Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Big Ten assessments at the quarter pole
By Brian Bennett
We've completed four weeks of the college football season, which runs 16 weeks if you count byes, conference championship games and bowls (and if you consider the long bowl season as one "week"). In horse racing parlance, we've completed the first two furlongs of a mile race.
Here's a few assessments of the Big Ten at the quarter pole:
Best game: Arizona State 32, Wisconsin 30, Sept. 14. There were lots of big plays and both offenses moved the ball up and down the field. It all set up what should have been a fantastic finish that was instead ruined by officiating ineptitude. But that controversial ending means this is the one game from the Big Ten nonconference season that people are still talking about.
Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon leads the nation in rushing yards.
Best player: Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. He's no longer just the change-of-pace, jet-sweep option for the Badgers. But he's still a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball. Gordon leads the nation in rushing yards with 624 and is averaging a mind-boggling 11.8 yards per carry. Imagine what he could do with 20-plus carries per game. Honorable mention to Ohio State's Kenny Guiton, who has thrown 13 touchdown passes while filling in more than admirably for injured Braxton Miller.
Best performance: Michigan's Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon put on a show in the victory over Notre Dame, the Big Ten's only victory over a ranked team. Gardner threw for 294 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 82 yards and a score. His favorite target in the passing game was Gallon, who burned the Irish for eight catches, 184 yards and three touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, their offense -- and ball security skills -- haven't been nearly as good since that night game at the Big House.
Best surprise: Illinois has already matched last year's victory total with a 2-1 record. The Illini's offense is immeasurably better under new coordinator Bill Cubit and a healthy and re-energized Nathan Scheelhaase, as the unit is averaging 37 points and 306 passing yards per game. Illinois blew out Cincinnati at home and hung tough in a loss to Washington at Soldier Field, showing that the Fighting Illini should be much more competitive in this year's Big Ten race. Honorable mention to Iowa, which is 3-1 and starting to erase memories of last year's 4-8 season.
Biggest disappointment: Everyone expected that Nebraska's defense would suffer through some growing pains. But the struggles to contain Wyoming and South Dakota State were even worse than predicted, and the offense sputtered through a collapse at home vs. UCLA. Throw in the Bo Pelini audio recording controversy and the Huskers might be one of the least-happy 3-1 teams in the nation. Dishonorable mention to Purdue, which is 1-3 and has looked bad in every game except a close loss to Notre Dame.