Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 1

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 1
September 1, 2013, 6:45 pm
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Vinnie Duber

Week 1 is in the books, at least for the Big Ten.

While there's very little to glean from the performances of the Big Ten teams in the season's first week given the generally low quality of their opponents, there were still some semblances of impressions to be made. Let's take a look at how the Big Ten teams stack up.

1. Wisconsin Badgers

Anyone who was concerned that the Badgers wouldn't be able to replace Montee Ball might have had those concerns alleviated Saturday when the new backfield stars in Madison ran all over UMass. Melvin Gordon and James White ran for a combined 287 yards (144 and 143, respectively) and each had a touchdown run of 50 yards or more, with Gordon's going for 70 yards in the second quarter of Wisconsin's 45-0 whitewashing of the visiting Minutemen. Heck, even the third-stringer, freshman Corey Clement, went for over 100 yards. All in all it was a 393-yard rushing day for the Badgers as the Wisconsin running machine just keeps on humming to perfection. And, oh yeah, pitching a shutout isn't too shabby either.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

The presumptive favorite for the Big Ten conference championship, Ohio State looked very impressive throughout its 40-20 win over Buffalo in Columbus on Saturday. Braxton Miller had a few explosive throws -- including Ohio State's first pass play of the game, which resulted in a 47-yard touchdown -- and running back Jordan Hall made people feel, at the very least, content over the remaining time on Carlos Hyde's suspension. Hall ran for 159 yards and two touchdowns -- scoring dashes of 49 and 37 yards -- and looked great doing it. Sure, MAC team Buffalo stayed within 10 well into the third quarter, but one of its three touchdowns was an interception return. Call it a younger defense still gathering its feet.

3. Michigan Wolverines

The Wolverines won't be given many style points for their 59-9 clobbering of Central Michigan, but it was one huge margin of victory nonetheless. The red flags, if any red flags can pop up in the first game of the season, are certainly there for Devin Gardner, who's taking over at quarterback for the departed Denard Robinson. Gardner threw a pair of picks Saturday and completed just 10 passes. If you add together his passing and rushing yardage, he comes to a respectable 214 yards. Suffice to say, he's got some work to do. The Wolverines got a total team effort, with four different players combining for six rushing touchdowns. They'll need a similar one next week if they want to beat Notre Dame.

[More: Brian Kelly downplays Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry]

4. Penn State Nittany Lions

It wasn't a very exciting game, with mostly field goals dotting the score sheet, but there's plenty of reason for head coach Bill O'Brien and the rest of the Penn State faithful to be excited. Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg was terrific in his debut, throwing for 278 yards and two touchdowns, both of which were for more than 50 yards. It's true he threw a pair of interceptions, so perhaps "terrific" was a bit of an overstatement. But eight different receivers caught passes for the Lions, with Allen Robinson leading the way with seven catches for 133 yards and a touchdown. Replacing the departed Matt McGloin was going to be a huge task for Penn State this season, and while Saturday's game was only against Syracuse, Hackenberg still showed he might be a viable answer.

5. Northwestern Wildcats

Maybe it shouldn't have been that difficult for Pat Fiztgerald's team to win 44-30 at California on Saturday night, but the Cats managed to overcome quite a deal of adversity in their season-opening victory. Northwestern's two best offensive players were injured early on, with quarterback Kain Colter leaving on the team's first offensive series without returning. And on top of it, Cal's new fast-paced offense and true freshman quarterback Jared Goff were running rings around the Wildcats at times. But they hung in there and ended up grabbing a road win, with a lot of thanks going to defensive lineman Collin Ellis, who had not one but two interceptions returned for touchdowns. And thankfully for the Cats, second QB Trevor Siemian threw for a very strong number of 276 yards, while backup running back Treyvon Green had 129 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The health of Colter and running back Venric Mark -- who carried the ball just 11 times for 29 yards -- are the two chief concerns for the Wildcats right now, but they get to exhale knowing they're 1-0.

6. Nebraska Cornhuskers

The good: Nebraska put up 37 points and grabbed a season-opening win over Wyoming, showcasing the potent weapons Bo Pelini's team has on offense. The bad: Nebraska allowed 34 points and was topped in several key offensive categories, showing that the Cornhuskers' inexperienced defense could become a big Achilles' heel this season. QB Taylor Martinez threw for three touchdowns and four Huskers had at least 13 carries and 76 yards, with two backs going over 100. But, at the same time, Wyoming out-gained Nebraska in total yardage 602-530, including an incredible 383-155 edge in the passing game. A narrow three-point win is likely not how Pelini drew up this date with one of the Mountain West's worst teams (the Cowboys had the statistically worst defense in that conference last season). But at least it's still a win.

