Big Ten Digest: It's Pac-10 Week In The Big Ten!

Week three in an on-going series on the teams of the Big Ten conference...

Welcome back, Big Ten fans. Week three brings a trio of games against the western conference. Minnesota and Wisconsin start things off with afternoon tilts against USC and Arizona State. The Hawkeyes then complete the trio with ESPN's late game out at Arizona.

Week two got upset season started early in the college football world. Fortunately, the Big Ten emerged mostly unscathed. Though there was one embarrassing loss, for the most part the conference performed as expected. Ohio State managed to hold serve, and while Penn State fell to Alabama in the evening game, they at least were able to move the ball against a good Tide defense, even if they wasted almost all of their shots in the red zone.

 

News Update:

By the standards of the last two weeks, the Big Ten was downright quiet in week three. The only news of note comes in the form of injury updates from Saturday's action.

Wisconsin receiver David Gilreath was carted off the field in an ambulance after suffering a concussion sustained due to incidental helmet-to-helmet contact on a punt return. Though it looked like a scary injury, reports indicate that Gilreath was talking and moving his arms and legs while en route to the hospital. He will likely miss some time, but the amount is undetermined.

The Boilermakers also lost a receiver this weekend as senior threat Keith Smith suffered a terrible knee injury during Purdue's tilt against Western Illinois. Smith was last seen on the Boilermaker sideline on crutches, and when (or if) he will return this season will not be known until he has an MRI.

The parade of injured receivers continued in the late afternoon action as Michigan receiver Michael Shaw took a vicious hit late in the 4th quarter and exited the game. His status for future action is also unknown.

 

Week Two Recap:

 


Big 10 Conference Standings

(updated 9.12.2010 at 3:22 AM CDT)

 

Every team in the conference except for Indiana was in action on Saturday. The weekend was anchored with three marquee non-conference matchups in the form of Michigan-Notre Dame, Ohio State-Miami, and of course Penn State-Alabama.

Illinois State at Northwestern (Northwestern, 37-3):

Northwestern stormed back in their home opener after squeaking out their week one win at Vanderbilt. Dan Persa continued to show that the Wildcats do not need to miss Mike Kafka, as he threw for 240 yards, 2 TDs, and added a rushing TD. The ‘Cats also showed a running game as Arby Fields ran for 96 yards and a TD. Sophomore Mike Trumpy made an appearance and found the end zone too. Northwestern's D was on its game as Quentin Davie had two interceptions before half-time. Corbin Bryant also added an INT of his own. Though this win is encouraging, the Redbirds were pretty much only a speed bump on the Wildcats schedule this season. If the ‘Cats can play more like this week and less like week one in their conference games, however, the season may yet turn out for them.

South Dakota at Minnesota (South Dakota, 41-38):

I mentioned at the top that there was an embarrassing loss on the Big Ten slate this weekend. This is it. The Golden Gophers dropped their home opener to the University of South Dakota Coyotes... an FCS team that only three years ago was competing at the Division II level. Minnesota's all freshmen defense certainly looked it on Saturday, as they gave up 444 total yards to the Coyotes. Though the Gophers tallied 462 yards of offense themselves, it simply wasn't enough with the sloppy play on the field. Frankly, there are two ways to look at this loss. Either this is the beginning of a 1-11 or 2-10 (and hopefully Tim Brewster's last) season, or, the Gophers are going to become one of those crazy teams that becomes known for pulling out strange upsets over ranked teams later in the year. The former is just sad, so Minnesota fans should hope for the latter if they want any excitement this season.

San Jose State at No. 11 Wisconsin (Wisconsin, 27-14):

Just as with last week, the good news is that Wisconsin won. The bad news is pretty much everything else as the Badgers once again looked to barely show up. Hosting non-conference cupcake San Jose State (who was most recently dismantled by Alabama in a 48-3 week one drubbing), Scott Tolzien once again looked erratic, throwing for only 191 yards with one TD and one INT, and fumbling three times. The Badgers' saving grace once again came in the form of John Clay, who rushed for 137 yards with two more TDs. Of particular concern is the play of the Badgers defense, which allowed the San Jose State QB to pass for almost 230 yards on the afternoon. Perhaps Wisconsin is just shaking out the jitters, but Bucky fans better hope that they get their heads right before they open conference play against Michigan State in October.

