Penn State Nittany Lions: Nick Mangieri

We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the defensive lines.

Illinois: This is a significant concern for the Illini, especially after the recent departure of Houston Bates, who started last season at the Leo (defensive end/outside linebacker) spot. Illinois also loses its other starting defensive end, Tim Kynard. The team will rely heavily on junior-college players such as Jihad Ward and Joe Fotu, but it also needs holdovers like Dawuane Smoot and Paul James III to step up on the perimeter. Illinois returns more experience inside with Austin Teitsma and Teko Powell, but there should be plenty of competition, especially with the juco arrivals, after finishing 116th nationally against the run.

Indiana: The anticipated move to a 3-4 alignment under new coordinator Brian Knorr creates a different dynamic for the line this spring. Indiana must identify options at the all-important nose tackle spot, and possibilities include sophomores Ralphael Green and Darius Latham, both of whom are big bodies. Nick Mangieri had a nice sophomore season and should be in the mix for a starting job on the perimeter (end or outside linebacker), while David Kenney could be a good fit as a 3-4 end. Defensive end Ryan Phillis is the team's most experienced lineman, and Zack Shaw also has some starting experience.

Iowa: This group should be the strength of the defense as Iowa returns three full-time starters -- tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, and end Drew Ott -- as well as Mike Hardy, who started the second half of the season opposite Ott. End Dominic Alvis departs, but Iowa brings back almost everyone else from a line that allowed only eight rushing touchdowns in 2013. Junior Darian Cooper could have a bigger role and push for more playing time inside, and Nate Meier provides some depth on the perimeter after recording two sacks in 2013. Iowa is in good shape here.

Maryland: The Terrapins employ a 3-4 scheme and appear to be in good shape up front, as reserve Zeke Riser is the only rotation player to depart. Andre Monroe leads the way at defensive end after an excellent junior season in which he led Maryland in both sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (17). Quinton Jefferson started at defensive end last season and recorded three sacks. There should be some good competition this spring at nose tackle between Keith Bowers and Darius Kilgo, both of whom had more than 30 tackles last season. The challenge is building greater depth with players such as end Roman Braglio.

Michigan: If the Wolverines intend to make a big step in 2014, they'll need more from the front four, which didn't impact games nearly enough last fall. Michigan's strength appears to be on the edges as veteran Frank Clark returns after starting every game in 2013 and recording a team-high 12 tackles for loss. Brennen Beyer, who started the second half of last season, is back at the other end spot, and Michigan has depth with Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton. There are more questions inside as Willie Henry, Chris Wormley and others compete for the starting job. Young tackles such as Henry Poggi and Maurice Hurst Jr. also are in the mix, and Ondre Pipkins should be a factor when he recovers from ACL surgery.

Michigan State: The Spartans return the best defensive end tandem in the league as Shilique Calhoun, a second-team All-American in 2013, returns alongside Marcus Rush, one of the Big Ten's most experienced defenders. Joel Heath, Brandon Clemons and others provide some depth on the perimeter. It's a different story inside as MSU loses both starters (Micajah Reynolds and Tyler Hoover), as well as reserve Mark Scarpinato. Damon Knox, James Kittredge and Lawrence Thomas, who has played on both sides of the ball, are among those who will compete for the starting tackle spots. If Malik McDowell signs with MSU, he could work his way into the rotation.

Minnesota: Defensive tackles like Ra'Shede Hageman don't come around every year, and he leaves a big void in the middle of Minnesota's line. The Gophers will look to several players to replace Hageman's production, including senior Cameron Botticelli, who started opposite Hageman last season. Other options at tackle include Scott Ekpe and Harold Legania, a big body at 308 pounds. Minnesota is in much better shape at end with Theiren Cockran, arguably the Big Ten's most underrated defensive lineman. Cockran and Michael Amaefula both started every game last season, and Alex Keith provides another solid option after recording five tackles for loss in 2013.

