Okay, so technically conference play began last Saturday--when Wisconsin blew out Purdue--but we have both our first marquee Big Ten matchup of the early season tomorrow, when the Badgers head to Columbus, and our first I-guess-it's-a-rivalry contest when Minnesota and Iowa face off. And even though the season doesn't really get started until conference play, every team in the Big Ten (save for Illinois) has four games worth of action under their belt, enough to get at least a half-decent read on how the rest of the season forcasts.
A note as to the rankings: Because these are generally pretty boring, we'll mix it up by adding a theme every week. This week: Seinfeld quotes!"
(4-0, 0-0) "Mandelbaum, Mandelbaum, Mandelbaum!"
Like most of their conference-mates, Ohio State played a non-conference slate largely scheduled to help the Buckeyes amass four easy wins. And although Buffalo and Cal hung around longer than Ohio State would've liked, San Diego State and Florida A&M couldn't even put up any token resistance--a 76-0 win is impressive no matter who you play, especially with a backup quarterback at the helm.
(3-1, 1-0) "Here's to those who wish us well, and those who don't can go to hell."
Maybe the official box score has the Badgers at 3-1, but in my book, they're undefeated. No, a 32-yard field goal isn't a gimme, not with #collegekickers, but Wisconsin was absolutely jobbed of what might have been the Big Ten's best non-conference win of the early season. The other three games they've played have been against cupcakes (the likes of Tennessee Tech, UMass, and Purdue), games they won by a combined 134-10. But no matter who you play, Melvin Gordon's 11.8 yards per carry average is kind of insane, isn't it?
(4-0, 0-0) "I am Costanza, lord of the idiots!"
The Wildcats are 4-0, and the Northwestern offense looks as dynamic as everyone predicted. But the defense has been very hit-or-miss in the opening weeks: in the opener against Cal, Northwestern gave up over well 500 yards and 30 points, but also had a pair of pick-sixes. After a bye this week, the matchup with Ohio State might be among the biggest in Ryan Field's history. Whether Collin Ellis and co. can contain Braxton Miller is an entirely different matter, though the probable return of Venric Mark adds another dimension to a dangerous offense.
(4-0, 0-0) "Do women know about shrinkage?"
So, uh, Michigan. After a couple weeks, we thought you might be great. You beat up on Central Michigan, took down a Notre Dame team that had looked great in their opener, Devin Gardner was slinging it, and did it while wearing a defensive linesman's number. But then...it took Dave Witvoet to pull out all his stops to will you to a win over Akron, then UConn--the same UConn who got blown out by Towson, had to collapse in the fourth for you to escape the non-conference unscathed. I don't get it.
(3-1, 0-0) "I spend so much time trying to get their clothes off, I never thought of taking mine off."
Is there a Big Ten team easier to predict than the Spartans? Ever since Kirk Cousins left, it seems like the script writes itself: Dominant defense, inept offense, and a penchant for implosion at the worst possible time. And they wear green and white? Michigan State is basically the Jets of the Big Ten, huh. But this year's D might be extra special--even in the loss to Notre Dame, the Domers only managed 220 yards of total offense. And Shilque Calhoun--who?--might just be the best player in the conference.
(2-1, 0-0) "He's a mystery wrapped in a twinkie."
I know. This doesn't feel right. But of the three middling teams ranked 6th through 8th, the Illini have the best win--a never in doubt romp over an actually pretty decent Cincinnati team. Even in their lone loss, at home to Washington, the Illini hung around late and lost by just 10. I just know that I don't want to live in a world where Illinois ranks among the top half of the Big Ten. Hopefully, Miami of Ohio can knock them back to the cellar where Tim Beckman belongs.
(3-1, 0-0) "Just remember, it's not a lie if you believe it."
Why does Penn State get the nod over Nebraska? Because I'm a homer, mainly. And because when Bill O'Brien curses, he does it on live television.
(3-1, 0-0) "Boy, you really went bald there, didn't you."
Nebraska allowed 602 yards of offense to Wyoming in the opener. They won, but that's not a good look. A much worse look? Going up 21-3 in Lincoln, then letting UCLA go on a 38-0 run. Even in beating FCS San Diego State last week, the Huskers allowed almost 500 yards of offense. Tyler Martinez is having his best season as a passer, but wither Ndamukong Suh?
(4-0, 0-0) "All you did was not die for twelve months!"
Minnesota did what they do best: cruising through a nonconference slate designed to catapult them towards bowl contention. Seriously, the teams they beat have a combined 1 FBS win between them. It's never worth getting excited about Minnesota this early, though their matchup against Iowa should help us get a pulse on the both of them.
(3-1, 0-0) "I'm much more comfortable criticizing people behind their backs."
On the one hand, Iowa lost to Northern Iowa, and didn't look good against a truly miserable Iowa State squad. On the other, they put up 59 points (which is, if you'll believe it, as many as they had in all 8 conference games last year combined) last week in beating down, okay, a heinously bad Western Michigan team. Momentum is on the Hawkeyes' side, and so is a dynamic DST that would provide plenty of fantasy points if there were fantasy college football.
(2-2, 0-0) "This was supposed to be the Summer of George!"
Actually, I take it back. Tons of hype that this year will be different, a promising start, inevitably followed by incomprehensible losses and the creeping realization that yeah, this season is just going to be like every other one? Sorry, Michigan State, but Indiana is the Jets of the Big Ten. Except that it's the Hoosier offense that's the dominant unit, incessant self-sabotage notwithstanding. The Hoosiers' path to bowl eligbility isn't an impossible one, but Nate Sudfeld is going to need to get some help.
(1-3, 0-1) "You should've seen her face. It was the exact same look my father gave me when I told him I wanted to be a ventriloquist."
I guess Purdue is the new Indiana? When your FBS rank in both passing and rushing offense falls in the triple digits, you know you're in trouble. The Boilermakers were, improbably, able to hang with Notre Dame, leading after three quarters, but then it all fell apart. Purdue is in action this week, ready to get sliced up by a Northern Illinois team that's on the cusp of the top 25. Darrell Hazell's first year might look at lot like Tim Beckman's did.