Conference play is here – and not a moment too soon. I don’t say that for the reasons you might think (though I’m certainly not complaining about not having to discuss which game this weekend is most important for the Big Ten’s national reputation).
For me the excitement is purely selfish. I get some time in my life back – the time I’ve spent over the last four weeks preparing for the Big Ten’s non-conference opponents. You never know when you might get another Appalachian State over Michigan – and my job, of course, is to be prepared to talk about it on the air if it does happen. Thus, the hours spent educating myself on the Idaho States and Charleston Southerns of the world. Happily, those days are now behind me. It’s time for conference play.
And if there’s one thing the Big Ten is known for, it’s great trophy games – so let’s start there, with one of my personal favorites – Floyd of Rosedale.
If you think this feels a bit early to be talking about the bronze pig, you’re right.
78th: Saturday’s meeting will be the 78th all-time between Iowa and Minnesota. It’ll be the first one ever played in September. The earliest they had ever met before this season was in 1909, when they squared off on Oct. 2.
Minnesota is quickly turning into one of the conference’s best stories. Jerry Kill’s team has already exceeded its victory total from last season, and it’s done so primarily with defense.
10, 9: The Gophers already have 10 takeaways this season. That is tied for the Big Ten lead. It’s also one more than the 9 they had last year, which was tied for the fewest in the nation.
They’ll travel to face an Iowa team that is really struggling – 1-2 at home – its worst home start since 2000. Though there is a lot more wrong with the Hawkeyes than simply their record, it is fair to point out that they’re not that far away from sitting where the Gophers are.
3: Three of Iowa’s first four games have been decided by 3 points or fewer. That’s the first time that has ever happened in the history of the program.
If there’s been one positive so far for Iowa, it’s been the play of walk-on fullback Mark Weisman, who has rushed for 340 yards and six touchdowns over the last two games.
1997: Weisman is the first Hawkeye to run for a combined six TDs over two weeks since Tavian Banks did so in 1997.
While Weisman and the Hawks have played some close games, there’s no match-up in the nation that delivers quite as many tight ones as the one we’ll feature Saturday on BTN – Northwestern and Indiana.
5.88: The last eight games in this series have been decided by an average of 5.88 points – the smallest margin of any FBS series since 2002 with a minimum of seven meetings.
The Wildcats come into the game having played well defensively – well enough to conjure up some fond memories for Northwestern fans.
1995: NU has held its last three opponents to 13 or fewer points. It’s the first time the ‘Cats have accomplished that since 1995, when they last went to the Rose Bowl. As Howard Griffith and I like to put it: “I’m not saying. I’m just saying.”
The ‘Cats will be hard-pressed to keep that streak alive against an Indiana team that appears to be markedly improved, having totaled more than 550 yards in each of its last two games. Among the many things the Hoosiers are doing right offensively – they’re taking care of the football.
8: The Hoosiers have gone 8 straight games without losing a fumble – the longest active streak in FBS football. Indiana has just one turnover so far this season – fewest in the Big Ten.
On the flipside of that coin, I bring you Illinois. While the defense has been downright awful in losses to Arizona State and Louisiana Tech, the offense hasn’t done them any favors.
11: The Illini have already committed 11 turnovers. Only four teams in the nation have more. This continues a disturbing trend. Illinois had a conference-high 28 turnovers last season.
They will face a Penn State team that has looked great the last two weeks – and has looked good early in games all season.
0: Penn State has given up 0 first half touchdowns this season. They are one of just four teams nationally that can make that claim – joining Cincinnati, Utah State and TCU.
Wisconsin has also put up some impressive defensive numbers.
3: The Badgers have yet to allow a run of 20 yards, making them one of just 3 teams in the nation that hasn’t.
The issue with the Badgers has been their offense. While there is seemingly no end to the “Wisconsin offensive drop-off” stats, I think this one is particularly illuminating, as it speaks to one of the hallmarks of Wisconsin’s attack – its ability to sustain drives.
109th/1st: At 30.2 percent, Wisconsin is 109th in the nation in third down conversion percentage so far this season. The Badgers were 1st nationally in that category last year, at an astonishing 54.7%.
While Wisconsin is struggling offensively, its opponent this week, Nebraska is flourishing – boasting what at this point I think is the Big Ten’s best offense. They’ve gotten there in traditional Husker fashion.
250+: The Huskers have had 250+ rushing yards in each of their first four games. It’s their first such streak since the 2002-03 seasons.
Michigan State has flourished for the opposite reason – with its impressive defense bailing-out its struggling offense. The Spartans held Eastern Michigan to seven points and 46 rushing yards last week – increasing two impressive totals.
10, 7: Michigan State has held 10 opponents under 100 rushing yards since the start of last season and 7 under 10 points. In that same time span, only five teams nationally have kept more teams under the century mark on the ground and only Alabama has given up fewer than 10 points more times than MSU.
The Spartans face Ohio State this week – a team that has played well offensively, but has had some issue allowing big plays on “D.”
6: According to the great website cfbstats.com, the Buckeyes have given up 6 plays of 40 or more yards so far this season. No one else in the Big Ten has allowed more than four such plays.
While we’re on the topic of big plays – that’s a part of Purdue’s game that has improved dramatically.
6: The Boilers have 6 plays of 40 or more yards this season. That equals their total from last year.
There figure to be some big plays on both sides this week when Purdue hosts a Marshall team that leads the nation in passing offense (we can’t totally shake those non-conference time-consumers). That one airs at 3:15 p.m. ET on BTN/BTN2Go – right after the Indiana-Northwestern clash. See the Week 5 Big Ten schedule.
We’ll see you for the “Football Pregame Show” presented by Auto Owners Insurance at 11 a.m. ET.
|BTN’s Dave Revsine hosts a number of TV shows, including our Big Ten Football Pregame show every Saturday at 11 a.m. ET. His popular Big Ten football stats column “Numbers” runs Thursdays during the football season. Find previous columns here, subscribe to his “Numbers” RSS feed, and follow him on Twitter @BTNDaveRevsine.|