Reports of the demise of the Big Ten back in Week 2 were overstated even if that’s not to say the Big Ten is better than we thought it would be.
The league’s 5-11 record against the other power conferences and Notre Dame will haunt this conference for the remainder of the season.
Michigan and Penn State are shells of what they should be. Division contenders Wisconsin and Iowa are unranked. The Big Ten’s two highest ranked teams — Michigan State and Ohio State — both lost their toughest non-conference games of the season.
All of those are reasons the Big Ten’s playoff hopes looked dim back in Week 2.
More than a month later, the league doesn’t have any guarantees of reaching the playoff, and the 14-team Big Ten has fewer viable contenders right now than the SEC West alone.
But a chaotic October nation-wide has improved the Big Ten’s position for the playoff as much as the play of Michigan State and Ohio State has.
2014 Big Ten Midseason Review and Second-Half Preview
Coach of the Year: Jerry Kill, Minnesota
Minnesota started its 2014 Big Ten season with wins over Michigan and Northwestern, giving the Gophers a 6-2 record in the league since Oct. 19. Even though that kind of record will be tough to maintain into November against a backloaded schedule with Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin round out the final month, Minnesota continues to be a competitive program in the league under Kill. Minnesota’s lone loss is ugly, but the 30-7 defeat came on the road against TCU, a team that’s proven to be better than expected when the two teams played on Sept. 13.
Newcomer of the Year: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
A season-ending injury to Braxton Miller didn’t end Ohio State’s Big Ten hopes. Credit redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. Despite struggling against the Virginia Tech pass rush in a loss, Barrett remains the Big Ten leader in total offense by 34 yards per game (326 yards).
Offensive Player of the Year: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
The numbers have been staggering at 1,046 yards and 13 touchdowns through six games. Productive running backs at Wisconsin are commonplace, but this is a little different. Gordon is not part of a one-two punch at running back as he was a year ago, and the Badgers' passing game hasn’t been effective enough to keep opponents honest. In other words, defenses know Gordon is carrying the offense and still haven’t been able to contain him.
Defensive Player of the Year: William Likely, Maryland
The cornerback from Belle Glade, Fla., has been a major difference-maker for the Terrapins with three interceptions and two non-offensive touchdowns this year. He's also adept at playing near the line with three tackles for a loss at 36 solo stops.
Midseason Disappointment: Michigan’s offense
Michigan has one of the best defenses in the Big Ten. The offense, though, hasn’t matched that level of production. Michigan is averaging 254.3 yards per game in conference play to go with 16 turnovers. Only Eastern Michigan and New Mexico State have given the ball away more.
Midseason Surprise: Ohio State as a legitimate contender
Ohio State’s season looked lost based on a 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6 when the Buckeyes gave up seven sacks and three interceptions. Since then, Ohio State trounced Cincinnati and Maryland. Those aren’t landmark wins, but they are enough to show the Buckeyes remain a Big Ten East contender.
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Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
Michigan State’s bid to run the table
With a stifling defense and a balanced offense, Michigan State looks like the favorite to win the Big Ten for a second consecutive season. The Spartans likely will be favored to win every game to finish the season, including a home date with Ohio State on Nov. 8. With a 46-27 loss to Oregon in Week 2, Michigan State may need to run the table in the Big Ten to reach the playoff.
Ohio State as a playoff contender
The Buckeyes’ hopes of winning the Big Ten East probably hinge on a Nov. 8 game at Michigan State. A win in that game could present Ohio State as a playoff contender as well. The Buckeyes are better than the were when they lost to Virginia Tech, but what does that mean on the national stage?
Michigan’s next move
Brady Hoke’s fate seems sealed despite Saturday’s win over Penn State. So what’s the next step in Ann Arbor? Is Hoke done before the season? Does athletic director Dave Brandon follow his coach out of town? And who could the next guy be at Michigan?
Top Five Games in the Second Half
Ohio State at Penn State (Oct. 25)
The Buckeyes’ pass defense numbers are good — Ohio State has allowed five pass plays of more than 20 yards, seven fewer than any other Big Ten team. A matchup against Christian Hackenberg is another big test.
Ohio State at Michigan State (Nov. 8)
The game of the regular season in the Big Ten will either solidify Michigan State’s spot as the best team in the league or re-establish Ohio State as a national contender.
Nebraska at Wisconsin (Nov. 15)
Provided these teams can get through the likes of Rutgers, Purdue, Northwestern and Maryland, the Cornhuskers and Badgers could have gaudy records in time for this matchup. Either way, Ameer Abdullah vs. Melvin Gordon will be the best running back showdown of the year.
Nebraska at Iowa (Nov. 28)
Iowa is 5-1 overall and undefeated in the Big Ten. By the end of November this could be a key Big Ten division game. For Nebraska, this could be a revenge game after the Huskers lost 38-17 at home in last year’s meeting.
Michigan at Ohio State (Nov. 29)
The Big Ten’s best rivalry could be a matchup between an Ohio State team playing for the Big Ten East title (or more) and a Michigan team trying to salvage a season. Always an interesting situation.
Projecting the Final Big Ten standings