Nebraska: Other than MSU's Calhoun, Nebraska returns the most dynamic defensive lineman in the league in Randy Gregory, who earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in his first FBS season. If the Huskers can build around Gregory, they should be very stout up front this fall. Nebraska won't have Avery Moss, suspended for the 2014 season, and players such as Greg McMullen and junior-college transfer Joe Keels will compete to start opposite Gregory. The competition inside should be fascinating as junior Aaron Curry and sophomore Vincent Valentine both have starting experience, but Maliek Collins came on strong at the end of his first season and will push for a top job.

Northwestern: It will be tough to get a clear picture of this group in the spring because of several postseason surgeries, but Northwestern should be fine at defensive end despite the loss of Tyler Scott. Dean Lowry, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Deonte Gibson all have significant experience and the ability to pressure quarterbacks. Odenigbo, who had 5.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman, could become a star. The bigger questions are inside as Northwestern must build depth. Sean McEvilly is a solid option but must stay healthy. Chance Carter and Max Chapman are among those competing for starting jobs at tackle.

Ohio State: A total mystery last spring, the defensive line should be one of Ohio State's strengths in 2014. Noah Spence and Joey Bosa could become the Big Ten's top pass-rushing tandem, and the Buckeyes have depth there with Jamal Marcus, Adolphus Washington and others. Returning starter Michael Bennett is back at defensive tackle, and while Joel Hale might move to offense, there should be enough depth inside with Tommy Schutt, Chris Carter and Washington, who could slide inside. Nose tackle is the only question mark, but new line coach Larry Johnson inherits a lot of talent.

Penn State: Like the rest of the Lions defense, the line struggled at times last season and now much replace its top player in tackle DaQuan Jones. The new coaching staff has some potentially good pieces, namely defensive end Deion Barnes, who won 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors but slumped as a sophomore. Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan could form a dangerous pass-rushing tandem, but they'll need support on the inside, where there should be plenty of competition. Austin Johnson will be in the mix for a starting tackle spot, and early enrollees Tarow Barney and Antoine White also should push for time. Anthony Zettel provides some depth on the perimeter.

Purdue: The line endured a tough 2013 campaign and loses two full-time starters (tackle Bruce Gaston Jr. and end Greg Latta), and a part-time starter (end Ryan Isaac). Competition should be ramped up at all four spots this spring. Senior end Ryan Russell is the most experienced member of the group must take a step this offseason. Evan Panfil and Jalani Phillips will push for time at the end spots, along with Kentucky transfer Langston Newton. The group at tackle includes Ryan Watson and Michael Rouse III, both of whom started games in 2013.

Rutgers: Keep a close eye on this group in the spring as Rutgers begins the transition to the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights lose two starters in end Marcus Thompson and tackle Isaac Holmes, as well as contributor Jamil Merrell at tackle. Darius Hamilton provides a building block on the inside after recording 4.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2013, and end Djwany Mera is back after starting throughout last season. David Milewski played tackle last year, but both he and Hamilton likely need to add weight for their new league. Rutgers has some talent in the younger classes and needs players such as Sebastian Joseph, Kemoko Turay and Julian Pinnix-Odrick to emerge.

Wisconsin: Linebacker Chris Borland is the biggest single departure for the Badgers' defense, but the no position group loses more than the line. Wisconsin must replace several mainstays, most notably nose tackle Beau Allen, who performed well in the first year of the 3-4 set under coordinator Dave Aranda. Senior Warren Herring will step in for Allen after three years as a reserve. Konrad Zagzebski is a good bet to fill one of the end spots, but there will be plenty of competition with players such as Jake Keefer, James Adeyanju, Arthur Goldberg and Chikwe Obasih.

