After two weeks, the top of the Big Ten has lost to Oregon, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and LSU. At the same time, the bottom of the league has lost to Central Michigan and Northern Illinois.
Seven teams are 2-0, but only one was in the AP preseason top 25 (Nebraska). This is a league grasping for solutions before third week of the season. Simply put, many of the coaches are at a loss.
“Keep recruiting,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “There’s no easy answer.”
The Big Ten won’t be able to repair all the damage to its Playoff hopes in one week, but it can save face. Even without a game against an Oregon, Notre Dame or LSU this week, Big Ten teams have key non-conference games that may be must-win territory just to avoid complete embarrassment.
Conference newcomer Maryland draws a West Virginia team that put pressure on Alabama in the passing game. After narrow wins over Northern Iowa and Ball State, Iowa faces its in-state rival. And Minnesota takes its stout running game to Fort Worth to face a formidable TCU defense.
At the same time, one Big Ten program has reason for optimism after Penn State learned the NCAA and Big Ten lifted postseason restrictions just in time for its league opener against Rutgers.
Week 3 Previews and Predictions:
ACC|Big 12|Pac-12| SEC
Week 3 Big Ten Game Power Rankings
All games Saturday. All times Eastern
1. West Virginia at Maryland
Noon, Big Ten Network
With a group of healthy playmakers, Maryland hoped its offense would be the most dynamic of the Randy Edsall era. That hasn’t happened quite yet. Edsall says quarterback C.J. Brown last is trying to be perfect and wide receiver Stefon Diggs is navigating “unfair expectations,” as Edsall says. Brown turned the ball over three times against USF last week, and Diggs is averaging just 8.6 yards per catch. Maryland probably can’t afford another six-turnover game as the Terrapins had against USF last week. West Virginia will test a veteran Maryland defense that has allowed 3.6 yards per play against overmatched competition.
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2. Penn State at Rutgers
8 p.m., Big Ten Network
Few games have become more intriguing thanks to the last two weeks — Penn State now has the possibility of a bowl game and conference championship game this season, and Rutgers proved it has a pulse with a win over Washington State in Seattle in Week 1. In a wild turn of events, Penn State may have the best Playoff profile of any team in the Big Ten with wins over UCF and Akron. The Nittany Lions, though, have yet to put together a complete game on offense, averaging 2.8 yards per carry this season. This could be an important series in the Big Ten as Penn State aims to recruit New Jersey with regularity, but the two programs haven’t faced each other since 1995. Penn State is 22-2 all time agains the Scarlet Knights.
3. Iowa State at Iowa
3:30 p.m., ESPN
After two weeks, Kirk Ferentz probably didn’t envision quarterback Jake Rudock leading his team in rushing (53 yards) and needing 93 pass attempts to beat Northern Iowa and Ball State. The Hawkeyes offense is a major concern against rival Iowa State, especially with uncertainty surrounding star offensive tackle Brandon Scherff. Asked directly if Scherff had knee surgery as reported by KCRG in Cedar Rapids, Ferentz did not offer a definitive answer. Scherff returned to play and spoke during postgame interviews. Defensive end Drew Ott, who had 13 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss against Ball State, was involved in a scooter accident but is expected to play against the 0-2 Cyclones.
4. Minnesota at TCU
4 p.m., Fox Sports 1
Who would have thought the odd Minnesota-TCU game would have storylines besides the namesake of two individual postseason awards (Bronko Nagurski of Minnesota vs. Davey O’Brien of TCU)? Minnesota coach Jerry Kill was TCU coach Gary Patterson’s best man, and Gophers defensive coaches routinely visit with the Horned Frogs during the offseason. “I didn’t want to play it.” Kill said. “No question about that and I think he had the same feeling. ... But I’m not the boss. I’m the football coach.” From an on-field standpoint, this will be an intriguing matchup of running back David Cobb (291 rushing yards in two games) against a traditionally stout TCU defense.