Michigan State at Florida Atlantic (Michigan State, 30-17):

Much as with Wisconsin, the good news is that Sparty came home with a victory. The bad news is that it took a Saturday of icky play to achieve it. Michigan State played a "road" game against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Detroit's Ford Field. The Owls had planned on hosting the Spartans at a brand new stadium in Boca Raton, but ended up renting out the home of the Detroit Lions when their own stadium was not completed prior to the start of the season. Also much like the Badger QB, Michigan State's quarterback Kirk Cousins had a less than stellar day, throwing only for 140 yards, one TD, and one INT. Better news came out of the running game as sophomore back Edwin Baker ran for 183 yards and a TD. Week one sensation Le'Veon Bell also had a TD on the ground. Of concern is the performance of the Spartan secondary, which allowed 250 yards in the air to the FCS Owls. It seems that the first conference game for both Michigan State and Wisconsin will be a test of which team can get it together quicker.

Western Illinois at Purdue (Purdue, 31-21):

Bouncing back from the dreadful loss at Notre Dame to start the season we have the Purdue Boilermakers. Purdue quarterback Robert Marve took advantage of FCS opponent Western Illinois to find the end zone for the first time as a Boilermaker. Of course he also had to add an INT to round things out. It's certainly good that Purdue didn't pull a Virginia Tech this week, but between the loss of receiver Keith Smith and the allowance of 21 points to a creampuff team, the road ahead does not look bright for Purdue Pete.

Iowa State at No. 9 Iowa (Iowa, 35-7):

Iowa retained the Cy Hawk trophy as they absolutely dominated their in state "rival" Iowa State. Ricky Stanzi showed that last week's brief brush with injury isn't something that Hawkeye fans have to be concerned about, as the threw for 200 yards and two TDs. Adam Robinson added 150 rushing yards and a TD, and the Hawkeye defense managed to capture three INTs. Perhaps the only blemish in this game was the late TD pass allowed to the Cyclones with just under two minutes left in the game. Even with that, Iowa looked every bit the Big Ten title contender this week, and it seems the nail biters of last year are long gone.

No. 12 Miami at No. 2 Ohio State (OSU, 36-24):

Ohio State managed to hold serve as Jacory Harris' five interceptions doomed the U. The Buckeyes seemed sluggish initially, but Terrelle Pryor recovered and managed to lead OSU to a resounding victory over their first real opponent of the season. Prior threw for 233 yards and a TD, while also adding in a rushing TD late in the third quarter. Perhaps the MVP of the game, though, was kicker Devin Barclay who made five field goals and all three of his extra points, accounting for more than half of the Ohio State offense on the afternoon. The Buckeyes now enter an easy four game stretch of Ohio, Eastern Illinois, Illinois, and Indiana. As long as they don't get caught napping, they should roll into the meat of their conference schedule undefeated.

Michigan at Notre Dame (Michigan, 28-24):

He slices, he dices, he kicks punts! Is there anything that Denard Robinson cannot do? Well, perhaps play safety, but otherwise we're finally seeing what all the pre-season hype was about. Robinson had over 500 total yards of offense in South Bend Saturday afternoon, as Michigan managed to hold on late against the Domers. I called this upset last week, and I was quite proud with the performance of Blue, as they showed that the Big Ten is most definitely back. 2009 wasn't a fluke, and the only question now is how long it takes for ESPN and most other commentators to realize it (probably not until the end of the season, but I digress).

So, good news is, Denard Robinson in the spread is a good enough pairing to make Michigan competitive against most of its opponents this season. The bad news is that Robinson is essentially the entirety of the Wolverines offense. He was out of the game for a brief period in the second quarter, after getting smushed by a member of the ND defense. Without him under center, Michigan's offense looked stagnant. It's certainly possible that Devin Gardner or Tate Forcier can step in should Robinson get hurt, but I don't like the chances of that working out for an extended period. Still, a good win for both Michigan and the conference.

