Congratulations, Nebraska and Penn State, you represent the Big Ten’s last hope.
A week after the Big Ten’s top Playoff contenders dropped key games, the league’s underbelly proved to be just as soft.
Minnesota, Maryland, Iowa and Indiana all took their turns with out-of-conference losses, leaving Nebraska and Penn State as the league’s last two unblemished team.
As Nebraska returned to form, Penn State had another close call that resulted in a win at Rutgers, the team that claims the Big Ten’s only win against a Power 5 program.
No, it wasn’t a pretty week in the Big Ten. Here’s what we learned:
The embarrassment continues
Entering Week 3, the Big Ten had no way to atone for a Week 2 that all but seemed to take the league out of the Playoff. All this week — with Maryland hosting West Virginia, Iowa State hosting Iowa and Minnesota visiting TCU — could do was keep the bottom from falling out. The Big Ten couldn’t even manage that. Big Ten teams lost to three Big 12 teams, lost in a rout in the Pacific Northwest and added a third loss this season to a MAC team. The Big Ten is 1-11 against the other Power 5 conferences and Notre Dame this season. The lone win, Rutgers over Washington State in Seattle — came from a team that lost a league game Saturday. Only Penn State and Nebraska, which hosts Miami next week, remain unscathed.
Listen to the Week 3 recap podcast:
Hackenberg’s two-minute magic strikes again
Penn State’s offense isn’t pretty to watch. The run game, again, was a liability at 1.9 yards per carry against Rutgers. Even quarterback Christian Hackenberg had a spotty game thanks to five sacks. The sophomore has a knack for pressure situations, though, as he spoiled what Rutgers hoped would be a signature win in its Big Ten debut. Hackenberg was 3-for-4 for 84 yards on the game-winning drive of a 13-10 win, the second time he’s marched Penn State down the field in the fourth quarter for a victory. These things are becoming commonplace for a quarterback who has played only 15 games.
Michigan, Ohio State bounced back
Let’s not say this is anything other than it is — which is Big Ten name teams beating up on MAC teams on hard times. And apparently in this league in 2014, MAC wins aren’t automatic. Michigan got a key contributor back at full strength in tight end Jake Butt, who caught three passes for 59 yards and a touchdown in the absence of Devin Funchess. Meanwhile, Ohio State got production out of its tailbacks after they were absent last week. Curtis Samuel, Ezekiel Elliott and Warren Ball combined for 206 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. Meanwhile, J.T. Barrett came back from his rough start against the Virginia Tech secondary to complete 23-of-30 passes with six touchdowns.
Iowa has gone from sleeper team to major disappointment
The schedule set up so nicely for Iowa. No Ohio State. No Michigan State. No Michigan. Wisconsin and Nebraska at home. That was enough to make Iowa a sneaky pick in the Big Ten West. No one really accounted for this Iowa team being lousy. A week after dodging a loss to Ball State (which turned around and lost to Indiana State), the Hawkeyes lost 20-17. All-America offensive tackle Brandon Scherff is playing hurt. The run game is dismal (3.6 yards per carry). And the offense is so conservative that a winless opponent needed only 337 total yards to win on the road. At this rate, the easy schedule may be what Iowa needs just to get to a bowl.
The McNeese State game was an aberration for Nebraska
That’s what the Big Ten has to hope, right? The league will grasp at all it can get, and a 55-19 rout at Fresno State has to count for something. Nebraska’s offense was back in its Week 1 form with 280 rushing, 282 passing and 8.5 yards per play. End Randy Gregory returned to the lineup, and although he didn’t record a sack, Nebraska doubled its season total with four sacks against the Bulldogs.
Big Ten Week 4 Power Rankings
W, Fresno State 55-19
W, Rutgers 13-10
W, Kent State 66-0
W, Miami (Ohio) 34-10
L, Penn State 13-10
L, Iowa State 20-17
L, West Virginia 40-37
L, TCU 30-7
San Jose State
L, Washington 44-19
L, Bowling Green 45-42
L, Notre Dame 30-14