Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, September 16, 2012
A 10-2 record is an improvement over last week's 6-6 clip, however the Big Ten still didn't do itself any favors Saturday in Week 3 action. See my 10 observations-some whimsical, some fact based, some opinionated-after three weeks of the Big Ten season.
1. Going 10-2 last weekend would be considered good under most circumstances–especially for a league coming off a demoralizing 6-6 weekend that saw the Big Ten lose every big game it played. But, the Big Ten should have gone unbeaten on Saturday, considering it played a soft slate of games. Making matters worse: One of the two losses was Michigan State falling at home to Notre Dame, 20-3, in the biggest game on the Big Ten slate.
2. Those national championship dreams? They already may be in jeopardy. Michigan State was supposed to carry the Big Ten?s flag, but its loss to Notre Dame casts doubt on if the Spartans are an elite team. Now, the only Big Ten teams that are unbeaten are Northwestern, Minnesota and Ohio State. Of course, the Buckeyes are on probation and can?t play in the postseason. And, no offense to the Wildcats and Golden Gophers, but they aren?t national championship stock.
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3. Speaking of the trio of Big Ten perfect teams, all three have a great shot to emerge from Saturday at 4-0. Northwestern plays host to FCS South Dakota; Minnesota welcomes Syracuse; Ohio State entertains UAB.
4. This coming week is a critical one for Michigan, as it plays at Notre Dame in the biggest tilt on the Big Ten calendar. A victory over the Fighting Irish would make the Wolverines the favorite in the Legends Division-and maybe in the Big Ten. Will the Michigan defense-which is eighth overall in the Big Ten; 11th vs. the run–be ready?
5. The Leaders Division looks as wide open as ever, as preseason fav Wisconsin didn?t exactly look impressive in dispatching Utah State, 16-14. Keep your eye on Purdue. If the Boilermakers-who lead the Big Ten in turnovers gained (8) and turnovers lost (9)–continue to get big plays on offense, they have the defense to make a strong run at claiming the Leaders Division spot in the Big Ten championship game.
6. While on the subject of Purdue, the Boilermakers and Indiana each have this coming Saturday off. Purdue probably wants to keep playing, coming off a dominating 54-16 win at home over Eastern Michigan. But Indiana may welcome the weekend off coming off a demoralizing 41-39 last-second home loss to Ball State-the Hoosiers? third loss in a row to the Cardinals.
[Related: What Dienhart learned in Week 3]
7. Aside from the Michigan at Notre Dame game, next Saturday looks innocuous in the Big Ten. But there is one team in particular that I think should be on upset alert: Illinois, which will play host to a dangerous Louisiana Tech team coached by Sonny Dykes. The Bulldogs are 2-0 with wins over Houston and Rice, scoring a combined 112 points. Be careful, Fighting Illini.
8. Going into the fourth weekend of the season, three teams still haven?t played a true road game. Iowa?s ?road? game was in the opener, when it played in Chicago at Soldier Field vs. Northern Illinois. Michigan?s lone away game was vs. Alabama in Arlington, Texas. Ohio State will play its fourth game in succession in the Horseshoe when it welcomes UAB. The Hawkeyes are home this Saturday vs. Central Michigan, but the Wolverines will play a true road game at Notre Dame.
9. Wanna know a reason why Wisconsin is struggling, aside from a slumbering offense that ranks last in the Big Ten and 116th out of 120 teams in the nation (276.0 ypg)? The Badgers have yet to recover a fumble. And they have yet to pick off a pass.
[Related: How did you do? Week 3 predictions revisited]
10. This is a quarterback driven league, as five of the Big Ten?s top 11 rushers are signal-callers. Ohio State?s Braxton Miller paces the conference in rushing with 377 yards. Michigan?s Denard Robinson is fourth (351), Minnesota?s MarQueis Gray (234) is ninth; Nebraska?s Taylor Martinez (176) is 10th and Northwestern?s Kain Colter (172) is 11th.
|BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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