The Top 3 stayed the same after two of the Big Ten’s better squads were idle in Week 2. There are a few big tests awaiting conference teams this week. However, the conference as a whole has seen its stock drop significantly in the last two weeks. Big Ten teams are 12-11 in that span.
1. Michigan State (1-1); Last week: 1
Another week’s slate of games turned out wretched for the Big Ten again as conference teams went 4-6 overall.
The Spartans didn’t play and remain at the top spot with only a road loss to vaunted No. 2 Oregon.
Up next for Michigan State is Eastern Michigan. The Eagles shouldn’t pose much of a threat to a strong Spartan defense. Former Nittany Lion Rob Bolden, who left Penn State following the sanctions and has turned into a journeyman of sorts with an unimpressive stint at LSU on his resume, will make his first start for the Eagles.
2. Wisconsin (1-1); Last week: 2
Wisconsin stays put after being off in Week 2 as well.
The Badgers, whose only loss came in their opener to No. 13 LSU, get a tough-to-read Bowling Green team next. Wisconsin should have little trouble with the Falcons. After all, Western Kentucky hung 59 on them in Week 1.
Then again, Bowling Green did upset a Big Ten team when the Falcons beat Indiana 45-42 last week.
3. Ohio State (2-1); Last week: 3
No. 23 Ohio State’s offense had been mediocre in its first two games without Braxton Miller but finally broke out against Kent State in Week 3. The Buckeyes hung 66 on the Golden Flashes and their defense pitched the league’s first shutout of the season.
Miller’s replacement, J.T. Barrett scored six touchdowns to lead the Buckeyes. But Urban Meyer’s offense will have to wait to see if it can keep that momentum going.
The Buckeyes are idle this week and will come back to host Cincinnati in Week 5.
4. Penn State (3-0, 1-0 Big Ten); Last week: 5
The Nittany Lions have been hard to gauge so far but move up a spot thanks to a gritty, come-from-behind win in a hostile environment against Rutgers.
Penn State’s defense is good, that much is known. The Nittany Lions are 11th in scoring defense and are surrendering just 12 points per game. They’ll have a chance to prove if they are a great defense later in the season. That chance won’t come this week against a less-than-impressive UMass team that has lost 28 of its last 30 games.
If Penn State can get a running game going, the Nittany Lions could be a dangerous team down the stretch with an already-potent passing attack.
5. Nebraska (2-0); Last week: 4
The No. 24 Cornhuskers fall a spot despite putting a 55-19 beating on winless Fresno State last week.
The concerns come on defense, where Nebraska allowed 349 yards to the Bulldogs. Still, the Cornhuskers were able to overcome and although they converted just 40 percent of third downs, scoring on big plays. Nebraska used touchdown passes of 70, 20 and 23 yards, a 62-yard run and an 86-yard punt return to put the game away.
Al Golden’s Miami squad (2-1) should pose a tougher task.
6. Rutgers (2-1, 0-1); Last week: 10
It wasn’t pretty — Rutgers’ starting quarterback Gary Nova threw five interceptions against Penn State — but the Scarlet Knights have to be encouraged by an overall solid performance in their physical, smack-talk laden league debut.
They had Penn State beaten and controlled most of the game with a strong defensive effort despite numerous offensive deficiencies.
Rutgers’ special teams units continue to be good. The Scarlet Knights added their 39th and 39th blocked kicks to extend their lead over other FBS teams since 2009 with 39 blocks. With a win over Washington State in Week 1, Rutgers remains the only Big Ten team with a win over a Power 5 team. Navy (2-1) is next.
7. Maryland (2-1); Last week: 8
The Terrapins lost a heartbreaker to a solid West Virginia team in Week 3, but not for lack of effort.
After falling behind 28-6 early, Maryland rallied to tie the game at 37 in the fourth quarter.
The Mountaineers (2-1) kicked the game winning field goal as time expired. The Terps showed off their playmakers, getting big play scores from quarterback C.J. Brown (75-yard run) and Stefon Diggs (77-yard pass from Brown) and a 69-yard punt return from William Likely. But Maryland couldn’t stop the big play either, giving up touchdown passes of 43, 44 and 36 yards.
The Terps are two-point underdogs heading into a road showdown with Syracuse (2-0).
8. Michigan (2-1); Last week: 6
To say the Wolverines are playing lackluster football would be an understatement.
Michigan, which was shut out by No. 9 Notre Dame in Week 2, had trouble putting away pesky Miami (Ohio) last week. The RedHawks trailed by a touchdown at halftime and the Wolverines didn’t score again until there was only 3:44 left in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines continued to play as sloppy as ever, committing three more turnovers. They are a Big Ten worst minus-7 in the turnover margin. Woof.
Utah (2-0) is up next and it’s become hard to expect Michigan to have an easy go at any opponent.
9. Iowa (2-1); Last week: 9
The Hawkeyes shouldn’t take too much flak for losing to intrastate rival Iowa State (1-2), as the two teams tend to play each other pretty evenly no matter the year. They’ve split the last eight games dating back to 2007.
Still, Iowa hasn’t been able to get its running game going, and giving up an 11-play, game-winning drive at home has to be a concern.
The Hawkeyes are averaging just 3.6 yards per carry and have a tough matchup on the road against what looks to be a promising Pitt (3-0, 1-0 ACC) squad.
10. Minnesota (2-0); Last week: 7
A loss to an athletic TCU (2-0) is nothing to be ashamed of. However, the Golden Gophers’ lack of offense has to be a concern.
Minnesota lacks playmakers at the quarterback and wideout position, and the passing game hasn’t done much to help former 1,200-plus yard rusher David Cobb. Mitch Leidner was intercepted three times, with two picks coming in TCU territory before he was pulled in favor of Chris Streveler in the fourth quarter.
The Gophers get a home game against San Jose State (1-1) to try and improve.
11. Illinois (2-1); Last week: 12
Quarterback Wes Lunt has been pretty good for the Fighting Illini. He’s leading the Big Ten in touchdown-to-interception ratio with nine scores to just two picks.
His 323 yards per game are second only to Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg (360). But Lunt, who’s completing 66 percent of his passes, has gotten little help from his defense. The Illini allowed Washington (3-0) to hold the ball nearly 10 minutes longer in a 44-19 loss.
Texas State (1-1) is up next.
12. Purdue (1-2); Last week: 14
The Boilermakers get a bump after a promising performance against No. 9 Notre Dame last week.
Purdue actually went toe-to-toe with the Fighting Irish early on and led 14-10 late in the second quarter before Notre Dame pulled away for a 30-14 win.
This could be the highest the Boilermakers are ranked this season. After facing FCS opponent Southern Illinois (3-0), wins will be very hard to come by for Purdue.
13. Northwestern (0-2); Last week: 13
Following an 0-2 start and being called “an embarrassment” by coach Pat Fitzgerald, no team in the country needed an off week as bad as banged up, underachieving Northwestern.
The Wildcats get FBS foe Western Illinois (2-1) in Week 4 and have a lot to prove. This isn’t a gimme for a team that just a year ago was considered a potential darkhorse pick for the Big Ten title.
14. Indiana (1-1); Last week: 11
Indiana’s defense hasn’t stopped anyone for a long time. That scenario was no different on Saturday when the Hoosiers lost to Bowling Green 45-42.
And it only gets harder for the Hoosiers as another road game looms against No. 18 Missouri (3-0).
Here’s to betting that no matter how many points Indiana’s vertical offense puts up, its nonexistent defense will allow the potent Tigers to score more.