Big Ten

Disastrous day for Northwestern in blowout loss to Duke

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USA TODAY

Disastrous day for Northwestern in blowout loss to Duke

A season that started with such promise for Northwestern has taken an unfortunate turn just two weeks into the season.

No, it's not the out-of-nowhere 0-2 start from 2016, but a miserable afternoon of football Saturday down in North Carolina left Northwestern with a 41-17 loss to Duke, a 1-1 record after two games and a big downgrade in the confidence level surrounding this team's prospects for the rest of the season.

The Wildcats were absolutely dominated in every facet Saturday. Just a sampling of the nasty numbers: just 22 total rushing yards as a team, only 18 yards on a paltry seven carries for Justin Jackson and two interceptions from Clayton Thorson. And while the 1-2 punch that it was believed could potentially lead Northwestern to new heights this season did practically nothing on the offensive side of the ball, a banged-up defense was demolished by Daniel Jones and the Duke offense. The quarterback had 413 total yards and four total touchdowns, leading a Blue Devils offense that racked up 538 yards of offense compared to the Cats' meager 191 yards.

Pat Fitzgerald's team played some ugly football for the second straight week. Northwestern opened the season with a 31-20 win over Nevada, but despite being more than three-touchdown favorites in that one the Cats needed two touchdowns in the final five and a half minutes to flip a three-point deficit to an 11-point margin of victory.

Certainly injuries and other bad breaks are partially to blame for the back-to-back underwhelming performances. But this was a team many preseason prognosticators believed could compete for a Big Ten West title. With the offense struggling to stay on the field and the defense getting plowed over — and with those things happening against Nevada and Duke — one wonders how the Cats will be able to correct all this in time for the upgrade in competition come conference play.

Duke more than doubled Northwestern's time of possession. The Devils had more than two and a half times as much yardage as the Cats.

What are those numbers going to look like against the likes of Wisconsin and Penn State?

See how they stack up: Week 3 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 3 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 3 in the books, here’s my top 25.

1. Clemson (3-0)

The defending champs are looking like repeat candidates in the season’s early going, following up a lockdown of Auburn with a throttling of a Louisville team that boasts the reigning Heisman winner.

2. Oklahoma (3-0)

Baker Mayfield and the boys didn’t slow down the Sooner Schooner one bit after the win at Ohio State. Mayfield added 331 yards and four touchdown passes to his Heisman resume in a win over Tulane.

3. Alabama (3-0)

The Tide keep rolling, even if Clemson and Oklahoma have turned in more impressive wins. Bama blew out Colorado State this weekend and gets a surprisingly undefeated Vandy team in its SEC opener.

4. Oklahoma State (3-0)

The competition has been anything but fierce, but Okie State looks unstoppable. Mason Rudolph added nearly 500 yards and five more touchdowns to his Heisman resume this weekend. Bring on Bedlam.

5. Penn State (3-0)

The Lions have two Heisman candidates in their backfield, and they keep turning in monster days. Things could finally get tricky for Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley with Iowa in the Big Ten opener.

6. USC (3-0)

The double-OT win over Texas was one of the best games of the young season. You might have seen shaky play against a bad team. I saw the clutch-est of strips from Christian Rector, a season-saver.

7. Wisconsin (3-0)

The Badgers are absolutely blasting every team they come into contact with these days, the highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten. And now they have a passing attack? Look out.

8. Virginia Tech (3-0)

Things didn’t start so hot for the Hokies against East Carolina, but they ended up dropping 64 points on the Pirates. Josh Jackson has nine total touchdowns and zero interceptions this season.

9. Georgia (3-0)

A 3-0 record and a true freshman at quarterback? Impressive. If the Dawgs can beat their fellow canines in Saturday’s matchup against Mississippi State, then they’ve got something special going on.

10. Michigan (3-0)

The Wolverines’ offense is making folks nervous, and rightfully so with Wilton Speight’s unit not doing much impressing. But the defense continues to look awesome, so stay away from the panic button.

