Through three weeks of the college football season, the Big Ten Conference has repeatedly shown signs of returning to national prestige as the toughest conference in college football.
There have been quite a few surprises this season from the conference and with one week remaining until conference play starts, the vast majority of the conference will be in a weekly battle that won’t just carry conference implications, but national implications as well.
In the most recent polls releases Sunday morning, four schools are ranked inside the top ten. Penn State leads all Big Ten squads, coming in at No.4 in both the AP and USA Today polls. Following the Nittany Lions are the Wolverines, who came in at No.8 in both polls. The Wisconsin Badgers (AP No.9 and No. 10 USA Today), and Ohio State (AP No.10 and No.9 USA Today) round out the Big Ten schools who received a Top 25 ranking.
However there are a handful of schools who are also receiving votes.
Maryland (84 AP, 48 USA Today), Minnesota (14 USA Today), Iowa (2 AP, 6 USA Today), and Michigan State (1 AP, 2 USA Today) all received votes, solidifying the conference prowess early in the season.
It’s pretty clear that Penn State’s magical run last season was no fluke. This is a very, very good football team folks. Now granted, they haven’t played a truly formidable opponent with the exception of Pitt. However, it’s been three games and two lopsided wins. In three games, the No. 4 Nittany Lions have scored 141 points while allowed just 14. Offensively, Saquon Barkley has easily cemented himself as the best running back in the country.
In three games, the junior running back has 38 carries for 307 yards and three scores on the ground, much of the damage being done in the first half of contests. Despite Wisconsin – also undefeated – showing that they have the ability to roll through the Big Ten-West Division, all teams will be chasing Penn State.
Purdue is competitive
Other than having four schools ranked in the Top 10 entering the fourth week of the season, the biggest surprise in the conference can arguably be the start that the Purdue Boilermakers have had this season.
Aside from a hard-fought 35-28 loss to 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and the No. 16 Louisville Cardinals, Purdue has followed up with a pair of large margin victories. In Week 2, Purdue registered 558 yards on total offense in a balanced offensive onslaught in a 44-21 win over Ohio. Running back Tario Fuller rushed for a team-high 142 yards in the win.
On Saturday, the Boilermakers rolled in a 35-3 rout over the SEC’s Missouri, with Fuller again doing damage on the ground.
It was again a balanced offensive showing, as quarterback David Blough was 9-for-16, for 187 yards and a score. However, it was another great showing on the ground as the team racked up 205 yards rushing.
Up Next: No.8 Michigan (Homecoming)
Minnesota embracing new mantra
Somehow, someway Head Coach P.J. Fleck’s infectious charisma has helped the Gophers “Row The Boat” to a 3-0 start before heading into a much-needed bye week. The running game was a two headed monster with Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks. However, on Saturday against Middle Tennessee State that monster grew a third head by the name of Kobe McCrary. With Brooks inactive and Smith limited, McCrary rushed for a season-high 107 yards and three scores on the ground.
Defensively, the talented youth movement continues to show signs of being an elite unit. Through three games, the Gophers defense has yet to yield any points in the second half of games while also failing to allow a 100-yard rusher. With sophomores Antoine Winfield Jr. and Thomas Barber setting the tone of defense, the Gophers could have a strong chance to be a team to beat in the West Division.
Up Next: Maryland (Sept. 30)
Need to see more
Despite starting the season 3-0, both Iowa and Michigan need to prove that they belong with the unbeaten programs across the country. Through three games, both squads have yet to record a convincing win. Worse yet, neither school have shown the ability to roll through schools that are normally coined as “easy” non-conference wins.
After an impressive defensive showing against Wyoming and draft heartthrob Josh Allen, the Hawkeyes have allowed a total of 772 yards of offense in the last two games. In the double overtime win over in-state rival Iowa State, the Hawkeyes allowed 467 yards of total offense. Much of those yards coming on simply poor angles and even worse tackling. In the 31-14 win over North Texas, Iowa allowed 305 yards of offense. In fact, the Hawkeyes trailed 14-10 at the half before scoring 21 unanswered points. The Hawkeyes will host No.4 Penn State Saturday.
As for the Wolverines, after kicking off the season with a 33-17 win over the nationally ranked Florida Gators, Michigan followed with a pair of lackluster performances. Despite winning 36-14 over Cincinnati and 29-13 over Air Force, there hasn’t been a huge showing a muscle prior to heading into Big Ten play. They’ve shown the explosive plays, especially from some of their budding underclassmen.
However, there hasn’t been enough consistent play to deem the Wolverines a real threat for one of the final four spots for the playoff.
With arguably the worst loss suffered by a Big Ten school on Saturday, there has to be a ton of worry in Huskers country. Falling 21-17 to Northern Illinois, Nebraska dropped to 1-2 to start the season. The school’s lone win was a lackluster showing against Arkansas State. The University’s AD Shawn Eichorst stated that while he is behind Coach Mike Reilly, that the start to the season is disappointing.
The only other school to start with a losing record in the early goings of the season is Rutgers, who sits at 1-2. Due to Hurricane Irma, Indiana and FIU’s contest was cancelled.
In two weeks, conference play will open up. By that time there should be a good understanding of who is a pretender and who is a contender.
Josh Zimmer is the Big Ten analyst for NGSC Sports.
- Josh Zimmer is the Lead NFL Draft analyst for NGSC Sports as well as serving as a contributor for NHL coverage.
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