Week 5: Five Things  We Learned About Big Ten Football

Five Things We Learned About Big Ten Football in Week 5. . .

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1, Ohio State can get the White Out—without bleach. But it needs to watch out.

The Buckeyes are, as expected, the class of an unexpectedly uneven Big Ten. Rallying back from a 26-14 deficit to win 27-26 in the final seven minutes is heroic. It takes talent and poise. Outlasting Penn State was no small achievement.

It’s also dangerous to dig that deep of a hole. The 93-yard TD pass by Penn State was the longest in Ohio State history. And it came a week after a 93-yard run by TCU, the longest on the ground in Buckeyes history.

Ohio State had allowed only four plays of at least 90 yards in program history. And Trace McSorley ran for 175 quarterback yards. You won’ find this stuff in the Defense Wins Championships file.

In short, Ohio State, which has allowed 15 plays of 30 yards or more this fall, is playing with fire on defense. That’s especially true with stud defensive lineman Nick Bosa injured.

Yes, they’ll be favored the rest of the way. But they give up big plays. Nobody is going to believe that Michigan, let alone Purdue or Michigan State or Maryland can derail the Buckeyes.

But stranger things have happened.

2, Michigan is having a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Harbaugh season.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

We were all set to anoint the Wolverines. That 24-17 loss at Notre Dame wasn’t looking so bad. That 56-10 rout of Nebraska was looking awfully good.

All the Wolverines had to do was march into sleepy Evanston and cruise past the wounded Wildcats, who had just seen their leading rusher retire for medical reasons and had a quarterback moving around on a surgically repaired knee behind a banged-up offensive line.

So what happened? Northwestern punched Michigan in the mouth, opening a 17-0 lead. And while the Wolverines pulled out a 20-17 win, they trailed for the first 55 minutes.

Ole Miss transfer QB Shea Patterson saved them from disaster with a late game-winning drive. But Patterson has not elevated the maize-and-blue the way optimists had anticipated.

And the vaunted defense has been undressed in the early going at Notre Dame and Northwestern, digging big holes for a shaky offense. That’s no way for a group who were hyped as perhaps the best defense in the nation to act.

The next four games will tell the tale for the skittery Harbaughs. They play host this week to Maryland, which has a much better win (Texas) than Michigan. After that, Michigan will tee it up against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State. And then, of course, there’s that finale at Ohio State.

Bottom line: Michigan needs to get its act together. That performance at Northwestern did not inspire confidence. Jim Harbaugh is coming off an 8-5 season. What happens if the Wolverines lose five again this fall?

3, Nebraska is a disasta.

Nebrasksa meets Wisconsin ``under the lights’’ in Madison on Saturday. Someday, this game will warrant being the featured game in the Big Ten. That day has not arrived yet.

These Cornhuskers—in Year 1 of the Scott Frost Rebuild, or Year Zero, as Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck likes to say—are a source of frustration, rather than pride.

Nebraska is 0-4 for first time since 1945. It has lost eight straight games for the first time in school history. That’s one tough Omaha steak.

``We honestly look like one of the most undisciplined teams in the country, and it kills me,’’ Frost said after Nebraska was whistled 11 times for 136 yards in a 42-28 win over Purdue. ``The people that won’t make good decisions, the people that are hitting people that are three yards out of bounds, if that keeps up I’m just going to ride with the guys that are doing it the right way. We’ve got a lot of warriors on this team and a lot of guys that played well enough to win, but I’m tired of coaching an undisciplined team.’’

Asked what the problem is, Frost took the high road. Which was the right call.

``I’ve got a sense of why but I don’t really want to say why because this is my team, this isn’t somebody else’s team. In order to have a disciplined team, you have to have guys that really care, and guys that are accountable and you have to have an environment where they’re held accountable.’’

Here’s what’s going on, courtesy of TMG Analytics: Nebraska doesn’t have the talent that Frost needs to fulfill the kind of promise he showed in going unbeaten at Central Florida. He especially doesn’t have the pieces he needs to build a winner.

That will change, I expect.

Things are looking pretty grim this fall. But it’s premature and foolish to write off Frost until he can stock the cupboard with the groceries he wants.

We always wonder if a new wizard can turn around a faltering program quickly, especially one with a name like Nebraska. Now we know: That’s not happening in Lincoln this fall.

Let’s check back in 2020.

4, Reports of Northwestern's and Purdue's demise were apparently exaggerated. Or were they?

Back on Aug. 30, Northwestern’s 31-27 win at Purdue was looking promising—for both teams. The Wildcats had scored a big opening win on the road and the Boilermakers, if they could tune out some really dopey first-game mistakes, showed positive signs.

Then Mid-American disaster struck. Purdue lost 20-19 to Eastern Michigan. And NU was shocked 39-34 by Akron.

Heading into October, the two August combatants have reasons for optimism. But they face uncertain futures.

The Boilermakers are riding a two-game winning streak after their 0-3 start. They’ll be expected to get to 3-3 when they travel to Illinois on Oct. 12.

Nothing is guaranteed after that, especially in the Oct. 19 meeting with Ohio State. But there are paths to a second straight bowl trip for Jeff Brohm to silence the critics.

Things look much more difficult for Northwestern. Two of the Wildcats’ next three games (Nebraska and Rutgers) look promising. But first, they make a trip to Michigan State. Sparty is favored by 10½ points, and rightly so. Then again, NU beat the Spartans 39-31 in triple overtime last year. And for all of the Wildcats’ troubles in a 1-3 start, they showed in their 20-17 loss to Michigan Saturday signs that they will find ways to be competitive.

Wisconsin and Notre Dame come to Evanston after this three-game stretch. NU then goes to Iowa dn Minnesota.

That’s a lot to digest. That’s why NU needs to make the most of its trip to East Lansing this week if it’s going to salvage a season that has started shakily.

One thing that will have to change: Northwestern has been shut out in the second half in three of its first four games. (Purdue, Duke, Michigan).

5, Illinois and Rutgers are looking primed for the Tidy Bowl

It’s not a game that will excite anyone outside of their fan bases. But considering that it shapes up as their best chance to get off the schneid in Big Ten play this fall, Illinois’ trip to Piscataway on Saturday ought to be interesting.

Down 24-7 at the half to Indiana on Saturday, Rutgers dug in in the second half of a 24-17 loss. Yeah, it was only Indiana. Then again, the Scarlet Knights had been blown out 149-30 in their previous three ``games.’’

Meanwhile, Illinois is coming off a strange Sept. 21 game in which it led Penn State 24-21 early in the third quarter before buried under a 42-point avalanche and losing 63-24.

The 245 rushing yards in that game are something to build on. And Illinois has an open date to make the most of this Rutgers opportunity.

The signs point to Advantage Illinois. But the 1½-point spread says, ``Not by much.’’

Maybe one of these bottom feeders will another game after this week. But neither one of them will have a better chance.[/membership]