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September 18, 2008

Big Ten: Undefeated teams are unproven

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Pac-10 | SEC

The Big Ten's catch phrase this year is: Big Life, Big Stage, Big Ten.

The conference is one of three BCS leagues to boast five 3-0 teams. There's Penn State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Iowa and Wisconsin. And Indiana, which was off last Saturday, is 2-0.

Impressive?

Among the "juggernauts" these 3-0 Big Ten teams have defeated are: Montana State, Coastal Carolina, Southern Illinois and Florida International. The Hoosiers have knocked off Western Kentucky and Murray State.

Here's the factoid that matters. The Big Ten is 5-5 vs. BCS schools. And, scrutiny reveals even that average record is inflated.

Northwestern has toppled bottom-feeders from the Big East (Syracuse) and ACC (Duke).

Penn State whipped a bad Oregon State team and a horrid Syracuse squad.

Iowa trumped a rebuilding Iowa State club.

In the matchups vs. marquee BCS foes, Michigan State lost at California, Illinois was dumped by Missouri, Purdue fell to Oregon and Michigan got hammered at Notre Dame. And, of course, Ohio State was thoroughly humiliated at USC.

What has been the Big Ten's most impressive non-conference win? Wisconsin's 13-10 escape from No. 21 Fresno State last Saturday night.

The Big Ten is 6-0 vs. the MAC this year. But that perfect mark is in peril with high-flying and 3-0 Ball State playing at Indiana on Saturday.

Expect the Big Ten to beat its chest after Minnesota (Florida Atlantic), Northwestern (Ohio), Iowa (Pittsburgh) and Penn State (Temple) emerge from this weekend 4-0. But, don't be impressed. Big Life, Big Stage, Big Ten big deal.

  • PLAYER TO WATCH
  • Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer. Hoyer was expected to be one of the Big Ten's best passers. But he ranks last in the conference in passing efficiency. He has completed just 44 percent of his passes (33 of 75) with one touchdown and two interceptions. MSU wanted to make a statement it could run the ball against Eastern Michigan (8-for-12 passing). And the Florida Atlantic game (5-for-15 passing) was played in soggy conditions. In an opening loss at Cal, Hoyer failed to step up. The competition this week against an improving Notre Dame defense will be his toughest challenge yet. The Irish will be the first blitzing, man-to-man defense he has faced, and Hoyer could thrive. He'll need to if Michigan State wants to make it nine wins in the past 12 games vs. the Irish.

  • MATCHUP TO WATCH
  • THE SCHEDULE
    Saturday
    Florida Atlantic at Minnesota noon
    Ohio at Northwestern noon
    Troy at Ohio State noon
    Temple at Penn State noon
    Central Michigan at Purdue noon
    Iowa at Pittsburgh noon
    Notre Dame at Michigan State 3:30 p.m.
    Ball State at Indiana 7 p.m.

    Indiana QB Kellen Lewis vs. Ball State QB Nate Davis. This might be the best quarterback duel in the nation this week. Lewis and Davis are wondrous playmakers with their feet, able to turn a bad play into a good one. What makes them even better is their ability to pass effectively. Davis ranks No. 6 in the nation in passing efficiency, completing 66 of 88 passes (75 percent) for 916 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. He also has carried seven times for 44 yards in wins over Northeastern, Navy and Akron. Lewis ranks 53rd in efficiency. He is 32 of 48 passing (66.7 percent) for 314 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. But he hasn't been asked to throw much in the Hoosiers' first two games. Lewis has dominated as a runner with 183 yards on 10 carries with two scores.

  • WHO'S HOT
  • So much for those quarterback worries at Penn State. Daryll Clark is the Big Ten's most efficient passer. He is completing 60.3 percent of his attempts with five TDs and no interceptions. Michigan State RB Javon Ringer paces the Big Ten and ranks third in the nation in rushing (166 ypg). He also leads the nation in scoring, with nine rushing TDs. Ringer is coming off a career day in a win over Florida Atlantic, carrying 43 times for 282 yards. The last Big Ten back to crack the 280-mark was Wisconsin's Anthony Davis, who bolted for 301 yards vs. Minnesota in 2002. Ringer is one of five Big Ten backs who rank among the nation's top 20 rushers. The others: Purdue's Kory Sheets (seventh, 130.5); Wisconsin's P.J. Hill (eighth, 126.3); Iowa's Shonn Greene (11th, 119.7); Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton (19th, 103.7). A secret to Minnesota's success? Turnover margin. The Golden Gophers are a Big Ten-best plus-8, which is third best in America. Northwestern DE Corey Wootton has 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks after collecting just seven TFLs and one sack in 2007.