Nebraska Cornhuskers, Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, Wisconsin Badgers, Big Ten Conference, Illinois Fighting Illini, Iowa Hawkeyes, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Indiana Hoosiers, Maryland Terrapins, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Purdue Boilermakers, DaQuan Jones, Deion Barnes, Anthony Zettel, Noah Spence, C.J. Olaniyan, Dominic Alvis, Louis Trinca-Pasat, Larry Johnson, Ryan Isaac, Ryan Russell, Darius Latham, Tyler Scott, Evan Panfil, Malik McDowell, Antoine White, Bruce Gaston Jr., Adolphus Washington, Randy Gregory, Ra'Shede Hageman, Tommy Schutt, Tim Kynard, Shilique Calhoun, Mark Scarpinato, Aaron Curry, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Michael Rouse III, Carl Davis, Vincent Valentine, Sean McEvilly, Marcus Rush, Dave Aranda, Nick Mangieri, Theiren Cockran, Avery Moss, Beau Allen, Greg McMullen, Teko Powell, Lawrence Thomas, Tarow Barney, Tyler Hoover, Jihad Ward, David Kenney, Ralphael Green, Langston Newton, B1G spring positions 14, Paul James, Alex Keith, Andre Monroe, Arthur Goldberg, Austin Teitsma, Cameron Botticelli, Chance Carter, Chikwe Obasih, Chris Carter, Damon Knox, Darian Cooper, Darius Kilgo, David Milewski, Dawuane Smoot, Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson, Djwany Mera, Greg Latta, Harold Legania, Houston Bates, Isaac Holmes, Jake Keefer, Jalani Phillips, Jamal Marcus, James Adeyanju, James Kittredge, Jamil Merrell, Julian Pinnix-Odrick, Keith Bowers, Kemoko Turay, Konrad Zagzebski, Maliek Collins, Marcus Thompson, Max Chapman, Micajah Reynolds, Michael Amaefula, Nate Meier, Quinton Jefferson, Roman Braglio, Ryan Phillis, Ryan Watson, Scott Ekpe, Sebastian Joseph, Warren Herring

Big Ten Friday mailblog

November, 22, 2013
A few questions and answers before we get to the weekend. Remember, follow us on Twitter throughout game day for frequent updates.

Glen from Elizabeth City, N.C., writes: I am a University of Minnesota alum thrilled about the team's success, but I doubt the Gophers will be able to come close to winning back Paul Bunyan's ax on Saturday. Wisconsin seems underrated by the polls. Would you agree that the pollsters are still unfairly penalizing the Badgers for that fluke loss at Arizona State?

Adam Rittenberg: I think so, Glen, but the bigger thing is voters aren't paying attention to Wisconsin and really studying what the Badgers are doing. A big part of that is the Big Ten's relative weakness and the fact Wisconsin hasn't had any real marquee games since Ohio State. But 3-2 teams tend to get written off, even if one of the losses was cloaked in controversy, until the schedule gives folks a reason to pay attention. Here's hoping this week's game in Minneapolis increases the exposure for both Wisconsin and Minnesota.

[+] EnlargeOhio State/Illinois
Bradley Leeb/USA TODAY SportsCarlos Hyde and the Buckeyes can't seem to catch a break with the national media.
Christa from Chicago writes: Hi Adam, I'm sure you will get plenty of OSU questions after they dropped in the AP poll this weekend. After reading the headlines "OSU struggles," "'Bama rolls," etc., how much do you think the media is playing into its own hype against the Buckeyes? I know Texas Tech is considered a better team than Illinois, but OSU still won 60-35 on the road, compared to Baylor's very similar score against Texas Tech. And a 20-7 score against an unranked SEC team means Bama rolled? I've never really bought into the supposed anti-OSU bias, but this is getting ridiculous. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Christa, it's a very fair point to raise, especially looking at the similar scores for Ohio State and Baylor. Some people look at Illinois as a vastly inferior opponent than Texas Tech, even though the game was in Champaign and Texas Tech is a mess right now. You also can't dismiss how much the Big Ten hurts Ohio State. But there's a generally negative tone to all things Buckeyes. I noticed it even while at Auburn this past weekend. Whether it's the large and vociferous fan base, the poor showings in BCS title games (which is a ridiculous reason so many years later), the anti-Urban Meyer crowd or the media, as you point out, Buckeye backlash is a real thing. At some point I'd like to explore it further and see why it's there, but it's there.

Cornhusker from Minnesota writes: As a Cornhusker fan, I just have to shake my head thinking about the game. Mostly unforced turnovers by the freshmen were very frustrating to watch. I know the vocal group will call for Bo's firing but I'm convinced now more than ever this is not the time to make a change. I really think the defense is getting better and should be back to Blackshirt standards next year. I also think that a 10-3 season is very possible. Do you agree that we should keep Bo? Too many people have too short a memory of the last time we did that.Also, should Ameer Abdullah declare for the draft?

