By Paul M. Banks
This will be the final week that I can feature only one set of records beside each name. It’s the start of conference play! Meaning I’ll soon be including Big Ten records. Through three weeks of play, the Big Ten is the only Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conference to feature five 3-0 teams. Four of the Big Ten’s undefeated teams will square off on the opening Saturday, including Indiana playing at Michigan and Iowa facing a primeti me game on the road at Penn State. A re-match from one of last year’s most noteworthy and exciting intraconference tussles.
1. Penn State (3-0) We still can’t say for sure if they’re for real given how their schedule has been about as challenging as the puzzles on a Denny’s kids menu. But their defense has been much more impressive than even Nittany Lion optimists would have predicted. Not many would have prognosticated they would hold each of their first three opponents to less than a touchdown. JoePa said it best at Big Ten Media Day, when asked if he was worried about this team, “when that phone rings on Sunday, I shake!”
2. Ohio State (2-1) Saturday has all the makings of a “trap game.” In years the Illini are mediocre or better, Illinois has owned them at the Horsehoe. Remember ’07 when Illinois beat a #1 squad for the first time in a half-century? In seasons that OSU has had a major talent advantage over Illinois, it’s what you expect: Ohio State 77, Illinois 0. Or something like that. But this year, expect a tight game. Buckeyes need to make a statement if they want to get their 5th straight conference title.
3. Michigan (3-0) Last week everyone learned the name Tate Forcier. This week it’s Carlos Brown becoming a household name for college football geeks. I guess no one’s talking about illegal practice sessions anymore? They could soon start discussing New Year’s Day bowl games soon instead.
4. Iowa (3-0) You know all about the OL and defensive stalwarts. The next name you should become familiar with is the man filling Jewel Hampton’s shoes (who was supposed to fill Shonn Greene’s shoes). RB Adam Robinson who posted his first career 100-yard effort with 101 yards on 18 carries (5.6 avg.) 2 TDs against Arizona.
5. Wisconsin (3-0) In the words of TSB Badger correspondent Jake McCormick, “Scott Tolzien continues to grow into the starting quarterback position by completing 15-of-20 passes for 159 yards, two touchdowns, and no turnovers. The running backs were another story, but I’ll get to that later.”
6. Minnesota (2-1) For a half or three quarters, you could say they hung with one of the best teams in the country. And did you see that TD reception of Eric Decker’s? How he hung on to it after that bone-crushing hit. If he choose to pursue MLB instead of the NFL after graduation, I would be scared for outfield walls everywhere.
7. Northwestern (2-1) Is Syracuse trying to join the Big Ten? Their schedule says yes. If so, congratulate the Orange, and ESPN’s new favorite player Greg Paulus, on their first in-conference win. The good news for Northwestern- they’ve found a couple receivers, and their QB Mike Kafka is indeed a dual threat. The bad news, their defensive line and secondary have no depth, and is currently riddled by injuries. By the way, coming to Evanston this week is the best WR in the Big Ten, Eric Decker. How’s that going to work? Perhaps similar to when the two teams met in ’07, 49-48 OT.
This is the “When does Basketball season start section?” These traditional basketball powers look very shaky so far.
8. Illinois (1-1) If we don’t learn what they’re about this week in Columbus, we’ll surely learn the following week when they host Penn State. With 61 rushing yards against Illinois State, senior running back Daniel Dufrene went over 1,000 yards for his career. He is the 35th player in Illinois history to reach the 1,000-yard milestone, and the Zooker should have made him the unquestioned starter since the day Rashard Mendenhall left. If they keep giving more carries to Jason Ford and Troy Pollard instead of Dufrene…hey, is that infamous domain name fireronzook.com available again?
9. Indiana (3-0) Can I register this domain name: indianafootballisnowherenearasgoodastheirrecord.com? If it’s taken, let’s try hoosierswillfinishlastinthebigtendespitetheirgoodnon-conferencestart.com
10. Michigan State (1-2) Perhaps they’ve found their answer at QB in Kirk Cousins. He put up some big numbers, but made some crucial mistakes. MSU made a nice rebound from a disastrous start at ND. But ultimately, they accomplished little more than help Jimmy Clausen’s NFL Draft stock.
11. Purdue (1-2) Is Notre Dame trying to join the Big Ten? Their schedule seems to say so. I think the bowl bid train has left the station already. But you can believe in (Danny) Hope, right? After all, that’s the message marketed in the Presidential Election last fall. The Era of Hope will bring wins, just not now.
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