Ohio State, Michigan are Big Ten’s best for time being
BY HERB GOULD Staff Reporter September 17, 2013 10:17PM
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, center watches from the sideline during the second half of an NCAA college football game against California, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) ORG XMIT: CABM116
Updated: September 18, 2013 3:56PM
Three games in, nine games to go. Time for your Big Ten quarterly report.
Ohio State remains the best blue-chip bet. But don’t be fooled by Wisconsin’s goofy loss at Arizona State. If the Badgers’ offensive line can avoid bumping into the quarterback, they have serious growth potential.
What the Buckeyes are doing with Kenny Guiton stepping in for Braxton Miller shows they know how to dot the ‘‘i.’’ And with suspended tailback Carlos Hyde, who ran for 970 yards last year, set to make his 2013 debut against Wisconsin on Sept. 28, Ohio State is positioned to be very productive.
But the league hasn’t seen a better runner than sophomore Melvin Gordon, the latest in Wisconsin’s long line of stud ball-carriers. He and senior James White give the Badgers the best 1-2 rushing combination in the conference. And senior linebacker Chris Borland is going to play on Sundays for a long time.
The biggest movers? Illinois, which seemed to be in deep trouble, is up. Nebraska, with another defensive meltdown against UCLA on Saturday, is down.
Coach Tim Beckman looks like he’ll have no problem refinancing in Champaign, where progress is the most important product. In Lincoln, where big things are expected, Nebraska’s pattern of underachieving leaves Bo Pelini vulnerable to a hostile takeover.
1. Ohio State: The clear front-runner based on personnel and coaching. Must prove it in league opener against Wisconsin and on Oct. 5 trip to Northwestern.
2. Wisconsin: Don’t read too much into bizarre Arizona State finish. Gary Andersen is off to an encouraging start with the stocked cupboard he inherited.
3. Penn State: Central Florida loss exposed some flaws. But bowl-banned Nittany Lions still will win their share in league play. Bill O’Brien will play the cards he’s holding extremely well.
4. Illinois: The defense, which is 115th (out of 123 teams) in the nation in yards allowed (492.7), qualifies for disaster relief. But new coordinator Bill Cubit has fashioned an offense that gives Illinois a chance to steal some games.
5. Indiana: Hoosiers’ offense is potent. But the defense is a big question mark. Young Hoosiers still have things to learn.
6. Purdue: Pumped up performance against flat Notre Dame rates a few toots of the steam whistle. But an offense that’s last in the league in scoring (17 ppg) and 116th in the nation in total offense spells trouble.
1. Michigan: Don’t read too much into Akron escape. Irish were flat, too, after the Notre Dame-Michigan showdown. Wolverines’ act might not play on national stage yet, but it’ll do just fine in the Midwest.
2. Northwestern: Wildcats are first in Big Ten red-zone offense and last in red-zone defense. How far can they go with another fun offense and hold-your-breath defense — and a testing schedule?
3. Michigan State: A little offense could go a long way. The Spartans’ defense is second in the Big Ten in points allowed (12) behind Wisconsin (10.7). Problem is, a little offense is what MSU has. It’s 11th in Big Ten total offense and 84th in the nation.
4. Nebraska: The pressure’s only going to build in Lincoln, where the fire-Bo-Pelini bandwagon is getting crowded. That pressure could make the Huskers better — or worse.
5. Iowa: This edition of the Hawkeyes is not up to Kirk Ferentz’s usual standards. They’ll go as far as junior fullback Mark Weisman and defense can take them.
6. Minnesota: Things are looking up, but Gophers’ lightweight nonconference schedule makes it difficult to say how much they’re up.
1. Ohio State (3-0)
2. Michigan (3-0)
3. Wisconsin (2-1)
4. Northwestern (3-0)
5. Michigan State (3-0)
6. Nebraska (2-1)
7. Penn State (2-1)
8. Iowa (2-1)
9. Minnesota (3-0)
10. Illinois (2-1)
11. Indiana (2-1)
12. Purdue (1-2)