College Football Insider: Let the real season begin

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 26, 2013 - 8:00 PM

Saturday's Wisconsin-Ohio State game will have postseason ramifications.

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Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde scores the game-winning touchdown against Wisconsin in overtime of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, in Madison, Wis. Ohio State won 21-14. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

It’s still September, but the Big Ten Leaders Division title could be decided Saturday night, when Wisconsin visits Ohio State.

The Legends Division looks wide open, with key matchups sprinkled throughout November, but Wisconsin and Ohio State know Saturday’s winner can pretty much punch its ticket to Indianapolis.

The past three matchups between Wisconsin and Ohio State were good theater. In 2010, the Badgers knocked off then-No. 1 Ohio State in Madison. Two years ago in Columbus, with 20 seconds remaining, Braxton Miller hit Devin Smith with a 40-yard touchdown pass, giving the Buckeyes a 33-29 triumph. Last year’s game went to overtime, with Ohio State prevailing 21-14.

“I was here [as an assistant coach at Ohio State] a long time ago, and it was not a rivalry,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. “But you have to give credit to Wisconsin. I think it all started with Coach [Barry] Alvarez, and then the following coaches have done a great job. They are one of, if not, the best programs in the Big Ten right now, and because of that, it’s become a very good rivalry.”

The first four weeks featured so many matchups void of meaning for Big Ten teams that it’ll be good to ratchet up the intensity this week.

According to Jeff Sagarin’s computations in USA Today, which compare all 251 FBS and FCS teams, here’s where Big Ten teams rank in strength of schedule: Purdue (12th), Illinois (53rd), Indiana (72nd), Nebraska (98th), Michigan (110th), Penn State (116th), Northwestern (129th), Iowa (139th), Michigan State (161st), Ohio State (165th), Wisconsin (182nd) and the Gophers (184th).

Heading into Saturday night, these are the two biggest questions facing the Badgers and Buckeyes:

• Will Ohio State’s inexperienced, yet talented front seven find a way to stop Wisconsin’s seemingly unstoppable running back trio of Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement?

“I’m watching this [film] right now, going, ‘My gosh, where do these guys come from?’ ” Meyer said. “I know [White’s] from Fort Lauderdale, but I think the other one’s from [Kenosha], Wisconsin — No. 25 [Gordon] is just a tremendous, tremendous player.

“I haven’t seen the whole country, but I can’t imagine two better backs on the same team.”

The Buckeyes actually might have the Big Ten’s second-best running back unit with Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith and true freshman Ezekiel Elliott.

The running game is crucial for Wisconsin, with Joel Stave’s limitations at quarterback, and the Buckeyes’ ability to use standout cornerback Bradley Roby to neutralize receiver Jared Abbrederis.

Ohio State’s offense is more dynamic, but that leads us to the second question:

• What if Miller looks rusty coming back from his knee injury?

Arizona State showed the way to beat Wisconsin is with pinpoint passing. As good as Miller is, that’s not his strength.

You can’t blame Meyer for saying Miller will start, as long as his knee is fully recovered. After all, Miller is the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. But it has to be tough benching Kenny Guiton, who has 12 touchdown passes over the past three weeks.

Wisconsin’s front seven is loaded with veteran talent, and defensive coordinator David Aranda’s aggressive 3-4 system looks like a good fit for linebacker Chris Borland. If the Badgers can get a few quick stops early, Meyer might have to turn to Guiton for a spark.

It’s the most unexpected quarterback controversy in the country, but the stakes are simply too high this week for sentimentality.

Big Ten short takes

• The NCAA basically admitted to overstepping on its initial Penn State sanctions this week, when it announced the Nittany Lions could have 75 players under scholarship next season (instead of 65) and return to the full allotment of 85 scholarships by 2016 (two years ahead of schedule). As despicable as Jerry Sandusky’s acts were, it wasn’t the NCAA’s place originally to weigh in so heavily on a criminal matter.

• Indiana’s bowl hopes probably were dashed with its Sept. 7 loss to Navy. The Hoosiers fell to 2-2 with last week’s loss to Missouri. But the Hoosiers will pose a real threat to the Gophers when they meet at Indiana on Nov. 2.

As Gerry DiNardo said on Big Ten Network last weekend, “You give Indiana Minnesota’s nonconference schedule, it very well could be 4-0.”

• Maryland and Rutgers look like they will enter the Big Ten with positive momentum next season. Maryland finished 4-8 last year but improved to 4-0 last week with a 37-0 pasting of West Virginia.

Rutgers opened with a 52-51 loss to current No. 25 Fresno State and came back from 17 points down to defeat Bret Bielema’s Arkansas squad last week.

Big Ten power poll

1. Ohio State (4-0): After Wisconsin on Saturday, another good challenge awaits the Buckeyes next week at Northwestern.

2. Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0): This year’s schedule does not include Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska.

