklahoma beating a 1-1 Tulsa team. Other than Virginia Tech's win over Ohio State, ACC squads have lost to better teams and struggled in most of their games against lesser opponents, just like the B1G. Not to mention 13 of their 20 wins are against FCS schools. Why the double standard?

Bennett: Probably not the best time to rip the ACC, Ashley, right after a Virginia Tech team that was a little under the radar in that league just went into the 'Shoe and soundly beat Ohio State. (Which comes on the heels of last year's Orange Bowl win by Clemson over the Buckeyes, not to mention Florida State is the defending national champion.)

So the ACC gets a bit of a pass for now, but I'm with you on the Big 12. Other than Oklahoma and possibly Baylor, which plays a ridiculous schedule, I'm not sure there's a great team in that league. This is a big week for the Big 12, with several major Power 5 showdowns. Watch closely: If that league falls flat, maybe the Big Ten won't be alone in its misery.

Bennett: I think Minnesota would be a real threat to win it. I really like the Gophers' back seven on defense, though the injuries on the D-line concern me (and Jerry Kill). The offensive line is strong, and Minnesota has a stout running game (233 yards per game so far). But I've been disappointed that the passing game, to this point, has yet to improve very much. I think it's very hard in football these days to win without the ability to rip off explosive plays in the pass game. And the last thing you want to be against a Gary Patterson-coached TCU defense is one-dimensional, so Saturday's game is a bit scary.

Bennett: You're making a big assumption there that the Big Ten will actually win all those games. But even if so, the answer is no. Why? Because none of those teams are ranked. Yes, polls are mostly meaningless, but they do help shape the conversation, and none of those games would be seen as marquee victories (ironically, by beating a team like Washington, for example, Illinois would ensure the Huskies stay unranked). The Big Ten had its shot at getting perception-changing wins, and it blew it.

Bennett: This obviously comes up in the wake of Michigan coach Brady Hoke's comments this week that "true" Michigan fans would stay behind his team. That's a bit of a cop-out, in my view. Real or true fans support their team by filling up their stadium, rooting hard for a win and paying close attention to what's going on. When a team plays terribly, as Michigan did against Notre Dame, criticism is warranted, as long as it doesn't go over the line (i.e., harassing players, calling for firings two weeks into the season, etc). Fans pour a ton of passion, energy, time and, most importantly, money into their beloved programs. They have a right to be upset and ask tough questions when things go horribly wrong. 


Michigan Pulls Away From Miami (OH)
Devin Gardner threw for two touchdowns, and Derrick Green rushed for two more to help Michigan beat Miami (OH) 34-10.