Adam Rittenberg: Some very rational thoughts here, Cornhusker. Much appreciated. I think the last two games will help solidify the decision about Pelini, but right now I'm leaning toward keeping him. We've seen what key injuries have done to Northwestern, but Nebraska has continued to stay afloat despite playing most of the season without Taylor Martinez. The reason to part ways with Pelini is the same things keep happening (turnovers, mistakes, big-game flops), but the team is young, especially on defense, and could improve in the West division next year. I also think the Nebraska job is a lot tougher now than it used to be, and Pelini still wins at a decent clip. As for Abdullah, I know he loves Nebraska, but when a running back is playing this well and can make the jump, I always say go to the NFL because the career lifespan tends to be so short.

Enrique from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: With respect to the Coach of the Year poll, I have to tip my hat to Jerry Kill (to this point). As a Michigan State fan, I'm thrilled with what Mark Dantonio has accomplished so far this year, Urban Meyer's streak is incredibly impressive, and Gary Andersen has done a great job in transitioning to the new role. But if you were to ask nearly any fan of the Big Ten if they expected Minnesota to be 8-2 at this point with all the trials they've been through, I guarantee you'd get a "no." Don't forget, Dantonio won the Big Ten award in 2010; the same year he was forced to take a short leave of absence due to health concerns. I think that award was as much for fill-in Don Treadwell as it was for Dantonio. And Meyer may already be suffering from the same high expectations that Jim Tressel dealt with, which ultimately resulted in no awards for him. If Minnesota finishes 9-3 (with a win over either Wisconsin or MSU), do you see Kill edging out what will likely be a 12-0 Meyer?

Adam Rittenberg: The Minnesota story is a great one, not just for the Big Ten but nationally. You can't say enough about what that coaching staff did during Jerry Kill's absence. While you bring up a good point about 2010, the award doesn't go to a staff, just a head coach, and I would be hesitant to give the award to Kill. I'd rather see Minnesota's staff win the Orange Bowl Courage Award. Urban Meyer should be the Big Ten Coach of the Year. He has yet to lose a game in two seasons and shouldn't be punished for coaching Ohio State, like Tressel was. Minnesota is a great staff story, but Meyer should win this award or its title should be changed to most improved coach or something like that.

Chris from Williamston, Mich., writes: Read your Nov. 19th article about IU's defense in which you rightly criticize the Hoosiers for their abysmal defensive play. Here's what I don't get, and maybe you can help me (and I'm guessing a few thousand PSU fans) understand how this same group managed to bottle up the Nittany Lions this year. What happened in that game that has not happened in subsequent games?

Adam Rittenberg: It's definitely puzzling, Chris, but Indiana's defense has managed to play well for stretches this season. I saw some good things during a Week 3 win against Bowling Green, and the Hoosiers played well for a while against Minnesota, even though the final numbers were typically ugly. In the Penn State game, it seemed like a combination of the Lions hurting themselves and Indiana stepping up to make plays in the backfield, including the safety created by Nick Mangieri. Penn State hasn't been the same team away from Happy Valley this season, and that certainly played out in Bloomington.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesBo Pelini can clear up any questions about his status with a 9-3 finish.
Jeremy from Chadron, Neb., writes: Adam, Bo Pelini caught a brief break with the Mustache Miracle (Northwestern) and comeback win over Michigan after the loss to Minnesota. Those wins seemed to quiet critics briefly. Now following the Michigan State loss it seems that the social media masses are getting louder than ever, but this time towards AD Shawn Eichorst. ... Is it critical for him to deliver a statement regarding the status of coach Pelini, or does his continued silence towards the issue show which direction he plans to head?

Adam Rittenberg: Eichorst is in a tough spot as he didn't hire Pelini, and it's not an obvious decision to retain him or get rid of him. I think the last two games will be telling. Nebraska certainly could win both to finish 9-3, which has been Pelini's average record. The young defense seems to be improving, but some of the same mistakes (turnovers) that have dogged the Huskers for years aren't going away. I've heard a lot of good things about Eichorst from folks at Wisconsin, but he clearly isn't comfortable with the public part of his role, which is tough at a program like Nebraska where fans want visibility. But I can't fault him for withholding a vote of confidence or any other statement if the decision is still up in the air.