11. West Virginia (2-1)

Since looking good in a one-possession loss to Virginia Tech, the Mountaineers have scored 115 points in their last two games. Will Grier is already over 1,000 yards on the season. In three games!

12. Mississippi State (3-0)

This was supposed to be LSU’s breakout game, but it was Mississippi State’s instead. A jaw-dropping pounding by the Bulldogs, who held the Bayou Bengals to 270 yards.

13. Ohio State (2-1)

If only the Buckeyes could play Army every week, right? The offensive problems have not been exorcised, one must imagine, but Ohio State has a star in running back J.K. Dobbins. Feed him the ball.

14. TCU (3-0)

So much for TCU’s defensive dominance, giving up 36 points to SMU. But the Frogs’ have an offense, too, scoring 56 points on 619 yards. TCU’s outscored opponents 147-43 in three games.

15. Oregon (3-0)

It’s becoming obvious that Josh Allen just isn’t very good when he plays good teams, but still give the Ducks credit for thumping Wyoming. This is really looking like the Oregon teams of old.

16. Vanderbilt (3-0)

Is it up to the Dores to stand in the way of Bama’s annual conquest of the SEC? Vandy's been a feel-good story so far and beat a very good Kansas State team to stay perfect.

17. Duke (3-0)

The Devils can’t stop scoring, and it appears they won’t stop scoring. Three games in and Duke has scored 135 points. Oh, and the Duke defense forced four turnovers in the win over Baylor.

18. Maryland (2-0)

An off week for the Turtles, but Maryland still has the No. 2 scoring offense in college football, averaging 57 points a game!

19. Louisville (2-1)

I don’t blame the Cards for losing to Clemson, but there’s clearly something up with the Louisville defense. It’s allowed 28, 35 and 47 points in three games against Purdue, North Carolina and Clemson.

20. Miami (1-0)
21. Florida State (0-1)

The aftermath of Hurricane Irma postponed what would’ve been a much-anticipated matchup between these two rivals. They’ve still only played one game apiece.

22. Washington State (3-0)

Mike Leach’s team has been predictably good at scoring points. In three games, it has put up 130 of them. A USC-Oregon-Cal stretch, however, lies on the other side of Saturday’s game against Nevada.

23. Iowa (3-0)

The Hawkeyes have been mighty impressive through three games. New quarterback Nathan Stanley leads the Big Ten with 10 touchdown passes, and Iowa has 99 points in three wins.

24. Cal (3-0)

It wasn’t the prettiest game between Cal and Ole Miss, with a bunch of turnovers. But the Golden Bears won the second half 20-0 and came back to move to 3-0.

25. Auburn (2-1)

Auburn’s lack of offense against Clemson is looking more and more understandable. But only beating Mercer 24-10 is going to take some explaining.

Others receiving votes:

San Diego State (3-0)

CSNChicago.com White Sox Insider Dan Hayes will appreciate the Aztecs love. They’ve got two wins over Pac-12 teams already this season, including a takedown of Stanford — Stanford! —this weekend.

Washington (3-0)

You’re almost there, Huskies. Win at Colorado like you won easy home games against Montana and Fresno State and you’ll be ranked.

Texas Tech (2-0)

The Red Raiders will never not score a million points. The strength of schedule has actually been decent, too, 108 points in two wins over strong FCS program Eastern Washington and Pac-12 foe Arizona State.

Memphis (2-0)

Through three weeks, the Game of the Year award goes to Memphis’ win over UCLA. The highly entertaining four hours featured a billion points — and some key defensive plays by Memphis.

Kansas State (2-1)

Narrowly missing out on a big road win at Vandy. K-State is still a good team and held a 3-0 SEC team to 270 total yards.

South Florida (3-0)

You don’t get too much love for beating up on the Illini, but USF’s offense has been very good so far in 2017 — despite the slow starts. Nearly 700 yards in Friday night’s win.

