Every Big Ten team save for Nebraska and Michigan State has had an off week at this point — and Northwestern has actually already had two — so this feels like the right time to take stock of where the conference stands and what it means for Ohio State and the Big Ten moving forward.
There are currently four undefeated teams in the conference, with Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota all sporting 6-0 records overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten.
You probably already knew that, of course, because of all of the talk from the national media regarding the Big Ten possibly getting two teams into the playoffs.
What’s that? Nobody is talking about that possibility?
Well, let’s digress then.
With the Buckeyes off this past weekend, it’s only right that Wisconsin is getting the majority of the attention following their 38-0 win over Michigan State. The Spartans held running back Jonathan Taylor to just 80 yards, but the Badgers found other ways to move the ball, which should concern the rest of the Big Ten.
Quarterback Jack Coan completed 18-of-21 passes for 180 yards as Wisconsin controlled the ball and controlled the game. They held MSU to just 149 yards of total offense.
This was the fourth shutout this season for the Badger defense and they are allowing just 4.8 points per game, which is the best mark in the nation. Penn State is second with 8.2 points per game, Ohio State is fourth at 8.8, and Iowa is fifth at 10.2 points per game.
The Badgers (173.7 ypg) and Buckeyes (234.0) are first and second in the nation in total defense. Penn State is fourth (259.7), Iowa is fifth (260.8), Indiana is 13th (282.7), and Michigan is 14th (283.3). That’s a lot of solid defense being played, but it’s also being helped out by some poor offenses.
In fact, while not trying to take anything away from the performance of the Wisconsin defense, it is fair to ask if they are actually this good.
The answer — quite frankly — is no they aren’t this good because nobody is this good. But they’re still pretty damn good. However, if you look at who they’ve played, you can begin to see why their numbers are what they are.
The top total offense team they’ve faced this season is Central Michigan, who is 69th in the nation in yards. Michigan is the second-best offense the Badgers have seen, and they’re 84th in the nation. Four of Wisconsin’s six opponents have offenses ranked 100th or worse.
Yes, those numbers have been a bit skewed by their respective performances against Wisconsin, but it’s not like those teams are lighting it up against the rest of the nation either.
If you remove Central Michigan’s performance against the Badgers, they move to 24th in the nation in total offense, but this is still the same offense that only scored 12 points and rushed for 31 yards against Miami.
Removing the Wisconsin game from the respective resumes, the total offense rankings of the Badgers’ opponents would be 24, 73, 77, 81 95, 122.
In terms of scoring, the Wolverines are the highest-scoring team the Badgers have played, and they rank 58th in the nation. This is the same Michigan offense that scored 10 points against Iowa and compiled just 267 total yards. The other five teams currently rank 76, 82, 98, 102, and 128 (out of 130 teams).
Removing the Wisconsin game, the adjusted scoring rank for the Badgers’ opponents would be 42, 46, 46, 76, 78, and 129.
I’m saying all of that to say all of this — in two weeks, the Badgers are going to run into an offense in Columbus the likes of which they have not come close to seeing yet this season. This Saturday their game at Illinois won’t be much of a hint either.
At the same time, I wonder how much Ohio State’s offense is prepared for the Wisconsin defense. Michigan State is a heck of a test, but when you face Wisconsin, you can’t always rely on the mistakes that the Spartans make.
We will find out how real the Badgers are soon enough, but I’m not sure how much more we’ll know about Penn State. Hosting Michigan this week and then traveling to East Lansing after that, they will be prepared for those two defenses. They won’t have to win pretty, and I’m not sure they can. I don’t expect them to be underdogs in either game.
In four weeks, however, the Nittany Lions have to travel to Minnesota, which did not seem like much of a game before this season started. The Gophers have a road game at Rutgers this week, then host Maryland, then have an off week before Penn State comes a’calling. They will be 8-0 for the first time since 1941.
By that point, Minnesota should work their way into the Top 15, begrudgingly by most voters, and Penn State should still be well inside the Top 10.
The first half of the season has been fun, but maybe hasn’t told us all that much. We will learn a whole bunch more as the season plays out, and it should be pretty enjoyable watching it happen.
I know Michigan was the popular pick to win the Big Ten and move on to the Final Four this year, but it just goes to show you that anything can happen in college football — even when that anything is Michigan failing to live up to expectations.