Five weeks into the college football season, you would think that fans of Big 10 teams would have a better understanding of where their favorite teams were trending. But outside of Ohio St, Michigan, and Nebraska — teams that are trending upwards — and Rutgers and Purdue — teams trending downwards — it is really hard to tell where the rest of the teams stand.
Big Ten East Division:
Indiana Hoosiers 3-1 (1-0)
After six years of building, it looks like head coach Kevin Wilson finally has put together a complete team in Bloomington, IN. Not only was the 24-21 win over Michigan St. the biggest win of his tenure, the Hoosiers fans were finally able to see a return on the off-season investments made to the defense. The defense forced a turnover and limited the Spartans’ offense to three scoring drives out of nine attempts. Linebacker Tegray Scales had 14 tackles and seemed to be attached to an MSU ball carrier on every play. After struggling to find the end zone in the first half, Wilson used a myriad of misdirection and trick plays — a wide receiver pass from Mitchell Paige to quarterback Richard Lagow for one of its three touchdowns — to spark the Indiana offense. Lagow found his rhythm in the second half and finished with 276 passing yards and touchdown passes to Paige and Ricky Jones (5 catches for 124 yards) that allowed Indiana to take the lead. Running back Devine Redding had a strong game as well and rushed for 100 yards on 19 carries — the first 100-yard rusher allowed by the Spartans defense since 2014.
Maryland Terrapins 4-0 (1-0)
A coaching change can reinvigorate a program and the hiring of DJ Durkin looks to have done that in Maryland. The 50-7 victory over Purdue gave Maryland not only its highest scoring output against a Big Ten opponent but the 43-point margin of victory was its highest as well. Led by senior defensive lineman Roman Braglio’s two sacks, the defense only allowed 10 rushing yards on 23 carries and offensively it rushed for 400 yards on 46 carries. Sophomore running back Ty Johnson quadrupled his per game yardage output by rushing for 204 yards on only seven attempts. The run game garnered all the attention, which was a good thing for quarterback Perry Hills. The senior quarterback threw his first interception of the season and despite his great start, has a history of being reckless with the ball. Coach Durkin has to make sure that the turnover bug doesn’t resurface with the Terrapins offense — specifically Hills — as the competition stiffens.
Michigan Wolverines 5-0 (2-0)
The final score read 14-7 over Wisconsin but if the Wolverines had a kicker the game wouldn’t have been as close. Outside of the kicking mishaps and multiple ill-timed penalties, this Top-10 match-up lived up to the hype as the offense capitalized on its few opportunities while letting the defense carry the team to victory. The biggest offensive play came when Wilton Speight connected with Amara Darboh for a 46-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. Facing a team known to stop the run is never a fun assignment but the Wolverines found a way to grind out tough yards. Ty Isaac, De’Veon Smith, and Chris Evans may not have run for a lot of yards individually but the team total was higher than what Wisconsin had allowed in previous weeks. Channing Stribling made Wisconsin pay for going at him defensively as he finished the day with two interceptions and his teammate Jourdan Lewis confirmed why some call him the best cover corner in the nation with an acrobatic one-handed interception to seal the victory.
Michigan St. Spartans 2-2 (0-2)
It was said last week and bears repeating again after the 24-21 overtime loss to Indiana, this is not the Michigan St. football team many have become accustomed to seeing under head coach Mark Dantonio. Big plays allowed on defense — three plays over 40 yards — and missed opportunities on offense — two missed field goals and a lost fumble– are mistakes that happen to teams that face the Spartans, not the other way around. The grumbling from MSU fans is that it may be time to replace Tyler O’Connor ( 21-of-35 for 263 yards and three touchdowns) but looking at that stat line, would that be smart? The team rushed for 175 yards — Gerald Holmes led the way with 51 yards on nine carries — but in the past, State has performed its best when it had one primary ball carrier. Outside of an interception by cornerback Vayante Copeland, the MSU defense had an unspectacular evening. Maybe there needs to be a shake-up with the coaching staff or playing time because something just isn’t right in East Lansing.
Ohio St. Buckeyes 4-0 (1-0)
The routes continue for the Buckeyes as Ohio St. dominated Rutgers 58-0 — so much for head coach Urban Meyer taking it easy on a former staff member. JT Barrett continued to inch up the list of legitimate Heisman candidates with a 238-yard and four touchdowns passing performance. His growth as a passer over the past two seasons has made him almost impossible to game plan for considering his ability to run. As each game passes, running back Mike Weber (14 carries 144 yards) makes U-M fans sick that they missed out on the Detroit native. This was the first game that the Buckeyes defense did not force a turnover, but it was still dominant as it limited Rutgers to 116 total yards and nine first downs. The OSU youngsters are starting to find their traction as freshmen Nick Bosa and Robert Landers both had sacks on the afternoon.
