Prior to the start of the college football season, I certainly felt there could be more than one team sharing the conference title this year. I still feel that way, but one would have to say that Ohio State is the early favorite after the first week of action.
Here is a bit of a breakdown of what we saw and what we might see the rest of the way.
Purdue losing to Minnesota was a big surprise to me. I overestimated the Boilermakers this summer and perhaps underestimated the Golden Gophers. Purdue once again lost a close game, continuing their trend over the last several years. Their veteran defense also gave up nearly 600 yards of offense to Minnesota. While it's never surprising to see Lawrence Maroney gain over 200 yards when he has 40+ carries, it was startling to see Purdue surrender 271 passing yards to the average Bryan Cupito. Minnesota enjoyed a +17 minute edge in time of possession, and they had three turnovers to Purdue's two. It was the first impressive conference win for Minnesota in nearly five years.
Michigan State might be the hottest team in the country on offense. They gained more than 700 yards against Illinois this week on the road, including an amazing 376 yards rushing. Illinois coming to Iowa City this week is certainly something the Hawkeyes have to like after getting shredded like that. MSU QB Drew Stanton was 20 of 25 for 259 yards and five TD passes to zero interceptions as Sparty rolled up 61 points.
Wisconsin is the surprise team of the league so far, with a perfect 4-0 record. The Badgers are going all out in Barry Alvarez's last season on the sidelines in Madison, and their upset of Michigan was surprising to say the least. Michigan fell to 2-2 after this game and they joined Iowa on the outside looking in at the AP Top 25 poll. It's the first time a Michigan team has not been ranked in the AP Top 25 in the last 114 weeks, which was the longest such streak in the nation. Michigan outgained Wisky 401 to 287 on the game, but they committed nine penalties and were just 6 of 14 on third down conversions.
Penn State got a comeback win at Northwestern. That is the good news. The bad news is that their stellar defense allowed 427 yards against the Cats, which is a big chink in their armor. This team is not as good as I thought they were going to be, though they nearly gained 500 yards. But everyone does that to Northwestern. PSU QB Michael Robinson was 17 of 36 for 271 yards and three TD passes, but he also threw three picks, and that completion percentage needs work. Perhaps their offense will get better as the season goes on, but that defense just does not allow those types of yards. Perhaps more credit should go to Northwestern, but the Cats surrendered a 23-7 first half lead.
Here is a look at how I think things could go the rest of the way, based on what we have seen so far. This will change as the year goes on:
1. Ohio State (9-2, 7-1)
t2. Michigan State (9-2, 6-2)
t2. Purdue (9-2, 6-2)
t4. Wisconsin (9-3, 5-3)
t4. Michigan (7-4, 5-3)
t4. Iowa (7-4, 5-3)
7. Minnesota (7-4, 4-4)
8. Penn State (6-5, 3-5)
t9. Northwestern (3-8, 1-7)
t9. Indiana (4-7, 1-7)
11. Illinois (2-9, 0-8)
When you look at the bowl slots, this finish would have Ohio State earning the Big Ten's BCS bid, leaving the Cap One bowl to pick between Michigan State and Purdue, or perhaps selecting Wisconsin in Alvarez's final year, a game their rabid fans would travel to. Michigan's fans don't necessarily travel well to bowl games that are no on January 1st, but it might be hard for the Alamo to pass on either the Wolverines or Wisconsin over Iowa.
But then again, the final standings will probably look nothing like what this week's projection is…so don't make any travel plans just yet.