The Big Ten will have to wait another week to have a good grip on its College Football Playoff hopes.
Perhaps that seems an obvious statement considering it’s Week 2. But imagine if Wisconsin hadn’t collapsed in the second half against LSU. The narrative, heading into a week in which Michigan State faces Oregon, would be that the Big Ten could have multiple Playoff contenders.
Instead, Wisconsin has more questions than answers, and the best hope for the Playoff remains a team that could be eliminated in Week 2.
Ohio State’s post-Braxton offense settled in
Facing the Navy triple option messes with a ton of teams, including those with a significant talent edge. No reason to panic unless Virginia Tech causes, problems, too. Instead, the first start for J.T. Barrett is the focus here. He went 8-of-11 for 96 yards with an interception in the first half but was flawless in the second. He settled in after halftime to go 4-for-4 for 130 yards with two touchdowns. He also rushed for 39 yards in the second half compared to 11 in the first. Barrett won’t have as much time to feel his way out this week against a stout Virginia Tech secondary.
Michigan State is ready
Jacksonville State is no one’s idea of a formidable defense for the Big Ten favorite and defending Rose Bowl champion. Still, Michigan State was impressive enough in this scrimmage, exhibition — whatever — to warrant mention heading into Oregon, arguably the most important game for the Big Ten in 2014. Connor Cook was 12-of-13 for 285 yards with three touchdowns, and Tony Lippett caught four passes for 167 yards with two touchdowns before the break. Michigan State will need that kind of explosiveness (TDs of 64 and 71 yards) to beat the Ducks.
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Penn State’s offense is still a work in progress
Christian Hackenberg was fantastic, becoming the Penn State’s first 400-yard passer with 454 yards against UCF. Give credit to Geno Lewis (eight catches, 173 yards and a touchdown) and DaeSean Hamilton (11-165-0) for becoming playmakers in the absence of Allen Robinson. Expect Penn State to continue to be creative, though, to mask its thin offensive line. The Nittany Lions averaged just two yards per carry against UCF. Also, expect a lot of Hackenberg on first down: He averaged 10.9 yards on 22 attempts on first down (17 completions) while the run game averaged just 3.9 yards per carry.
Wisconsin could be in deep trouble
On paper — a phrase maybe we shouldn’t use after an eventful Week 1 — Wisconsin won’t need to do any of its heavy lifting for the Big Ten West until November. The Badgers will face only two 2013 bowl teams (Bowling Green and Maryland) between now and Nov. 15. The Wisconsin team that allowed 21 unanswered points in the second half against LSU, though, could be in trouble even against a mediocre opponent. Will that team show up again? The Badgers are hopeful defensive linemen Warren Herring and Konrad Zagzebski will be back within the next two games. Meanwhile, Melvin Gordon’s mysterious fourth-quarter absence now has been attributed to a hip injury. Even if all are healthy for the Big Ten season, Wisconsin needs more out of its dismal passing game (8-of-24, 50 yards, two interceptions).
Rutgers can be a tough out in the Big Ten
Rutgers’ 41-38 win over Washington State in Seattle was a surprise, but let’s wait a bit before making any more lofty projections. The Scarlet Knights had an almost identical game offensively in last year’s opener on the road against Fresno State. The Scarlet Knights again proved that as long as they’re not turning the ball over, this can be a formidable offense with Paul James and Leonte Carroo. A great start, for sure, but sustaining it through the course of a schedule that includes road trips to Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan State and Maryland (plus home dates with Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin) will be tough.
Big Ten Power Rankings
W, Jax State 45-7
W, Navy 34-17
W, FAU 55-7
W, UCF 26-24
W, Appalachian St. 52-14
at Notre Dame
W, Northern Iowa 31-23
L, LSU 28-24
W, Eastern Illinois 42-20
W, James Madison 52-7
W, Washington St. 41-38
W, Indiana State 28-10
L, Cal 31-24
W, Youngstown State 28-17
W, Western Michigan 43-34