Penn State Nittany Lions 3-2 (1-1)
The Penn St. passing offense may have been the center of attention in the 29-26 victory over Minnesota, but it was a 25-yard touchdown run by Saquon Barkley that stole the show and won the game for the Nittany Lions. After struggling to find time against Michigan the previous week Trace McSorley picked apart the Minnesota defense for 335 yards and one touchdown. Four Nittany Lions receivers finished the afternoon with at least 70 yards receiving led by Chris Godwin’s 97 yards on four catches and Irvin Charles had an 80-yard touchdown on his lone catch. Early on, the Minnesota defense put all its focus on slowing Barkley which allowed for McSorley to find time as a passer and a rusher — he ran for 73 yards on eight carries. Not to be outdone by the offense the battered Penn St. defense came up with big plays as Jordan Smith’s fourth quarter red zone interception with the score tied at 20 ended a great scoring opportunity for the Golden Gophers. Junior safety Marcus Allen also stepped up big defensively and finished with a career-high 22 tackles.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights 2-3 (0-2)
After playing well in defeat last week, Rutgers ran into a buzzsaw in Ohio St. and took one on the chin 58-0. As bad as the score appeared to be, the on-field execution was just as bad as nothing went right on either side of the ball for the Scarlet Knights. Quarterback Chris Laviano attempted 12 passes on the afternoon — completing only three — and continues to struggle with consistency as a passer. With the passing game non-existent and trailing by a large amount, it was hard for running back Robert Martin to find a rhythm and he ended the day with 40 yards on 13 carries. Anthony Cioffi’s first quarter interception helped Rutgers win the turnover battle 1-0 and while that may not be an impressive stat, it’s a starting point for head coach Chris Ash who is trying to rebuild the New Jersey program.
Big Ten West Division:
Illinois Fighting Illini 1-3 (0-1)
For three quarters, the Fighting Illini were in the position to upset the No. 15 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers but things fell apart late as Illinois dropped a tough one 31-16. The offense was only able to muster 10 plays in the final quarter while the defense allowed the Cornhuskers to dominate the time of possession and run 33 plays. Is it the play calling or the execution that is limiting the Illinois offense? Whatever it is, quarterback Wes Lunt is suffering the most because of it. The senior signal caller only passed for 133 yards on 22 attempts and his refusal/inability to pass the ball downfield is allowing defenses to stack the box. Because of that, the rush offense has struggled to find open run lanes and against Nebraska the team combined for only124 yards — freshman Reggie Corbin finished the game with 72 yards on eight carries. Despite the struggles defensively, the team continues to get great play out of its linebackers as Hardy Nickerson Jr. and Tre Watson finished the game with 10 tackles each.
Iowa Hawkeyes 3-2 (1-1)
The losing hangover continued for the Hawkeyes and this time, it cost them as they were upset by Northwestern 38-31. What was once a strength — its offensive line — has now become a liability in 2016. The Hawkeyes struggled to run against an average Northwestern defense — only tallying 79 yards on 41 carries — and quarterback CJ Beathard was harassed into six sacks on the afternoon. The defensive line did not fare much better as it surrendered 198 yards and was consistently gashed. Filling in for the injured Matt VandeBerg, receiver Riley McCarron did all he could to keep Iowa in the game by catching eight passes for 78 yards and one touchdown. The Hawkeyes are on a two-game home losing streak and head coach Kirk Ferentz needs to get the team back on track sooner than later.
Minnesota Golden Gophers 3-1 (0-1)
Even with the running back duo of Shannon Brooks (14 carries for 100 yards) and Rodney Smith (23 carries for 104 yards) playing at a high level the Golden Gophers couldn’t hold onto a third quarter lead and lost to Penn St. 29-26 in overtime. Minnesota did everything it was supposed to, it ran the ball well as a team and dominated the time of possession but the offense started the second half with three consecutive punts which opened the door for a Penn St. comeback. Quarterback Mitch Leidner passed for 240 yards and one touchdown but it was an ill-advised interception with the team driving late that killed momentum for the Golden Gophers. Playing without the team’s best pass rusher, freshman Tai’yon Devers, hurt because Minnesota could not generate any pressure on the Nittany Lions quarterback all afternoon.
