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Monday, September 9, 2013
Big Ten weekend rewind: Week 2

By Brian Bennett

Week 2 didn't provide a lot of enticing matchups, but it did get us dreaming a little bit.

Michigan's impressive takedown of Notre Dame moved the Wolverines up near the edge of the top 10 in the polls and gave the Big Ten another national title contender alongside Ohio State. But those aren't the only teams looking good right now. If league teams can survive some of their nonconference challenges this weekend, we could have some serious heavyweight showdowns on tap in the coming weeks. Would any of these interest you?

5-0 Michigan at 5-0 Penn State on Oct. 12? It could happen, with the Wolverines playing Akron, UConn and Minnesota next, while the Nittany Lions have UCF, Kent State and Indiana.
5-0 Ohio State at 4-0 Northwestern on Oct. 5? The Wildcats have looked great in beating a pair of AQ teams -- Cal and Syracuse -- by double digits in the first two weeks. They've got Western Michigan and Maine left before gearing up for the Buckeyes. Ohio State, of course, still has to get past Wisconsin on Sept. 28 in what should be another high-stakes duel. But the game against the Badgers is in Columbus.
8-0 Nebraska at 8-0 Michigan on Nov. 9? This is far from guaranteed, as the Huskers have a tough matchup with UCLA this weekend, after which comes some pretty easy sledding until November. Michigan would also have to survive road trips to Penn State and Michigan State. But both teams will likely be favored in each game leading up to Nov. 9.
11-0 Michigan at 11-0 Ohio State on Nov. 30, followed by a rematch the following weekend? Like I said, we're dreaming.

What makes daydreaming about these games even more fun is the realization that none of them should turn into defensive slogs (weather permitting, of course). The five current ranked Big Ten teams can all really score, as each one is averaging at least 41 points per game through two weeks. Sure, the competition has yet to really stiffen, but we know that Nebraska's offense is for real, that Devin Gardner has completely changed Michigan's attack and that Wisconsin can run the ball with the best of them. Northwestern has scored 92 points against a pair of AQ teams and has gotten almost nothing from Venric Mark. Carlos Hyde hasn't played a down for Ohio State, while Braxton Miller has yet to play a full game and Dontre Wilson is still learning.

Throw in Indiana's passing game, Illinois' vastly improved offense, the potential for Penn State and Christian Hackenberg under Bill O'Brien's play calling and even Minnesota's increased playmaking skills, and points could be coming in waves this fall.

Michigan State fans just got sick.

Take that and rewind:

Jeremy Gallon
Jeremy Gallon helped Michigan ring up 41 points on Notre Dame.
Team of the week: With apologies to Illinois, which registered a critic-silencing win over Cincinnati, Michigan grabs the honor this week after its 41-30 win over Notre Dame. The Wolverines got to make all the chicken jokes they desired by shining bright under the Big House lights. And while Irish haters want to use that result solely as an excuse to bash Notre Dame, the fact is Michigan scored 41 points on a defense full of future pros.

Worst hangover: Buzz swirled around Indiana this offseason and grew louder when the Hoosiers rang up 73 points in their opener versus Indiana State. That's why it was so deflating for Kevin Wilson's team to lose 41-35 at home to Navy. The Midshipmen ran for 444 yards on 70 (!) rushing attempts and never once punted. With an underrated Bowling Green squad up next, followed by Missouri, Penn State and the two Michigan schools, the Hoosiers need to get up off the mat quickly.

Fun with numbers (via ESPN Stats & Info): Wisconsin is one of only three teams in the country that has yet to allow a point and the only defense that has done so through two games. This week's opponent, Arizona State, has also yet to give up a point but has played only Sacramento State. The Badgers also lead the FBS in yardage margin, outgaining opponents by 444 yards per game. Playing cupcakes is good for your stats. ... Northwestern, deadly efficient with both quarterbacks versus Syracuse, has the league's highest QBR score and is 14th nationally. Michigan is right behind at No. 15. ... Penn State is dead last in the FBS in third-down conversion percentage (2-for-26) but is 4-for-4 on fourth downs. ... Purdue is in the bottom 10 nationally in yards per game, yards per play, QBR, points per game and red zone efficiency. That looks even worse when you consider that the Boilers' two opponents -- Cincinnati and Indiana State -- served up a combined 118 points in their other, non-Purdue matchups. ... Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase has accounted for 73.5 percent of his team's offense, by far the highest percentage in the Big Ten.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Notre Dame had no solution for Michigan wide receiver Jeremy Gallon. The senior had eight catches for a career-high 182 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 23 yards per reception. “He’s like a little bulldog,” Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner said.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun was named the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week after he scored two touchdowns, one on a fumble return and another on a pick-six. Calhoun now has three scores in his first two games. "He's our running back of the defense, I guess," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "Just hand it off to him, let him go."

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Minnesota's Marcus Jones returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown late in the first half to help break open the game against New Mexico State. It was sweet revenge for Jones, who got hammered after signaling for a fair catch earlier in the game. He now has scored on a kickoff return and a punt return in his first two games of the year.

Best play: Purdue pulled this off on the opening kickoff versus Indiana State. That was one of the few highlights for the Boilers, who might have lost without that special-teams strike.

Strangest moment: Week 2 was full of them, from Michigan's quarterback wearing the Old 98, to Eminem's halftime-interview-as-performance-art to Tom Izzo bribing Michigan State students to evacuate Spartan Stadium during a thunderstorm by promising to sit with them later (which he did).

But the best theater of the absurd happened in Las Cruces, N.M., where Minnesota played in front of an announced "crowd" of just over 16,400 at New Mexico State. The game was broadcast by something called Aggie Vision, which conveyed the look and feel of a 1980s high school game tape. Everything about the game was as non-big-time as a Big Ten team could find. Week 2 was supposed to be when Minnesota played at North Carolina, but the Gophers paid $800,000 to get out of that road trip. They chose instead to put themselves in the Area 51 of college football. At least they won.

Looking ahead: It's the best week of the nonconference season for the Big Ten, with three ranked opponents on the schedule: No. 16 UCLA at Nebraska, No. 19 Washington versus Illinois in Chicago, and No. 21 Notre Dame at Purdue. Plus, Wisconsin goes to Arizona State, Ohio State travels out to Cal, Iowa plays rival Iowa State and Penn State faces a dangerous UCF squad.