About a month ago we gave a quarterly review of the performance of each Big Ten team and graded them based on how they did, compared to how they should have done according to pre-season expectations. Now, we have our mid-season review in which each school’s grade is based on its overall/ conference record, and how the team has improved or declined since the first quarter of the season.
Ohio State: Despite the fact that they are ineligible to go to the Big Ten championship game or any bowl game this season, Ohio State has played like Ohio State and looks as if they will continue to play like Ohio State. The Buckeyes have not been incredibly impressive based on what we have come to expect from the Scarlet and Grey, but they have been solid. Although they have shown weaknesses at times (letting Indiana score 22 in the fourth), 7-0 deserves an A.
Northwestern: They are the first team to become bowl-eligible in the Big Ten after their victory over Minnesota last Saturday. A 6-1 record may not look as great as it could based on the lesser strength of some of their opponents, but being bowl-eligible with five games to go, for Northwestern, is very impressive. They are one second-half letdown against Penn State from being 7-0.
Besides Ohio State, these three are the only teams left with undefeated conference records. Except for Penn State’s win over Northwestern, these teams’ combined victories over teams like Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota are not that impressive. Iowa’s recent OT victory over Michigan State is inconclusive to me. I’m not sure what to make of the Spartans yet. Penn State, although not post-season-eligible for the next four years, has the opportunity to play spoiler to a couple of teams, like Iowa, next week in Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium. After that, we’ll see how the Hawkeyes do against the likes of Northwestern, Michigan, and Nebraska. Based on what we’ve seen out of Iowa so far, I don’t see them as competitors later in the season. Michigan has a couple of big ones coming up against Michigan State and then Nebraska, games that could put them in great shape if they can get the W’s. We’ll see if Michigan is for real in these next two weeks.
Wisconsin blew it against Nebraska, and Nebraska got humiliated at Ohio State. I don’t blame Nebraska for losing against Ohio State in Columbus, but I do blame them for looking absolutely horrible in the second half of a winnable game. Wisconsin just blew it against a Nebraska team that has been so-so up to this point. Games like these are what earns the Huskers and Badgers a B-. Nebraska certainly has plenty of time and the capability to get some good wins under their belt and contend in the Legends division. Wisconsin widened their lead in the Leaders divisions, but they have to keep playing well to secure their championship game berth. It’s time for both teams to prove their worth in the Big Ten this season.
Michigan State: Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and a 17-16 loss to Ohio State is going to happen. As will an OT loss at Iowa. But a 1-2 conference record with their one win coming in what should not have been a close game against Indiana is not what the Spartans had in mind. And their schedule only gets tougher with their next three games against Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. They really can’t afford to lose another game this season, because I don’t see a three-loss conference schedule winning the Legends division. Never say never, but with their upcoming opponents and already two conference losses…I think the Spartans have already played themselves out of championship game contention.
Between them, these four teams have an overall conference record of 0-10. Nobody expected much out of Illinois or Indiana, and until they give reason to, nobody really ever will. Minnesota and Purdue are not bad teams, but they haven’t proved that they’re good either. Minnesota can still make this a respectable season with a 4-2 overall record. Purdue still has time to actually win the Leaders division, but they need to get a couple of big wins and hope for a few Wisconsin losses. But at this point, no wins in the conference earns nobody better than a D, regardless of their overall record.