Sunday, September 11, 2011
Big Ten power rankings: Week 3
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
» Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
It was a wild and mostly bad week in the Big Ten, and that means some shuffling in the power rankings. Of the four Big Ten teams in the preseason polls, only Wisconsin has looked polished both weeks, although Michigan State regained its swagger against Florida Atlantic. The top two are clear, but there’s no longer huge separation between the top four and the next five, where we continue to expect shuffling.
The bottom three teams -- Indiana, Purdue and Minnesota -- have separated themselves for the wrong reasons.
Let’s get to it.
1. Wisconsin (2-0): Quarterback Russell Wilson has been brilliant in his first two games as a Badger, completing 27 of 34 passes for 444 yards and five touchdowns (passer rating of 237.6). Wilson’s pocket presence showed against Oregon State, but the more important strides came from Wisconsin’s defense, which rebounded from a sloppy performance in the opener to blank the Beavers.
2. Michigan State (2-0): Speaking of defense, no Big Ten team put on a more dominant defensive display than Michigan State. A unit that lost two multiyear starters at linebacker held Florida Atlantic to one first down -- the stingiest Spartans effort since 1944 -- and just 48 total yards. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been very solid so far. Michigan State begins its rough road stretch this week against a desperate Notre Dame team.
3. Nebraska (2-0): We're keeping the Huskers here for now, but the Big Ten’s newest member was thoroughly unimpressive against Fresno State. Coach Bo Pelini is right and some games turn into real grinds, but Nebraska should expect much more from its defense going forward. The offense will have its ups and downs, but the Blackshirts won’t beat the Big Ten's better teams with performances like Saturday's.
4. Ohio State (2-0): After a no-frills opener, Ohio State had hiccups in all three phases against Toledo and nearly paid the price. Toledo looks like a solid team and coach Tim Beckman had an excellent plan against his former team, but Ohio State must start executing better on offense. The secondary also could be a trouble spot. Ohio State made enough plays to win, but it will take a better performance to beat Miami on the road.
5. Michigan (2-0): The Wolverines once again are the Big Ten's most exciting team, but are they one of the league's best? We'll find out in October. Notre Dame has outplayed Michigan for parts of the teams' past three games, particularly Saturday night’s clash at the Big House, but Michigan has won all three contests behind mind-boggling quarterback play. Greg Mattison's defense continues to make plays despite suffering some breakdowns that could prove costly down the road.
6. Illinois (2-0): We'll get a very good gauge on the Illini this week against Vontaze Burfict and Arizona State, but Ron Zook's squad has impressed so far. A multi-pronged rushing attack once again should be among the Big Ten’s best, and the Illini defense made several big plays against South Dakota State. A victory against Arizona State would validate Illinois as a team to watch in the Big Ten.
7. Northwestern (2-0): Life without Dan Persa has gone surprisingly well for the Wildcats, thanks to the terrific play of backup quarterback Kain Colter. Although Northwestern likely needs Persa back for the Big Ten season, Colter gives the offense a different element with his athleticism. The defense is still prone to too many breakdowns, and the front seven needs a disciplined performance this week at Army.
8. Penn State (1-1): The Nittany Lions' defense will keep them in a lot of games this season and potentially make them a factor in the Leaders division. But without a starting quarterback or an offensive identity, Penn State has limited potential. Alabama will make a lot of offenses look bad, but Penn State needs to settle on a starter and start building around him.
9. Iowa (1-1): The Hawkeyes take the biggest tumble in the power rankings after a poor performance in Ames. A team that struggled to finish games in 2010 couldn’t hold leads both late in regulation and in overtime, as Iowa State's Steele Jantz picked apart a defense that lost four players to the NFL draft. Iowa's defense needs to rebound this week against a Pitt team that runs a high-tempo spread offense.
10. Purdue (1-1): We wanted to drop the Boilers after their loss to Rice but Indiana and Minnesota made that impossible. Carson Wiggs nearly helped Purdue to another dramatic win but his 31-yard field-goal attempt was blocked as time expired as Rice prevailed 24-22. Purdue needs more from its defense and has to avoid the breakdowns that have surfaced too often during coach Danny Hope’s tenure.
11. Indiana (0-2): Opportunistic defense nearly lifted Indiana to a huge win against Virginia, but the Hoosiers still haven't learned how to win games. They squandered a late lead and committed an inexcusable turnover in the final two minutes to hand Virginia a 34-31 win. There are some positives to take away from the second-half comeback, but Indiana still makes too many mistakes to get over the hump.
12. Minnesota (0-2): If Minnesota had one of the nation's more encouraging losses in Week 1, it had one of the more demoralizing defeats in Week 2. A heavy favorite against New Mexico State, the Gophers were thoroughly outplayed on their home field. Minnesota must not only respond from the loss but handle the potential absence of coach Jerry Kill, who suffered a seizure on the sideline late in the game. We hope to see coach Kill back on the field as soon as possible.