A Look Around The Big Ten

The Big Ten Conference returned to action last weekend, with all but Iowa and Minnesota fielding games. The results gave a clue as to who's a contender in the upcoming conference race, and who's a pretender.

Illinois scored a major victory over then-No. 25 Louisville in a 34-10 shellacking last weekend. Following a puzzling 17-12 squeaker over Northern Illinois, this big victory shows that the Illini look like contenders this year. Brandon Jones is a solid receiver, and Kurt Kittner's 839 yards through the air lead the conference. The Illini were one of 3 Big Ten teams to enter the AP Top 25 this week, as they debuted at #22.

When trying to describe Indiana's offense, only one thing needs to be said: Antwaan Randle-El. The 5'10", 185 waterbug returned to his regular spot under center for the game against Utah yesterday, but it wasn't enough for the Hoosiers to pull off the victory, as Utah rallied for a 28-26 decision in Bloomington. The Hoosiers don't even loosely resemble contenders at this point, and the impending blowout in Iowa City ought to impress recruits.

The Iowa Hawkeyes look to come back after a 20-day layoff in a big way against Penn State this weekend. Iowa will welcome back Alonzo Cunningham, Eric Steinbach, and Bob Sanders from various injuries, and a full-strength Hawkeye squad looks to be tough enough to keep up the win streak this year when Penn State comes to town.

Michigan tangled with Western Michigan this past weekend in a 38-21 win. The game was 31-7 in the 3rd quarter, and not really competitive after the half. Michigan tailback B.J. Askew ran for 112 yards on only 15 carries, and quarterback John Navarre turned in a 16-28 performance, for 240 yards and 2 touchdowns. The ultra-talented Wolverines are shaping up to be contenders for the league title, which should surprise nobody at this point.

In perhaps the biggest blow struck for conference pride during last weekend, Michigan State knocked off Notre Dame in a 17-10 thriller. MSU improves to 2-0 on the year, and entered the AP Top 25 at #23 as a result. Will Iowa be able to knock the Spartans out of the Top 25 for a second straight year? The game in East Lansing is shaping up to be a good one.

Minnesota, the team nobody can really figure out thus far, had a bye week on Saturday, and stands at 1-1. If they can't effectively rebound from the 38-7 thrashing put upon them by Toledo to begin the year, the administration at Minnesota may start to grow tired of Glen Mason. That is, if his courtship by Ohio State didn't facilitate that already.

Northwestern knocked off Duke in a 44-7 laugher. Randy Walker's team rolled up 638 yards against the Blue Devils, whose fans wish Chris Duhon could play football too. The #17 Wildcats will face the solid MSU Spartans in a terrific match-up this weekend. The winner of that contest will have the first strong case made for conference leadership.

Ohio State traveled to Pasadena for a nationally televised game against #12 UCLA. Somebody must have forgotten to tell Steve Bellisari that it was a road game, because he left his game in Columbus. The lumbering quarterback threw for a pitiful 5-23, for just 35 yards. He threw 2 picks, almost threw at least 2 more, and single-handedly took the Buckeye offense out of the game. That one performance solidified his status atop the "What's Wrong With The Big Ten" list for at least a month. Maybe it's time for new coach Jim Tressel to look for a change behind center.

With all due respect to Penn State and Joe Paterno, what on Earth was that? The Nittany Lions put up another atrocious performance, this time in a deceptively close-scored 18-6 tilt with Wisconsin. The Penn State offense only sustained one drive over 20 yards for the entire game, and the defense was lit up the entire day. From poor team speed to suspect coaching to a ridiculously tough schedule, this team has more issues than Sports Illustrated.

Purdue also welcomed itself into the AP Top 25 this week at #24, after a 33-14 win against the Zips of Akron. However, Akron jumped on the board first, and Purdue didn't take the lead until the final minute of the first half, which is probably causing some distress in West Lafayette. It was a 2-possession game going into the 4th quarter. Akron isn't bad, but… well, yes they are. Brandon Hance must become more consistent if the Boilermakers want to make noise in the Big Ten.

Wisconsin got back on the winning track with their 18-6 victory over Penn State. Anthony Davis rolled up 200 rushing yards on the admittedly awful Penn State defense, and quarterback Brooks Bollinger returned to action with 112 yards on the ground, and 61 more through the air. Wisconsin will play another cupcake this week when Western Kentucky comes to town. With Indiana and Ohio State looming on the horizon, the Badgers have the schedule to easily be 5-2 when they have to go into Champaign to do battle with the Fighting Illini. Wisconsin will probably finish somewhere in the top half of the Big Ten.

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