Jonathan from Florence, Ala., writes: Did you and the SEC guy ever do a follow up on your visits to Auburn and Wisconsin? Or is that coming up and how can I find it? thanks and hope you had a great time at Auburn.

Adam Rittenberg: The flip week project likely will be published during championship week, so be on the lookout for it. I know Edward had a blast in Madison, and I really enjoyed my experience on The Plains, even before that incredible game. We have a lot of content to put together, and I think you'll really enjoy the end result. Stay tuned.

Big Ten lunchtime links

September, 18, 2013
I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords.
The debate is over, at least for now. Ohio State affirmed itself as the Big Ten's top team by putting on an offensive show against Cal, despite missing its top quarterback and top running back.

There's more doubt about whether Michigan or Northwestern is No. 2 after the Wolverines' surprising struggles Saturday against Akron. For now, we have Michigan ahead by a nose hair, thanks to its win against Notre Dame.

Wisconsin might have moved up to the No. 2 line if the officials had given the Badgers a chance to win the game against Arizona State. We like most of what we saw from Gary Andersen's crew on Saturday night. The same can't be said for Nebraska, which takes a tumble after folding the tent against UCLA, and Penn State, which caved defensively against UCF.

Week 3 was mostly rough for the Big Ten, but it had some bright spots. Michigan State found a quarterback, Indiana regained its footing on defense, and Iowa impressed on the ground against Iowa State.

There's not much separation in the league's bottom half, but as we noted Sunday, the Big Ten might not have a truly bad team.

Here's one last look at last week's rankings.

Now, let's get to the rundown ...

1. Ohio State (3-0, last week: 1): It'll take more than injuries and suspensions to slow down the Buckeyes' potent offense. Quarterback Braxton Miller didn't suit up against Cal, but backup Kenny Guiton once again stepped up with 276 pass yards and four touchdowns, to go along with 92 rush yards. Running back Jordan Hall (168 rush yards, 3 TDs) continued his brilliance filling in for the injured Carlos Hyde, who returns this week against Florida A&M.

2. Michigan (3-0, last week: 2): A week after looking like arguably the Big Ten's best team, Michigan backslid with a mistake-ridden performance against Akron. Brady Hoke's crew emerged with a win but also plenty of questions on both sides of the ball. As good as Devin Gardner has looked at times, the first-year starting quarterback must take better care of the football. Michigan also must patch up a vulnerable defense before Big Ten play.

3. Northwestern (3-0, last week: 3): Take away a lackluster first quarter against Western Michigan, and the Wildcats looked impressive on their home field. The offense clearly has improved despite the continued absence of star running back Venric Mark, as stand-in Treyvon Green (158 rush yards, 2 TDs) looks more than capable. Northwestern's defense remains too leaky but covers up yards with takeaways. The Wildcats have positioned themselves well for an Oct. 5 showdown with Ohio State.

4. Wisconsin (2-1, last week: 4): What is there left to say about the Arizona State ending? Wisconsin was far from perfect Saturday night, struggling to protect Joel Stave or stop back-shoulder throws from Arizona State's Taylor Kelly. But the Badgers fought hard in all three phases and received another huge boost from sophomore running back Melvin Gordon. They deserved better. It'll be interesting to see how they bounce back in the Big Ten opener against Purdue.

5. Michigan State (3-0, last week: 8): Look, an offense! And a quarterback! The Spartans finally start moving in the right direction in the rankings after a scoring explosion against Youngstown State. Connor Cook solidified himself as the team's starting quarterback with four touchdown passes and no interceptions, as Michigan State scored 35 first-half points. Sure, it's Youngstown State, but Michigan State needed a starting point on offense. It has one before a tough test at Notre Dame.

6. Nebraska (2-1, last week: 4): The collapses are no longer surprising because they seem to happen so often for Bo Pelini's teams. Sure, Nebraska normally keeps it together at home, and Saturday's third quarter was one of the worst in team history. But this is who these Huskers are under Pelini, a fragile team prone to blowout losses in big games. Nebraska falls off the national radar for a while but still could contend in the mediocre Big Ten.