Nebraska Cornhuskers 5-0 (2-0)
Five weeks into the college football season we are getting a better understanding on the Nebraska Cornhuskers and after the 31-16 win over Illinois, the verdict is that the team is a legitimate West Division contender. Trailing most of the game, Nebraska’s offense played keep away from Illinois as it dominated time of possession in the second half and turned a six-point deficit into a 15-point lead. Senior running back Terrell Newby was the offensive workhorse as he rushed for 140 yards on 27 carries. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. turned in another good game as he passed for 220 yards and connected with 10 different Cornhusker players. His favorite target was receiver Jordan Westerkamp who finished the game with four catches for 65 yards before leaving the game with an injury. Head coach Mike Riley is building momentum in Lincoln and has the Nebraska faithful raising their expectations for the team this year.
Northwestern Wildcats 2-3 (1-1)
The Northwestern team that upset Iowa 38-31 is the team that many expected to see at the start of the season. Quarterback Clayton Thorson had an efficient game passing for 165 yards and three touchdowns. Star running back Justin Jackson treated the Hawkeyes defense like swiss cheese as he rushed for 171 yards on 26 carries. But the star of the game for the Wildcats was receiver Austin Carr. The senior from Benicia, CA continued to perform like the best receiver in the conference as he caught six balls for 73 yards and three touchdowns. Senior defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo had a career day as he finished the game with four sacks and a forced fumble. Its only one game but it looks as if whatever was ailing the Wildcats to start the season has been fixed but can the team continue to build on the momentum of this upset?
Purdue Boilermakers 2-2 (0-1)
The Boilermakers avoided the turnover bug from the previous week, but it didn’t matter as Purdue was easily defeated 50-7 by Maryland on Saturday. Nothing went right offensively for Purdue as David Blough only completed 18-of-41 attempts for 132 yards and starting running back Markel Jones was limited to 23 yards on 12 carries. If that was not bad enough the defense had one of its worst games under head coach Darell Hazell as it surrendered 400 yards rushing on the afternoon. Coach Hazell’s seat was already warm heading into this matchup but after an abysmal performance against Maryland, the seat may be turning into an inferno for the former Kent St. coach. In defeat, freshman linebacker Markus Bailey was able to do something that no other team had done all season and that was force a Maryland quarterback into an interception. That could be something to build upon for a Purdue defense that is reeling right now.
Wisconsin Badgers 4-0 (1-1)
After looking like a veteran the week before, Alex Hornibrook played like an inexperienced freshman in the 14-7 loss to Michigan. Outside of the 17-yard touchdown pass to Dare Ogunbowale, it seemed as if Hornibrook never seemed to be comfortable in the pocket which led to him throwing the ball earlier than anticipated and finishing the game with three interceptions. Running back Cory Clement finished the day with 68 yards on 17 carries and maybe this was the game that head coach Paul Chryst should have relied on his veteran running back over an inexperienced quarterback. The linebacker trio of Jack Cichy (12 tackles .5 sacks), TJ Watt (11 tackles, one sack, two tackles-for-loss) , and TJ Edwards (11 tackles) were the linchpins of a Badgers defense that sacked the Michigan quarterback four times. With the offense being as stagnant as it was, this was the perfect opportunity to have the defense or special teams come through with a score, unfortunately, it never happened.
Sports Q&A Big 10 Player of the week:
Ifeadi Odenigbo defensive end Northwestern
The Wildcats have been looking for a spark all season and in the upset of the Iowa Hawkeyes may have found a new defensive star. Prior to this year, the most sacks Odenigbo had in a season was five and he almost surpassed that total in one game. It will be hard to match this total on a regular basis but now that he has the attention of every future Northwestern opponent, it may be easier for his teammates to make plays as well.
Game of the Week:
Indiana vs. Ohio St.
Coming off a big win against Michigan St., Indiana has another opportunity to make a huge statement. However unlike Michigan St, which appears to be underachieving this season, Ohio St. is operating like a well-oiled machine on all levels. The biggest thing that the Hoosiers can hope for is that the game doesn’t get ugly against the more the talented Buckeyes. It may not be 58-0 ugly, but the Buckeyes continue to make a statement as the best team in the conference and maybe even the nation. Ohio St. 49 Indiana 21
Week 6 Picks: (Week 5 record: 4-3)
Iowa over Minnesota
Penn St. over Maryland
Michigan St. over BYU
Illinois over Purdue
Michigan over Rutgers