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The loss of quarterback Braxton Miller just before the start of the season was supposed to spell doom for Ohio State.

He was a preseason favorite in the Heisman Trophy race and, coming off two consecutive years without a loss in the regular season, Miller and the Buckeyes were expected to be among the nation's best.

But the shoulder injury was a killer considering Ohio State had to turn to a redshirt freshman who had yet to take a snap.

At least, that's what we all thought.

With half the season gone, J.T. Barrett has made Buckeyes fans nearly forget that Miller could still come back next season. Miller has been outstanding leading Ohio State to a 5-1 record, 2-0 in the Big Ten. He leads the Big Ten in total yards per game (333) and touchdown passes (20) and is second in passing yards a game (269.2). He has also run for 383 yards and four touchdowns.

In Saturday's victory over Rutgers, Barrett threw for three touchdowns and ran for 107 yards and two more touchdowns.

"He's a really talented player," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said after Barrett led the Buckeyes to a 56-17 beatdown of the Scarlet Knights, "and you'd better be on point or you're not going to get him on the ground."

It sounds a lot like the guy Barrett replaced. Miller was a solid passer whose athleticism made him a dangerous weapon. Barrett is proving to be just as good, if not better, throwing the ball.

"I'm focusing on getting the offense better every week and keeping this thing rolling," Barrett said.

The Buckeyes have definitely been rolling, scoring more than 50 points in each of their last four games. And though they still must face Penn State and Illinois the next two weeks, all of the Big Ten attention is starting to turn toward the Nov. 8 East Division showdown with Michigan State.

It all comes after the second week of the season when Barrett struggled, going 9-for-29 and throwing three interceptions as Ohio State lost at home to Virginia Tech. It was assumed then that the Buckeyes would have a hard time staying in the Big Ten race, not to mention consideration for the College Football Playoff.

But with a No. 13 ranking and the game against Michigan State ahead, Ohio State is creeping back into the conversation. And when coach Urban Meyer was asked if he thought his team was top-10 caliber, he didn't disagree.

"I think we are," he said. "I'm sure you're asking me so someone will blog it out and say, 'Here's Coach Meyer rantin' and ravin.' I'm not.

" 'Do I think we're top 10? I don't really watch other teams, but I think we're playing at a pretty high level right now.' "

And a lot of it has to do with a dynamic young quarterback not named Braxton Miller.

Gophers climb out of hole

For a half Saturday, it looked like Minnesota's days as an unbeaten in Big Ten play were going to be short-lived.

The Gophers were learning what Michigan State did last week — that Purdue is a much-improved team. Minnesota trailed by 17 points at halftime and had to pull out all the stops to earn a 39-38 victory.

"The biggest thing was not to panic and stay relaxed," said Minnesota running back David Cobb, who ran for 194 yards.

There was no panic as the Minnesota defense finally looked like itself in the second half and when Ryan Santoso drilled a 52-yard field goal with 4:59 remaining, the Gophers were back ahead. It was an interception from Cedric Thompson that finally put the game away.

"Hey men, this is going to define who you are. Can you fight back from adversity?" coach Jerry Kill said he told his team at halftime. "You're going to do it your whole life. And we're going to find out what kind of team we are."

They found out a lot Saturday, including how far they've come since Kill took over in 2011.

"I remember my first year, once we were down, we were like, 'it's over,' " Thompson said. "But going into the half, us being down, we had no worries at all, we said we were going to fight and go out there and win this game, and that's exactly what we did. That's why I Iove my team; we fight back, no matter if it's 100 points or 10 points."

Hawkeyes falter

Iowa had a chance to keep pace in the West. Instead, the Hawkeyes blew a 14-point lead and came up short in just about every facet of the game in a 38-31 loss to Maryland.

They allowed four sacks, committed seven penalties, gave the ball away three times and allowed quarterback J.J. Rudock to take a beating.

"Things we are known for doing when we play well, I can't think of one of those things we did today," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We have a reputation of being a team that is going to block cleanly, but we didn't do that today. We tend to defend the run and tackle well, but we didn't do that, either.

"Throw in special-teams errors, by my count, we had five major penalties; You do those kinds of things and expect to overcome them, it puts a lot of pressure on you.

"They outplayed us, they outcoached us. Check, check, check, down the list."

They did not overcome them and now Iowa falls a game behind in the West. And with games against Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin still to come, Iowa is putting itself in a deep hole.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

How Big Ten teams fared

East Division

Last week's results; This week's games

Michigan State (3-0, 6-1) d. Indiana, 56-17; vs. Michigan, 3:30 (ABC)

Ohio State (2-0, 6-1) d. Rutgers, 56-17; at Penn State, 8 (ABC)

Maryland (2-1, 5-2) d. Iowa, 38-31; at Wisconsin, noon (BTN)

Penn State (1-2, 4-2) IDLE; vs. Ohio State, 8 (ABC)

Michigan (1-2, 3-4) IDLE; at Michigan St., 3:30 (ABC)

Rutgers (1-2, 5-2) lost to Ohio St., 56-17; at Nebraska, noon (ESPN2)

Indiana (0-3, 3-4) lost to Michigan St., 56-17; IDLE

West Division

Last week's results; This week's games

Minnesota (3-0, 6-1) d. Purdue, 39-38; at Illinois, noon (ESPNU)

Nebraska (2-1, 6-1) d. Northwestern, 38-21; vs. Rutgers, noon (ESPN2)

Iowa (2-1, 5-2) lost to Maryland, 38-31; IDLE

Northwestern (2-2, 3-4) lost to Nebraska, 38-21; IDLE

Wisconsin (1-1, 4-2) IDLE; vs. Maryland, noon (BTN)

Purdue (1-3, 3-5) lost to Minnesota, 39-38; IDLE

Illinois (0-3, 3-4) IDLE; vs. Minnesota, noon (ESPNU)

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