Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Big Ten power rankings
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
After several installments of power rankings during the offseason (when no games were actually being played), it's time to assess the league with a bit of concrete evidence.
First, a quick power rankings primer. These rankings are meant to be fluid. If a team loses or struggles in a game it should win, it pays the price. If a team looks impressive in victory or pulls an upset, it usually moves up. Try not to throw a tantrum if your team isn't where you think it should be. There are opportunities every week to move up. And move down.
Week 1 wasn't great for the Big Ten, as two ranked teams (Ohio State, Iowa) struggled and a potential sleeper team (Illinois) simply fell asleep. But there was good news in Ann Arbor, as Michigan looks to be respectable again. The top three look very solid to me. After that, it's a bit murky.
1. Penn State (1-0) -- The Nittany Lions handled their business with no drama against Akron, surging to a 31-0 halftime lead. Daryll Clark showed why he's the Big Ten's best quarterback, and for now, Penn State is the league's top team. Joe Paterno wants to see better play from his offensive line, but the wide receivers looked impressive.
2. Ohio State (1-0) -- Sure, Navy is a tricky team with a tricky offense. Tell me something I don't know. Bottom line: Ohio State was bigger and more talented at pretty much every position. The Buckeyes had a chance to put away the game early in the fourth quarter, but head coach Jim Tressel made a poor decision and his players had several breakdowns. It will take a much better performance across the board to simply keep pace with USC.
3. Michigan State (1-0) -- The Spartans hold a firm grip on the No. 3 spot after a stress-free win against Montana State. Quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol continue to pace one another in a good way, and linebacker Greg Jones picked up where he left off in 2008. Michigan State's line play still concerns me a bit, but I like the team's depth at most key positions.
4. Northwestern (1-0) -- Iowa's near disaster allows Northwestern to move up a spot. Towson didn't present much of a challenge for the Wildcats, who could have easily put up 60 points in Saturday's game. They might not get a true test until Week 3 or 4, but they had to be pleased with quarterback Mike Kafka and wide receiver Andrew Brewer in the opener.
5. Iowa (1-0) -- Hawkeye fans are already spreading the Northern Iowa gospel after their team was a 41-yard field goal away from a crushing defeat on Saturday. True, the Panthers are an excellent FCS program, but Iowa should feel free to take care of business and perform like a ranked team. It didn't happen, and the Hawkeyes' run game seems a bit shaky with Jewel Hampton lost for the season. There will be chances to move up, and Iowa needs to look like the team that ended last season on a great run.
6. Michigan (1-0) -- No team in the Big Ten had a more impressive debut, especially considering the circumstances. Rich Rodriguez's team showed unity, toughness and, most important, better execution on both sides of the ball as it totally dismantled Western Michigan. Rodriguez finally has the right quarterbacks in place to run his offense (Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson), and the defense looked extremely well coached and energized as it ruined Tim Hiller's day. A chance to make a national statement and move up the rankings arrives Saturday against Notre Dame (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).
7. Wisconsin (1-0) -- Finishing games will continue to be a theme in Madison after Wisconsin allowed two late touchdowns to Northern Illinois. But for the most part, the Badgers had a nice debut as Scott Tolzien performed well at quarterback and Isaac Anderson distinguished himself as a playmaker at wide receiver. Wisconsin will need a more complete performance against Fresno State to move up the rankings.
8. Minnesota (1-0) -- A come-from-behind road win certainly means something, but Minnesota probably shouldn't have been in such a desperate position against Syracuse. The Gophers easily jumped ahead 14-3 but endured an offensive lull similar to the ones that cropped up late last season. Linebacker Lee Campbell led an admirable defensive performance. Air Force provides a good test this week as Minnesota opens TCF Bank Stadium.
9. Purdue (1-0) -- Boilers fans have the right to be a bit ticked off with this placement, but I need to see a little more from Danny Hope's team before buying in. If Purdue heads to Eugene and pulls the upset -- or merely keeps pace with Oregon for the second straight year -- I'll be happy to move the Boilers up the rankings. Ralph Bolden's performance was extremely impressive, though the defense needs to be better against Jeremiah Masoli and the wounded Ducks.
10. Illinois (0-1) -- Granted, Illinois played a tougher opponent (Missouri) than its Big Ten brethren in Week 1, but a complete collapse in St. Louis is simply unacceptable. The Illini were the deeper and more experienced team, but they looked flustered and lifeless at times, delivering the type of performance that kept them out of a bowl game last year. A 1-4 start isn't out of the question for Illinois, which needs to bounce back strong to avoid a trip to the basement.
11. Indiana (1-0) -- A win's a win, but there won't be many more in Bloomington if Indiana doesn't pick up its play on both sides of the ball. The pistol formation was supposed to spark the rushing attack, but the Hoosiers gained just 73 yards on the ground against Eastern Kentucky, an FCS team. Indiana had three turnovers and endured several breakdowns in the secondary. Western Michigan and Hiller provide a bigger test this week, and Indiana needs to meet it.