Purdue > SEC: Ten big things from the weekend in Big Ten football

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Purdue > SEC: Ten big things from the weekend in Big Ten football

Choo choo!

The Big Ten better look out because here comes the Purdue train rolling down the tracks.

We'll see if the to-this-point impressive Boilermakers can remain competitive once Jeff Brohm gets his first taste of Big Ten football. But through three games, Purdue has looked a new team and a new program, most recently going on the road and blowing out an SEC team.

So, yeah, Purdue > SEC.

Read on for more about the Boilers and the rest of the 10 big things from the weekend in Big Ten football.

1. It just means more

Allow me and the rest of Big Ten Country some schadenfreude when the Big Ten’s supposedly bottom-feeding program rolls into an SEC stadium and rolls out with a 35-3 blowout win … even if it did come against my alma mater.

While it’s clear the Chase Daniel-Jeremy Maclin glory days are long, long gone at Mizzou, could we be witnessing the dawn of a new golden era of Purdue football? Jeff Brohm has three games under his belt as the Boilermakers’ head coach, and his team has impressed in all of them. First there was the hanging tough with Louisville, followed by a Friday-night beatdown of Ohio and now a shocking 30-point smoking of an SEC team. Holy Boilermakers, Batman!

Sure, the Fighting Tigers are not what they used to be. This is a team that allowed 43 points to an FCS school in Week 1 and fired its defensive coordinator after a Week 2 loss to South Carolina. But Purdue hadn’t won back-to-back games in half a decade. Let that soak in.

With the Purdue defense keeping Mizzou completely out of the end zone, things get real interesting for Week 4’s conference-opener against Michigan, an offense that hasn’t been all that impressive through its first three games. Are the Boilers going to upset the Wolverines? A wild thought that you would have laughed at three weeks ago all of a sudden seems not that impossible.

Boiler. Up.

2. It’s getting hot in Lincoln … so fire your head coach?

Mike Riley’s hot seat is getting real hot. He can thank his hand-picked quarterback for that after Tanner Lee threw a pair of pick sixes in Nebraska’s ultra-embarrassing home loss to Northern Illinois on Saturday. While NIU has made a habit of going into Big Ten stadiums and coming out with shocking wins (four of ‘em in the last five years, to be precise), Nebraska had no business losing this one — and yet it did.

The problems have been myriad over the season’s first three weeks for the Huskers. They were defensively inept in their first two games, surrendering 78 combined points to Arkansas State and Oregon. Then came Saturday’s disaster, in which the offense fell off a cliff and was stopped on two late drives by a MAC team. Lee threw three interceptions in all, including one on fourth down on the team’s final possession, an absolutely abysmal quartet of plays.

And so Riley’s job status is obviously a big topic of conversation this week. Riley’s hiring is not aging well. Made the main man in football-mad Lincoln after a career of middling mediocrity at lowly Oregon State, Riley getting the gig was a bit of a head-scratcher then. And it’s still one now, meaning maybe athletics director Shawn Eichhorst has some blame to shoulder for the state of Nebraska football.

Rutgers and Illinois in back-to-back games to start conference play could turn a sour 1-2 start into a slightly more acceptable 3-2 beginning heading into the Wisconsin-Ohio State gauntlet in early October. But it’s hard to see Nebraska emerging from the other side of that with a better-than-.500 record. Meaning Riley’s seat is going to stay hot.

3. Best way to fix the Buckeyes’ offense

Truthfully, the best way to fix Ohio State’s seemingly broken offense was to play Army. Mission accomplished. A week after getting trucked by an unstoppable Sooner Schooner, the Buckeyes easily dispatched of the Black Knights from West Point. So, problem solved?

