Posted by Adam Jacobi
1. It's Wisconsin, then everybody else. In a week where Ohio State and Michigan State both flunked their first major tests and Nebraska looked increasingly like a three-loss team in the making, Wisconsin blew out yet another opponent, this time working NIU 49-7. And yes, Northern Illinois is a MAC team, but a good one at that, and one that was expected by Vegas to keep the game within three scores. That went out the window by halftime, and the Huskies never looked capable of challenging Wisconsin. Russell Wilson (pictured above, striking a perhaps prophetic figure) looked fantastic once again, and now it's down to him and Denard Robinson in early consideration for first team All-Big Ten at QB.
As for things that aren't perfect about Wisconsin, it's a pretty short list. Russell Wilson did finally threw an interception, so he's clearly mortal, but even that's bad news for the Big Ten -- if he's mortal, then the rest of the Big Ten can't play its games against Wisconsin under protest (because immortal QBs have to be illegal, right?). We'll know way more once Nebraska comes to Madison on October 1, but until then, this is a one-team race.
2. It's Ohio State's turn to have no quarterbacks: Last week, Penn State's duo of Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin combined for a horrific 12-39, 144-yard passing tally in a 27-11 loss to Alabama. McGloin in particular submitted a near-impossible 1-10, 0-yard performance. But hey, at least it was against Alabama; facing Temple on Saturday, PSU went a much more reasonable 22-37 through the air for 216 yards (and confoundingly, McGloin looked far better than Bolden). Not great, but not awful.
No, awful had somewhere else to be, and this week, that was "under center for Ohio State." Ohio State lost to Miami under the lights at Sun Life Stadium, 24-6, and it looked capital-B Bad in the process. Facing Miami's secondary, which certainly isn't as good as Alabama's, QBs Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller combined for the following line, which contains no typos: 4-18, 35 yards, 1 INT. Passer rating: 27.4. HELPFUL POINT OF COMPARISON: Penn State's passer rating vs. Alabama was 56.7. Yes, for as awful as Penn State look against the Crimson Tide defense, Ohio State was way, way worse on Saturday.
Needless to say, the OSU tailbacks weren't thrilled at the result. "I felt like me and Jordan were doing a great job in the run game, so I felt we should have just come out and ran at them," OSU tailback Carlos Hyde said after the game. "We should have manned up and ran straight at them, see if they could stop us. I think it would have worked. I mean, to me, I don't think they were stopping us on the run, so I feel like it probably would have worked."
Just as with Penn State last week, there will be better days for both OSU QBs over the rest of the season. There just has to be. Otherwise, we'll have two stadiums on the east side of the Big Ten, filled with 100,000+ fans who'll have nothing to say. And for once, neither will be the Big House. I KID, I KID, Michigan. You're a peach.
3. The Big Ten is almost certainly not expanding east: If one continues to subscribe to the theory that the Big Ten will join the ranks of the 16-team superconferences, one would have thought recently that its expansion would be largely eastward, with both the Big East and ACC seemingly vulnerable. Slight problem for that plan, though: the ACC is getting proactive in a hurry, and now the main suspects for Big Ten expansion to the northeast are all off the table. Syracuse and Pitt are in the ACC, and if the USA Today report is correct, UConn and Rutgers are next for the ACC. That basically dooms Big East football, and of the five football-participating conference members left (TCU, South Florida, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Louisville), none look like strong candidates for Big Ten membership and all that entails, to say nothing of their limited geographical desirability.
Moreover, even the potential big-ticket schools out there have severe challenges for fitting in the Big Ten. Texas and Notre Dame have their own lucrative television deals already, and thus probably zero interest in equal revenue sharing in the Big Ten Network's plan. The remaining Big 12 North teams are more likely to join the rest of the Big East's football programs en masse than to split entirely off of their traditional base of rivals and go it alone in a new conference. And after all that, there just aren't a lot of schools that would bring more value to the Big Ten than they'd command in an equal revenue sharing program -- at which point it makes no sense to expand at all.
So when Jim Delany says the Big Ten's "as comfortable as we could be" staying at 12 teams... he probably means it.
4. Even Michigan State can disappear on offense: I mentioned in the Big Ten Bullet Points that MSU had to put up large amounts of points to hang with Notre Dame, because the Irish were going to get theirs pretty much no matter what. Notre Dame held up its end of the bargain, racking up 31 points in a variety of ways. MSU? Not so much. The Spartans managed 13 points of their own, and that's almost entirely due to Notre Dame's rushing defense coming up big. The vaunted Spartan rushing attack managed just 29 yards on 23 carries, and MSU effectively abandoned the run in the second half after Notre Dame established a double-digit lead.
That's a shocking result for a backfield that was universally regarded as the second-best in the Big Ten, and the only one even close to matching the potency of Wisconsin's ground game. MSU's got plenty more tough road dates coming its way once conference play starts, and plenty more stout front sevens to face. If this is the way Michigan State responds to tough defenses, it's going to be a long year in East Lansing.5. James Vandenberg and Iowa are not dead (yet): When Pittsburgh took a 24-3 lead at Iowa late in the third quarter, Hawkeye fans began panicking; this was the worst deficit the Hawkeyes had faced in four years, and a larger deficit than Iowa had ever overcome for a win. Ever. Quarterback James Vandenberg looked out of sorts for most of the first three quarters, and announcers were wondering for the second straight week if he just couldn't overcome a shaky set of nerves. All of this on top of a three-overtime loss to rival Iowa State the week prior made the outlook dim and grim for Iowa.
All of a sudden, Vandenberg and the Iowa offense sprang to life, racing to a 60-yard touchdown drive in 1:55 of play, and when Pittsburgh could only manage a field goal in response after achieving a first and goal at Iowa's 3-yard line, Iowa smelled blood. The Hawkeyes stayed in a hurry-up offense for the rest of the game, and Vandenberg engineered three fast but sustained touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to bring Iowa back for the 31-27 victory. Vandenberg went 14-17 for 153 yards and three TDs in the 4th quarter alone, and none of his last four touchdown drives lasted any longer than 2:11 -- or went for any fewer than 60 yards.
Iowa can't rely on 153-yard, 3-TD quarters from its quarterbacks, ever, so this will almost certainly be a result in isolation from the rest of the season -- especially since there were a lot of recurring problems that Pitt exploited in both Iowa's pass rush and its secondary. But at the very least Iowa's not 1-2 right now, and it's not on the ledge of disaster and/or apathy before the conference season even begins. Whether the Hawkeyes can parlay this comeback into big things down the line remains to be seen, but it was a magical afternoon at Kinnick Stadium either way.
6. Northwestern is not kidding about bringing Dan Persa back slowly: Northwestern put Dan Persa in uniform for its Week 3 matchup against Army, and Persa warmed up with the offense, but when the Wildcats struggled for most of the contest, it was Trevor Siemian why came in to spell Kain Colter, not Persa. Siemian would throw a game-tying pass to Jeremy Ebert, but Army still ended up prevailing in a stunner, 21-14. With a bye week next for Northwestern, Persa should be ready to go for the next game on October 1. If so, that's a merciful end to the Kain Colter era for the time being, and Persa can probably right the Good Ship Northwestern just a tad.
One does have to wonder, though -- shouldn't someone in the football program have notified the athletic department that Persa probably wasn't going to play a snap until October before the department put up Persa For Heisman billboards? The billboards came down after just two weeks; did nobody know he'd still be out today? And here Northwestern was supposed to be the "smart" member of the Big Ten.