7. Minnesota (3-0, last week: 7): It was a rough Saturday for the Gophers, who lost starting quarterback Philip Nelson to a hamstring injury and head coach Jerry Kill to another seizure. Minnesota also had a slow start against FCS Western Illinois until the offense caught fire in the fourth quarter behind running back David Cobb and backup quarterback Mitch Leidner, who was efficient in relief of Nelson. The Gophers face a test this week as San Jose State comes to town.

8. Penn State (2-1, last week: 6): It'll be a long week for defensive coordinator John Butler and a unit that surrendered 507 yards in the loss to UCF and had no answers for Knights quarterback Blake Bortles. After a final non-league tuneup against Kent State, Penn State opens Big Ten play against four potent offenses: Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Illinois. Wide receiver Allen Robinson is a beast, but Penn State needs more balance.

9. Indiana (2-1, last week: 10): The Hoosiers forced a punt against Bowling Green, and they did much, much more in one of their better defensive performances in recent memory. Bowling Green didn't score an offensive touchdown as defensive end Nick Mangieri and the Hoosiers bent but didn't break. Indiana had more than enough offense from quarterback Nate Sudfeld (335 pass yards, 2 TDs) and running backs Tevin Coleman (129 rush yards, 2 TDs) and Stephen Houston (155 rush yards), pulling away for an impressive win.

10. Illinois (2-1, last week: 9): Missed scoring opportunities in the first half doomed Illinois in the final 30 minutes against Washington, which repeatedly gashed a young Illini defense. But Illinois showed plenty of fight, even in the fourth quarter when the outcome seemed decided. Illinois has playmakers on both sides of the ball -- QB Nathan Scheelhaase, RB/WR Josh Ferguson, WR Ryan Lankford, LB Jonathan Brown -- and could surprise some Big Ten teams.

11. Iowa (2-1, last week: 11): There's an argument that Iowa should handle Iowa State rather easily, which is what happened Saturday in Ames. But Iowa hasn't handled the Cyclones nearly as often as they should, which is what made Saturday's performance so important. The Hawkeyes needed to win this one to generate some positive vibes, and thanks to a Mark Weisman-led run game and a solid defense, they got it done.

12. Purdue (1-2, last week: 12): The Boilers remain at the bottom, but we feel a lot better about them after the Notre Dame game. Quarterback Rob Henry and the offense looked more comfortable, and the defense contained the Irish run attack. There were still too many mistakes down the stretch, but coach Darrell Hazell can build on this. The problem is the schedule simply doesn't let up, as Purdue visits Wisconsin this week.
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.

1. Buckeyes are clear clubhouse leaders: Just a week ago, we declared that Ohio State had company at the top of the Big Ten. Our bad, Buckeyes. As much of the Big Ten struggled or looked sluggish for large stretches on Saturday, Urban Meyer's team rolled up more than 600 yards and beat Cal 52-34 on the road. What's so impressive about Ohio State so far is that Braxton Miller has played only a little more than one game, and last year's leading rusher (Carlos Hyde) remains suspended for one more game, yet the offense hasn't missed a beat. Kenny Guiton threw for four touchdowns and ran for 92 yards at Cal, while tailback Jordan Hall ran for 168 yards and three scores. It's scary to think how good this offense can be when it has a full cast of characters. The Buckeyes still need to tighten things up on defense, and it has major challenges coming up against Wisconsin (Sept. 28) and at Northwestern (Oct. 5). But this team deserved to be the preseason favorite, and through three weeks, it remains the one to beat.

