Sunday, September 13, 2009
What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 2
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Time to put a bow on Week 2 in the Big Ten with five lessons learned.
1. Michigan is back -- The Wolverines are young and not very deep at several spots, but they're extremely resilient and clearly on the right track under second-year head coach Rich Rodriguez. True freshman Tate Forcier delivered a performance to remember against a good Notre Dame team, completing 6 of 7 passes for 56 yards and a touchdown on the game's decisive drive. Rodriguez's offense has returned to form behind Forcier, running back Brandon Minor and a much improved line. Michigan has closed the book on last season's 3-9 disaster and could make a serious push for the Big Ten title.
2. Ohio State's offense needs a spark -- When you start four possessions inside the opponent's territory, even if the opponent is USC, you need to get more than two field goals. Buckeyes running back Brandon Saine said after Saturday's game that "we always talk about ending each drive with a kick." But too often since 2007, those kicks have been field goal attempts, not extra point attempts. Whether it's Jim Tressel's play-calling or Terrelle Pryor's inconsistency or an unproven supporting cast around Pryor, something just isn't clicking for the Buckeyes on offense and it cost them a huge win against the Trojans.
3. The Big Ten isn't that bad -- After being ripped all week and most of Saturday afternoon, the Big Ten held its own in the key games. Michigan upset Notre Dame and Ohio State dominated USC for most of the way. Purdue paced Oregon at Autzen Stadium, Iowa rebounded strong at Iowa State and both Minnesota and Wisconsin notched nice wins against Air Force and Fresno State. The Big Ten might not be at the SEC's level, but it hasn't suffered multiple embarrassments like the ACC or the Big 12. Though the USC loss stings, having Michigan back on the national scene really helps the league's overall perception.
4. A new group of running backs emerges -- The Big Ten no longer has Shonn Greene, Javon Ringer or Chris "Beanie" Wells, but the league is once again reloading at the running back spot. Purdue's Ralph Bolden looks like a star in two games, while Wisconsin's John Clay delivered a bounce-back performance and Indiana's Demetrius McCray sparked a dormant rushing attack. Michigan's Minor and Illinois' Jason Ford were superb in their returns from injuries. Iowa turned to a true freshman (Brandon Wegher) and a redshirt freshman (Adam Robinson) to ease its rushing woes. Junior Stephen Simmons has emerged as Northwestern's top back after a very nice performance Saturday.
5. League race could be a lot more interesting -- The Big Ten has been pegged as a two-team league, but several other squads could work their way into a wide-open race. Michigan has looked more impressive than any Big Ten team so far, and Iowa made a strong statement in Ames after an extremely shaky start against Northern Iowa. Ohio State clearly has some issues on offense, and Penn State's run game struggled against Syracuse at home. Everything still could come down to Penn State-Ohio State on Nov. 7 in Happy Valley, but a few more matchups will shape the league race.