It unfortunately won’t be that easy, as the Big Ten doesn’t have too many Army-caliber teams for J.T. Barrett and company to beat up on. But there seemed to be one obvious solution reached in Saturday’s win: Give the ball to J.K. Dobbins. The true freshman running back is already starting over last year’s freshman sensation in the backfield, Mike Weber. Weber’s been a bit banged up at times, which partially explains Dobbins’ ascension, but Dobbins’ play likely did most of the convincing when Urban Meyer was given the possibility of Dobbins topping the depth chart.

Saturday, Dobbins got 13 carries and did incredible work with them, rushing for 172 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Give the kid the ball. Like all the time.

Barrett was back, kind of, after that horror show against Oklahoma, completing all but eight of his 33 passing attempts, racking up more than 300 total yards and accounting for three touchdowns (two throwing, one rushing). He’s now the Big Ten’s all-time leader in touchdowns responsible for, a mouthful of a stat but a remarkable accomplishment, nonetheless. Guy whose record he broke? Drew Brees. Ever hear of him?

4. Lack of offense a reason to panic in Ann Arbor?

Last season’s string of blowout wins? That doesn’t look likely to be repeated by this year’s Michigan team, which through three weeks has an offense that can’t seem to move the ball or produce many points. Problematic, as those are the two main goals of a college football offense.

While Wolverines fans weren’t too enamored with Wilton Speight last season, he’s inspiring little to no confidence without last season’s cadre of pass-catching weapons like Jake Butt, Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson. Instead, with a new receiving corps, Speight isn’t doing much of anything. The Michigan offense only accumulated 359 yards in Saturday’s win over Air Force. Through three weeks, the Wolverines rank an unimpressive eighth in the conference in scoring offense.

Now, do these offensive woes mean it’s time to freak out? Not at all, really, because it seems that Michigan’s defense is better than anyone could’ve hoped considering it had 10 starters to replace this season. That defense looks as good as any in the conference right now (it ranks second in the league, allowing 208 yards a game) and seems like it could win any game for the Wolverines.

Michigan is very much in the hunt for a conference title, especially with Ohio State looking so vulnerable. But get used to the reality that if wins start stacking up, they’ll come in sweat-em-out fashion as compared to last year’s blowouts.

5. Cats back!

After a couple of rough showings in the season’s first two games, Northwestern woke up and responded to a beatdown of a loss at Duke last weekend, crushing Bowling Green by six touchdowns on Saturday. Those ugly performances against Nevada (a win) and Duke (a loss) featured a struggling offense. In Week 1, the Cats were trailing in the fourth quarter. In Week 2, the Cats couldn’t do much of anything, with a banged-up Justin Jackson limited to seven carries and Clayton Thorson throwing two picks.

Well, those struggles were distant memories Saturday night, with the Northwestern offense doing just about whatever it wanted under the lights at Ryan Field. Jackson was back to his usual self, rushing for 121 yards and three touchdowns. Thorson was 23-for-30 for 370 yards and two touchdowns, a huge day. As for the preseason mystery of who’d be catching Thorson’s passes? Well, Thorson found a couple go-to guys Saturday: Garrett Dickerson went for 150 yards on nine catches, and Bennett Skowronek caught three passes for 86 yards and two touchdowns.

It might have just been a cleansing matchup against Bowling Green. Back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Penn State will be monumental challenges for this team. But the Cats looked far closer to what was expected in the preseason than what we saw in Weeks 1 and 2.

6. #TraceTheHeisman

Back at Mizzou, we had the phrase “Chase the Heisman” to support the now twice-mentioned Chase Daniel’s Heisman campaign. Well, maybe Penn State should adopt “Trace the Heisman” for its quarterback. While that phrase makes no sense, the notion that McSorley is one of the Big Ten’s more legit Heisman candidates does make some sense.

The Penn State signal-caller — and home run hitter — had another big day in the Nittany Lions’ 56-0 blasting of Georgia State on Saturday. He needed just 18 completions to rack up 309 yards and four touchdowns, also getting into the end zone on one of his three carries. Through three weeks, McSorley has led Penn State’s high-octane offense to the tune of 753 yards and nine touchdown passes, plus a pair of touchdown rushes.