[+] EnlargeBeau Allen
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinMaybe Wisconsin couldn't celebrate a win against Arizona State thanks to the craziest ending seen in years, but the Badgers showed just how tough they will be this season.
2. Wisconsin will be a tough out for Buckeyes, Big Ten: Gary Andersen's Badgers deserved better at the end of their game against Arizona State, as an inexcusable officiating blunder let the clock run out and prevented a potential game-winning field goal attempt. It was a bizarre and incredibly painful way to lose, but we learned that the Badgers will battle this season and could push Ohio State in the Leaders Division. Melvin Gordon is a revelation, possibly the most naturally talented running back during a run of very good/great ones at Wisconsin. The only question after Gordon rushed for 193 yards and two touchdowns at Arizona State: Why didn't he get more touches? Wisconsin has its problems, from continued poor pass protection to inconsistent quarterback play to a young secondary, but Andersen's team will be fun to watch this season. The defensive scheme is fascinating, and linebacker Chris Borland, who added a fake-punt pass to his repertoire Saturday night, is among the most entertaining players in the Big Ten. Remember, Wisconsin knows how to win Big Ten games and will be tough to beat the rest of the way.

3. Michigan, Penn State have work to do: We were already looking forward to Michigan's Oct. 12 trip to Penn State, thinking both teams could be 5-0. We got ahead of ourselves. The Wolverines probably will still have that record, but suddenly there are major concerns for a team that was celebrated just a week ago. After the big win over Notre Dame, Michigan was a yard away from a mojo-killing loss to Akron that would have rivaled Toledo in 2008 for the worst in recent program history (sorry, the 2007 Appalachian State team was much better than these Zips, who have lost 27 straight road games). Quarterback Devin Gardner looked like a first-year starter, committing three interceptions and a fumble. Michigan's defense looked leaky for the second straight week, allowing 21 first downs and 418 yards. Last week, the Wolverines looked to be ahead of schedule for a breakthrough, especially on offense. Saturday, they looked like a very young team, prone to mistakes and lapses. Penn State, meanwhile, lost at home to UCF. The Knights are a solid team with a very good veteran quarterback in Blake Bortles, but the Nittany Lions made them look like a powerhouse with a superstar under center. Their defense, so good in the first two weeks against offensively challenged Syracuse and Eastern Michigan, simply could not make a key stop and gave up 507 yards. That's not a good sign for the future, with teams like Ohio State, Nebraska and, yes, Michigan on the schedule.

4. Michigan State offense, Indiana defense establish starting point: Before Saturday, no Big Ten unit had shaken its fans more than Michigan State's offense, which produced just two touchdowns, none through the air, in the first two games. There wasn't much optimism entering Week 3 as the coaches went back to Connor Cook to lead the offense. But Michigan State's offense showed up early and often against Youngstown State, exploding for 35 first-half points and 49 in the first three quarters. Cook showed good command in the pocket, completing 15 of 22 passes for 202 yards with four touchdowns and, most important, no interceptions. The Damion Terry chatter can die down, at least for a week. Indiana's defense also rebounded after failing to force a single punt and surrendering 444 rush yards last week against Navy in a 41-35 loss. Not only did the Hoosiers do a better job against the run (136 yards) in a dominant win against Bowling Green, but they kept a dangerous Falcons offense out of the end zone. Defensive end Nick Mangieri had a big day with a sack and an interception for the Hoosiers. Neither Michigan State's offense nor Indiana's defense will lead the Big Ten this year, but neither unit needs to be dominant, given each team's strength on the other side of the ball. The two units just need to be respectable. They finally looked the part Saturday.

5. Bottom rises up: Say this about the Big Ten: there might not be any truly bad teams, if Saturday's action was a true indicator. Purdue occupied the bottom spot in our power rankings for good reason, but the Boilermakers battled Notre Dame to the wire. Darrell Hazell's team showed far more fire, resolve and offensive cohesion than it had in its first two games. Though the schedule remains brutal, Purdue has something to build on with that effort. Illinois had a prove-it game against Washington, and while the Illini lost 34-24, they kept battling back and stayed competitive throughout. This still looks like a vastly improved team over last year's 2-10 version. Iowa came through with a much-needed victory over rival Iowa State on the road. The Hawkeyes physically dominated their Big 12 foe, outrushing the Cyclones 218-59. The score didn't have any business being as close as 27-21, and Iowa's lack of big-play ability will hurt it down the line. But Kirk Ferentz's team ran it 60 times on Saturday and has an identity in its power ground game. None of these three teams will be pushovers in Big Ten play if they can replicate this weekend's performances.