3. Northwestern (4-0): The Wildcats have made 19 interceptions in their past seven games.

4. Michigan (4-0): Bye week to think about Akron and Connecticut before the Gophers visit.

5. Michigan State (3-1): The Spartans held Notre Dame to 17 points in South Bend and still lost — ouch.

6. Nebraska (3-1): Huskers fans have seen the future at quarterback, and his name is Tommy Armstrong Jr.

7. Penn State (3-1): Christian Hackenberg’s 13-for-35 passing day came in the rain, with a wet ball.

8. Gophers (4-0): They’ve scored 19 times in 20 trips to the red zone — 15 touchdowns, four field goals.

9. Illinois (2-1): Nathan Scheelhaase leads the Big Ten with 294.7 passing yards per game.

10. Iowa (3-1): Leads the Big Ten in average time of possession per game — 35 minutes, 48 seconds.

11. Indiana (2-2): Predictably, the Hoosiers rank last in Big Ten in scoring defense (32.8 points per game).

12. Purdue (1-3, 0-1): Gave little resistance to Wisconsin, one week after a strong showing against Notre Dame.

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Philadelphia 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Utah 101 FINAL
Orlando 94
Charlotte 109 FINAL
Philadelphia 91
Brooklyn 91 FINAL
Cleveland 95
Washington 105 FINAL
Miami 103
Minnesota 98 FINAL
Boston 114
Toronto 110 FINAL
Detroit 100
Chicago 103 FINAL
Memphis 97
Portland 129 FINAL
San Antonio 119
LA Clippers 106 FINAL
Denver 109
Oklahoma City 104 FINAL
LA Lakers 103
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 3
Anaheim 2 FINAL
Ottawa 6
NY Islanders 2 FINAL
Detroit 1
Boston 1 FINAL
Winnipeg 2
Dallas 2 FINAL
Calgary 1
Wilberforce 71 FINAL
Youngstown St 92
Jackson State 49 FINAL
Tulane 56
Siena 66 FINAL
Radford 76
Stillman 49 FINAL
Alabama 69
Case Western Reserve 65 FINAL
Bucknell 88
Niagara 62 FINAL
Buffalo 88
SD Christian 46 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 69
Concordia (MI) 60 FINAL
Central Mich 97
Northern Ill 55 FINAL
Dartmouth 58
North Florida 83 FINAL
Florida A&M 65
Hiwassee 71 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 91
Tennessee St 54 FINAL
Hampton 66
NC A&T 57 FINAL
Kent State 71
Central Penn College 65 FINAL
Liberty 94
Eastern Ky 72 FINAL
Miami-Florida 44
Northern Ky 83 FINAL
Morehead State 60
Northern Ariz 62 FINAL
Norfolk State 81
MD-Eastern Shore 43 FINAL
Old Dominion 60
St Marys-CA 47 FINAL
St Johns 53
Clemson 45 FINAL
South Carolina 68
Tenn Tech 58 FINAL
Tennessee 61
Washington-MD 46 FINAL
William & Mary 86
Bethune-Cookman 46 FINAL
Mercer 67
Furman 78 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 83
South Dakota St 53 FINAL
CS-Bakersfield 49
Milligan 53 FINAL
Lamar 80
LSU-Alexandria 71 FINAL
ULM 76
Southern Utah 57 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 73
Chattanooga 58 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 68
Seattle 57 FINAL
Minnesota 92
Lipscomb 55 FINAL
Princeton 77
Winthrop 71 FINAL
SE Louisiana 81
Dickinson State 48 FINAL
North Dakota 78
New Orleans 56 FINAL
Southern Ill 52
TX-Pan American 60 FINAL
Creighton 75
Colorado State 85 FINAL
Denver 84
Alabama A&M 49 FINAL
Marquette 83
Ark-Pine Bluff 51 FINAL
Texas Tech 72
Eastern Wash 67 FINAL
California 78
Idaho State 56 FINAL
Utah State 69
Arizona 60 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 55
Hawaii 94 FINAL
Chaminade 63
Nevada 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Ohio Valley 33 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
East Tenn St 48 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 61
Cal-Irvine 44 FINAL
Purdue 69
Campbell 63 FINAL
Stetson 76
Jacksonville St 70 FINAL
Charleston Southern 43
Louisiana 64 FINAL
Alcorn State 57
Denver 63 FINAL
Wright State 72
Blue Mountain 30 FINAL
Central Arkansas 71
Texas State 51 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 40
Albany 62 FINAL
Pepperdine 36
TX-San Antonio 53 FINAL
Houston 56
Yale 66 FINAL
Bucknell 73
Northern Colorado 56 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 69
Belmont 86 FINAL
Mercer 83
Massachusetts 66 FINAL
Georgia State 71
George Mason 69 FINAL
Winthrop 57
Portland State 33 FINAL
Princeton 104
UCLA 71 FINAL
Samford 52
Mobile 30 FINAL
Alabama State 66
Nicholls 49 FINAL
Texas Tech 76
Toledo 65 FINAL
Nevada 56
UMass Lowell 48 FINAL
(13) Duke 95
St Marys-CA 49 FINAL
Virginia 62
McNeese State 55 FINAL
Rice 57
McMurry 49 FINAL
Houston Baptist 69
NJIT 62 FINAL
Seton Hall 74
(6) North Carolina 65 FINAL
Maine 36
Lafayette 58 FINAL
Stony Brook 60
Siena 62 FINAL
Binghamton 53
Longwood 56 FINAL
Clemson 72
Savannah State 51 FINAL
Florida State 97
(19) Syracuse 72 FINAL
(9) Baylor 74
Buffalo 68 FINAL
Manhattan 58
Canisius 43 FINAL
Michigan 79
Davidson 66 FINAL
NC State 82
Northern Ky 63 FINAL
Delaware 58
Saint Louis 81 FINAL
Austin Peay 86
(25) DePaul 64 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 98
Ohio U 74 FINAL
La Salle 63
Florida Atlantic 60 FINAL
Long Beach St 85
Miami-Florida 65 FINAL
Tulane 70
Miss Valley St 39 FINAL
Memphis 62
Ark-Pine Bluff 56 FINAL
UAB 65
Bowling Green 58 FINAL
Illinois State 54
Arkansas State 78 FINAL
Missouri State 62
ULM 42 FINAL
Wichita State 57
(16) Oregon State 71 FINAL
Southern Ill 55
Pacific 67 FINAL
New Mexico St 62
No Dakota State 79 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 86
Utah State 92 FINAL
Sacramento St 102
Bethesda (CA) 61 FINAL
Fresno State 83
Utah Valley U 44 FINAL
Montana 68
LSU 78 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 45

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