By Paul M. Banks
1. Penn State 2-0
You can complain about how weak their schedule is this month (and we won’t learn anything more versus Temple this weekend), but no one has looked in “mid-season form” as much as the Nittany Lions have.
2. Ohio State 1-1 and Michigan 2-0
It’s fitting that these two bitterest of rivals are tied, because all good rivalries have symmetry. After finally waking up against Navy, Ohio State showed it belonged against USC. But, unfortunately for the Buckeyes and fortunately for ESPN (and the frat boy front-runner Trojan fans watching the network) their favorite team won. However, this fall “Boom goes the Herron” on offense, and a play making secondary on D will make them contend for the title.
Michigan QB Tate Forcier seriously looks like he’s 29. He’s like football Greg Oden. And he is certainly is not playing like a true freshman. ND was overrated (what else is new?), but Rich Rod has turned things around in Ann Arbor much faster than anyone anticipated. Tailback Brandon Minor is coming into this own.
4. Iowa 2-0
They seem to be adjusting okay to the loss of RB Jewel Hampton, as well as a missing Bryan Bulaga, as QB Ricky Stanzi threw a career high 4 TD passes Saturday, in the state of Iowa’s most important annual sporting event. Their defense is solid, but it will be interesting to see if that will be enough to win games as injuries pile on during the season.
5. Northwestern 2-0
Yes, they’ve been somewhat unimpressive, but I can’t honestly make a better case for ranking anyone else this high instead. Yes, the EMU win at home was extremely ugly, but they did it without their best DT (Adam Hahn), DB (Sherrick McMannis), and with their star DE (Corey Wootton) still not playing all that much. On the plus side, they’re 1st in the Big Ten in pass defense and in fewest sacks allowed, and 2nd in scoring offense and total defense.
6. Wisconsin 2-0
I wanted to rank them higher because they overcame the swine flu to achieve victory, but there’s nothing especially dominant about this team. Scott Tolzien has been a pleasant surprise at QB, and they haven’t had to rely on “Boring Ball” (using the same running plays 70-80% of their offensive sets) to win games yet, so that’s a positive.
7. Minnesota 2-0
Gophs won a very emotional game in the new stadium while wearing the ugliest uniforms in Big Ten history. Every player looked like a highlighting marker that U of M students would use for their textbooks. Can’t rip on WR Eric Decker though, my early choice for league MVP.
This is the “When does Basketball season start section?” These traditional b-ball powers look very shaky so far.
8. Illinois 1-1
Recovered nicely from the EMBARASSMENT in week one. And they did it without: their leader in QB Juice Williams, their best player in WR Arrelious Benn and their best athlete on defense in Martez Wilson. Other hopes for improvement? Illini rank second in the Big Ten and 21st in the nation at 8.0 TFL per game. Offensively, Illinois ranks 16th in the nation in rushing yards per game (247.0)
9. Purdue 1-1
So I guess Ralph Bolden is pretty good, eh? But the defense was too weak and let an Oregon program heading into a downward spiral (who also have the ugliest uniforms in history, not that I’m the fashion police or anything) off the hook.
10. Indiana 2-0
I’m not sold. Struggling against Western Michigan will do that. Although “Directional Michigan State” had a great showing last weekend. The pistol offense can be interesting to watch at times. And DE Jamie Kirlew is as good as they come.
11. Michigan State 1-1
High preseason expectations aside, you knew they were going to land in this spot after their embarrassment to Central Michigan. The Big Ten had trouble with all of Directional Michigan, but everyone else except Sparty got the job done.