  • WHO'S NOT
  • After ripping Missouri for 451 yards passing and five scoring throws in the season opener, Illinois QB Juice Williams has completed just 29 of 50 of his passes for 271 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in wins over Eastern Illinois and Louisiana-Lafayette. Michigan's offense ranks last in the Big Ten (290.7 ypg) and 101st in the nation. Even worse: The Wolverines have the Big Ten's lowest scoring offense (18.7 ppg), 95th nationally. One more kick in the gut: a turnover margin (-1.00) that is 11th in the Big Ten and 96th in the country. Purdue's Curtis Painter is the 11th-rated quarterback in the conference. He has hit just 52.6 percent of his passes with just two touchdowns and two interceptions. Ohio State QB Todd Boeckman is the ninth-rated passer in the Big Ten. He also has committed 10 turnovers in his last six games.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • "We knew it was going to be a possibility. If that is what's best for the team, then I think we should do it. We like changing it up because it seems to open the offense up more and keep the defense on its heels." -- Ohio State guard Ben Person on using a two-quarterback system

    "He's going to be the starter, yeah. He played well enough in that game (Notre Dame) for us to have confidence in it. Nick (Sheridan) is still in the picture, too. Nick was put in a tough situation. We were behind, and he tried to maybe force a few things." -- Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez on if Steven Threet has won the quarterback job

    "We're all here for the common purpose of winning football games. To have a battle between two players on the same team, it's nonsense. There's no room for it, especially here." --Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi on his competition with Jake Christensen

    "Can a guy play any better? I have said that I wouldn't trade him for any guy in America and I think the kid is playing as good as any wide receiver in America." -- Minnesota coach Tim Brewster on Big Ten-leading WR Eric Decker

  • ETC.
  • Ohio State expects to use QBs Todd Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor equally in this week's game vs. Troy. Buckeye RB Chris Wells is listed as questionable for the game. He still is recovering from a right big toe injury. Ohio State G Steve Rehring is out with a foot injury. Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin are off this week. The Badgers were originally scheduled to play Virginia Tech, but the school moved the game back to after 2012. Why? When the Big Ten schedule for 2008 was announced, the Badgers found themselves opening league play vs. Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. As of midweek, Iowa still hadn't announced if Ricky Stanzi or Jake Christensen would start at quarterback at Pitt. This will be Purdue's third meeting with Central Michigan in the past two years. The Boilermakers toppled the Chippewas 45-22 in the regular season in 2007 and then beat CMU 51-48, in the Motor City Bowl. Indiana coach Bill Lynch will face his former employer when Ball State comes to Bloomington. Lynch went 37-53 as Cardinals coach from 1995-2002. Iowa plays at Pitt in a homecoming of sorts for Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz. He attended Upper St. Clair High in the Pittsburgh suburbs. Ferentz needs to deliver a win as he continues to rehab a struggling program. And Pitt is equally desperate to protect its home field after already losing to Bowling Green at Heinz Field. Minnesota looks to avenge an embarrassing loss at Florida Atlantic last season, when the Owls won 42-39. A 14-0 win over Penn State in 1941 gave Temple a 3-1 edge in the series. Since, the Nittany Lions are 32-0-1 against the Owls. Temple coach Al Golden was a tight end under Paterno from 1989-91. Owl defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio was a linebacker for Paterno from 1988-91. Iowa redshirt freshman QB Marvin McNutt has been moved to receiver, though he remains the team's No. 3 passer. For the second year in a row, Iowa hasn't allowed any of its first three opponents to score a touchdown. It is believed to be the first time the Hawkeyes have done that since 1923-24. Wisconsin's 13-10 win at Fresno state was the Badgers' first non-conference road victory against a ranked team in the past 50 years (12 games). Wisconsin beat No. 15 Miami (Fla.), 20-0, on Sept. 26, 1958. Since 2003, Purdue is 1-6 in games after a loss by seven or fewer points. The Boilermakers were defeated 32-26 in double overtime by Oregon last week.

    MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Pac-10 | SEC

    Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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