In back-to-back weeks, Ohio State answered all questions about who’s on top in the Big Ten. Like it was a surprise anyway.
The No. 4-ranked Buckeyes (6-0, 2-0) remain the league’s flagship football program and now have won 18 straight games. Ohio State’s Big Ten schedule was front loaded with Leaders Division contender Wisconsin in the opener, followed by pesky — and potent — Northwestern. Ohio State survived the Badgers 31-24, then outlasted the Wildcats 40-30 on Saturday. The margin of victory didn’t show the true competition — Ohio State scored a freak defensive touchdown on the game’s final play — but nobody will know the difference in a week or two.
The real question now is who’s No. 2 in the Big Ten? After Saturday’s games, it appears five teams have an argument as the league’s second-best squad. At least four of them compete in the Legends Division, so there’s a chance they’ll sort it all out and give the Buckeyes a game in Indianapolis.
The most recent challenger, No. 19 Northwestern (4-1, 0-1), has a good case to make. Against the Buckeyes, Northwestern earned the lead three different times, including a 10-point lead in the third quarter. The Wildcats took a three-point lead in the fourth quarter but succumbed to the power running of Carlos Hyde and the Buckeyes’ eight-play, 81-yard drive. Northwestern gained 437 yards and led in time of possession.
“There are no moral victories; our guys will come back next week,” Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “It is about the bottom and middle of our pyramid of what we believe in. It is about trust and character. It is about coming back and responding to things when they get tough. It is about sticking together and believing in yourself and each other. Obviously a disappointed locker room, but (we have) great leadership and we’ll bounce back and have a challenge a week from now.”
Mistakes doomed Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1) from upsetting the Buckeyes on the road in a seven-point loss. There was a missed chip-shot field goal and a dropped interception one play before a successful Hail Mary that will keep angst high for Badgers’ fans.
“But do I think we were overmatched? No,” Wisconsin Coach Gary Andersen said. “There was give‑and‑take on both sides. It was an interesting — definitely an interesting battle.”
Wisconsin likely won’t have a chance to clip past the Buckeyes in the Leaders Division. Ohio State owns the head-to-head tiebreaker and it’s a little outlandish to expect the Buckeyes to lose twice and see Wisconsin roll out seven straight Big Ten wins.
No. 18 Michigan (5-0, 1-0), Ohio State’s archrival, remains the only other Big Ten unbeaten. The Wolverines have mixed good moments with inexplicable near-collapses to mediocre teams. Michigan pounded Minnesota 42-13 on Saturday, but just two weeks ago the Wolverines had to rally from a double-digit deficit to beat lowly UConn. Michigan remains a work in progress, Coach Brady Hoke said.
“I think it is,” he said. “I think because of the youth that we have, I think that they’re learning all the time. We were fortunate they had a kickoff that got out, kickoff return, and we got out of our lanes a little bit, and I think guys learned a little bit of a lesson there, and there were some young guys there. But there’s a lot of young players playing a lot of snaps. I think we’re improving. I think we’re a long way from where we need to be.”
Michigan State (4-1, 1-0) overpowered Iowa in the teams’ perennial slugfest 26-14. The Spartans brought their offense and dominated the Hawkeyes, save for a five-minute stretch in the second quarter.
“When you look at things relative to special teams, offense and defense, it was probably our biggest team win, certainly of the season, and the performance by all was our best performance,” Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio said.
The Spartans rank first nationally in both rushing defense and pass efficiency offense. Additionally, they boast perhaps the league’s most advantageous schedule with games at home against Indiana and Purdue, then at Illinois.
Nebraska (4-1, 1-0) showed a renewed defensive effort in a 39-19 win against Illinois. The Fighting Illini still rushed for 195 yards, but Nebraska held tough on third down, allowing just 4-of-15 conversions.
“I thought there were a lot of positives in the game and a lot of things we need to get better at,” Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini said. “We’re still a work-in-progress as a football team. At times, I thought we were pretty good. And at times, I thought we were our own worst enemy. That’s got to get fixed. We weren’t efficient enough, especially in the second half. We left a lot of points out there in the second half. We couldn’t finish the way we wanted. But I saw a lot of good things out there.”
Penn State WR Allen Robinson caught 12 passes for 173 yards and two scores. …Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard had two interceptions and totaled 38 return yards. … Nebraska RB Ameer Abduallah rushed for 225 yards and two TDs. … Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde ran for 168 yards and three TDS and caught four passes for 38 yards.
Indiana WR Cody Latimer caught nine passes for 140 yards. …Iowa QB Jake Rudock completed 11 straight passes in the second quarter against Michigan State. … Illinois RB Josh Ferguson rushed for 114 yards and a score and caught eight passes for 82 yards and a TD. … Michigan WR Devin Funchess caught seven passes for 151 yards and a TD. … Minnesota LB Damien Wilson had eight tackles, including 1.5 for loss. … Northwestern QB Kain Colter completed all 12 passes for 98 yards, rushed for 16 yards and a score and also caught a pass.
1. Ohio State (1) 6-0 2-0
2. Wisconsin (3) 3-2 1-1
3. Northwestern (2) 4-1 0-1
4. Michigan (4) 5-0 1-0
5A. Michigan State (5A) 4-1 1-0
5B. Nebraska (5C) 4-1 1-0
7. Iowa 4-2 1-1
8. Indiana (10) 3-2 1-0
9. Penn State (5B) 3-2 0-1
10. Illinois (9) 3-2 0-1
11. Minnesota (11) 4-2 0-2
12. Purdue (12) 1-4 0-1
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