No. 19 Penn State at No. 1 Alabama (Alabama, 24-3):

Well, that was underwhelming. There are some who will say that this game proves that the SEC is superior to the Big Ten, or that Alabama will roll to another championship largely uncontested. Don't believe them. Penn State was the fourth best team in the Big Ten (perhaps fifth) going up against the very top of the SEC. Further, even though the score suggests a lopsided game, Penn State was able to move the ball against the newish Tide defense. The problem that the Nittany Lions ran into was that their quarterback is a freshman. It seemed that nearly every time PSU was in the red zone or close to it, Rob Bolden would throw an interception or someone else would have a fumble. This game proved that Penn State this year is not ready for prime time. Barring significant injuries to other teams in the conference, they will not compete for the Big Ten crown. Bolden does have the potential to be very good, however, so expect that JoePa's crew will be back in contention in 2011 and certainly in 2012.

Southern Illinois at Illinois (Illinois, 35-3):

If a victory happens and nobody watches, does it make a sound? The Illini bounced back from their terrible second half slide at Missouri to dominate the Salukis. Illinois actually looked shockingly competent in this victory, as running back Mikel LeShoure ran for 115 yards and two TDs. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase also managed to throw a 54 yard touchdown pass. It is true, of course, that we must remember that while the Salukis were a decent FCS team, they were still an FCS team. Still, given the way that Minnesota has been playing this year, Illinois has a good chance to not be the worst team in the Big Ten this year.

BONUS: Idaho at No. 6 Nebraska (Nebraska, 38-17):

Suh? Suh who? There were some who thought that Nebraska didn't stand a chance this year in the Big 12 after one of their best players in... well, perhaps ever, departed for the Detroit Lions. But so far in early action, the Cornhuskers defense has looked every bit the BCS contender despite the loss, including this week when they somehow managed five (yes five) interceptions off the Idaho QB. Texas is still somewhat struggling against bad teams, and I fully expect Oklahoma or Oklahoma State to knock them off at some point. If Nebraska can hold serve when the Longhorns come to town on October 16th, then they'll preserve not just a shot at the Big 12 crown, but a shot at a slot in the National Championship game to boot.

 

Week Three Preview:

Non-con play (sadly) continues this week as the conference hosts a trio of teams from the Pac-10. The marquee matchups this week aren't as exciting as in week two, but a few games will still make your Saturday entertaining.

Massachusetts at No. 20 Michigan (11:00AM, Big Ten Network):

The Wolverines get a breather this week as FCS opponent the Massachusetts Minutemen comes to town. The story for Michigan this week is the same it will be for every week this season. Can Denard Robinson stay healthy? If he does, the Wolverines should coast to a victory. If he gets leveled by a random linebacker? Well... it probably won't be good. If Michigan manages to run the score up comfortably by halftime, I would like to see Devin Gardner put in. As we saw this week in the Notre Dame game, he appears to be the second string choice now, and given how significant a Robinson injury would be, he needs to be ready to step in if called upon. That isn't going to happen without snaps. Either way, Michigan should find themselves 3-0 after this game.

Ohio at No. 2 Ohio State (11:00AM, Big Ten Network):

Ohio State also gets a break after their challenging game against Miami at they host Ohio out of the MAC. Like most of their non-con schedule this year, the Buckeyes should have no trouble with the Bobcats. Sadly for Ohio State fans, the next real challenge the Buckeyes will have will be in the form of the Badgers, when they head to Camp Randall on October 16th.

Kent State at No. 22 Penn State (11:00AM):

The parade of creampuffs continues as Penn State also hosts a MAC team in the form of Kent State. Just like with the previous two games, this game shouldn't be a real challenge for the Big Ten team. The only danger is that Penn State pulls a Virginia Tech and allows the letdown of the Bama game to bleed into this game. It's also possible, if no teams in the top 25 lose, that the Nittany Lions could fall out of the rankings if they don't sufficiently drub the Golden Flashes.

Northern Illinois at Illinois (11:00AM, Big Ten Network):

Much as I find it odd to say this, Illinois could actually have one of the better games in week three. The Huskies aren't a total cupcake, and over the last two years have actually given Big Ten teams hissy fits. Last year they came within eight points of taking down a good Wisconsin team, and actually did beat the Boilermakers (the same Purdue team that upset Ohio State) by a touchdown. In 2008, they just barely lost to Minnesota. While Illinois had a good bounce back in week two, it'll be interesting to see if they can continue the competent play this week.

