Sunday, September 18, 2011
What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 3
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.
1. The Big Ten's elite class is shrinking: It was another rough week for the Big Ten as two ranked teams, Michigan State and Ohio State, showed serious flaws in blowout losses to winless teams (Notre Dame, Miami). Nebraska's defense continues to raise concerns in Lincoln, while Northwestern suffered a complete meltdown in an inexcusable loss to Army. Wisconsin continues to roll, Illinois has been a nice surprise and Michigan keeps racking up wins, but the league's overall depth looks extremely suspect following the final major weekend of nonconference play. The Big Ten can only hope it fares better in the bowl season.
Ohio State completed just 4 of 18 passes against Miami. Quarterback Joe Bauserman was just 2-of-14.
2. Ohio State is punchless on offense: Apparently, suspensions and injuries to your best offensive players do take a toll. The Buckeyes got almost nothing going offensively at Miami, as quarterback Joe Bauserman had an awful night (2-for-13 for 13 yards) and not a single receiver recorded a catch. The wrath of Terrelle Pryor finally caught up to Ohio State and it raises serious questions about the team's ability to contend for another Big Ten title. The Buckeyes are trying to play TresselBall without the talent Tressel had, and it's not working.
3. Illinois looks like a contender: While the past two weeks exposed several Big Ten teams, Illinois looks like the real deal. The Illini beat Arizona State to record their first win against a ranked opponent since knocking off No. 1 Ohio State in 2007. Ron Zook's squad is 3-0 for the first time since 2001, when it won a Big Ten title. The offense can be very dangerous, but it was a new-look defense that rose to the occasion against Arizona State as linebacker Jonathan Brown and others had breakout performances. A lot of things are lining up for Illinois to contend in the Leaders division.
4.Michigan State's offensive line is a major concern: After getting by against inferior competition, the Spartans' inexperience up front showed in a 31-13 loss to Notre Dame. Michigan State finished with 29 rush yards on 23 attempts with a long of 8 yards against the Irish. The loss of tackle Skyler Burkland certainly hurts, but Michigan State's issues up front go deeper. The Spartans have a defense and a quarterback to contend in the Big Ten, but their offensive line play must be a lot better when October rolls around.
5. Flawed Lions and Hawkeyes surviving for now: Penn State and Iowa both have flaws, and both squads found themselves on the ropes Saturday. But both the Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes found ways to rally for wins. Penn State's defense has made obvious strides from 2010 and will keep the Lions in plenty of games this fall. Linebacker U could be back. But the offense remains a question mark, especially at quarterback, and the kicking game was a mess at Temple. Iowa looked shell-shocked on both sides of the ball against Pitt until quarterback James Vandenberg, safety Micah Hyde and others triggered a furious fourth-quarter comeback. Both teams earned the right to get to work on themselves after wins.