Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, September 12, 2016

How about those Big Ten quarterbacks? Is it time for Northwestern to panic?

Here is what I?m buying and selling in the Big Ten as we enter a big Week 3 that features several marquee games.


The quarterback play in the Big Ten is the best in the nation?
Just look at the national leaders in passing efficiency. The Big Ten has six quarterbacks ranked among the top 26 signal-callers: 4. Michigan State?s Tyler O?Connor; 7. Michigan?s Wilton Speight; 15. Ohio State?s J.T. Barrett; 18. Maryland?s Perry Hills; 19. Nebraska?s Tommy Armstrong; 25. Iowa?s C.J. Beathard; 26. Indiana?s Richard Lagow. No other conference can match that roll call among pass-efficiency leaders. The league has one of its better collections of quarterbacks in recent years.

Ohio State has been the most impressive team so far in the Big Ten?
The Buckeyes have ripped through their first two foes this season, eviscerating Bowling Green, 77-10, and pummeling Tulsa, 48-3. The defense has been off-the-charts good, not yet yielding a touchdown while scoring three of its own. Add it all up, and the Buckeyes are leading the Big Ten in scoring (62.5 ppg) and scoring defense (6.5). Ohio State looks like a motivated team that is on a mission to reclaim the Big Ten team.

Northwestern should panic after starting 0-2?
It?s too early to panic. For real. But having a healthy dose of concern is OK if you are a Wildcat fan. No one envisioned NU opening with home losses to Western Michigan (23-22) and FCS Illinois State (9-7) coming off a 10-win season. But, that?s Northwestern?s reality. Up next is a visit from Duke, which the Wildcats beat last year. And the 1-1 Blue Devils are coming off a loss to Wake Forest. So, Duke looks primed for defeat. Now, if NU falls to the Blue Devils, it may be OK to panic a bit, as the three games after that are at home vs. Nebraska, at Iowa and at Michigan State. That?s a tough trio of tilts.

If Ohio State loses at Oklahoma, its playoff hopes are finished?
The Buckeyes can survive a September loss at Oklahoma and still make the playoff. First, a defeat on the road to the AP No. 14 team wouldn?t be shameful. Also, remember, the Buckeyes made the inaugural playoff, which it won, despite an early loss vs. Virginia Tech. But Ohio State?s wiggle room would be eliminated. In fact, the Buckeyes likely would need to win out en route to claiming the Big Ten title. If Ohio State was Big Ten champ with a 13-1 record, it would be able to claim one of the four playoff spots.

Penn State is the best 1-1 team in the Big Ten?
The Nittany Lions showed lots of promise in a 42-39 loss at Pitt last week. No shame in losing on the road to the Panthers, a good program. In fact, Penn State was driving for the tying or winning score before QB Trace McSorley was intercepted in the end zone on an ill-advised pass. The new offense of coordinator Joe Moorhead looks good, generating 402 yards. But the run game needs more oomph after netting only 70 yards. The defense? It needs work, too, as the rebuilt line must get buttoned up after being ripped for 341 yards rushing (6.1 ypc). So, the onus remains on the offensive and defensive lines.

Michigan?s Wilton Speight has been the most impressive QB in the Big Ten?
I never envisioned this back in August. Yes, Speight looked good in the camp practice we watched. But I still felt Houston transfer John O?Korn would win the job to replace Jake Rudock. But Speight was anointed the starter and has been outstanding. The junior has hit 35-of-50 passes (70 percent) for 457 yards with seven TDs and a pick to lead an offense that is averaging 57 points.

Oregon?s visit to Nebraska this week is the biggest of the Mike Rile era?
Yes, that?s probably not saying too much, seeing as how this is just the second year in Lincoln for the Riley. But that doesn?t diminish the importance of the game, as Riley is coming off a 6-7 debut and needs to make a push up the standings this fall. A win vs. a good Oregon squad would be one of the biggest for the Nebraska program in recent years. And it would provide a nice spark for the Cornhuskers. Beat the Ducks, and Nebraska could skate to a 7-0 start, setting up a big game at Wisconsin on Oct. 29.

Purdue needs the off week more than anyone?
BUY. Indiana and Minnesota both are off, as well, but Purdue desperately needs the extra practice. The Boilers? season got off to a nice start with a win vs. FCS Eastern Kentucky, however they flopped badly on Saturday in a 38-20 home loss to Cincinnati. It was a game some felt was the most important of the Darrell Hazell era, which is in its fourth season. Now what? Purdue has two weeks to prep for a visit from Nevada in what is another game Hazell probably needs to win if he wants a good shot at a strong season to impress new A.D. Mike Bobinksi. Lots for Hazell to work on, especially on defense that ranks last in the Big Ten overall (455 ypg) and in scoring (31.0 ppg).