Ball State at Purdue (11:00AM, Big Ten Network):

Can the Boilermakers deal with the loss of Keith Smith, or will it prove to be too much for them to overcome? The team that was supposed to be a dark horse in the conference this season earned a messy victory over Western Illinois this week. True they put 31 points this past week, but they also gave up 406 yards of offense to a mediocre Western Illinois team. It's still conceivable that Purdue goes to a bowl game this season, but if that's going to happen, they need to win this game. A loss here wouldn't doom them, but it would make the road a lot more difficult.

No. 18 USC at Minnesota (2:30PM, ESPN):

Uhhhh... yeah. Much like with the Penn State - Alabama game in week two, this game should give us a look at what type of team the Gophers will end up being. A loss is almost guaranteed, but if Minnesota somehow manages to keep it close, it's possible they'll turn into the team with the crazy eyes that makes all the other teams in the conference nervous to be around.

Arizona State at No. 11 Wisconsin (2:30PM, ABC):

Pac-10 week continues as Arizona State makes a visit to Camp Randall. If the Badgers are truly a contending team this year they will step up, much like Ohio State did with Miami, and crush AZ State. Though the Sun Devils were a dreadful 4-8 last year, if Bucky plays in the same sloppy fashion as they have the last two weeks, Wisconsin could see their conference championship hopes erased in a hurry.

Indiana at Western Kentucky (4:00PM, Big Ten Network):

The Hoosiers return to action against the Hilltoppers this week, who are 0-2 on the season and have given up 112 points in their last two games. Ben Chappell should be just fine, and we should see the first appearance of star receiver Tandon Doss this season. This should be as easy a victory for Indiana as the Towson game, which is good news for the Hoosiers considering how much more formidable their conference opening game against Michigan has become. It's quite possible that Indiana and Purdue will be battling each other for bowl eligibility at the end of the season.

Northwestern at Rice (6:00PM):

Since Northwestern escaped Vandy with a win, the Rice game now has the potential to take the award for saddest ‘Cats loss of the season. This is a Rice team that gave Texas a serious challenge in week one, and that could be very scary for Northwestern. We should also see which version of the running game - the dreadful one against Vanderbilt, or the marginally decent one against Illinois State - is the reality for this team. If Dan Persa continues to play the way he has over the first two weeks, Northwestern may yet match last year's record and go to another good bowl game at the end of the season.

Notre Dame at Michigan State (7:00PM, NBC):

The Fighting Irish continue their tour of the Big Ten when they travel to East Lansing this weekend. After nearly pulling out a victory despite Denard Robinson's 500 yard performance, the Irish certainly look to be in for a decent year under new head coach Brian Kelly. Meanwhile, the Spartans are a hard to figure out team. Cousins hasn't been the dependable QB of last year yet, but Sparty does have two backs who are fueling much of their offense. Will this game be as close as the Michigan game? Hopefully not, but the outcome could easily go to either side.

No. 9 Iowa at No. 24 Arizona (9:30PM, ESPN):

The late night game on ESPN sees Iowa travel west to take on the last of the week three Pac-10 trio. Iowa has been making a point of winning their games big, in an effort to show the BCS that the Buckeyes aren't the only class of the Big Ten. I expect this game to be competitive early, much like the OSU - Miami game in week two, but the Hawkeyes will eventually pull away and end week three at 3-0 with a significant victory over a ranked team under their belts.

BONUS: No. 8 Nebraska at Washington, (2:30PM, ABC):

The Huskers also head to the Pac-10, to take on the Washington Huskies and ESPN wonder boy Jake Locker. Locker is a beast, but even though he's already thrown for 555 yards and five TDs, he is on a team that dropped its week one match against a merely good BYU team. If Nebraska is as good as I think they are this year, they shouldn't have any problem in week three.

 

Hilary's Picks:

Most likely rout: Indiana at Western Kentucky. I would give this selection to Denard Robinson and the Michigan game, but I don't expect that he will play all four quarters this week in Ann Arbor.

Most likely upset: Arizona State over Wisconsin. Much as I hate to say it, if the Badgers don't get their problems under control in a hurry, they could find themselves losing to a bad Pac-10 team.

Best game to watch: In the afternoon, the Michigan State - Notre Dame game should provide excitement. Turn to ESPN in the late evening to watch Iowa assert Big Ten supremacy over the Pac-10.

Big Ten player of the week: I expect crazy numbers out of Ben Chappell and Denard Robinson against cupcakes, but Ricky Stanzi will also turn in a great performance this week against a ranked Arizona team, so don't let his "injury" fool you.

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