Buy or Sell: Best in the West, surprises and more
Can you believe we’re already approaching Week 3? It’s been a lot of fun so far, and there’s certainly more ahead.
As we enter the third weekend of the season, here are five things I am buying and selling.
Wisconsin is the best team in the West.
BUY. Yes, Iowa has looked good out of the gates, going 2-0 with victories vs. Wyoming and at Iowa State in OT. And Minnesota and Illinois have turned some heads with 2-0 starts. But I think the Badgers are the best in the West. And, it’s really not that close. Wisconsin hasn’t played four good full quarters yet but still has bulldozed Utah State (59-10) and Florida Atlantic (31-14). What will happen when the Badgers hit on all cylinders? It’s a scary thought, huh? There is a legit chance for this team to go unbeaten. Really. I want a Wisconsin vs. Penn State game … now.
Illinois is the most surprising 2-0 team.
SELL. No doubt, it is a bit of a surprise to see the Fighting Illini standing 2-0 with home wins vs. Ball State and Western Kentucky. I think many pundits felt Illinois would fall to the Hilltoppers last week. But the Illini won, 20-7. For me, Maryland is the most surprising 2-0 team. No one envisioned the Terrapins opening the season with a 51-41 win at Texas. It was one of the most stunning results of the opening weekend across the college football landscape. The Terps followed by obliterating Towson last week. Maryland is off this week and then plays Central Florida. How good are the Terrapins? It’s gonna be fun to find out. The Terrapins open Big Ten play at Minnesota and at Ohio State.
Ohio State’s downfield passing game will improve over the season.
SELL. I just don’t see it. Sure, J.T. Barrett may make some strides. But it’s difficult to make big improvements during the season. You are what you are. A quarterback change? Preposterous. The Buckeyes need to adjust how they pass and find some routes/patterns Barrett excels at executing. And embrace his ability to run. Barrett is really struggling vs. zone defenses.
“We’ve seen a lot of zone,” Urban Meyer said after the OU loss last Saturday night. “That’s one of the negatives when you practice against all the man-to-man. They’re dropping eight in some situations, too, which is really difficult.
“We’ve given them that (zone) look in practice and obviously (it’s) not enough. So we’ve got to continue that. Figuring how to beat zones is a big key. Because Barrett is gonna keep facing a lot of them until he shows he can beat them.”
Northwestern has been the most disappointing team thus far.
BUY. I was one of many people who felt the Wildcats were a dark horse contender in the Big Ten West. And, they still may be. Pat Fitzgerald had a lot talent and speed on defense. The offense had a formidable 1-2 punch in QB Clayton Thorson and RB Justin Jackson. But NU has struggled out of the blocks, as the offensive line has struggled and the secondary has been banged up. The Wildcats trailed Nevada, 10-7, at halftime of the opener before winning, 31-20. NU flopped badly last week at Duke, falling 41-17. Here is all you need to know: The Wildcats are 13th in the Big Ten in rushing (89.0 ypg) and last vs. the run (187.5). If you can’t run or stop the run, you are doomed. But remember: NU started 0-2 last year and was 1-3 after four games and still rallied to make (and win) a bowl.
Purdue has the most to gain of any Big Ten team this weekend.
BUY. The Boilermakers have turned heads with their play the first two weeks. First, Purdue pushed a ranked Louisville team led by defending Heisman winner Lamar Jackson to the limit in a season-opening 35-28 loss in Indianapolis. Then, the Boilers steam-rolled MAC contender Ohio, 44-21, last Friday. Now, Purdue plays at Missouri, which is in a bit of disarray. The Tigers fired their defensive coordinator after last week’s home loss to South Carolina. And MU is struggling on special teams, while the offense lacks consistency. Purdue could leave Columbia with a win, setting up an interesting visit from Michigan the next week in the Big Ten opener. If the Boilermakers come back to West Lafayette 2-1 after visiting Mizzou, I like their chances to go to a bowl game this year. And that seemed unthinkable over the winter.