5. Nebraska at Fresno State
10:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Nebraska heads West after a close call with McNeese State in which the Cornhuskers needed a wild catch-and-run by Ameer Abdullah to seal the win. Where to start? Nebraska’s defense gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns on a pair of extended drives. The Cornhuskers need defensive end Randy Gregory to return from a knee injury to improve a pass rush that has recorded two sacks this season. Nebraska will try to get its other star player, Abdullah, more involved. Before his game-winning TD, Abdullah had accounted for 92 yards from scrimmage on 19 touches. Fresno State might not be a vintage Bulldogs squad — they’ve been outscored 111-40 in two games this season.
6. Indiana at Bowling Green
Is this a new era for the Indiana defense or the product of a weak opponent in Week 1? Probably the latter, but the Hoosiers have to be encouraged by holding Indiana State to 3.0 yards per play and recording four sacks. Indiana also attempted only 18 passes, the fewest of the Kevin Wilson era, while rushing for 455 yards. Meanwhile, preseason MAC favorite Bowling Green is playing without starting quarterback Matt Johnson, who is out for the season.
7. Illinois at Washington
4 p.m., Fox
For the third week in a row, a Big Ten team goes to the Pacific Northwest where Rutgers defeated Washington State and Michigan State lost to Oregon. The seasons for Illinois and Washington have played out in similar fashion, each with a close win over an FCS and a non-Power 5 opponent. That probably says more about Washington, a team picked third in the Pac-12 North, compared to Illinois, picked near the bottom of the Big 12. Illinois will hope for a shootout, putting in the game in the hands of Wes Lunt. The Oklahoma State transfer has passed for 741 yards and seven touchdowns while completing 67 percent of his passes. Washington’s may be happy to oblige after giving up 52 points in a win over Eastern Washington last week.
8. Kent State at Ohio State
Ohio State’s start against Kent State will be worth watching after the Buckeyes have come up empty on opening drives in the first two games of the season. Ohio State went four-and-out against Navy and three-and-out against Virginia Tech, contributing to a 28-13 combined deficit at halftime this season. “Maybe it’s the way we practice,” Meyer said. “I’m looking at everything. Maybe it’s the play calling. Maybe I’ve conservative with who we have in there right now, but we’re beyond that now.” Ohio State also expects Noah Spence back after he was suspended for three games dating back to the Orange Bowl due to a positive drug test.
9. Miami (Ohio) at Michigan
3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Miami (Ohio) may be just the opponent Michigan needs to see for a confidence boost after a 31-0 loss to Notre Dame. The RedHawks have lost 18 in a row, the longest active losing streak in the country. Michigan’s roster is in flux. Raymon Taylor left the Notre Dame loss with injuries, so did star receiver Devin Funchess, who tried to re-enter the game for a series after a leg injury. Five-star freshman cornerback Jabrill Peppers was on the sideline in uniform but did not play. Michigan also is working tight end Jake Butt back into the lineup after a torn ACL ended his 2013 season. He should be a boost to an offense that didn’t reach the red zone against the Irish. Starting linebacker Desmond Morgan has also been sidelined.
10. Purdue at Notre Dame
7:30 p.m., NBC
Purdue coach Darell Hazell re-opened the quarterback competition after Danny Etling went 17-of-32 for 126 yards with two interceptions in a 38-17 loss to Central Michigan. Sophomore Austin Appleby could get an extended look, but it might not make a major difference against a Notre Dame team that has won eight of the last nine meetings.
Off: Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Week 3 Big Ten Staff Picks
West Va. at Maryland (-4)
Indiana (-7) at Bowling Green
Kent State at Ohio State (-32)
Miami U at Michigan (-31)
Iowa State at Iowa (-10)
Minnesota at TCU (-15)
Illinois at Washington (-12)
Purdue at Notre Dame (-29)
Penn State at Rutgers (-4)
Nebraska at Fresno State (-11)