Let’s get this out of the way: Ohio State is the best team in the Big Ten.
Good. Now we can move on and talk about the rest of the conference.
The Big Ten has five teams ranked in The Associated Press Top 25, even two in the top 10. However, it also has two squads that are winless and neither are Rutgers or Illinois. Though the Scarlet Knights did lose to Kansas, which won three games the previous three seasons.
Northwestern and Purdue have both lost to schools from the Mid-American Conference, and Troy walked into Lincoln last weekend and handled Nebraska.
Then there is Wisconsin.
Dominant its first two weeks against sub-par competition, but has all sorts of trouble shaking an improved BYU team at home. The Badgers, ranked sixth at the time, allowed the Cougars to not only hang around, but build enough confidence to pull off the upset.
Sure, it’s early, but the Big Ten again has its fans scratching their heads wondering – other than Ohio State – what to expect from the league, and whether it’s simply a one-team group with the rest trying to keep up.
How good are these guys?
We know about the fourth-ranked Buckeyes, but what Penn State?
The Nittany Lions are 10th in the AP Poll, and after needing overtime to beat Appalachian State at home, they’ve outscored Pitt and Kent State 114-16. Following a visit to Illinois on Friday, Penn State hosts Ohio State in what could the biggest regular-season game in the Big Ten this year.
Don’t figure the Nittany Lions to look past the Illini, who are a fourth-quarter South Florida rally away from being 3-0. However, do they have the defense to hang with the Buckeyes? We’ll see.
Wisconsin at least has some motivation going forward, even if its College Football Playoff chances were severely hindered with the BYU defeat. Also, the bounce back this weekend at 3-0 Iowa won’t be easy. The Hawkeyes are an intriguing bunch, especially after holding respectable competition in Northern Illinois, Iowa State and Northern Iowa of the FCS to 24 combined points.
If Iowa is able to bring down Wisconsin this weekend, then it could be taken seriously, at least for the time being.
Michigan and Michigan State are also ranked but we’ve seen various flaws in both teams. That could mean getting to nine wins for each might be a chore.
Indiana and Minnesota are 3-0, but we know the goal for both is bowl eligibility.
The rest is a mess
Maryland is 2-1 and has done a nice job of dealing with a difficult offseason. The win over then-No. 23 Texas was impressive, but last week’s 35-14 home loss to Temple was not.
Rutgers has yielded 107 points in the last two games and it should be a race against Illinois to see which program can actually win a Big Ten game this season.
Northwestern carried an eight-game winning streak into the season and opened with a league victory at Purdue. However, home losses to a good Duke team and Akron out of the MAC has raised the concern level in Evanston.
The winless Boilermakers went to a bowl last season, but their quarterback situation remains a mess. A loss to Eastern Michigan – from the MAC – is something that can’t happen for a program poised to make progress.
Finally, there’s Nebraska.
Scott Frost’s return to the Cornhuskers as coach has not started like Nebraska fans hoped. It began with a weather postponement versus Akron, followed with a blown lead in a loss to Colorado and the unexpected failure against Troy.
Right now, Nebraska’s focus is getting Frost that initial victory and nothing else.
At least we’ll have fun watching all this play out in the Big Ten.