Oct 12, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; Northwestern Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald (left) greets Wisconsin Badgers head coach Gary Andersen following the game at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin won 35-6. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The Big Ten Conference is establishing a clear hierarchy after Week 7. Ohio State is the best team and then there’s everyone else.
Everyone else isn’t very good, which poses a question: is the Big Ten bad at football? Or is it loaded with mediocre teams, outside of Ohio State? We know Ohio State is a legitimate national championship contender and that Purdue is terrible, but outside of that is there really that much difference between teams two through 11? I don’t think so.
- Ohio State looks like they may go unbeaten for the second year in a row. The Buckeyes had a bye this week.
- Northwestern’s defense stinks.
- Wisconsin may end up being a Top 10 team by season’s end.
- Nebraska hasn’t played anybody with a pulse this year outside of UCLA. Despite winning by large margins in the last few weeks, I’m not impressed.
- Something is wrong with Michigan despite a 5-1 record. They’re a very flawed football team.
- As long as Bill O’Brien is in charge in Happy Valley, Penn State will be one of the best coached football teams in the country.
1. Ohio State: I don’t know if a team has ever looked this impressive after a bye week. The Buckeyes and their fans thank the rest of the Big Ten for being so mediocre.
2. Wisconsin: I thought the Badgers would win, but I had no idea they would be as impressive as they were. Whether that was more of a reflection on how good Wisconsin is, or how mediocre Northwestern is remains to be seen. The bottom line is the Badgers’ only losses were to an up-and-coming Arizona State team on the road and to the best team in the conference – the Ohio State Buckeyes, also on the road. The Badgers’ defense continues to impress and if you combine that with their elite running game and an improving Joel Stave at quarterback, the Badgers may run the table from here on out.
3. Michigan State: The Spartans seemed to have found their offense. In their last four games, the Spartans have averaged 34 points per game. It’s safe to say the Spartans are a legitimate threat to capture the wide open Legends Division crown.
4. Nebraska: I think the Cornhuskers are the most difficult team to gauge this year in the Big Ten. I know they can move the football and that their defense can play well “at times.” However, the Huskers under head coach Bo Pelini are notorious for losing games they shouldn’t and I have a hunch this year will be no different. It feels like something is missing from this team. The Huskers seem to fold defensively against good competition. From Nov. 2 – 23 the Huskers will play a four game stretch against Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State. Two of those games are on the road — Michigan and Penn State. That will be gut check time for Nebraska.
5. Michigan: Brady Hoke has the Michigan roster trending in the right direction. He is recruiting at an elite level. Currently the Wolverines are ranked number eight in the country in the 247 Sports 2014 team recruiting rankings. However, this year’s team is making too many mistakes starting with quarterback Devin Gardner who has turned the ball over at an alarming rate — 10 interceptions this year.
6. Penn State: Christian Hackenberg and Bill O’Brien are going to give the Nittany Lions a chance to win every game on their schedule from here on out. Hackenberg made two unbelievably clutch throws including an absolute dime to Allen Robinson who made an equally impressive catch at the one yard line with Penn State down 34-27 with under a minute to go.
7. Northwestern: The Wisconsin game was not a good look for the Wildcats. In fact, it begs these questions: Is Northwestern overrated because of their head coach? Is the popularity and likability of Pat Fitzgerald clouding the judgement of Northwestern? The bottom line is that their defense is terrible — they are a finesse team playing in a big, physical conference. If Northwestern struggles with Minnesota next weekend, we will know they are a deeply flawed team.
8. Iowa: The Hawkeyes were on a bye this week after a meh effort against Michigan State at home. While Michigan State has emerged as a team to be reckoned with in the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes showed little to make one believe they are dramatically improved from last year. Their victory over Minnesota in the Big Ten opener may very well have been a victory over a bad team.
9. Indiana: I watched portions of the Michigan State vs. Indiana game and I noticed Indiana missed a lot of tackles. Until the Hoosiers can solve their defensive woes, it’s hard for me to believe that they are close to a breakout season.
10. Illinois: The Illini have some talent as is always the case. However, they seem to be a team that always self-destructs and makes mental errors. In a mediocre Big Ten, I still believe the Illini have a shot at bowl eligibility. They just need to cut down on the mental lapses.
11. Minnesota: Jerry Kill has taken an indefinite leave of absence and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has taken over on an interim basis while Kill focuses on his health. Meanwhile next week, the Gophers will be facing a vulnerable Northwestern team with a lousy defense. The Gophers need to, at minimum, keep the game close and move the ball on offense effectively.
12. Purdue: This is a long term rebuilding job for Darrell Hazell. It will be at least two years before they even achieve mediocrity. True freshman quarterback Danny Etling at least gives Boilermaker fans some hope for the future.