7. Indiana Hoosiers

Head coach Kevin Wilson seems to be sticking with his three-quarterback plan, and it's hard to say it didn't work in Indiana's 73-35 destruction of Indiana State on Thursday. Seventy three points are a lot of points, and 632 yards are a lot of yards of offense. The Hoosiers put up 20 or more points in each of the first three quarters. The three-head QB monster -- Nate Sudfeld, Tre Roberson and Cameron Coffman -- combined for six touchdown passes and 319 yards. Though, to be fair, most of the production came from Sudfeld, who completed just 12 passes but amassed 219 yards and four TD throws. And, with Tevin Coleman leading the way with 169 yards and two touchdowns, the running game contributed three TDs on 313 yards. So the offense seems to be OK, wouldn't you say? Pay no attention to that defense behind the curtain that allowed five touchdowns to Indiana State.

8. Minnesota Golden Gophers

If any of the Big Ten teams had a classic Chicago Bears-like game this weekend, it was Minnesota, who scored three consecutive touchdowns without the use of an offense. A 98-yard kickoff return, a 51-yard return of a blocked punt and an 89-yard interception return accounted for 21 of the Gophers' 51 points on Thursday. While that's hard to rely on on a week-to-week basis, it certainly has to have Jerry Kill smiling. What doesn't is the injury to running back Donnell Kirkwood, who is one of the Gophers' most important players. Seeing last year's leading rusher carted off the field with a twisted ankle couldn't have been pleasant, though his 30-yard, 11-carry performance before he left in the third quarter couldn't have been either. Quarterback Philip Nelson completed 10 passes (99 yards) and carried the ball 12 times (83 yards), leading the team in both passing and rushing. If the defense and special teams don't do every week what they did against UNLV, it could be a rocky go of things in the Twin Cities.

9. Michigan State Spartans

Maybe it was the weather delay Friday night, but the Spartans looked anything but finely-honed in their 26-13 win against Western Michigan. Like fellow Big Ten team Minnesota, the Spartans relied heavily on scores by someone other than their offense, getting a first-quarter pick six and a fourth-quarter fumble return to account for more than half their points. Neither quarterback that played looked all that great, with Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook combining for only 116 passing yards. Jeremy Langford might not be the second coming of Le'Veon Bell at running back, but he was far and away the standout on offense, carrying the ball 20 times for 94 yards. Thankfully for Michigan State, this was Western Michigan and they'll get two more cream puffs in South Florida and Youngstown State before a real test at Notre Dame to try to iron some of these issues out.

10. Illinois Fighting Illini

Nathan Scheelhaase had a career day at quarterback for the Illini, but it was way too close a call in their 42-34 win over Southern Illinois. While this was quite the entertaining game to watch, Illinois can't be happy with a wild shootout that nearly ended with a different result against an FCS team. Illinois' offense looked stellar, with Scheelhaase leading the way with 416 yards and a pair of touchdowns through the air. The home team scored 36 points in the second and third quarters, which featured big plays, sustained drives and a 100-yard kickoff return TD. Running back Josh Ferguson and wide receiver Ryan Lankford both put up big numbers. But the Illini also allowed 34 points and 407 yards on defense, with the Salukis right near the goal line as they ran out of time in the fourth. Call the Illini "Houdini" because this was an important escape.

[More: Illini edge SIU in high-scoring opener]

11. Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa was one of two Big Ten teams to lose in the season's opening week, but don't be fooled. Only an incredibly controversial decision caused their last-second, three-point defeat against Northern Illinois, a team coming off an Orange Bowl berth. The game was tied with a minute and a half left in the fourth quarter when the Hawkeyes' brand-new quarterback Jake Rudock threw an interception that set the Huskies up perfectly for a game-winning field goal. You could analyze the decision to test the new QB instead of safely heading to overtime, but it was the whole second half that was the problem for Iowa, which was outscored 13-3 in the final 30 minutes. And they couldn't contain NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch, who ended his day with 275 pass yards and three touchdowns.

12. Purdue Boilermakers

Purdue couldn't have looked much worse in the debut of new head coach Darrell Hazell, getting thumped by Cincinnati, 42-7. Despite a bunch of early mistakes -- including two running backs crashing right into each other in the backfield -- they were tied with the Bearcats with under a minute remaining in the first half, but the floodgates soon opened. Cincinnati scored with 17 seconds left in the second to go up 14-7 and then scored four unanswered touchdowns in the second half. Yikes. Quarterback Rob Henry was 18-of-35 for 161 yards and two picks. No TDs. That's a Rex Grossman-esque QB rating of 12.1.