1. Michigan State (1-1)
Losing on the road to a team like Oregon, a genuine contender for the national title, is nothing for which the Spartans should be ashamed. Losing the way the Spartans did, and on a day in which several Big Ten teams suffered huge losses, was a disappointment.
The Spartans actually led the Ducks 27-18 early in the third quarter, only to give up 28 unanswered points and fall 46-27. The Ducks, led by Heisman contender Marcus Mariota, racked up 491 yards against a Michigan State defense that was supposed to be stout.
The Spartans had 466 years in offense, but failed to score over the final 25 minutes.
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Still, Michigan State is our top Big Ten team. There’s not a game left on the schedule that the Spartans won’t head into as the favorites.
2. Wisconsin (1-1)
After giving up 21 straight points in a disappointing 28-24 loss at LSU in Week 1, the Badgers thumped Western Illinois 37-3 in Camp Randall last week.
The Badgers still are the best team in the Western Division, and they have the conference’s most dangerous player in tailback Melvin Gordon. Quarterback Tanner McEvoy, who had to take over when Joel Stave lost confidence in his arm, is getting better. He was 23 of 28 for 283 yards and three touchdowns against Western Illinois.
Wisconsin has a week off before hosting South Florida.
3. Ohio State (1-1)
The Buckeyes found out just how much they are going to miss the injured Braxton Miller this season in last week’s 35-21 upset loss against Virginia Tech.
The Hokies blitzed freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, who went 9 of 29 with three interceptions and was sacked seven times.
Ohio State still has enough talent to battle Michigan State for the Eastern Division crown, but itmust have a rushing attack that takes the pressure off Barrett.
4. Nebraska (2-0)
Ameer Abdullah may have saved Bo Pelini’s job with his twisting, tackle-busting touchdown in the final minute to win vs. McNeese State. The 58-yard reception gave the Cornhuskers a 31-24 triumph and prevented huge embarrassment before a home crowd.
It’s those types of uninspired efforts that have characterized Nebraska’s inconsistent play. Abdullah and quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. can be game-breakers or heart-breakers each week.
The Huskers should get a decent test from Fresno State (0-2) on Saturday.
5. Penn State (2-0)
The Nittany Lions won on and off the field, beating Akron last Saturday and getting their sanctions reduced by the NCAA on Monday.
Penn State is now eligible to land a bowl berth and to participate in the conference title game. That certainly is an emotional lift to the program.
Christian Hackenberg is passing at a record pace, but he has needed to because the ground game has been so ineffective in the opening two weeks. The Nittany Lions (81.5) are 13th in the league in rushing with a pair of backs who combined for nearly 1,800 yards last season.
The defense has looked stout, especially among the front seven.
6. Michigan (1-1)
It’s pretty bad when you lose your last scheduled game of a historic rivalry. It’s awful when you’re shut out for the first time in 20 years.
There are rumors that Brady Hoke might not even make it through the season before getting fired. If the Wolverines follow up the 31-0 loss to Notre Dame with a bad effort against Miami of Ohio, it could happen.
Hoke brought in Doug Nussmeier from Alabama to work with quarterback Devin Gardner, who was awful (19 of 32, three interceptions) against the Irish.
7. Minnesota (2-0)
Yeah, the Gophers are unbeaten but they’ve played their usual cupcake schedule to start with, earning wins over Eastern Illinois and Middle Tennessee State.
Minnesota is moving the ball on the ground, led by David Cobb’s 291 yards. Quarterback Mitch Leidner is completing 50 percent of his passes.
The Gophers will get a little better test Saturday when they travel to TCU (1-0). The Horned Frogs are two touchdown favorites.
8. Maryland (2-0)
The Terrapins could be one of the conference’s sleeper teams. Thanks to a blocked punt, they rallied for 10 fourth-quarter points last week to knock off South Florida in Tampa.
Quarterback C.J. Brown tossed a pair of touchdown passes last week. He’s thrown for three scores and rushed for three TDs in two wins.
We’ll know more about the Terps after Saturday. They host West Virginia (1-1), which gave Alabama a good fight in the opening week of the season. Maryland is a field goal favorite.
9. Iowa (2-0)
The Hawkeyes narrowly avoided the upset during last Saturday’s Big Ten blitz, scoring two touchdowns in the final three minutes to edge Ball State.
Believe it or not, Iowa (always a run-first program) threw 55 times in the game, including 52 from Jake Rudock. The starting QB completed 33 of his tosses for 322 yards and the final two scores.
The Hawkeyes face rival Iowa State (0-2) on Saturday in a game that’s usually close no matter what the records are for each team.
10. Rutgers (2-0)
The Scarlet Knights are another sleeper. They rallied to beat Washington State 41-38 in Seattle in Week 1 and topped Howard 38-25 last week..
Rutgers has been pretty balanced offensively, led by quarterback Gary Nova, who is completing 67 percent of his passes.
We’ll find out if the Scarlet Knights are legit as they host Penn State on Saturday night in possibly the their biggest home game since upsetting Louisville in 2006. It’ll be a major test for a defense that is ranked 119th against the pass where the Scarlet Knights are surrendering 350 yards per game.
11. Indiana (1-0)
The Hoosiers certainly have talent on offense but opened the season with a weird 28-10 win over Indiana State. Led by Tevin Coleman’s 247 yards, Indiana rushed for a whopping 455 yards, but failed to light up the scoreboard against an opponent that rushed for just 30.
Quarterback Nate Sudfeld was not very sharp, going 11 for 18 with an interception..
Indiana should get a test Saturday from Bowling Green (1-1), picked to win the MAC’s Eastern Division. Bowling Green actually opened as a three-point favorite but is now a touchdown underdog.
12. Illinois (2-0)
The Illini opened with wins against Youngstown State (28-17) and Western Kentucky (42-38). They trailed 27-21 last week entering the final quarter before rallying past the Hilltoppers.
Quarterback Wes Lunt had a career day, going 35 for 50 for 456 yards and three scores.
Illinois will step up in competition this week, heading to Washington (2-0). The Huskies are two touchdown favorites.
13. Northwestern (0-2)
Coach Pat Fitzgerald called his team “an embarrassment to anyone that has ever put on the purple and white.” He would know since he is is a former Wildcat All-American.
Northwestern looked decent in a 31-24 loss to California, but suffered a 23-15 loss to Northern Illinois last week. The Wildcats were outrushed 221-72 last week, a total skewed because of five quarterback sacks.
They have a week off followed by game against Western Illinois before traveling to Beaver Stadium on Sept. 27
14. Purdue (1-1)
The Big Ten’s worst team played like it last Saturday, getting pummeled 38-17 by Central Michigan.
The Boilermakers threw 49 times, completing 24, and had just 204 yards and two interceptions.
The prospects don’t get any better this weekend, with Notre Dame on the schedule. The Boilermakers are four touchdown underdogs.