Thing is, McSorley, as it’s well known, might not even be the top Heisman candidate in his own backfield. Saquon Barkley might have rushed for only 47 yards this weekend, but he’s an obvious threat in the passing game and he racked up 142 receiving yards and a touchdown catch. Let’s check in on Barkley’s Heisman resume through three games: 548 combined rushing/receiving yards and five total touchdowns. So, you know, pretty good.

7. Does Wisconsin have the Big Ten’s best offense?

Don’t look now, but the most electric offense in the Big Ten through three weeks belongs to the Wisconsin Badgers, who despite not really playing anyone terrific are blasting every team they come into contact with. You might not have believed your eyes this past weekend, with the Badgers doing work through the air.

While the Wisconsin ground game is the stuff of legend, the passing attack has been hit-or-miss in recent years. Not so Saturday at BYU, with quarterback Alex Hornibrook throwing four touchdown passes in the 40-6 romp. He was nearly perfect, too, completing 18 of his 19 passes.

Combine Hornibrook’s big day with a to-be-expected huge day from a Badger running back — Jonathan Taylor went for 128 yards and a touchdown — and you’ve got an offense that’s racked up 130 points in three weeks. Wisconsin’s offense is tops in the conference and 16th in the country with 511 yards per game.

8. The Illini continue to be young … and that’s about it

Illinois is going through some growing pains. The Illini are a very young team, and their trend of throwing that youth on the field continued this weekend. They started 10 true freshmen in Friday night’s loss to South Florida, breaking a program record set just a week earlier.

Thing is, that youth isn't having much success out there in its first taste of college football. Illinois was throttled by USF, losing by 24 points. A defense that started five true freshmen gave up almost 700 yards of offense. The Illinois offense didn’t fare much better, with starting quarterback Chayce Crouch plucked from the game and replaced with Jeff George Jr.

The point that I’ve been making throughout the season’s first three weeks remains the same: All this youth is a good thing, in that it shows Lovie Smith is recruiting guys who are better than the players who were there when he was hired. But the flip side of that is it takes those guys a while to get their footing. And in the meantime come games like Friday’s — games that haven’t necessarily been rare for the Illini in recent seasons.

9. Is Nathan Stanley already one of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks?

Iowa’s quarterback position was a big ol’ mystery following the graduation of C.J. Beathard. But Nathan Stanley has solved that mystery in a hurry, and in three games he’s already become one of the conference’s most-productive signal-callers. He threw just nine passes in 2016, but he’s been pretty fantastic during Iowa’s 3-0 start.

The sophomore Hawkeye — who being from Menomonie, Wisconsin, managed to elude both the Badgers and nearby Golden Gophers — leads the conference with 10 touchdown passes in three games. He’s passed for 655 yards and only thrown one interception. And all the while the Iowa offense has kind of been a point-producing machine, scoring 99 points in those three games. That includes the 31 points and two Stanley touchdowns from this weekend’s win over North Texas.

10. No running on the boat

If you’ve yet to be impressed by Minnesota, that’s OK. The Fightin’ Flecks narrowly beat Buffalo in the season-opener and then blew out Oregon State and Middle Tennessee State. But they’re 3-0 and don’t figure to be in a game where they’re a big underdog until at least the end of October.

What you do need to know about the Golden Gophers, though, is that they have a remarkable run defense through three weeks. Again, that level of competition hasn’t been super great. But Minnesota is allowing an average of just 59 rushing yards a game, tops in the conference and fourth in the nation.

And the rest!

— Rutgers bounced back nicely after that embarrassing loss to Eastern Michigan, putting a 65-0 whooping on FCS foe Morgan State.

— Indiana’s game against Florida International was canceled in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

— Michigan State and Maryland were off this weekend. Both remain undefeated.