Michigan State: This team could very well stay in charge throughout the entire season. Nebraska gave them a close game, Ohio State is still going to East Lansing, but at this point no one can argue that the Spartans are the class of the Big Ten. Quarterback Connor Cook is playing great and the defense is getting more stout. Yes, Purdue put up a bigger fight than expected, but let’s not kid ourselves.
Bona Fine Contenders
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers still deserve the number two spot. They played the best team close at home, despite three bad quarters. There isn’t anyone on Nebraska’s schedule that will be favored over them and they just had a timely bye week to get some key players back.
Ohio State: You can count on very few things in life, but quarterback play improving under head coach Urban Meyer is one of them. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is clearly benefitting from getting more and more experience every week. He looks more confident, composed, and in command. The Buckeyes are coming off a bye week and should easily roll their next three games before heading to East Lansing to face Michigan State.
Second Tier Contenders
Iowa: The Hawkeyes showed some real offensive life last weekend. They put up 45 points against Indiana. We will find out if it was a sign of things to come for Iowa or simply due to the Hoosiers horrific defense. No matter what though, it was the best quarterback Jake Rudock has looked all season. If he can keep that up they could very well win the Big Ten West.
Minnesota: After Northwestern beat Penn State on the road and then Wisconsin, they took a trip to Minnesota and got beat. It was a close game, but it is hard to argue that the better team didn’t win. The Golden Gophers have a pretty solid defense and a strong running game behind senior David Cobb. The win over Northwestern made Minnesota the third most likely team to win the Big Ten West… who saw that coming?
Rutgers: With a 5-1 record it is hard not to put them in this category. Right now, they are getting better than expected play from quarterback Gary Nova. If they want to stay contenders this will have to continue and the Scarlet Knights need to shore up the defense. Being 43rd in points against isn’t going to cut it when they get into the heart of their Big Ten schedule, which starts this week as they head to The Horseshoe to play Ohio State.
Dark Horse Contenders
Maryland: Speaking of needing to shore up a defense, the Terrapins rank 65th in points against. They have certainly played some stout opponents offensively, but they need to see improvement in this area. With the weapons they have on the outside they need to start stretching the field more frequently and effectively. They are favored at home against Iowa this week. This is a chance to let the Big Ten know they are serious about competing in this league.
Wisconsin: At the half way point, this is not where the Badgers were hoping to be. They were picked to win the West at the beginning of the season. They lost to Northwestern and only beat Illinois by 10 last Saturday. They passing game is essentially nonexistent. They are back to running the ball as well as people expect, the problem is the defense and passing game is worse than normal.
Northwestern: After two fantastic weeks in a row with wins over PSU and Wisconsin, they lost a close one on the road to Minnesota. They now sit at 3-3, with a 2-1 conference record. This Saturday will tell us once and for all if Northwestern will make a run at the Big Ten West as they welcome Nebraska to Evanston.
Penn State: Everyone knew the sanctions would end up hurting the Nittany Lions as the season went along, that is to be expected and not seen as a red flag. What should be concerning is in the last two weeks both of their losses can be attributed to coaching. Head coach James Franklin had bad clock management at the end of the game against Michigan and head coach Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern throttled Franklin in the coaching department in the game before.
Contend? That’s hilarious.
Indiana: Contending for the Big Ten isn’t going to happen as they started 0-2 in conference. No one really expected them to compete; their goal of making a bowl game is still very much a possibility. They have to win three games against Purdue, Penn State, Michigan, and Rutgers… While it isn’t a given, it is certainly possible.
Michigan: The Wolverines did what they desperately needed to do, end the losing skid. After dropping three games in a row head coach Brady Hoke simply needed a W. They didn’t look great in the game, but at this point a win is a win. Hoke needs to win at least three more to have any chance at saving his job. Looking at the schedule chances are good that they only win one more, if that.
Purdue: The Boilermakers have actually been better than expected over the last few weeks. They scored 35 points on the Spartan defense, led by the great play of wide receiver Danny Anthrop. The problem for Purdue is their next winnable game is the last game of the season on the road against Indiana. With that said, if they can simply continue to play the better teams in the Big Ten this competitively it could save Darrell Hazel’s job and give them something to build on.
Illinois: The Fighting Illini need to have a lot of fight in them because they are staring an eight game losing streak to end the season right in the face. They will not be favored in any games and they will be double-digit underdogs in most of them. The primary problem? Illinois is ranked 110th in scoring defense and they have only played three good teams.
*** Posted by Josh Harvey ***