Monday, September 10, 2012
Big Ten power rankings: Week 3
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
We're required by law to call these power rankings, but there wasn't much power in the Big Ten during Week 2. It was a miserable week for the league, no matter how you spin it.
What we do know -- and perhaps all we know -- is that Michigan State clearly looks like the class of the conference. The Spartans handled their business in Week 2, which few Big Ten teams can say. Nebraska and Wisconsin tumble in the rankings, along with Iowa, which can't find the end zone. Northwestern makes a move in the right direction after its defense-driven win against Vanderbilt.
The rankings are beginning to shift from what we thought these teams were to what they are at the present moment. For most of the season, the power rankings are a snapshot of how the teams are performing in real time.
Let's get to the rundown ...
1. Michigan State (2-0, last week's ranking: 1): The Spartans got the bounce-back performance they needed from quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who had two touchdown passes and no interceptions against Central Michigan. Spurred by another stifling defensive performance, Michigan State should have had a shutout. Another big-time home showdown awaits Mark Dantonio's crew as rival Notre Dame visits East Lansing.
2. Ohio State (2-0, last week: 5): After cruising in Week 1, the Buckeyes faced a much better test from UCF and had to work hard to shake free of the Knights. Quarterback Braxton Miller looks like a superstar in Urban Meyer's offense, but he needs some help around him. Ohio State's defense had its struggles at times against UCF's offense, but timely turnovers generated by the secondary helped save the day. This team is a work in progress, but the future looks very promising.
3. Michigan (1-1, last week: 3): Typically a six-point home win against Air Force results in a drop in the rankings, but Michigan holds at No. 3 because so many of its Big Ten brethren stumbled. The Wolverines resembled their 2010 version at times Saturday, as Denard Robinson carried the team on his shoulders and fast feet, while the defense endured more than a few breakdowns against a tricky opponent. Greg Mattison's unit eventually made enough plays to win, but Michigan will need to be better as several tough road games (Notre Dame, Purdue) are on the horizon.
4. Nebraska (1-1, last week: 2): It's tough to know where the Huskers are after a woeful defensive performance at UCLA that left coach Bo Pelini "embarrassed." We still like Big Red's offense enough to keep the team here, as Taylor Martinez, Ameer Abdullah and others continue to gash opposing defenses. Still, Saturday's loss brought back all the questions about consistency and poise that have dogged Pelini during most of his tenure. Nebraska certainly didn't look like a team that will be returning to Pasadena on Jan. 1.
5. Northwestern (2-0, last week: 9): Other than Michigan State, Northwestern has the Big Ten's best résumé through the first two weeks. The Wildcats have beaten two major-conference foes (Syracuse and Vanderbilt), won both on the road and at home and delivered in different ways. Saturday night's defense-driven win is a significant step for a team that has struggled mightily on defense the past two years. Pat Fitzgerald's quarterback rotation of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian also seems to be working. Northwestern is by no means a finished product, but things are coming together for a young team faster than expected.
6. Purdue (1-1, last week: 6): The Boilers had the best of the Big Ten's six losses Saturday and gave Notre Dame all it could handle in a game that went down to the final seconds. After some early struggles, quarterback Caleb TerBush relieved the injured Robert Marve and made some big throws on the game-tying touchdown drive, while Purdue sacked Irish quarterbacks five times. The defense couldn't get the stops it needed on the final drive, but Purdue showed it can be a major factor in a completely wide-open Leaders Division.
7. Wisconsin (1-1, last week: 4): No loss stunned the Big Ten community more than Wisconsin's at Oregon State, and the only thing more surprising about the loss was how it happened. Wisconsin's anemic offensive performance has sparked a panic in America's dairyland, and for good reason. Although the Badgers have a new offensive staff, they boast a Heisman Trophy finalist in Montee Ball and an always formidable offensive line. To nearly be shut out by a midlevel Pac-12 team is inexcusable. Bret Bielema's team faces its first real crisis since the 2008 season.
8. Minnesota (2-0, last week: 11): There was no FCS disaster in Gopher Country this year as Minnesota made quick work of New Hampshire. The Gophers' defense continues to impress, especially up front, where end D.L. Wilhite (2.5 tackles for loss, forced fumble) and tackle Ra'Shede Hageman (2 sacks) delivered another outstanding performance. Senior quarterback MarQueis Gray settled down nicely and broke off a 75-yard touchdown. The competition will get better in the coming weeks, but the Gophers certainly look like an improved team.
9. Illinois (1-1, last week: 7): It's never easy to win on the road without your starting quarterback, and Illinois undoubtedly missed the injured Nathan Scheelhaase on Saturday night. But the Illini defense was supposed to keep the team afloat. Instead, it caved against the Sun Devils, surrendering 45 points, 26 first downs and 510 total yards. It's unacceptable for a unit that likes to consider itself among the nation's elite. The Illini never challenged Arizona State, and while Josh Ferguson's performance (14 carries, 101 yards) is a nice building block, the team still lacks threats in the pass game.
10. Iowa (1-1, last week: 8): We were tempted to drop Iowa even more after a pathetic offensive performance against rival Iowa State at home. The Hawkeyes failed to score a touchdown and have a grand total of one in the first two games under coordinator Greg Davis. Only six other FBS teams have that sorry distinction. Senior quarterback James Vandenberg has struggled, and so have his pass-catching targets. Although the competition has been decent, Iowa will face tougher teams in Big Ten play and must find some sort of identity in a hurry.
11. Penn State (0-2, last week: 10): The Lions have played one of the tougher schedules in the league and shown some good things, including an inspired defensive performance for 58 minutes Saturday at Virginia. But this sport is about getting wins and converting opportunities, and Penn State has done neither in its first two games. It's hard to lose when you're plus-four in turnover margin, but Penn State once again couldn't finish drives and kicker Sam Ficken had a day he'd like to forget in Charlottesville. Penn State has the potential to turn things around, but confidence has to be an issue for a team living under a dark cloud.
12. Indiana (2-0, last week: 12): Hoosiers fans, it's nothing personal. We realize Indiana is 2-0 and looked very good in Saturday's road win against Massachusetts. The reason IU is still here is because the competition level hasn't provided a sufficient gauge of the team through the first two weeks. We believe if the Hoosiers played Penn State or Iowa right now, especially without top quarterback Tre Roberson, they would lose. Indiana will change our opinion in a hurry if it keeps winning, and the competition gets better soon, beginning Saturday night as Ball State visits Bloomington.